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December 23, 2007

Future Shock

Rangers Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
2. Eric Hurley, RHP
3. Elvis Andrus, SS
4. Engel Beltre, OF
5. Michael Main, RHP
6. Chris Davis, 3B
Three-Star Prospects
7. Taylor Teagarden, C
8. Blake Beavan, RHP
9. Matt Harrison, RHP
10. Max Ramirez, C
11. German Duran, 2B

Just Missing: Kasey Kiker, LHP; David Murphy, OF; Neil Ramirez, RHP

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
DOB: 5/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2005, Dominican Republic (Braves)
2007 Stats: 1.98 ERA at Rookie-level (27.1-18-12-28); 3.60 ERA at Short-season (15-13-12-27)

Year In Review: He was giving Appy League hitters fits with his high-ceiling arm for the Braves organization before moving to Texas in the Mark Teixeira trade, where he continued to rack up strikeouts in the Northwest League.
The Good: Feliz has pure gas now and projects for even more. He sits at 94-96 mph consistently, while touching 98 nearly every time out, and his heat features a hard boring action as well. He makes it look effortless with smooth, clean mechanics, and many feel there's more in there once his skinny frame fills out a bit. His breaking ball has improved considerably from when he first signed, and he earns rave reviews for his work ethic and maturity.
The Bad: Feliz can still overthrow at times, costing him command and flattening out his secondary pitches. His changeup is still a work in progress. He's been so dominant with his fastball that he's rarely felt the need to work on his other pitches. All in all, Feliz just needs innings and experience, and needs to learn the lessons that only come from getting hit around a bit, which as one scout put it, "might not happen for awhile."
Fun Fact: Northwest League hitters facing Feliz with runners in scoring position and two outs went 0-for-6 against him with five strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: An elite power pitcher.
Timetable: The Braves were highly cautious with Feliz in 2007, and after his showing in the Northwest League, the Rangers are ready to take the kid's gloves off. He'll make his full-season debut in the Midwest League.

2. Eric Hurley, RHP
DOB: 9/17/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, Wolfson HS (FL)
2007 Stats: 3.25 ERA at Double-A (88.2-71-27-76); 4.91 ERA at Triple-A (73.1-65-28-59)

Year In Review: With the DVD trio a thing of the past due to injuries, trades, and/or major league promotions, the top pitcher in Texas' upper-level put himself on the brink of reaching the majors.
The Good: While he lacks the ultimate ceiling of many, Hurley is more of a complete package than most power righties. He has an ideal frame and sound mechanics, sitting in the low 90s with a two-seam fastball and dialing his four-seamer up to 95 when he needs a little extra. His slider is also a plus power offering with very good depth and tilt, and he commands both pitches well.
The Bad: Hurley needs to improve his changeup in order to become more effective against left-handers, who have consistently hit him hard throughout his career. While he maintains his velocity well, his secondary pitches often falter as his pitch count increases. As a fly-ball pitcher, he's not the best fit for Arlington.
Fun Fact: Hurley and Royals slugger Billy Butler were both first-round picks in 2004 out of Wolfson High. If you want to win the bar bet, the first time that happened was in 1997, when Great Bridge High School in Virginia produced Michael Cuddyer (Twins) and John Curtice (Red Sox). For extra credit, Justin Upton also went to Great Bridge.
Perfect World Projection: A No. 3 starter who delivers 200+ innings annually with an above-average ERA.
Timetable: Hurley will compete for a starting role in spring training, but he's a longshot to open the season in the major leagues.

3. Elvis Andrus, SS
DOB: 8/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2005, Venezuela (Braves)
2007 Stats: .244/.330/.335 at High-A (Braves, 99 G); .300/.369/.373 at High-A (Rangers, 27 G)

Year In Review: Poor production and great scouting reports became good production and great scouting reports following the trade to Texas.
The Good: Defensively Andrus is a special prospect, with great instinct, tremendous range, very quick hands, and a strong, accurate arm. Offensively he has a feel for contact and uses the whole field, while also showing an excellent approach for such a young player. While his offensive numbers have been far from impressive, he's also been very young for his level, often facing pitchers three to four years older. He's a plus-plus runner who should steal 30-40 bases annually.
The Bad: Andrus' offensive ceiling is debatable. He'll never hit for much power, and some wonder if he'll do enough other things to be worthy of a spot at the top of a lineup. Defensively, he's still prone to errors when his flashiness overtakes his fundamentals.
Fun Fact: While at Bakersfield, Andrus hit .377 in the first four innings of games, but just .228 thereafter.
Perfect World Projection: If you believe in the bat, he could be the next Edgar Renteria.
Timetable: Andrus will begin the year in Double-A, and he doesn't turn 20 until a month into the season. By the time he's ready, the Rangers might be ready to slide Michael Young over to second base for the defensive benefits alone.

