March 1, 2016
Texas Rangers Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: This group is as good 1-5 as any in baseball. From there, it gets crazy volatile, but in a fun way? Is that a thing?
The Top Ten
1. Nomar Mazara, OF
Webster’s defines raking as to make (a stretch of ground) tidy or smooth with a rake. That’s wrong: Raking is what Nomar Mazara does. He’s shortened up his swing over the past couple years. His ability to control the bat and his obscene natural talent (bat speed, plane, hand-eye coordination) give him a chance for a true plus-plus hit tool. The only reason we split the difference from a plus and plus-plus tool is that there is some swing-and-miss, and his below-average speed means he’s not going to beat out many infield hits. The power tool is just a tick below the hit; the natural loft and ability to clear the hips with leverage means 20-30 homers are likely.
Mazara has improved at the plate, but the improvement with the glove is perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game. He has improved his routes, and he still has a strong, accurate arm that keeps runners from taking the extra base.
Mazara has as much offensive upside as any prospect in baseball, and now that you can call him a competent corner outfielder, he’s one of the best prospects, period. Someday he’ll be in the middle of the Ranger lineup, and he should be contributing in Texas in some aspect in 2016.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Outside of Corey Seager, there may not be a prospect with a higher floor than Mazara. Unfortunately for his 2016 value, the Rangers just inked Ian Desmond to play outfield, which pushes his realistic ETA back to the final months of 2016 or 2017. Mazara has true .300, 30-homer potential and even if the power never fully develops to that extent, he can still settle in as an OF2 for a good portion of the next decade.
Major League ETA: 2016
2. Joey Gallo, 3B
No My Cousin Vinny Jokes. Gallo’s numbers weren’t quite as insane as they were in 2014, but he still showed why he’s the best third base prospect in baseball. The power is stupid. He generates plus bat speed from incredibly strong wrists. Combine that with the leverage he creates, and you’ve got a swing that can take a ball out of the park no matter where it crosses the plate. If you ever get a chance to see him take batting practice, do it. It’s a real treat. Saying there are contact issues is saying that water is wet, but he has improved his selectivity, and he’ll draw his share of walks because of that discipline/fear.
Gallo’s arm competes with any third baseman—he was clocked up to 98 mph on the mound in high school—but the rest of his defensive profile is underwhelming. He’s neither fast nor quick and doesn’t appear to have great reflexes. His hands are only so-so, which means he doesn’t necessarily make the play he should or shouldn’t make. He might be able to stick in a corner outfield position, but it’s just as likely he moves to first base or ends up at DH.
It’d be nice if there was an obvious landing spot, but when a guy has this kind of in-game power, you find a place for him to play. You should see him hitting dingers in Arlington at some point this summer, and the long-term profile is middle-of-the-order hitter. If he stays at third base while doing it? He’ll blend.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In a perfect world, you’d like to see a top-10 fantasy prospect have less risk than Gallo has, but this is where we are. Gallo has easy 40-plus home run power, but there’s a real chance he’ll never hit above .240 (if that). Of course, even if he doesn’t, he can still push top-five third baseman status.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
3. Lewis Brinson, OF
Brinson gets the bronze medal in this system, but more than one source (internally and externally) believed he was robbed of the gold by the Russian judge. There’s the potential for five above-average tools, which wasn’t the case in 2014. He now shows a shorter stroke capable of hard contact to all parts of the field, along with a more advanced approach. There’s always been plus raw power, and that pop shows up in games thanks to his strong wrists and his ability to use the lower half to create leverage. If there’s a concern offensively it’s that he still gets pull-happy, and while the strikeout rates have dropped each year, this is still the type of player who is going to swing and miss. A lot.
Brinson’s offense hasn’t caught up to the defense, but that’s a compliment to the glove rather than an insult to the bat. His plus speed helps him get to pretty much everything in center field. He has the type of arm strength you’d love to see in your right fielder, and swoon for when you see that it plays in center.
