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March 10, 2009

Future Shock

Rangers Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Justin Smoak, 1B
3. Derek Holland, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
4. Michael Main, RHP
5. Engel Beltre, CF
6. Elvis Andrus, SS
Three-Star Prospects
7. Martin Perez, LHP
8. Max Ramirez, C
9. Taylor Teagarden, C
10. Neil Ramirez, RHP
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP

Just Missed: Julio Borbon, CF; Blake Beavan, RHP; Jose Vallejo, 2B

Ranking Challenges: The top of the list was fairly straightforward, but ordering the last five spots proved to be a significant challenge; the deeper I went with the analysis, the more flipping, adding, and removing I did. This is a tremendously deep system filled with legitimate prospects, many of whom are not even included here, though they would easily rank in the middle of other team's lists.

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
DOB: 5/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2005 (Braves)
2008 Stats: 2.52 ERA at Low-A (82-55-28-106), 5.35 DERA; 2.98 ERA at Double-A (45.1-34-23-47), 4.43 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: His highly anticipated full-season debut in '08 exceeded all expectations; Feliz dominated all the way up to Double-A, and now stands on the brink of making it to the major leagues.
The Good: Feliz has one of the best pure arms in the minors, sitting in the mid- to upper 90s with his fastball, frequently touching triple digits, and also featuring late movement. He delivers it all from a three-quarters arm action that is loose, free, and easy. He throws a 78-81 mph power breaking ball with good spin and bite, and he showed a much-improved changeup in 2008, as the once-rudimentary pitch now projects to be at least average.
The Bad: Feliz's breaking ball might be best classified as a slurve; his release point gives it a 10-to-4 break and it falls short of slider velocity. His changeup still flattens out at times, and he needs to gain more confidence in the pitch.
Fun Fact: A bad sign for American League West opponents: in seven starts against that division's affiliates in the Midwest League (Cedar Rapids, Kane County, and Wisconsin), Feliz had a 1.40 ERA, with nearly twice as many strikeouts (51) as hits allowed (26) over 38 2/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: A pure ace.
Glass Half Empty: He could also dominate as a closer, but there's really no reason to go that route.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rangers' only two established starters both have contracts expiring in the next two years, and no one in the young group coming up has anything approaching Feliz's talent.
Timetable: Feliz will begin the year at Triple-A Oklahoma, and he should see the big leagues at some point during the season, with the goal of a full-time role in 2010.

2. Justin Smoak, 1B
DOB: 12/5/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: S/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of South Carolina
2008 Stats: .304/.355/.518, .249 EqA at Low-A (14 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: One of college baseball's top sluggers shockingly fell all the way to the Rangers with the eleventh overall pick, and he had no trouble adjusting to pro ball, also making a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League last year.
The Good: Smoak easily projects as an impact hitter in the middle of a lineup. He has the approach of a big leaguer, as well as a quick, fluid swing with massive leverage that should allow him to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate. He's a very good defensive first baseman who rarely makes errors, and features a nice throwing arm.
The Bad: Smoak is a poor athlete and a below-average runner who can often clog the basepaths. He has a calm and cool demeanor, and was interpreted by some as being lackadaisical.
Fun Fact: During his senior year at Stratford High in South Carolina, Smoak shared the state's Mr. Baseball award with fellow 2008 first-round pick Reese Havens of the Mets.
Perfect World Projection: A third-slot hitter in the lineup of a championship-level team.
Glass Half Empty: Perhaps he'll hit fifth? Let's face it, he's going to hit.
Path to the Big Leagues: Chris Davis is an exciting young talent at first base, but Smoak could force the Rangers to make some tough decisions sooner rather than later.
Timetable: Smoak will begin the year in the California League, but he could be at Double-A by the end of the year, and in the big leagues by 2010.

