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January 10, 2010

Future Shock

Rangers Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Martin Perez, LHP
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
Four-Star Prospects
4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
5. Jurickson Profar, SS
6. Danny Gutierrez, RHP
7. Mitch Moreland, RF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. Engel Beltre, CF
10. Wilmer Font, RHP
11. Robbie Ross, LHP

Four More:
12. Miguel Velasquez, OF: The ultra-talented outfielder could be on the verge of a breakout if his personal issues are totally behind him.
13. Kasey Kiker, LHP: He has a big-league arm, but size and command issues could push him to the bullpen.
14. Max Ramirez, C: His 2009 season was ruined by injuries to both wrists, but his power returned in Venezuela this winter.
15. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP: A deception and command specialist, he could end up as a valuable swingman.

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
DOB: 05/02/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2005 (Braves)
2009 Stats: 3.49 ERA (77.1-69-30-75) at Triple-A (25 G); 1.74 ERA (31.0-13-8-39) at MLB (20 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: The top prospect in the system was scuffling a bit as a starter at Triple-A, but dominated out of the bullpen in a stunning big-league debut.
The Good: In shorter stints out of the pen, Feliz was utterly dominant, with his normally mid-90s fastball suddenly sitting at 96-98 and touching 101 mph. He makes the velocity look effortless with a free and easy delivery, and he complements it with a plus 77-82 mph slider that has two-plane break. As a starter, his changeup improved to big-league average, and he was seemingly unfazed by his quick rise to the majors.
The Bad: Feliz seemed a bit out of whack mechanically early in the year, leading to command troubles. His fastball is still his overwhelmingly best pitch, as his other offerings only flash plus, but still have potential. His success out of the pen have some wondering if he should just stay there, which would reduce his overall value.
Ephemera: Big league right-handers facing Feliz went 4-for-47 (.085; all singles) with 21 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Well, he's already a dominant big leaguer, no?
Path to the Big Leagues: Feliz will not see another inning in the minors for development purposes.

He'll likely be worked as a starter this spring, but that's no guarantee of a rotation job in 2010, although most in the Rangers organization see that as his long-term role. If he's moved to the pen, he might be best served with a workload similar to Pedro Martinez in 1993, when the 21-year-old rookie appeared in 65 games and threw 107 innings.

2. Martin Perez, LHP
DOB: 04/04/91
Height/Weight: 6-0/178
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2007
2009 Stats: 2.31 ERA (93.2-82-33-105) at Low-A (22 G); 5.57 ERA (21.0-29-5-14) at Double-A (5 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: This high-ceiling southpaw lived up to every expectation and more, reaching Double-A as an 18-year-old and holding his own.
The Good: Simply put, Perez is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Teenage southpaws whose fastballs sit at 92-94 mph and touch 96 are rare enough, but to find one with two plus secondary pitches is truly unique, with both his curve and changeup ranking as 60-grade offerings (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale), with some projecting them as even better down the road. His command and control is also above-average, while he mixes up his offerings and hits his spots like a veteran.
The Bad: It's hard to find any real weaknesses in Perez' game. He doesn't have the kind of size one is normally looking for in a pitcher, but his arm action is the cleanest in the organization, and few think he'll have any problems holding up to a big-league workload. He can be guilty of throwing too many strikes at times, and could become even more effective by using his secondary offerings as chase pitches more often.
Ephemera: With his workload strictly monitored throughout the year, Perez' six innings in his final start of the year was the only time during the 2009 season that he went past the fifth.
Perfect World Projection: He can be an impact-level big-league starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Perez is moving very quickly.
Timetable: Perez will begin the 2010 season in Double-A, with his first start coming just days after his 19th birthday. While there are no guarantees, he has the ability to be in the big leagues by September.

3. Justin Smoak, 1B
DOB: 12/05/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: S/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of South Carolina
2009 Stats: .667/.714/2.000 at Rookie-level (2 G); .328/.449/.481 at Double-A (50 G); .244/.363/.360 at Triple-A (54 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The club's top pick in the 2008 draft was slowed by an oblique strain and a slump at Triple-A, but saved his best for Team USA at the end of the year, bashing nine home runs in 14 games at the IBAF World Cup.
The Good: Smoak projects as a middle-of-the-order run producer who can score and drive in 100 runs annually. He has the best plate discipline in the organization, and among the best in baseball, with plus raw power from both sides. He has good instincts for the game and is a solid to plus defender at first.
The Bad: Smoak's timing was completely off during his first few weeks at Triple-A, which may have been an offshoot of the oblique problem. He's a below-average runner, and while some see him as calm, cool, and collected on the field, others have questioned his effort.
Ephemera: When leading off an inning for Double-A Frisco, Smoak reached base in 25 of 38 plate appearances.
Perfect World Projection: The same as before: a switch-hitting Justin Morneau.
Path to the Big Leagues: Chris Davis' second-half surge has Smoak blocked for now.
Timetable: Smoak will begin 2010 back at Triple-A. If he looks as good as he did at the end of the year, he could force himself into the big-league lineup, with he and Davis splitting first base and designated hitter duties.

