December 20, 2016
Texas Rangers Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: The Rangers system is remarkably consistent in the kind of dudes it has. There’s just fewer of them at the moment.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: Proximity over potential?
As long as we have had prospect lists, we’ve had arguments on how to create those prospect lists. What tools get greater consideration than others? How does age come into play? What about time at (and success in) varying levels of the minor league experience? Do we give any credence to funny names, or, wait, no, I’m being told “funny names” is an entirely different list.
While the Rangers’ system is nowhere near as impressive as it was a few years ago (or even, technically, last year), they still have a quartet of players that encapsulate the fundamental questions at the bottom of these debates: What is better: proximity to major league production, or pure, raw (untested) talent?
When we deal with proximity, we are often handcuffed by a lower ceiling just by the virtue of knowing more about the players flaws. Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado bear that banner for experience in this discussion, at the oh-so-advanced ages of 21 and 20, respectively. Mendez has already had his first taste of the major leagues, though it didn’t exactly go swimmingly, and has demonstrated success at the highest levels of the minor leagues for the last two seasons. Jurado, an elite sinkerballer, had success in pitcher-unfriendly High Desert, and despite some struggles in Double-A Frisco, has consistently impressed scouts and evaluators alike with his maturity and approach.
If it weren’t for the other two youngsters in this system, Leody Taveras and Anderson Tejeda, it would be an absolute no-brainer to crown Mendez and Jurado the top and second best prospect in the Texas system. They’re both a season (or less, depending on performance) from consistent major league appearances, they’re both pitchers in a pitcher-less system, and they’re young. There’s still room for growth and improvement, but both pitchers have shown signs of what they’ll be in the future, and that future is pretty good. Definitely not aces, but solid pitchers who will put up solid performances.
As for Taveras and Tejeda, what makes them so special? Here, it’s all about potential. If Mendez and Jurado are solid, solidity (in the prospect world) can sometimes be boring. We can see, at this point, that Mendez and Jurado lack the projection to break their molds and turn into stars, but that is balanced by a more evidence-based body of work. We can hold in our mind’s eye both their shortcomings and their successes against advanced competition. If these two fielders are anything, they’re incredibly exciting, bursting with unknown potential and the signs of potential stardom. Taveras and Tejeda have shown glimmers of stardom, and it is easy to imagine them soaring above a path fraught with risks. Their ultimate ceilings are seemingly inversely proportional to the amount of experience they have. When a player has yet to fail (or fail convincingly), it’s much easier to assume greatness. After all, everyone loves a future star, especially those of us tasked with creating prospect lists.
Taveras, a Dominican outfield prospect signed in 2015, gets fantastic reviews from those who have been lucky enough to see him either in the AZL or with the Spokane Indians. He, per reports, demonstrates a similar ability to read the game as the Rangers’ other ridiculous youngster, Nomar Mazara, and while Mazara was already in Low-A at age 18, it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see Taveras take a similar path through the minor leagues. Of course, there have also been guys with great game understanding and sweet swings who have gotten to the crafty pitchers in Double-A and never quite figured it out, but why borrow trouble? The same goes for talented (but out-of-nowhere) infielder Tejeda, who might take his NWL power surge up the levels, or might never hit more than seven homers in a season again.
So, we have two experienced pitchers with proven success, but a low chance of stardom, and two inexperienced hitters with boundless energy and the projections of a million “I saw them first!”s to choose from. Either choice is defendable, as would have been the decision to reject the paradigm of rankings and simply list everyone alphabetically. Since that’s not allowed, though, we must make a decision. Do we go with near or far, offense or pitching, solidity or excitement?
