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February 8, 2007

Future Shock

Texas Rangers Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Eric Hurley, RHP
Very Good Prospects
2. Edinson Volquez, RHP
Good Prospects
3. Thomas Diamond, RHP
4. Kasey Kiker, LHP
Average Prospects
5. John Mayberry, RF
6. Jason Botts, 1B/LF/DH
7. Marcus Lemon, SS
8. Taylor Teagarden, C
9. Joaquin Arias, SS
10. Chris Davis, 1B

1. Eric Hurley, RHP
DOB: 9/17/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: 4.11 ERA at High-A (100.2-92-32-106), 1.95 ERA at Double-A (37-21-11-31)
The Good: Prototypical right-handed prospect pitched well at Double-A before his 21st birthday. Long and lean, Hurley has clean mechanics and effortlessly delivers 92-95 mph fastballs that can touch 97 when he ratchets it up. His slider is a plus power breaker with depth and tilt that he can finish in the strike zone or use as a chase pitch. He has excellent command and poise for his age.
The Bad: Hurley relies heavily on his fastball/slider combination, and needs to refine his changeup to give him a more effective arsenal against left-handed hitters. He can get in trouble when he elevates his fastball.
The Irrelevant: During his Double-A stint, batters facing Hurley in the third inning of games went 1-for-17.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average big league starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Previously in the shadows of the much-ballyhooed DVD trio, Hurley passed all three in 2006 when it comes to prospect-y goodness. He'll begin 2007 back in Double-A, and is in line for a late-season look in the big leagues.

2. Edinson Volquez, RHP
DOB: 7/3/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: 2001, Dominican Republic
What he did in 2006: 3.21 ERA at Triple-A (120.2-86-72-130), 7.29 ERA at MLB (33.1-52-17-15)
The Good: Best pure stuff in the organization, with a 92-95 mph fastball has touched 98 in the past, and he keeps hitters off balance with a plus-plus changeup that features excellent arm-action and fade. Curveball is an average offering. He's aggressive and works quickly.
The Bad: Volquez has struggled with throwing strikes throughout his career, and got into even more trouble in the majors when he'd nibble and then groove fastballs down the middle. Like Hurley, he works too much in the upper half of the strike zone, and big league hitters pounded seven home runs off of him in 33.1 innings.The Irrelevant: One of the 2003 age-gate "victims," Volquez was originally known as Julio Reyes before his true identity was revealed, and went by Edison Volquez until last year's spring training when he informed the team that his first name had an 'n' in it.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A power pitcher in either the rotation or the bullpen.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Volquez has tantalized the Rangers for a couple of years now with outstanding minor league performances and miserable showings in the big leagues. The Rangers hope this isn't becoming a pattern, and that he'll compete for a big league job in the spring.

3. Thomas Diamond, RHP
DOB: 4/6/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/245
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, University of New Orleans
What he did in 2006: 4.24 ERA at Double-A (129.1-104-78-145)
The Good: Big, physical strikeout artist has averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his career with power repertoire. His 92-94 mph fastball touches 97 and features good movement, while the changeup is a second plus pitch (and among the best in the organization). He's big-bodied, has no injury issues, and maintains his stuff late into games.
The Bad: Diamond's command and control have been on a disturbingly downward slide since signing. He's had trouble finding a usable breaking ball, recently scrapping his curveball in favor of a slider. Many scouts believe he'd be more effective in a bullpen role relying on just two pitches.
The Irrelevant: Born in New Orleans and a native of nearby Kenner, Louisiana, Diamond missed the final part of the 2005 season to assist in the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: See Volquez, Edinson. The two are highly similar in terms of stuff and projection.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Diamond will take his game to Triple-A in 2007, remaining in the rotation for now. He should make his major league debut at some point in the season.