3. Derek Holland, LHP
DOB:10/9/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: S/L
Drafted/Signed: 25th round, 2006, Wallace State CC
2008 Stats: 2.40 ERA at Low-A (93.2-77-29-91), 5.45 DERA; 3.19 ERA at High-A (31-20-5-37), 4.88 DERA; 0.69 ERA at Double-A (26-14-6-29), 2.25 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This high-ceiling draft-and-follow had one of the biggest breakout seasons in the minors last year, moving from Low- to Double-A and dominating at every level.
The Good: Holland's velocity only got better during the year, as he began the year in the low 90s but was sitting at 94-96 mph while touching 99 by season's end. His arm speed rivals that of any southpaw in the minors, and the pitch also features excellent late life. His top secondary pitch is a plus changeup with depth, fade, and good arm-side deception.
The Bad: Holland is still struggling to come up with a consistent breaking ball. He throws a slider which either flashes plus or is below average depending on the day, and he can flatten the pitch out by overthrowing it. The leap he made last year was so unexpected that he still has some skeptics.
Fun Fact: Barry Raziano, selected in the very first draft in 1965, is the only pitcher drafted 748th overall to reach the big leagues, going 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA in a handful of appearances for the Royals and Angels in the early '70s.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an All-Star starting pitcher.
Glass Half Empty: If his breaking ball doesn't come around and he can't maintain his velocity, he'll be more of a mid-rotation type.
Path to the Big Leagues: Along with Feliz, Holland is well above the rest of the young arms on the organization's long-term depth chart.
Timetable: Holland will join Feliz at Triple-A Oklahoma, and some Rangers officials feel that he'll be the first to get the call over his younger teammate should an early need arise.

4. Michael Main, RHP
DOB: 12/14/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Deland HS (FL)
2008 Stats: 3.38 ERA at Rookie-level (13.1-9-5-15); 2.58 ERA at Low-A (45.1-38-13-50), 5.97 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: This exciting young hurler saw his season delayed by a cracked rib, but once he returned to action he impressed scouts as much as anyone on the ultra-talented staff at Low-A Clinton.
The Good: Main already has two plus pitches, with a low-90s fastball that touches 95 mph, and an easy plus curveball that is often unhittable. He's one of the most athletic pitchers in the game, and he also had first-round talent as a center fielder in high school.
The Bad: His build is a bit slight, leading some to concerns over his ultimate projection, particularly as far as stamina. His changeup is behind his other pitches; the shortened season cut into its development.
Fun Fact: Briefly famous 1980s pop star Terence Trent D'Arby is also a graduate of DeLand High in Florida.
Perfect World Projection: Main's youth, ability, and athleticism give him star-level projection.
Glass Half Empty: That projection still involves some dreaming, and it is not guaranteed.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rangers are absolutely loaded with pitching talent, and even a player as good as Main needs to do something to separate himself from this talented group.
Timetable: Despite his limited innings count, Main still showed enough promise-including an outstanding performance in the instructional league-for the Rangers to move him up to High-A to begin 2009.

5. Engel Beltre, CF
DOB: 11/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/169
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006 (Red Sox)
2008 Stats: .283/.308/.403, .330 EqA at Low-A (130 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: This high-ceiling/high-risk prospect showed incredible potential combined with significant rawness in his full-season debut as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League in 2008.
The Good: Midwest League scouts were nearly universal in seeing Beltre as possessing the best all-around tools in the circuit, and Rangers officials feel that he's just scratching the surface of his ability. He's a plus-plus runner who is a constant threat to steal, and he covers a lot of ground in center field while also featuring a plus arm. His quick, quiet swing allows him to make consistent hard contact, and he has well above-average raw power. He's a high-energy player who loves the game and enjoys being in the spotlight as a highly regarded prospect.
The Bad: The biggest concern with Beltre is his swing-at-anything approach, which constantly puts him behind in the count. Better pitch recognition would allow him to tap into his power, and he'd see more pitches to drive. His routes in the outfield can be a bit rough at times.
Fun Fact: Of Beltre's 15 walks on the season, 11 came after the fifth frame; in the first five innings of games, he drew just four free passes in 345 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: He'll play as a monster power/speed combination in center field.
Glass Half Empty: He does have a chance to totally bust out, but his tools alone should get him to the big leagues.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rangers don't have a long-term answer for their center-field needs in the big leagues, though Julio Borbon will get a shot to establish himself well before Beltre is ready.
Timetable: Beltre will be one of the youngest players in his league once again as a 19-year-old at High-A Bakersfield, which could be the perfect environment for an offensive explosion.