4. Engel Beltre, OF
DOB: 11/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: NDFA, 2006, Dominican Republic (Red Sox)
2007 Stats: .208/.310/.400 at Rookie-level (Red Sox, 34 G); .310/.388/.583 at Rookie-level (Rangers, 22 G); .211/.250/.211 at Short-season (9 G)

Year In Review: The young Dominican struggled at the plate during his pro debut in Boston organization, but exploded following the Eric Gagne trade, making himself the talk of Rangers instructional league.
The Good: Engel's raw tools are absolutely tremendous, with both his power and speed rating as well above average. He has strong wrists and incredible bat speed, and some see him as a 30/30 player down the road. He shows good instincts in the outfield and has a solid arm. On a purely athletic level, there's really nothing he can't do.
The Bad: Beltre's approach is still far from refined, and his inability to lay off pitches out of the strike zone could affect him in a more negative way against more advanced competition. He's clearly going to develop more power as his body matures, but it's unknown how much of his speed he'll maintain.
Fun Fact: All four of Beltre's triples for the AZL Rangers came leading off an inning.
Perfect World Projection: Beltre's ceiling is higher than any other position player in the system, and it's not even close. He's miles away from where he can be, but he has true impact potential.
Timetable: Beltre will play 2008 at Low-A Clinton, and he'll be just 18 years old during the entire season.

5. Michael Main, RHP
DOB: 12/14/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, DeLand HS (FL)
2007 Stats: 1.42 ERA at Rookie-level (12.2-9-6-16); 4.70 ERA at Short-season (15.1-14-7-18)

Year In Review: A two-way star in high school, Main was one of the few first-round picks to sign early, and he shined in his pro debut.
The Good: Main's stuff was actually better than it was during his final high school outings, as his fastball sat at 92-94 mph while touching 96 and he also showcased a power curve that already rates as plus. He's one of the most athletic pitchers in the minors, with very smooth mechanics and excellent fielding skills.
The Bad: Main's changeup is a work in progress, though he's shown some feel for the pitch. He needs to improve the command of his secondary pitches, and work them more effectively into his repertoire.
Fun Fact: Some teams had Main as the top high school outfielder in last year's draft--a high-upside center fielder with plus-plus speed. The Rangers let him DH for the first two weeks of his pro career in order to give his arm a rest, and he hit .267/.324/.300 in eight games.
Perfect World Projection: Main has No. 2 potential if it all comes together.
Timetable: Main's performance should allow him to join Feliz in what should be a very talented High-A rotation.

6. Chris Davis, 3B
DOB: 3/17/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 5th round, 2006, Navarro JC (TX)
2007 Stats: .298/.340/.573 at High-A (99 G); .294/.371/.688 at Double-A (30 G)

Year In Review: The slugging corner infielder pulled off the rare feat of actually hitting better at Double-A than he did in the California League, belting 12 home runs in 109 at-bats for Frisco, and 36 home runs overall.
The Good: To simply say Davis has plus power doesn't come close to doing it justice. He has mammoth, gargantuan power, and when he centers a ball is capable of tape-measure shots. His only other plus tool is his arm strength, but there is some question of how much value that will hold down the road.
The Bad: The biggest knock on Davis is his defense, as he's a slow third baseman with bad hands. The Rangers are leaving him there for now, hoping that off-season foot surgery will improve his agility, but most feel a move to first base is inevitable. Davis needs to become a more disciplined hitter, as he struck out 150 times last year while drawing just 35 walks in 495 at-bats. With his power-focused swing, the strikeouts will likely always be an issue, but he needs to be less aggressive early in the count and trust his strength more, as opposed to trying to pull everything.
Fun Fact: In the ninth inning of games for Bakersfield, Davis went 16-for-33 (.485) with seven home runs.
Perfect World Projection: Davis is one of the few prospects around with true 40+ big league home run potential. The question is, will that be enough to make up for his other deficiencies?
Timetable: Davis will begin 2008 back at Double-A Frisco, but if he continues to develop at the pace he's going, he could be ready for a big-league look by the end of the year.