4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
DOB: 01/17/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, St. Paul Saints (MN)
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: The 2008 draft holdout finally signed with the Rangers despite concerns about his shoulder, and impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Other than the historic Steven Strasburg, Scheppers had arguably the best stuff in the 2009 draft, as he showcased a 95-98 mph heavy fastball in Arizona while generating plenty of swings and misses with a plus power breaker. His arm is lightning-quick, and in college he maintained his velocity (when healthy) deep into games. He has some feel for a changeup, which could turn into an average pitch down the road.
The Bad: Scheppers turns 23 years old this week and has yet to make his official pro debut. Many believe his history of shoulder issues and violent arm action make him a breakdown waiting to happen, with every pitch he throws in the minors taking one away from what he can do in the majors. One scout said, "They need to get him in the big leagues as soon as possible, because everyone knows he's going to break, so you have to get as much as possible from him before that happens."
Ephemera: Scheppers was primarily a shortstop at Dana Hills High School in Southern California, not taking the mound until his senior year due to a shortage of pitchers.
Perfect World Projection: A lights-out closer, but not one built to last forever.
Path to the Big Leagues: It better be quick.
Timetable: Scheppers is set to begin the year at Double-A Frisco, and likely in a starting role in order to get him innings. If moved to the bullpen, he could reach Texas by the end of the year.

5. Jurickson Profar, SS
DOB: 02/20/93
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: Curacao, 2009
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: Seen by most as a pitcher instead of a shortstop, Profar wanted to be a position player and signed with the Rangers, which he followed up with the most talked about showing in the Arizona instructional leagues.
The Good: Rangers officials are convinced that Profar has the ability to turn into the system's top prospect, and one of the best in the game. He's a switch-hitter with easy raw power, as well as a plus fielder with impressive speed, giving him range to both sides to go with smooth actions and an outstanding arm. His baseball instincts, effort, and take-charge attitude earned glowing reports from scouts, with one saying, "If you put him in a room with other players who have off-the-charts makeup, Profar is off that chart." Even his plate discipline is beyond his years, as over 91 at-bats in a secondary Dominican League this summer, he drew a whopping 26 walks while striking out just eight times.
The Bad: More than anything, Profar just needs playing time. Like many young players, he can get sloppy on defense, leading to silly errors. Some who preferred him on the mound question his pure hitting skills.
Ephemera: Batting fifth in the 2004 Little League World Series title game, Profar went 2-for-3 with a double and a home run, won 5-2 by Profar's Curacao team.
Perfect World Projection: Elvis Andrus with secondary skills.
Path to the Big Leagues: He has yet to play an official game yet.
Timetable: The Rangers are tempted to make Profar the youngest player in the Sally Legaue, but they're not sure it's the best for his development. His showing this spring will dictate if he goes to Hickory, or makes his pro debut in a short-season league.

6. Danny Gutierrez, RHP
DOB: 03/08/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 33rd round, 2005, Rubidoux HS (CA)
2009 Stats: 1.65 ERA (27.1-17-7-25) at High-A (8 G) with Royals; 3.60 ERA (5.0-3-0-3) at Double-A (1 G) with Texas
Last Year's Ranking: 6 (Royals)

Year in Review: The troubled righty wore out his welcome with the Royals, who sent him to Texas for two significantly lesser prospects.
The Good: Gutierrez certainly has the stuff to be an above-average big-league starter. His low-90s fastball gets up to 95 mph and features plenty of natural sink, while his hammer curve is a true plus offering and big-league out pitch. He commands both pitches extremely well, and has good feel for a changeup.
The Bad: Injuries (to a shoulder) and off-field issues have limited Gutierrez to just 122 1/3 innings over the past two years, leaving plenty of questions about his future, with one scout noting, "The Royals didn't give him away for very little because they're stupid-they just had enough of him." He was resistant to coaching with the Royals, and also had several runs-ins with the law, being charged at various times with driving without a license, disorderly conduct, and assault. As a ballplayer, he needs to improve his changeup, and just get consistent innings to refine his game.
Ephemera: Dave Liddell, who caught one game for the Mets in 1990, is the only player ever drafted out of Rubidoux High to reach the big leagues (there have been nine).
Perfect World Projection: A good third starter in The Show.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rangers just want to get him on the right path for now.
Timetable: With two plus pitches and above-average command, Gutierrez has Top 100 ability, but converting that into a major-league career depends on his growing up and realizing the opportunity that has presented itself. He'll begin 2010 at Double-A.