For me, and for this ranking, what it comes down to is the fact that a farm system exists to create value for the major league team. There is no title, no trophy for “the best farm system.” Prospects exist to either become major leaguers, or to show enough major-league potential to be traded for more major-league value. That isn’t to say that having a solid farm system isn’t an added benefit (I mean, just look at the trouble the Los Angeles Angels are in), and that there isn’t intrinsic value in being a talented but unproven prospect. However, there is simply more value, and more proven value, in a set of players who - at only two or three years older! - find themselves knocking on the door to the major leagues, as not just replacement level relievers, but positive contributors. —Kate Morrison
1. Yohander Mendez, LHP
The Good: Mendez is as solid a pitching prospect as they come, if not exactly ace material. At only 21, he has both the arsenal and the command to be a valuable part of the Rangers’ future. He sits 90-93 with his fastball, which he can get some good sinking action on, and despite the lack of premium velocity, he can still fool batters with the pitch. His best pitch, however, is his changeup, which he throws with the same deceptive delivery as his fastball, making it incredibly difficult for hitters to pick up until it’s too late for them to do anything about it. Mendez developed a slider on his trip through the minors, and while it’s still his weakest pitch, he’s been able to manipulate its depth enough to use it as a workable third pitch. The sum here is greater than the parts, however, especially when you add in Mendez’s ability to pitch thoughtfully, working off hitters’ weaknesses, as seen in his sub-1.00 Triple-A ERA.
The Bad: In his September cup of coffee, Mendez didn’t exactly wow spectators with his performance. In his very first appearance, he allowed five runs on four hits over an inning of work, aided by a likely nerves-induced uncharacteristic lack of command. Additionally, Mendez only pitched six innings in a game twice in 2016, leading to questions about his durability. While Texas may have simply been trying to protect their best chance at developing a starter since Martin Perez, there are definitely valid concerns about Mendez’s future ability to go three times through the order.
The Irrelevant: Mendez’s 0.57 ERA in the PCL was the lowest (min 30 IP) since Tim Lincecum posted a 0.29 in 2007.
The Risks: With pitchers, there are always risks. Inherent injury specter aside, Mendez could take longer to adjust to the climes of the major leagues than expected, leading to similar up-and-down issues suffered by someone like Chi Chi Gonzalez.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2016. —Kate Morrison
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: As hard as I push the “don’t waste roster spots on backend starters” rule, those of you in deeper fantasy leagues will need to roster the no. 3/4 starters of the world to field competitive teams. If your league dictates that you must roster such players, Mendez is as solid a prospect among them as you’ll find. It’s a bummer for our purposes that he’ll pitch in Texas, but Mendez has the tools to contribute modestly but meaningfully in all non-save pitcher categories. I don’t expect the ERA or WHIP to be wonderful at first, but eventually Mendez should settle in as a mid-to-high-3s ERA guy with something like 170 strikeouts in 200 innings. It’s not exciting, but it’s not terribly far off from what Matt Moore did in 2016, and he was a top-50 starter. Plus, Mendez should have a more tolerable WHIP.
2. Ariel Jurado, RHP
The Good: Jurado pitches like he’s 25, not a few days away from 21. Some pitchers like to stalk around the mound, overflowing with emotions. Some use that as a cover for lesser stuff, or use it to help pump themselves up to access their best gear. Jurado doesn’t do that, or really need to. He’s a quiet mound presence who’s just going to go out there and put the ball exactly where he wants to. Command is usually one of the last things to mature in a pitching prospect, but for Jurado, it’s something he’s demonstrated since the day the Rangers signed him out of Panama. It helps that he has a decent arsenal of pitches to apply it to: a heavy, sinking fastball; an improving changeup, a well-handled curveball that he manipulates, and a slider that he uses sparingly, but effectively. His fastball is the only consistently above-average offering, but his changeup has flashed in that range as well.
The Bad: Jurado doesn’t have the velocity expected of a right-handed pitcher. He sits around 90-94, which is fine, but not ideal in this day and age of velocity being everything. It’s also not likely that there’s more velocity in the body, as he’s fairly filled out without much projection left. His 123 total innings in 2016 is far and away the highest number of innings he’s thrown as a professional, so his durability is still fairly untested.