There were only a handful of players more impressive than Brinson in the Arizona Fall League, and it helped confirm what those who saw him all year had been saying. Even with the strikeouts, this is player who can impact the game in essentially every realistic way you could ask for.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The fantasy ceiling is tremendous here. If Brinson can just hit .260, he could be a fantasy superstar, doing things similar to what we expect now from George Springer. There’s certainly OF1 potential with 20/20 seasons in his future, but he has nowhere near the fantasy floor of Mazara—then again, few do.
Major League ETA: 2016
4. Dillon Tate, RHP
Just under a year ago, Tate was preparing to be the closer for a team in the Big West conference. Now he’s one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in the American League. Baseball is so weird. Tate has two pitches that will give hitters the feel-bads, led by a lively fastball that will sit between 93-96 mph with the occasional bump into the high 90s. He can fall in love with his slider, but it’s tough to blame someone for falling in love with a pitch that flashes plus-plus with hard tilt and spin, though when he gets underneath it it gets flat and misses the zone. The changeup showed promise as a professional—especially when you consider how rarely he threw it in college—and should be at least a competent third offering by the time he’s ready.
Just how long it takes Tate to be ready will depend on how quickly his command develops. There’s quite a bit of effort in his delivery, but he repeats it well and generally does a quality job filling the strike zone while hitting spots. There are times the control gets away from him, however, and the effort in his delivery, and lack of ideal size scares some. The stuff should allow him to move quickly through the system and gives him a chance to pitch near the top of the rotation, but the potential pratfalls mean the bullpen is a real possibility.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There are not too many prospects left in the minors today that have SP1 upside, but Tate is squarely one of them. There’s a strong foundation for elite production across the board, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a long journey until it can start to materialize. He should be the first pitcher off the board in the first round this year.
Major League ETA: 2017
5. Luis Ortiz, RHP
Not only do some prefer Ortiz over Tate, but there are those who believe Ortiz has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the system. He gets his fastball into the mid 90s consistently from an easy arm action, sitting 93-95. The slider is his go-to out pitch. It doesn’t have as much depth as Tate’s, but it has more deception because the tilt comes so late. The only thing keeping him from projecting as a frontline starter right now is the lack of a quality third pitch, as both his curveball and change are closer to 40 than 50. Even without an average third offering, he has a chance to start because the command is so advanced. He repeats his delivery as well as you can expect a teenager to repeat things, and he not only throws strikes with all four pitches, he locates them to any part of the plate.
The concerns with Ortiz don’t come from stuff or an inability to throw strikes, but whether or not he’ll be able to hold up during a season. He’s burly—to put it nicely—and he’s missed time in each of the past two years, ending his 2015 season with elbow tendinitis. If he can stay healthy and keep the weight in check, he could be an innings-eater who misses bats, but there’s more volatility here than the stuff might suggest.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The ceiling is not as high with Ortiz as Tate, but he could still be an SP2 in the future with potentially elite ratios. The strikeouts may never be high-end, but he snuck into the Dynasty 101 this year on the back of his combination of safety and upside.
Major League ETA: 2018
6. Mike Matuella, RHP
If the 2015 draft would have been held before the start of the collegiate season, Matuella might have gone in the top two picks. It wasn’t, and Matuella saw his season end in March, followed by Tommy John surgery in April. The Rangers took a chance on him in the third round, and you could argue that they procured the two best right-handed pitching prospects in the draft.
Matuella has a plus-plus fastball that has touched 99 mph and sits comfortably 93-95, with excellent plane and some sink. He’ll show two competent breaking balls. The best of these is a power curveball with hard, late spin, but the slider is not without its charm, though it lacks the swing-and-miss profile that the curve provides. He also throws a changeup that flashes average, though he will need to throw it more often if he’s going to keep left-handed hitters off the aforementioned pitches. He doesn’t always stay on top of his delivery and occasionally loses his angle, but he certainly throws enough strikes to profile as a starter.