4. Kasey Kiker, LHP
DOB: 11/19/87
Height/Weight: 5-10/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Alabama HS
What he did in 2006: 4.13 ERA at Short-Season (52.1-44-35-51)
The Good: Big arm in a small package, earning Kiker some Billy Wagner comparisons as an amateur by hitting 97-98 mph with his fastball. Power curveball adds some horizontal tilt, and Kiker has a changeup advanced for his age.
The Bad: Like many teenage arms, Kiker needs to refine his command and improve his secondary pitches. He needs to learn how to pitch off his fastball, as opposed to over-relying on it, and also work on setting up hitters, as opposed to trying to blow everyone away.
The Irrelevant: In the first inning of games, batters hit .300 against Kiker; in the second inning, just .089.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Too early to say, other than a big-leaguer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. By challenging Kiker with an assignment to Spokane as opposed to their complex squad, the Rangers made it clear that Kiker will pitch in a full-season league in 2007. He'll anchor the rotation at Low-A Clinton.

5. John Mayberry, RF
DOB: 12/21/83
Height/Weight: 6-6/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Stanford University
What he did in 2006: .268/.358/.479 at Low-A (536 PA)
The Good: Giant outfielder with outstanding athleticism who saved season with strong second half and outstanding showing in the Hawaii Winter League. Plus-plus raw power combined with a good approach and decent hitting skills. Very good arm strength in right field.
The Bad: Mayberry's swing can get long at times, and he can get pull-conscious, even though his swing has enough natural power to get the ball out of the park without the need to muscle up. A first baseman in college, Mayberry needs to improve his jumps and routes in the outfield.
The Irrelevant: Mayberry attended the prestigious Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, a private school with an impressive alumni list that includes not only former big leaguer David Cone, but also filmmaker Robert Altman, CBS Chief Executive Officer Robert Callahan, and current Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A good average/good power corner outfielder in the mold of Jermaine Dye.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. After spending all of 2006 in Low-A, Mayberry is now 23 and needs to get going a little faster. While he may not start the 2007 season at Double-A, he'll likely end the year there.

6. Jason Botts, 1B/LF/DH
DOB: 7/26/80
Height/Weight: 6-5/250
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 46th round, 1999, Glendale (California) JuCo--DNF
What he did in 2006: .250/.357/.417 at Rookie-level (14 PA), .125/.250/.125 at Double-A (20 PA), .309/.398/.582 at Triple-A (259 PA), .220/.317/.360 at MLB (60 PA)
The Good: Gargantuan switch-hitting slugger with tremendous power to all fields. Botts doesn't need to fully square up a ball to get it out of the park. Patient hitter who works the count well--Botts waits for his pitch, and shows a willingness to talk a walk if it doesn't arrive.
The Bad: Power is Botts' only plus tool. He's a good athlete for his size, but still a below-average runner. He has no real defensive home and is merely acceptable at first base and shaky in the outfield. Strikeouts will always be an issue because of a lengthy swing.
The Irrelevant: When batting fourth or fifth in the lineup for Triple-A Oklahoma, Botts hit .396 with seven home runs in 54 at-bats (.943 slugging).
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A major league power threat.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Botts will likely spend 2007 in the big leagues, getting 300-400 at-bats split between designated hitter, left field and first base roles.

7. Marcus Lemon, SS
DOB: 6/3/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2006, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: .310/.420/.405 at Rookie-level (101 PA)
The Good: A $1 million dollar bonus is a more accurate assessment of his talent than his fourth-round status. Line-drive swing with a good feel for contact and an excellent approach. Outstanding defensive fundamentals, with soft hands and an accurate arm. The son of former big-leaguer Chet Lemon, Marcus has grown up around the game and has fantastic baseball instincts and a strong work ethic.
The Bad: Lemon is a bit undersized, and his power potential is limited. He lacks the quickness normally associated with a shortstop, with his value at the position being based more on his ability to make the play on every ball he gets to as opposed to being especially rangy.
The Irrelevant: Lemon grew up in Eustis, Florida, home of The Citrus Museum, "the only independently owned citrus museum located in the state of Florida."
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A good-hitting/good-fielding every day shortstop.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. While Lemon might lack the projection of many teenage prospects, he has an existing skill set that could allow him to move quickly. He'll make his full-season debut in 2007.