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
The Risks: The command is great, but the stuff has to be there. While Jurado’s not had much trouble with keeping his minor league teams in a position to win, his sinker-heavy philosophy means he does have to have a good defense around him to be truly successful. If he does have that good defense, it’s double-play central. If he doesn’t, get used to “in play, run(s).” Also, he's a pitcher.
Major League ETA: 2018 —Kate Morrison
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: A lot of what was said about Mendez is relevant here too, but Jurado is farther away and has a slightly lower ceiling. That means he’ll miss out in joining Mendez on the top-100 list, but if we extended our ranking by another 25 he’d be there. I say that now, but the lack of plus stuff and the future home in Texas gives me pause ... I’m sorry I hate your prospects, I don’t know why they picked me for this either.
3. Leody Taveras, CF
The Good: Taveras is an excellent athlete. A plus runner, Taveras also has explosive wrists, a quick first step, and a lean frame that should allow him to add good weight as he physically matures. At the plate, he has excellent bat speed and a good feel for the barrel. He hits the ball well to all fields, and while neither the stroke nor his size is conducive to huge power now, he could have average power or a tick better a decade from now. Defensively, his speed, route running ability, and plus arm strength will all play well in center field.
The Bad: Taveras is such a young pup that he hasn’t really shown many glaring weaknesses in his game. If we’re going to nitpick: his swing can get stiff, and his mechanics at the plate are noisy, both of which could become problematic if he can’t iron that out between now and adulthood.
The Irrelevant: Leody is the younger cousin of former big league outfielder Willy Taveras.
OFP 60—First-division center fielder
The Risks: Taveras was a 17-year-old in short-season ball last year; we don’t know whether he’ll leave the sport to take up a career in teaching, much less whether he’ll grow into his power projection.
Major league ETA: 2020 —Brendan Gawlowski
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The lead time hurts Taveras’ value, but he’s got the kind of upside we’re looking for. It’s probably too early to say he’s in consideration for the top 100--and it’s definitely too early to try and project out any stats--but now’s the time to buy. I’d put him somewhere on the 12-to-15 range in this list.
4. Anderson Tejeda, SS
The Good: For a teenager, Tejeda is very advanced. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but with a quick bat, strong forearms, and a swing geared to put the ball in the air, he’s already taking his above-average raw power into games. While there’s plenty of swing and miss in his game at present, he’s capable of hitting the ball hard to all fields. In the field, he’s a bit error-prone but he has good instincts and a plus arm. While he’s played all three infield positions thus far, he’s being groomed as a shortstop for now.
The Bad: Tejeda is a very aggressive hitter who goes up swinging and likes to end at-bats on his terms; if he doesn’t curb that instinct, many of them will end in weak contact. He’s also a fastball-first hitter still learning to recognize spin.
The Irrelevant: If we can agree that a single batting practice session is essentially irrelevant in the grand scheme of his career, it is irrelevant that Tejeda launched ball after ball into the right field bleachers prior to a game at Safeco Field last season. Irrelevant, but impressive.
OFP 60—First-division regular
The Risks: Given his advanced skill set and position, Tejeda is a safer bet than most teenagers to have a big-league career. Of course, we are talking about a free-swinging teenager in short-season ball, so there’s still plenty that can go wrong.
Major league ETA: 2020 —Brendan Gawlowski
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: In a lot of ways it’s crazy to suggest favoring a guy like Tejeda over a guy like Jurado in dynasty, but there’s a strong argument for it. Yes, he is a lottery ticket, but at least he’s one of the super shiny ones you sneak into cards for milestone birthdays.
The Good: Martin isn’t that far off of Mendez and Jurado in terms of stuff, he just has a few more developmental hurdles to clear. He has a plus fastball from the left side that gets good plane and angle from his height and high slot. His breaking ball is a hard slurve that he can spot to either side of the plate, and could be a bat-misser at higher levels with more consistent command and shape. Martin fills out his repertoire with a potentially average change. He’s a good athlete although you don’t really see that in his mechanics. There might be a bit of projection still left in the frame and delivery.