7. Taylor Teagarden, C
DOB: 12/21/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, University of Texas
2007 Stats: .315/.448/.606 at High-A (81 G); .294/.357/.529 at Double-A (29 G)

Year In Review: After missing almost all of 2006 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the defense-oriented catcher showed that his bat shouldn't be ignored.
The Good: Teagardan provides good value both at the plate and behind it. Offensively, he's a remarkably patient hitter with above-average power, as evidenced by 34 home runs and 107 walks in 148 career games. Defensively, he's above average in every way, from blocking balls to cutting down the running game, and he's a natural leader on the field.
The Bad: Teagarden's elbow continued to bother him during 2007, and while he was outstanding defensively when he played behind the plate, he was limited health-wise to only part-time duty there, leaving his ability to catch 140 games a year in some doubt. His swing is long and hitchy, and high strikeout totals will be with him forever. At 24, he's only played 29 games above A-ball, and has little projection left.
Fun Fact: While the state of Texas is a baseball hotbed, when Teagarden was drafted out of high school in the 22nd round by the Cubs in 2002, he became the first and only draftee out of Creekview High in Carrollton, where his mom is a guidance counselor.
Perfect World Projection: Mickey Tettleton with less raw power but better defensive chops?
Timetable: Like Davis, Teagarden will likely begin the 2008 season back at Double-A, where the most important thing he can do is prove he is able to catch five or six times a week throughout the season.

8. Blake Beavan, RHP
DOB: 1/17/89
Height/Weight: 6-6/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Irving HS (TX)
2007 Stats: Signed late--did not pitch

Year In Review: The top high school arm in Texas lived up to the billing and was taken by the Rangers with their top pick, signing just before the deadline.
The Good: As a tall right-hander with a fastball that gets into the mid-90s, it's easy to see why Beavan was a first-round pick. He pounds the strike zone with his fastball to set up a low-80s slider that sweeps across the plate and is primarily used as a chase pitch. He's an intense, aggressive competitor on the mound.
The Bad: As impressive as Beavan's stuff is, the manner in which he produces it is of some concern. His mechanics are violent, and his low three-quarters delivery turns off many, with some teams projecting him as a reliever in the end. The Rangers already raised his arm angle in instructional league in order to take more advantage of his height and give him more two-plane break on the slider. His changeup is in the rudimentary stages.
Fun Fact: Early in his final high school season, Beavan pitched a seven-inning perfect game, with 18 of the 21 outs coming by way of strikeout. He needed just 81 pitches in the outing.
Perfect World Projection: Beavan's future is bright, but whether it will come as a starter or reliever is still an open issue.
Timetable: Beavan's instructional league showing was a bit on the disappointing side, and his spring performance will dictate if he joins Feliz and Main at Low-A, or continues to work out the kinks in extended spring training.

9. Matt Harrison, LHP
DOB: 8/16/85
Height/Weight: 6-5/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2003, South Granville HS (NC)
2007 Stats: 3.39 ERA at Double-A (116.2-118-34-78)

Year In Review: The top lefty in the Atlanta system came over in the big Teixeira trade, but has yet to make his Rangers debut due to minor shoulder problems. He was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, and reports on his performance were positive.
The Good: Harrison combines good stuff with good control. His best pitch is a low-90s fastball than can get up to 94 mph and features plenty of sink. His changeup is his second best pitch, and he gets plenty of arm-speed deception with it, as well as some late fade. His curveball is solid, and he's working on a slider.
The Bad: The Rangers have Harrison working on his slider in order to add a horizontal aspect to his arsenal. The missed half-season is somewhat of a concern, but he claims that he is 100 percent healthy, and the shoulder problems were actually related to a foot problem that has been taken care of. For a pitcher with his combination of size, stuff, and location, it's a bit of a mystery as to why he doesn't miss bats.
Fun Fact: Harrison might be glad to move to an American League organization, as his minor league batting average is .091, and he has 18 strikeouts in 33 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: Harrison projects as a solid No. 3 or 4 starter.
Timetable: Despite his 2007 injury issues, Harrison has 33 Double-A appearances under his belt and is ready for Triple-A. If he stays healthy, he'll make his pro debut at some point in 2008.