All of this sounds well and good, right? Well, there’s some bad news here. Matuella has spondylosis, a chronic lower back disorder. In case you weren’t aware, a back issue is bad for anyone, but for a pitcher? Yikes. There’s also almost zero track record, so there’s just as much risk as there is reward, if not more. Still, you can’t help but dream on this type of profile, and it shouldn’t shock anyone if this is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball a year from now.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There are all forms of draft risk. There’s Lucas Giolito, who was thought to possibly need TJ when drafted. There’s Erick Fedde, who had TJ before being drafted. This is not that. This is more along the lines of Brady Aiken risk, but worse. Of course, risk isn’t a bad thing in dynasty leagues if it’s accompanied by upside—and Matuella hasn’t showed enough of that upside to be more than a third round pick in dynasty drafts this year.
Major League ETA: 2018
7. Josh Morgan, C
When you think of the typical Texas hitting prospect, it’s usually a high-upside, highly volatile player. Josh Morgan does not fit that type. That’s not to say he’s without upside, as Morgan has three above-average tools, led by an advanced understanding of the strike zone and a quick, line-drive swing. His lack of core strength and flat swing limit the power potential, but he can put the ball into the gaps and put his speed to work. He has the wheels to swipe 20-plus bases a year, but he’s struggled to steal bags as a professional in a limited sample size (12 stolen bases, 7 caught-stealing in 154 games).
A few weeks ago, it was reported that Morgan was going to be given a chance to catch after seeing time at second, third, and short already in his young career. To quote Homer Simpson, “in theory, this is a great idea,” as the bat can play there, and he’s smart enough to handle the defensive demands without a negative effect on his offensive development. If the move doesn't work out, he should be able to stay on the left side of the infield, though third base will be the more likely landing spot. He has the tools to become a plus defender there, and his above-average arm plays well at the hot corner. It’s not your prototypical profile for the position, but Morgan’s ability to get on base makes him a potential regular all over in the infield, with useful utility player as a realistic floor.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The move to catcher is a fascinating one in real life, but in fantasy it’s a bump in the road for most. Morgan could be a top-10 catcher if he is a .280 hitter with the potential for 10 homers and 15 steals, but it’s going to be a longer trek now that he’s attempting to put on the gear.
Major League ETA: 2018
8. Yohander Mendez, LHP
The Rangers have taken things very slowly with Mendez, and at least statistically, it’s tough to argue with the results. There’s still projection left in his frame, so his 88-90 mph fastball could be above-average as he builds strength. The out pitch here is the changeup, and the plus grade above might be low. There’s late tumble, and he replicates his arm speed well. The biggest issue here is the slider: It’s slurvy and often up in the zone, which makes it easy for hitters to drive. He does locate all three pitches for strikes, and he does a great job of changing eye-levels and getting ahead of hitters.
On top of the below-average slider, there are concerns about whether or not Mendez has the frame to support a starter’s workload. The projection we mentioned before needs to come soon, as the current build makes it unlikely he’ll be able to handle the rigors of 150-plus innings, something we’ve yet to find out about due to how the Rangers have limited his exposure. If he can’t, you could see Mendez move to the bullpen. If he can, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter who will throw a ton of strikes and make hitters look stupid with that change.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Without much more than a back-end future in a rotation, Mendez should not be at the forefront of dynasty leaguers’ minds. If it all comes together, he could be a strong SP5 with enough strikeouts to warrant a roster spot in most leagues and above-average ratios across the board.
Major League ETA: 2018
9. Eric Jenkins, OF
One of the worst kept secrets of the draft was that the Rangers were infatuated with Jenkins, and it’s easy to understand why. He’s an elite athlete, and his plus-plus speed will give pitchers and catchers fits. That speed is useless if Jenkins can’t get on base, however, and that’s very much in question. He has plus bat speed, but he struggles to repeat his swing mechanics and there are serious contact issues at present. He has shown a willingness to work counts, and he should draw his fair share of walks. There is some pop despite his sleek frame generated by that aforementioned bat speed, and he has a frame that suggests he’ll add some good weight.