The Bad: Martin has a slight hesitation in his delivery and remains tall throughout. He throws strikes, but his command is below-average at present and he especially struggles to consistently gets his fastball down in the zone. It can be a very hittable pitch. The slurvy breaking ball flattens out and the change needs further development. At present there isn’t an obvious out pitch in the majors.
The Irrelevant: Martin is bidding to be the second player from Walters State Community College to make the majors. The first, Ryan Kelly, made 17 appearances out of the Braves pen in 2015.
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
The Risks: I’ll be interested to see how Martin’s stuff, especially the fastball, plays in Double-A. He’s a lefty with a plus fastball and a useable breaker, so he has a better shot at the majors than your average A-ball arm. But he is a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Maybe we’ll view Martin next year the way we view Mendez now, but until then he can remain on waivers unless your league rosters 200-plus prospects.
6. Yeyson Yrizarri, SS
The Good: He’s as tooled out as tooled out can be. He’s got a beautiful swing from the right side, certainly the type of swing you can imagine hitting for a solid major-league average some day. Tremendous bat speed hints at the potential for some future power. His arm strength is plus-plus and pairs well with solid infield actions, a parlay with good odds to stay at short. While he can make just about any throw, Yrizzari can get a bit scattershot. He’s athletic and graceful on the baseball field, and an above-average runner to boot. It’s always worth noting when we hit one of these organizational strengths that the Rangers have done unusually well developing this kind of profile recently.
The Bad: There must be something pretty bad for us to be ranking him this low, right? He’s got no earthly idea what to swing at yet, leading to a 9/91 B/KK ratio at Low-A this year. In my looks, I didn’t see a player horribly fooled by spin and sequencing, more a player far too aggressive. He’ll have to learn what he can and can’t barrel, or he’s going to end up as a good Double-A player and no more.
The Irrelevant: As you probably know, the two hotbeds of international free agency are Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Both can claim Yrizarri, who is Venezuelan by birth but was raised in the Dominican, setting up an interesting potential fight for his services in the 2021 WBC.
OFP 55—First-division MLB shortstop
The Risks: Extreme. The OFP/Likely sort of system that we use doesn’t work terribly well for the Yeyson Yrizarris of the world unless you use huge gaps that would make this list look silly. Calling him a 55/40, while “true” in the sense of how we use the numbers, vastly understates the delta between reasonable outcomes for extreme tools guys with one glaring issue like Yrizarri. There’s a decent chance it all works out and he’s Rougned Odor, in which case that 55 role is a tick and change low, and there’s an even bigger chance he’s a role 20 or 30 that never figures out what to swing at, like Engel Beltre. (It was harder to find a toolsy Rangers international guy that didn’t figure it out at all than you’d think.)
Major league ETA: 2020 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: As noted above, Yrizarri is certainly in the right system for someone with his profile. The odds of fantasy payoff are so low here that it’s tough to get super excited right now, but Yrizarri should be on everyone’s watch list. If it looks like he’s starting to put it together or if more positive reports about his hit tool start trickling in, pounce.
7. Ronald Guzman, 1B
The Good: Sometimes, it just takes a little while for an athlete to grow into their body and be able to make all the muscles work in unison, even with diligent work. Guzman appears to finally be at that point, an exciting development for fans of giant first basemen who can do the splits. Across Double- and Triple-A this season, Guzman showed a highly improved feel for the strike zone, a better understanding of his bat, and the ability to hit for the above-average power that he’d been projected to have since Jason Parks first wrote about him in 2012. How much power he’ll have will hinge on his hit tool which could play to above-average, but is often mitigated by his length.
The Bad: He’s still going to strike out a heck of a lot, and he needs another full year of seasoning before he can be an answer to the Rangers’ current first-base conundrum. He’s also, as I said earlier this year, “tethered to first base like an astronaut to the International Space Station.” First base prospects have to hit, and hit for power, and do both consistently, or they’ll get replaced with someone who’s not a good defender at their original position but who does do all those things.