6. Elvis Andrus, SS
DOB: 8/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2005 (Braves)
2008 Stats: .295/.350/.367, .229 EqA at Double-A (118 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: The big-name prospect received from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal made steady offensive improvements last year as one of the youngest players in the Texas League.
The Good: Andrus certainly has the tools for the position, especially on defense. He has outstanding shortstop action, a plus arm, and exceptional range. At the plate, he slashes line drives all over the field, and he has plus-plus speed to go with excellent instincts on the basepaths.
The Bad: While he has made progress, Andrus is still an impatient hitter, and since he lacks power, some have difficulty seeing him as possessing enough secondary skills to have any real impact on offense. He's an inconsistent defender who has made absolutely no progress lowering his error rate; he had 16 miscues this winter in just 50 games in Venezeula.
Fun Fact: He was born in Maracay, Venezuela, a city on the northern shore that is the home of the country's air force, and also the hometown of Bobby Abreu and Miguel Cabrera.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become an everyday shortstop with enough singles and on-base skills to fit in as a second hitter in the lineup.
Glass Half Empty: Still an everyday player, but one who is more suited for the bottom of the order.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rangers cleared it this winter by staging the brief drama of Michael Young's move to the hot corner.
Timetable: Young's move to third base means that the Rangers expect to break camp with Andrus as their starting shortstop, with the understanding that he could struggle initially, though some believe he's the kind of talent who will raise his level of play once he reaches the big leagues.

7. Martin Perez, LHP
DOB: 4/4/91
Height/Weight: 6-0/165
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2007
2008 Stats: 3.65 ERA at Short-season (61.2-66-28-53)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: In an offense-oriented league dominated by college talent, this 17-year-old left-hander more than held his own in '08 while earning glowing reports from scouts.
The Good: In a system with more pitching talent than any in the game, some Rangers officials claim that Perez has the best arm action of any of them, as he already sits in the low 90s, touches 95 mph, and adds excellent sink to the pitch. His curveball is already a plus offering, and it could be a killer by the time he's a finished product. His strong frame and the movement on his fastball dispel many of the biases held against pitchers of his diminutive size.
The Bad: His changeup needs work, but he has a good feel for it considering his age. More than anything else, he needs to get in innings in order to develop all of his offerings, his control, and his ability to set up hitters.
Fun Fact: Perez was born on the same day as Jamie Lynn Spears, y'all!
Perfect World Projection: While admitting that it's a dangerous comparison for a player so young, more than one scout brought up the name Scott Kazmir when discussing Perez.
Glass Half Empty: He's doesn't turn 18 until the beginning of the season, so he still has a very, very long way to go.
Path to the Big Leagues: He has 61 2/3 pro innings, and he won't be of legal drinking age until 2012, so let's just take a deep breath now.
Timetable: For the second year in a row, the Rangers will have one of the most talented Low-A pitching staffs in all of baseball, as Perez takes a rotation slot at their new affiliate in Hickory.

8. Max Ramirez, C
DOB: 10/11/84
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2002 (Braves)
2008 Stats: .354/.450/.646, .324 EqA at Double-A (69 G); .800/.857/1.200 at Rookie-level (2 G); .243/.293/.432, .250 EqA at Triple-A (10 G); .217/.345/.370, .246 EqA at MLB (17 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: This offense-first catcher put up PlayStation numbers at Double-A, but he slowed down both at Triple-A and in the big leagues at the end of last season.
The Good: Ramirez has above-average hitting skills, which become even more valuable if he can continue to play behind the plate. He has one of the better approaches in the system, as well as plus power and the ability to crush mistakes.
The Bad: Most of the questions raised about Ramirez concern his defense. He's slow behind the plate, has trouble blocking pitches, and his arm is below average. Some scouts see him as a pure mistake hitter who can struggle against big-league stuff.
Fun Fact: He hit 15 home runs in 50 games this winter for La Guaria in Liga Venezuela, and went 13-for-26 with five home runs when batting with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Perfect World Projection: He should be a below-average defensive catcher who more than makes up for it with his bat.
Glass Half Empty: He'll have far less value if he can't stick at catcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: With both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden ahead of him on the depth chart, his future with the Rangers is somewhat clouded.
Timetable: Ramirez will need a nearly perfect spring to make the big-league club as a third catcher or as an extra bat at first base and designated hitter. He'll likely begin the year at Triple-A so he can play every day.

9. Taylor Teagarden, C
DOB: 12/21/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, University of Texas
2008 Stats: .169/.279/.305, .186 EqA at Double-A (16 G); .225/.332/.396, .238 EqA at Triple-A (57 G); .319/.396/.809, .367 EqA at MLB (16 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: He's a polished catching talent who returned from Tommy John surgery in 2008, and impressed people in his brief big-league look.
The Good: Teagarden is an outstanding defensive catcher with a plus arm. He has every intangible that one looks for in a catcher, and pitchers love throwing to him. Most of his offensive value comes from his secondary skills, as he works the count well and has solid power.
The Bad: His big-league showing last year has created unfair expectations for his bat; he has a long, loopy swing, is prone to big strikeout totals, and has just a .236 batting average at the upper levels of the Rangers' system. With a checkered injury history that includes back problems, some wonder about his ability to withstand a full-season's workload behind the plate.
Fun Fact: In his only big-league at-bat with the bases loaded, Teagarden hit a grand slam off of Detroit's Gary Glover.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a second-division starter.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle for being an outstanding backup.
Path to the Big Leagues: He has probably already finished traveling it.
Timetable: Teagarden is battling with Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the big-league catching job, but he'll likely begin the year as a very talented backup.