7. Mitch Moreland, RF
DOB: 09/06/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/230
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 17th round, 2007, Mississippi State University
2009 Stats: .341/.421/.594 at High-A (43 G); .326/.373/.488 at Double-A (73 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: This low-round, low-profile pick just kept producing, including an impressive performance in his first exposure to the upper levels.
The Good: Moreland just hits, period, generating career averages of .321/.387/.518 in his first 266 pro games. Using a quick swing and fantastic hand-eye coordination, Moreland employs a contact-oriented approach while letting his size and strength produce average power and plenty of doubles. He uses all fields, and has no platoon issues.
The Bad: Other than Moreland's bat and plus arm, there's little to talk about on a tools level. Even the arm could end up of little value, as the bulky Moreland is such a slow, bad outfielder that he might be forced to first base. He's an aggressive hitter who attacks balls early in the count and rarely walks.
Ephemera: Few teams, including the Rangers, felt that Moreland had much of an opportunity as a hitter, as the Rangers drafted him with the intention of moving him to the mound. Moreland resisted, and the Rangers decided to give him some time, and the rest is history.
Perfect World Projection: A solid everyday corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rangers outfield is full, but not exactly loaded, so Moreland is blocked, but not in a crazy, impossible-feat kind of way.
Timetable: Moreland will begin the year at Triple-A with the hope of making his big-league debut at some point in 2010, and giving the Rangers something to think about for 2011.

8. Michael Main, RHP
DOB: 12/14/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Deland HS (FL)
2009 Stats: 0.00 ERA (3.0-3-0-5) at Rookie-level (2 G); 6.83 ERA (58.0-72-37-49) at High-A (14 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: The high-ceiling righty had a nightmarish 2009, as an undiagnosed viral infection sapped him of his strength and turned the year into a lost season.
The Good: While Main was often in the mid-80s during the year with flat secondary stuff, he was healthy in instructional league, and showing again the stuff that the Rangers were so excited about coming into the year: a 91-93 mph fastball, and hammer curve ball that rates as a plus pitch. He's among the best athletes in the game among pitchers, as he has first-round talent as a power/speed center fielder out of his school.
The Bad: Main's overall game needs refinement, so the lost year of development hurts him. His changeup remains a below-average pitch. He needs to incorporate more of his body into his delivery, which employs a bit of a rock-and-fire motion.
Ephemera: In four appearances at the very end of the year once he got his strength back, Main whiffed nine over seven scoreless frames.
Perfect World Projection: Mid-rotation starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, it's simply a path to health.
Timetable: Main has thrown less than 150 innings since being drafted, so he's behind many of his peers developmentally. He'll try to get back on track in 2010 with a return engagement at High-A Bakersfield.

9. Engel Beltre, CF
DOB: 11/01/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006 (Red Sox)
2009 Stats: .300/.364/.600 at Rookie-level (3 G); .227/.281/.317 at High-A (84 G); .071/.133/.143 at Double-A (4 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: An anticipated breakout year turned into a disaster, as Beltre put up putrid numbers in the California League before suffering a broken hamate bone.
The Good: Beltre's tools remain the best of any position player's in the system. He's a dynamic athlete with plus raw power, 60-65 speed, good center-field skills, and a cannon for an arm. While he's yet to put up big numbers, he could spend the next two years in the California League and still be young for the level.
The Bad: Beltre's confident style works against him at times, and he's had trouble making adjustments in his impatient approach, to the point where at times he was against the team's orders to take the first pitch in every at-bat. He flails at breaking balls in the dirt, and compounds his problems by expanding his strike zone once he falls behind.
Ephemera: Beltre saved his best for last with Bakersfield, going 13-for-39 (.333) in the ninth and extra innings for the Blaze. In the first through eight innings, he hit just .214.
Perfect World Projection: These are still star-level tools.
Path to the Big Leagues: If he develops, Julio Borbon is not a huge stumbling block.
Timetable: There's no need to move Beltre up as he's so young, and his performance hardly merited a jump to Double-A. He'll be back in Bakersfield to begin 2010.