The Irrelevant: Guzman was the second of the Rangers’ big-time bonus kids in 2011, following Nomar Mazara, but after that year, many thought he might be the better prospect.
OFP 55—Everyday first baseman
The Risks: His upside is first base only, and while there shouldn’t be any issue with him remaining there, it’s a strain on roster flexibility to have a player who can only play first or DH. Additionally, the Rangers already have a big power, big kid with strikeout issues who hasn’t yet overcome them at the major-league level, and the jump between the upper minors and major-league pitching is still quite a gulf.
Major League ETA: 2018 —Kate Morrison
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Well C.J. Cron doesn’t really have big time strikeout issues anymore so I’m sort of at a loss. If Guzman hits 20-plus homers and can muster a .260-270ish average, well, production like that would’ve made him a top-20ish first base play in 2016; the position really isn’t as deep as it used to be. Let’s hope the power ticks up and makes him a more legitimate future fantasy weapon, because as it stands right now Guzman probably isn’t going to get on base quite enough to be a great play for us.
8. Cole Ragans, LHP
The Good: An athletic lefty, Ragans has a quality arsenal with remaining room for projection. He has advanced command of his fastball that was up to 95 during the summer. His ability to locate the pitch lets it play higher than its velo, and it could be a plus to plus-plus pitch in time. His curveball shows quality downer action and spin, and even when he doesn’t have a great feel for it, he can still locate for strikes. You could project his changeup to average as he already has feel for it and mixed it in during his amateur career.
The Bad: While athletic, his slot, a high three-quarters to almost over the top isn’t natural and creates a lot of spine tilt for extra plane. His feel for the curveball is inconsistent, and he throws a lot of spinners to the plate. His changeup is mostly projection and arm speed as there isn’t a lot of movement to it.
The Irrelevant: Ragans became the highest drafted player out of North Florida Christian HS this past summer, beating out 2014 third-rounder Matt Railey.
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
The Risks: His control backed up on him during his initial exposure, and he needs to add weight to his body to hold up over the season. His inconsistent feel for off-speed with the high-three-quarters slot can pose some challenges down the road. Not only is he a pitcher, he is a high school pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2020 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Let’s check back in 2019?
9. Josh Morgan, IF
The Good: Morgan is a natural hitter, with a compact, level stroke that sprays line drives and hard ground balls all over the yard. He goes to the plate with a plan, offering a selective approach that keeps him in the zone and limits his swing-and-miss. He’s a smooth defender at second and third alike, with solid lateral agility, fluidity to the ball, and soft hands. His range is stretched at short, but he converts outs on balls he can get to and offers steady versatility on the dirt. He flirted with catching at instructs for a second consecutive season, and may get a crack at some in-game reps behind the dish in 2017.
The Bad: Despite a developed frame with some strength to it, the swing and approach severely curtails any power potential. He puts the ball on the ground a lot, and as a fringe-average runner he isn’t poised to take full advantage of the profile. He’ll work counts, but he wants to hit. The combination leaves his offensive value tethered entirely to his hit tool actualizing in full, and with a defensive profile that is as valuable for its breadth more than its depth, his path beyond a solid utility role on someone’s bench isn’t the clearest.
The Irrelevant: The race to become the third prep pick from Orange Lutheran High School to reach the majors will likely come down to Morgan and former teammate Jason Martin, drafted in the eighth round by Houston a year ahead of Morgan. Both spent full, successful seasons in the California League in 2016.
OFP 50—Second-division infield starter
The Risks: Morgan has been pushed aggressively and responded well to date, and his solid-if-unspectacular hitting and defensive skills make him a high-floor player capable of contributing solid value to a big-league club though versatility. The frame and barrel instincts leave open the possibility of a regular role down the line, but there is significant projection to that outcome.
Major league ETA: 2019 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: As much as I rag on the current dynasty prospect landscape, we’re not at the point where we need to roster utility infielders.
