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April 26, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

An Embarrassment of Riches: The Texas Rangers, Part II

by Jason Parks

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In part one of this series, I profiled three lower-level prospects in the Texas Rangers’ minor-league system, two of which have a chance to emerge as national names during the 2011 season, and Jorge Alfaro, who is already #TheLegend. For part two, I’m going to venture deep into the bowels of the farm to introduce you to three more prospects worth keeping an eye on this season. Keep in mind that this is Mariana Trench-level depth we are about to explore; of the three, only second baseman Odubel Herrera has stateside experience.

These players are below the players that are under-the-radar, so think how cool you are going to be when you can boast that you knew them back in April 2011! Most people don’t realize this, but when I go to bars and strike up conversations with slightly intoxicated, slightly attractive patrons, I often bring up Dominican Summer League players that are about to make their stateside debut. “Really? You have seen Victor Payano pitch? I’ve always dreamed of meeting a man who monitors the progress of teenaged athletes.” Darlin’, you know it.

See what I mean? Staying current on low-level minor leaguers is almost as good as having excellent bone structure, unlimited wealth, being in primo physical condition, or, in the case of number seven for Real Madrid, all of the above. Next time you find yourself searching for the perfect ice-breaker, just take a casual stroll up to the desired party, lean as close as legally allowed, whisper sweet nothings about Hanser Alberto’s hit tool, and stand back to watch the sparks fly. Trust me. It works. (Okay, it doesn’t work. In fact, this approach might get your name put on a watch list. Speaking of which, does anybody know how to get your name off a watch list? I’m asking for a friend. It’s not me.)

2B Odubel Herrera
Who: Infielder Odubel “Doobie” Herrera signed for $160,000 in 2008 out of Venezuela.

Why He’s Next in Line: Herrera has the combination of fan-approved hustle/grit and legit tools. Of all the players in the Rangers system that I had the privilege of watching this spring, Herrera stands alone as my favorite. (Yes, even more than #TheLegend.) You might assume that I favor Herrera because his nickname is “Doobie.” Am I that transparent? The truth is, I love watching Herrera play because his “annoy the opposition” tool is 80-grade.

The 19-year-old Venezuelan isn’t a traditional pest; rather, Herrera has legit tools that allow his frustrating style of play to pack a serious punch. He’s a tough out at the plate, with a short, compact swing, and a knack for hard contact. Doobie is only listed at 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, but his body appears quite stocky, with thick legs, short, muscular arms, and a barreled chest, giving him serious upper-body strength. More of a gap-to-gap hitter at the present, Herrera projects to hit 5-10 home runs per season down the line, but his swing isn’t conducive for driving balls over the fence.

Herrera has advanced pitch-recognition skills, and he doesn’t allow pitchers to expand the zone. He isn’t a walk machine, but he battles back when he loses the count, and has the maturity to avoid bad-ball swings. Once he gets on base, Doobie lights it up (too easy?), showing impressive straight-line speed that plays up during games thanks to his quick first step and ability to reach top speed after a few strides. Herrera is a base-stealing threat, and the combination of speed and baseball intelligence makes him a plus baserunner as well; he goes from first to third better than any player in the Rangers system.

On defense, Herrera is fundamentally sound, with fluid actions and a strong arm. Thanks to high-dollar talent like Luis Sardinas and Jurickson Profar, Herrera relocated to second base, but he has the versatility to handle the left side of the infield. Earlier, I mentioned Herrera’s grit, which was cheeky but accurate; Doobie plays balls-to-the-wall from first pitch to last. Let’s go through the grit checklist:

  1. No batting gloves (underrated characteristic): Check
  2. Dirty/ripped uniform: Check
  3. Smallish: Check
  4. Middle infielder: Check
  5. Unlimited hustle: Check
  6. White with questionable tools: Nope
  7. High character player/good teammate: Check
  8. Gritty facial hair: Check (slightly creepy mustache)
  9. Annoying to other teams/fans of other teams: Check
  10.  Fundamentally sound: Check

Herrera will never be a star, and he might not develop into a major-league regular, but he has the stuff to get to the bigs. A very good hit tool and plus speed make him a nuisance at the plate and on base, and his defensive versatility gives him value in the field. Scoring a 90 percent on the grit scale makes him attractive to the average fan, and he answers to “Doobie,” which will no doubt appeal to those of us who find marijuana references funny. Herrera is currently hitting over .340 in full-season Low-A, and I can’t say that I’m surprised. Keep an eye on this kid. He’s worth the price of admission.