10. Neil Ramirez, RHP
DOB: 5/25/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Kempsville HS (VA)
2008 Stats: 2.66 ERA at Short-season (44-25-29-52)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: This over-slot bonus baby was held back in extended spring training last year more due to the numbers game than anything else, but he then held Northwest League hitters to a .166 batting average in his pro debut.
The Good: Ramirez is big, athletic power pitcher who already touches 95 mph with his fastball while usually sitting in the low 90s. His power curveball gives him a second go-to pitch, and his changeup is solid.
The Bad: His velocity fluctuated wildly last summer; some scouts saw him at only 88-92 mph in some outings, and he needs to become more consistent with his mechanics that now result in command that can come and go. His overall game is somewhat unpolished all around, and he just needs to get in more innings.
Fun Fact: While Ramirez is the only player ever drafted out of Kempsville High, the school did produce former NFL and MLB player D.J. Dozier, North Carolina hoops star J.R. Reid, and the arguably more famous Lady Miss Kier of Deee-Lite.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future big-league starter with some star potential.
Glass Half Empty: There's plenty of time for him to get better or to go backwards.
Path to the Big Leagues: The system is loaded with talented arms, and the team should be able to exercise patience with the youngest group that will be coming up.
Timetable: Ramirez will be yet another name to watch at Low-A Hickory.

11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
DOB: 10/26/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2006
2008 Stats: 3.12 ERA at Short-season (69.1-66-11-70)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Another outstanding hurler, he was often dominant last season as an 18-year-old at Spokane.
The Good: Unlike many teenage Latin American pitching prospects, Boscan is the total package who shows a rare amount of refinement for such an inexperienced hurler. He sets up hitters with an 88-91 mph sinker that he can dial up to 93 when he needs a little extra. His slow curve is a solid offering, and his changeup is quite advanced, while he has the ability, the feel, and the savvy to use all of his pitches effectively.
The Bad: Boscan has far more polish than the other arms at Spokane, but not nearly as much upside. There is still some question as to whether his lack of velocity will force him to pitch backwards more as he moves up through the levels of the system.
Fun Fact: Of the earned runs allowed by Boscan in 2008, 20 of the 24 came on the road; he has a 1.59 ERA in six home games.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid mid-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: He'll become more of a back-end type.
Path to the Big Leagues: Boscan doesn't have the upside of Perez or Neil Ramirez, but he could move more quickly and, if needed, fill a gap before they arrive.
Timetable: Low-A Hickory will have box scores worth checking on nearly every day, and Boscan will begin the year as the team's third starter.

The Sleeper: Hampered by injuries last year, Venezuelan teenager Wilmer Font is a massive power righty with plus-plus velocity and the ability to throw consistent strikes. Some in the Rangers front office believe that he's already a Top 10 prospect in the system.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Chris Davis, 1B
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. Derek Holland, LHP
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
6. Michael Main, RHP
7. Engel Beltre, CF
8. Elvis Andrus, SS
9. Martin Perez, LHP
10. Matt Harrison, LHP

The Rangers actually have a ton of young talent already on the major league roster; it's just that their prospects are so good as well. If Vegas took betting lines on PECOTA, I'd put big money on the Chris Davis over line; his 75th-percentile forecast (.275/.331/.529) looks more accurate to me, and you'll find few young players who make the kind of loud contact that Davis does. Saltalamacchia is another guy who may be primed for a breakout. Harrison slides into the end of the list, and while he doesn't have the upside of a pitcher like Neil Ramirez, he's a big-league ready innings eater at the very least.

Summary: The Rangers' system is one of, if not the best in the game, and while they're not quite ready for a Rays-esque breakout in 2009, they should be long-term contenders for American League West supremacy beginning in 2010.


Up next: the Toronto Blue Jays.

---

Rangers GM Jon Daniels discusses his top-rated system as we check in on the latest Top 11 Prospects list at BPR.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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