Jenkins is raw with the bat, but is much more advanced in the field. He gets to everything in center, and while he’s not a perfect route runner, there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to stick there. The upside is top-of-the-order regular, and if he can show more consistency with his swing, he has a great chance of reaching that ceiling.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The specter of 40 steals is a true calling to fantasy owners, but Jenkins is forever and a half away and offers little by way of anything else for dynasty leaguers. He’s worth a flier at the end of dynasty drafts in roto formats, but that’s about it.
Major League ETA: 2019
10. Andrew Faulkner, LHP
Faulkner was considered a highly projectable left-hander when the Rangers took him in 2011, but is now considered more of a high-floor, low-ceiling player. Once again, baseball is weird. His best pitch is his fastball, which sits 91-94 with late life. The changeup is only a step behind, with split-like action that makes it a solid offering when he’s ahead in the count. His slider is the weak spot, but it has just enough tilt and depth to keep hitters honest. He’s seen a significant improvement in his command, and his ability to throw all three pitches for strikes gives him a chance to start.
Faulkner was dominant in the bullpen, and there’s a strong chance the Rangers make that his role in the short term. With the improved command and the ability to miss bats with the fastball and change, there’s absolutely a chance he could make his living pitching in a rotation in the long-term.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In deeper leagues, Faulkner is an underrated fantasy prospect, as he could potentially start and log innings or be a very strong reliever who can help in ratios and strikeouts. In shallower leagues, however, he’s not worth dwelling on.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
Ariel Jurado, RHP– If you’re like me and hate walks, you’ll love the guy who walked a mere 12 batters in 99 innings last year. Jurado pounds the strike zone with three pitches, the best being a sinking fastball. It doesn’t have elite velocity, but the sink and his ability to command it boosts the offering. There’s also a solid-average changeup and a fringe-average curveball. The upside pales in comparison to the names listed above, but you could argue that Jurado has a higher floor than almost any hurler in the system.
Yeyson Yrizarri, SS– In addition to having an elite name, Yrizarri also has as much athleticism as any infielder on the Rangers’ farm. He’s a plus runner and has a ballistic-grade arm that’s sometimes missing a guiding system, the combination gives him a chance to play an elite shortstop. He rushes everything, however, including his at-bats: He drew seven(!) walks in 278 at-bats. Still, there’s above-average bat speed and some feel for the barrel, so if Yrizarri can just calm the heck down, he’s got a chance to be a regular up the middle.
Luke Jackson, LHP – The Rangers appear to have pulled the plug on attempting to make Jackson a starter, and in this prospect writer’s humble opinion, it was about time despite his ability to hold velocity deep into games. In short spurts his plus-plus fastball and above-average curveball give both left- and right-handed hitters fits, and he doesn’t have to use his fringe-average changeup and meh slider nearly as often. The lack of control makes it unlikely he ever becomes your prototypical closer, but his ability to miss bats with those two pitches does make him a potential high-leverage reliever.
Leodys Taveras -- The Rangers gave Taveras $2.1 million dollars last July, and multiple scouts I spoke with believed he was one of the best outfield prospects in the class. He has fluid actions in the outfield, and his plus speed and solid routes make him a natural fit for center field. His strong, quick hands give him some power projection from both sides of the plate, and there’s some feel for the barrel as well. It’s all very far away, but you don’t have to dream very hard to see Taveras becoming the next elite Texas outfield prospect. Oh, and his name makes him sound like a character from Game Of Thrones, so, yeah, that’s interesting.