8. Taylor Teagarden, C
DOB: 12/21/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, University of Texas
What he did in 2006: .050/.345/.050 at Rookie-level (29 PA)
The Good: The highly-regarded prospect missed most of 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery and dealing with back issues. His offensive game revolves around outstanding plate discipline and average power. Gold Glove potential behind the plate with outstanding agility and blocking skills, as well as a very good arm. Works well with a pitching staff and calls a good game.
The Bad: Teagarden's secondary skills make up for below-average raw hitting ability, as it's unlikely that he'll ever hit for much average. How his arm comes back from surgery is still an open question. He's 23, and he has just 38 games of pro experience and his never played in a full-season league.
The Irrelevant: With 32 walks in 116 at-bats and 16 of 28 career hits going for extra bases, Teagarden's career batting line is a bizarre .241/.411/.534.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An everyday big-league catcher with some offensive value and a lot of defensive value.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Teagarden will begin the year catching at High Class-A Bakersfield, which certainly should temporarily help his offensive numbers, and maybe help get him to Double-A within the year.

9. Joaquin Arias, SS
DOB: 9/21/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: 2001, Dominican Republic (Yankees)
What he did in 2006: .268/.296/.361 at Triple-A (525 PA), .545/.583/.636 at MLB (12 PA)
The Good: Outstanding athlete with tools galore but little to show for them. Good feel for contact and some raw power. Very good range at shortstop and an outstanding arm. Well above-average speed on the basepaths.
The Bad: Arias' swing-at-everything approach caught up with him at Triple-A, and his power is still all projection. He is an inconsistent defender who is prone to silly errors and bad throws. He's a bit of what scouts call an "afternoon delight"--impressing in batting practice and fielding drills, but doing little during games.
The Irrelevant: Arias hit .311 when penciled into the No. 2 slot in the lineup, but just .243 elsewhere.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A borderline everyday shortstop or solid utility player.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. When the Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees, they chose Arias over Robinson Cano in the prospect portion of the deal, a decision that looks worse with each passing year. Arias took a major step backwards in 2006, and needs to turn things around this year in a return to Triple-A.

10. Chris Davis, 1B
DOB: 3/17/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 5th round, 2006, Navarro (Texas) JuCo
What he did in 2006: .277/.343/.534 at Short-Season (280 PA)
The Good: A slugging first-baseman with massive power. Slight uppercut in swing and impressive raw strength creates loft and plenty of backspin. Solid defender at first base.
The Bad: As a first baseman, Davis' bat will have to carry him, as it's his only tool of note, and his lack of athleticism limits his playing elsewhere. He struck out 65 times in 253 at-bats, and has some exploitable holes in his swing that will need to be closed as he moves up. He also needs to improve his plate discipline.
The Irrelevant: With runners on base, Davis hit .234 with four home runs in 124 at-bats; with the bases empty, he hit .318 with 11 long balls in 129 at-bats.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A slugging first baseman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Davis will look to build on his impressive debut with an assignment to Low-A.

The Sleeper: Sixth-round pick Jack Brigham is a tall righthander with a plus fastball, clean mechanics, and excellent control, giving him a nice head start over most. If he can find some more consistency with his secondary pitches, he becomes an interesting name.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (as of Opening Day 2007)

1. Eric Hurley, RHP
2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
3. Brandon McCarthy, RHP
4. Edinson Volquez, RHP
5. Thomas Diamond, RHP
6. Kasey Kiker, LHP
7. John Mayberry, RF
8. Jason Botts, LF/1B/DH
9. Robinson Tejada, RHP
10. Marcus Lemon, SS

The Rangers haven't produced much of late, other than Kinsler, and what they need are arms, not bats. The Rangers system is down from recent years, and most of their top pitching prospects developed question marks in 2006, and the stable of position players remains as shallow as a tide pool. But, again, as has seemingly been the case for years, what they need are arms.

Next: The Toronto Blue Jays.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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