10. Wilmer Font, RHP
DOB: 05/24/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2006
2009 Stats: 3.49 ERA (108.1-93-59-105) at Low-A (29 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Sleeper

Year in Review: The massive righty nearly struck out a batter per inning in his highly-anticipated full-season debut.
The Good: Font has one of the best pure arms in the system, as when he on, he'd sit at 92-95 mph while touching 97. He flashes a plus power breaking at times, and gained more confidence in his changeup during the second half of the season. As a big, beefy, Venezuelan righty, physical comparisons to Carlos Zambrano are unavoidable, and he should be able to eat up plenty of innings down the road.
The Bad: Font is still a highly unrefined product. Inconsistent mechanics led to equally inconsistent velocity, with him only sitting as low as 89-92 mph on some nights with flat secondary offerings. He can also be guilty of overthrowing at times, leading to control issues for a pitcher who already has problems finding the strike zone.
Ephemera: Font enjoyed the sunshine in 2009, striking out 21 over 16 1/3 innings with a 1.65 ERA when pitching under natural light.
Perfect World Projection: Font has the raw tools to be a star-level power pitcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: This one could take a while, as there is still much work to be done.
Timetable: Font is a one-step-at-a-time prospect, and the next step is High-A Bakersfield.

11. Robbie Ross, LHP
DOB: 06/24/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, Lexington Christian Academy (KY)
2009 Stats: 2.66 ERA (74.1-68-17-76) at Short-season (15 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: After signing for an over-slot bonus in the second round, Ross was among the best pitchers in the Northwest League.
The Good: Ross combines impressive stuff for a lefty with outstanding command and control. His low 90s fastball can get up to 94 mph and features heavy sinking action that's nearly impossible to get lift on. He pounds the strike zone with his heater, and throws a darting slider when ahead in the count that projects as a plus pitch. His delivery is free and easy, and his arm action is clean.
The Bad: Ross is definitely undersized, with his short and skinny frame creating some concerns about his ability to handle a big-league starter's workload. His changeup needs to improve, and he needs to find more consistency with his slider.
Ephemera: In his first seven starts for Spokane, Ross generated 43 ground-ball outs with just six of the ground ball variety.
Perfect World Projection: A good fourth starter, and a ground-ball machine.
Path to the Big Leagues: In a system loaded with young pitching, the pressure in on all of them to stand out.
Timetable: Ross will make his full-season debut in 2010 at Low-A Hickory.

The Sleeper: A 24th-round pick in 2009 who received a $300,000 bonus, righty Chad Blackwell is a six-foot-five power pitcher with silky-smooth mechanics and three solid offerings.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Martin Perez, LHP
3. Elvis Andrus, SS
4. Chris Davis, 1B
5. Derek Holland, LHP
6. Justin Smoak, 1B
7. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
8. Jurickson Profar, RHP/SS
9. Julio Borbon, CF
10. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

Andrus is good, but also now a bit overhyped, as he barely manged a 700 OPS in his rookie year. He's not going to hit for power, but should get better with the bat, turning into a .300 hitter with steals and little else to go with Gold Glove-caliber defense. That's a well above-average player, but not a superstar. The adjustments Davis made upon his return to Texas were very real, so expect a bounceback season in 2009. Holland was a disappointment in his rookie campaign, as he lost the feel on his breaking ball, but he remains a high-ceiling arm. Borbon is a lesser version of Andrus, but in center field. He'll hit .280-.290, but it's empty other than steals, and his excellent range in center is offset by a noodle for an arm. He's one of those guys who can hold down the every day job, but you are always looking for something better. Call me crazy, but I still have a bit of faith in Saltalamacchia, and if I ran a team, I'd love to see if he's available as a change-of-scenery player. Just missing are Tommy Hunter (because of his rotation-back-end ceiling) and Matt Harrision, although the latter was impressive as a reliever in Arizona and could take a step forward in that role. As an aside, Ben Snyder mave have been the best Rule 5 pick in December as a lefty-on-lefty monster who already has very usable big-league skill in the role.

Summary: The Rangers' system is down just a tad, as many top prospects had disappointing seasons, but a lack of positional prospects (especially at the upper levels) is more than offset by the most impressive collection of young arms in the game.

Next up: 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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