Patrick Kivlehan, OF/IF – The Rangers acquired Kivlehan this winter in the Leonys Martin deal, and he has a great chance of contributing in some sort of fashion in 2016. A former football player at Rutgers, Kivlehan is a solid athlete, and he’s shown the ability to hold his own at every position on the diamond but catcher and shortstop. There’s some power here, and if he is given a chance to play every day, there’s enough speed to suggest he could be a 20-20 player. The below-average hit tool and lack of position profiles best in a utility role, but being able to play six positions gives Kivlehan a chance to stick around baseball for a long time.
Rougned Odor easily tops this list in 2016, after the second baseman proved himself willing and able to make substantial improvements in the middle of a season. Mazara or Gallo may end up at more All-Star games, but Odor is in the majors, right now, and doing more than holding his own (he hit .292/.334/.527 from June 15 on). The scrappy infielder will provide Texas with continuity at the keystone, and should only get better with age.
Martin Perez is still only eight or so months removed from his first post-Tommy John start, but the talented lefty (a) has been in or around the majors for four seasons and (b) turns 25 this year. It’s easy to forget his age, because it feels like he’s been a part of the Rangers’ plans forever. The still-young southpaw will be a big part of the Rangers rotation this year, and could be primed for a breakout season, as his arm comes all the way back to full strength after his recovery from surgery. Not only that, but his arsenal improved in the time he spent getting his arm back up to speed, giving him the tools to take a major step forward. To wit, his extreme groundball tendencies play well with the Rangers infield defense, and his swinging strike rate increased as the season wore on—a necessity if he’s to live up to his potential. Prior to his surgery, Perez looked to be on the edge of a breakout, stringing together two complete game shutouts early in the 2014 season.
Jurickson Profar is incredibly difficult to rank. He’s an all-world talent, but is the arm ever going to come back from shoulder surgery? How much will missing two consecutive years of baseball, two years in which he would have developed into a regular major leaguer from a prospect, affect him? Last fall, the Rangers sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he looked decent enough at the plate, but was limited to designated hitter. Spring Training starts soon enough, and we’ll start getting some idea of what the former top overall prospect can do, but for now, he has to take a spot between a quickly-rising outfielder and a newly-drafted pitcher.
Delino DeShields didn’t make a single Houston Astros list in 2014, the year he was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. The Rangers snapped up the rangy outfielder, and while one year of production does not a regular outfielder make, it’s hard to leave the 23-year-old off this list, as he did enough with the bat to make up for the fact that he’s not the world’s most natural center fielder.
This is one of the first years in a while that the Rangers list features no teenagers, but that’s to be expected in a farm system—development is cyclical, after all, and who knows what teenage talent the Rangers might discover in Latin America next. —Kate Morrison
General Manager: Jon Daniels
The Rangers front office has seen it’s share of defections over the past few years (A.J. Preller being the most famous) but Daniels, Fagg and Daly have been constants, and they’ve helped make Texas consistently a top-half—and often higher—farm system over the past decade or so.
Fagg is a person that many believe could be a future General Manager someday, assuming that’s something he’d be interested in, and whether they’ve had picks high like last year or late like seemingly every other year, they’ve done a solid job of accruing quality and quantity in their classes. There have been some head scratchers for sure, but if you take away that perplexing 2011 draft, they’ve really hit more often they missed.
As good as the drafts have been, the efforts the Rangers have made in the international market are sensational, and the star of the show. Not only have they been willing to spend big bucks on players overseas, their player development team has done an outstanding job of maximizing these players skillsets. Sure, there are some Ronald Guzmans here, but when you hit on guys like Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor and (probably) Nomar Mazara, it’s well worth it.
One new addition that could play a big impact on the young pitching in Texas this spring is new pitching coach Doug Brocail. Brocail won’t get a chance to work with young pitchers during the regular season, but he get rave reviews for his ability to teach, and those six weeks with him in Surprise could help pay big dividends. You can argue the impact of pitching coaches during the season, but you can’t argue that they can be instrumental in developing young arms.