10. Andrew Faulkner, LHP
The Good: He’s lefthanded! He has some nice pitches! He has a deceptive delivery that lets him make the most of both of the previous two things! Faulkner relies on a sinking fastball, a fringy changeup, and a solid breaking ball to get his outs, and releases all of his pitches similarly, giving a hitter a indistinguishable look out of the hand.
The Bad: While Faulkner’s first stop in the major leagues was by all accounts a success, he regressed in 2016, struggling to record outs at the beginning of the season and being demoted to Triple-A. A September outing showed some improvement, but he’ll need to prove that he can handle major-league bats consistently to be a contender for 2017 bullpen innings.
The Irrelevant: It’s a shade under three hours from Round Rock to Globe Park, assuming normal traffic.
OFP 50—Nice late-inning bullpen piece
The Risks: He’s a lefty (pitcher) without a consistent out pitch, and big-league batters are really good at their jobs.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015. —Kate Morrison
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you really want to ruin Faulkner just go see James Franco’s As I Lay Dying.
Others of note:
The big fastball
Connor Sadzeck, RHP
The guy we *think* is going to be 22 on Christmas
Jairo Beras, OF
The Future Manager
Jose Trevino, C
The lottery ticket
Kyle Roberts, LHP
1. He’s 6-foot-6
While those are all really good, there are a lot of hurdles for him to overcome. His slider can flash plus, but is incredibly inconsistent at this point. His changeup is sparsely used and like other young players he needs to gain feel for the offering. He struggles to maintain the mechanics in his delivery and is quite lean, so he needs to add muscle. The upside here is tremendous; a potential no.3 starter or late-inning arm, but this is a long-term project who needs coaching and time to blossom. —Steve Givarz
Nomar Mazara had one of the quieter graduations you’ll see from a global top-five prospect in 2016, neither failing nor making huge noise. He was just about average in every facet of the game, which sounds like a knock, but the dude got called up at 20. Being major-league average in a season that contains your 21st birthday while having huge offensive tools and getting constant praise for your makeup is a sign that you’re a potential superstar.
Rougned Odor often gets criticized for what he can’t do, which is walk. I’m reminded here of the old Up and In credo that overlooking hitting ability to focus on walk rate can be misguided. And Rougned Odor is turning into an extra base machine while playing quality defense at second. That’s a very good player even if he’s only walking 20 or 25 times a year.
For awhile, it looked like Joey Gallo was going to stay just under the at-bat threshold we use to determine prospect eligibility, and regain his spot as Texas’s top prospect. But the Rangers clinched the division a little early, so Adrian Beltre took a few extra days off, and thus Gallo finished with four at-bats too many to still be a prospect, and save us some big internal arguments over his placement in the 101. The combination of Beltre’s extension and Mitch Moreland’s departure should leave Gallo as the starting first baseman, which is a bit of a waste of his second 80 tool (arm) but at least should give him regular at-bats to let the first 80 tool (power) shine.
Yes, Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez are still eligible for this list. No, I’m not sure how either, but I checked the birthdays and that’s what they say. After a month-and-a-half reestablishing his ability to play shortstop regularly in Triple-A, Profar returned to the majors in largely the same super-utility role he’d played in 2013. It was a mixed bag. Like Gallo, Profar could use a regular position and playing time. Unlike Gallo, that remains unlikely with the Rangers running out star players at Profar’s three most plausible positions. Perez, eligible here by just a handful of days, has settled in as a solid mid-rotation arm, the current third starter that the Rangers are constantly trying (without success) to demote to a fourth starter.
Chi Chi Gonzalez just makes the back of this list over Delino DeShields and Alex Claudio. Chi Chi struggled in 2016 in both the majors and minors, yet the potential on his sinker/slider combination that made him our 29th-ranked prospect in baseball just two years ago still remains. There’s a chance left for success here, but he’s running out of time. —Jarrett Seidler
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referenced Mike Matuella undergoing a second Tommy John Surgery. That has been removed from the article. Matuella was shut down for the season with a sprained elbow ligament, but did not undergo Tommy John Surgery. -Craig Goldstein
Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jeffpaternostro