SS Hanser Alberto
Who: This 18-year-old shortstop won the Dominican Summer League batting title after hitting .358 in 50 games.

Why He’s Next in Line: His hit tool. I probably saw 50 Alberto at-bats this spring, and I think he made solid contact in 45 of them. The Dominican has a preternatural ability to hit a baseball. His quick hands and strong wrists not only put him in the zone quickly, but also allow him to control the bat while in the hitting zone. His load is quiet and controlled; he lets his hands drift back before the weight shift triggers the hands forward. He keeps them tucked into the body before extension. He has impressive bat speed, allowing him to barrel velocity (I saw him tag a 95 mph fastball from Royals prospect Jason Adam). More of a gap hitter, Alberto doesn’t look like a future power threat; rather, he looks like a future .300 hitter that will hit ropes that turn into doubles and triples. His body looks mature to me, although he will no doubt add strength in coming years.

On defense, Alberto isn’t super slick, but his actions at shortstop are solid, with a good backhand pickup and strong fundamentals. He has the necessary tools to stay at the position for now, but he probably profiles better at second base. Alberto isn’t fast, but he’s quick and agile, giving him some range at shortstop and allowing his fringe-average speed to play up on the bases.

If I wanted to get crazy, I could suggest that Alberto’s hit tool projects to 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scale, meaning I think he has the potential to hit .300 at the major-league level. Others would no doubt call my sanity into question, or perhaps suggest that I’m spending too much time with Doobie, and I don’t mean Herrera. That’s fine. They can be late to the party, because Alberto is going to hit all the way up the chain. How well his secondary offensive skills develop is what will determine his ultimate ceiling, but if you are looking for a low-level prospect that has the hit tool conducive for a high batting average, Alberto is your man.

LHP Victor Payano
Who: This Dominican lefty signed with the Rangers for a reported $75,000 in February 2010. Payano originally agreed to terms on a reported $900,000 deal with the Boston Red Sox, but a failed physical put him back on the market.

Why He’s Next in Line: Projectability. In part one of this series, I detailed what made projectable righty David Perez so intriguing: long arms, fastball command, stuff, feel, etc. Well, Victor Payano is basically the left-handed version of David Perez, though his present stuff is a step behind Perez’s. After seeing Payano for the first time this spring, I wrote this report at Texas Farm Review:

18 year-old, Victor Payano, who probably goes 6’6” 175 with crazy long arms and fingers, was the star of the day for me. He doesn’t show the same present stuff as David Perez, but I thought he was just as impressive. With long levers and a high 3/4 release, Payano’s FB has sneaky qualities to it; he hides the ball well and it’s difficult to pick-up out of the hand thanks to a high-frontside in the delivery and a late-hand break. His FB was 87-90, and touched 91. He was able to put the pitch wherever he wanted, with really clean mechanics and an easy and fluid release. He moved the ball in and out, and avoided flying open, which given his wingspan and current size, is quite an accomplishment. In addition to the FB, Payano showed several promising CBs (in the 73-74 range), including one to Royals prospect, Yowill Espinal that made the young hitter corkscrew in the batter’s box. When I look at Payano’s arm I see more velocity and the foundation for a good CB. His finest attribute at present is FB command, and I think establishing FB command is essential when developing a pitching prospect. Payano might lack Perez’s current flash, and the stuff is a step behind, but the feel for pitching is very apparent and the arm looks very good to me.

 In the coming season, I’d like to see Payano add some mustard to the fastball without sacrificing command, which isn’t always a given. His curveball is very impressive, but the break is a little long, and I think it would play better with a little more velocity. As I mentioned, Payano hides the ball very well, so that deception and the fluidity of the arm will allow for a good changeup; right now, the pitch is underdeveloped. Here’s the reason why Payano is worth keeping an eye on: 18-year-old lefties that stand 6-foot-6, already sit in the upper 80s, spin a quality breaking ball, and show a good feel for the strike zone are hot commodities. If Payano were entering the draft as a high school senior, he would have first-round potential and command a seven-figure bonus. Is he a dream? Hell yes, but dreams are the foundation of baseball, so I don’t have a problem hyping a prospect with a high ceiling, regardless of the space between his present and future grades. Payano will be making his stateside debut this season, and if he can stay healthy and log innings, he will find a home on the prospect landscape.  

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

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