10. Max Ramirez, C
DOB: 10/11/84
Height/Weight: 5-11/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, Venezuela, 2002 (Braves)
2007 Stats: .303/.418/.505 at High-A (Indians, 77 G); .307/.420/.500 at High-A (Rangers, 32 G)

Year In Review: An offense-minded catcher, Ramirez found himself in his third organization after the Kenny Lofton deal, but he kept on hitting.
The Good: As a catcher, Ramirez is well above-average offensively, and projected to hit for a high average supplemented by a very healthy walk total and gap power. His simple, compact swing projects well for future success as he moves up. He's worked very hard with his coaching staffs to improve his defense.
The Bad: Despite the strides he's made behind the plate, Ramirez is still well-below average defensively, to the point where many wonder if he'll be able to stay there long-term. His arm strength is no more than average, and it's brought down by a long release. He has problems moving to both sides in order to block balls as well.
Fun Fact: Ramirez has already been traded for big leaguers twice, as nearly a year before the Lofton deal he went from Atlanta to Cleveland in a trade for Bob Wickman.
Perfect World Projection: A catcher with a .380+ on-base percentage and .450+ slugging. Great for a catcher, but if he can't stay there, then what?
Timetable: Ramirez faces his first big test in 2008 with an assignment to Double-A.

11. German Duran, 2B
DOB: 8/3/84
Height/Weight: 5-10/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 6th round, 2005, Weatherford CC (TX)
2007 Stats: .300/.325/.525 at Double-A (130 G)

Year In Review: The lightly-regarded middle infielder had breakout season at Double-A.
The Good: Duran's greatest strength is that he does nearly everything well. He has solid bat speed, good hand-eye coordination, and at least average power. Defensively, he's fundamentally sound with soft hands, and he turns the double play well.
The Bad: Duran's greatest weakness is the flip side of his virtues--he does nothing exceptionally well. He needs to develop a more patient approach at the plate, and he's no more than average defensively. He's also just an average runner. Short and with a blocky build, there's not a lot of projection in him. His stats are a bit padded by a .338/.394/.648 showing against lefties.
Fun Fact: While Duran made 17 errors in 2007, he made just one in 17 day games.
Perfect World Projection: An offensive-minded second baseman who is good enough to not be a liability defensively.
Timetable: Duran will begin 2008 in Triple-A. The Rangers got him some playing time at shortstop and third base in the Arizona Fall League, and increased versatility could increase his chances of reaching the big leagues.

The Sleeper: Almost lost in the Teixeira trade, left-hander Beau Jones has been slow to develop, mostly due to control issues, but he's still a southpaw with plus velocity and a very good breaking ball who some feel is on the brink of a major step forward.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
2. Neftali Feliz, RHP
3. Eric Hurley, RHP
4. Elvis Andrus, SS
5. Engel Beltre, OF
6. Michael Main, RHP
7. Chris Davis, 3B
8. Taylor Teagarden, C
9. Blake Beavan, RHP
10. Brandon McCarthy, RHP
11. Matt Harrison, LHP

At the major league level, there are still many reasons to have faith in Saltalamacchia as a future star. He was pressed into a very tough situation last year, and should be far more productive a year removed from it in 2008. McCarthy is more of an angles pitcher than anything else--he doesn't pitch like any more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, and there's little reason to think he'll ever be much better than he already is. Forty-eight hours ago, Edinson Volquez would have qualified for this list, and also would have ranked second. While the Rangers were desperate for outfield help, they also have been desperate for pitching (and for a much longer time), and the decision to deal Volquez, who really looked like he had turned a corner during the second half of the season, is a curious one--as is the decision to trade for Josh Hamilton, who can't hit lefties. In addition, Hamilton, whether we want to talk about it or not, has an extreme problem with addiction, and one year does not necessarily heal anything. To go into a rant about how Hamilton is inexplicably treated like a hero in some circles, including receiving a key to the city of Raleigh this month, and how this is a representation of everything wrong with this country's value system, would likely require another 1,000 words and only tick off my editors and some of my readers--we'll see if this sentence floats through as is and serves its purpose.

Entering the year as the 22nd-ranked system in baseball, the Rangers are now one of the better ones around. They do lack that level of elite talent, but at the same time, this is an enormously deep system, with another six to eight players after the Top 11 that one could argue deserve three stars--a rating that many teams exhaust before they get down to their 11the man.

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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