The Situation: Shin-Soo Choo’s hamstring injury has opened the door for Nomar Mazara, the Rangers top prospect, to get his first taste of big-league action. The Rangers have opted for the sweet-swinging lefty, over previous call up Joey Gallo, who they’ve left in Triple-A to get more time at third base.
Background: The Rangers signed a 16-year-old Mazara in July of 2011 for a then-record $4.95 million, eclipsing the previous figure of $4.25 million, which Oakland gave to Michael Ynoa. Under a microscope from that point forward, Mazara stumbled slightly in his first run at full-season ball in 2013, before beginning a headlong sprint to the majors. Returned to Hickory to open 2014, Mazara laid waste to the league in his second-attempt before getting jumped to Double-A for a 24-game sample, where he hit over .300, and slugged over .500. Back at Frisco in 2015, Mazara showed a reduced strikeout rate to go with a walk rate in the double digits, earning him a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock, at the tender age of 20, by season’s end. He performed better there in a 20-game stretch than he did at Double-A. On a steady, aggressive track since the start of 2014, Mazara entered the season as the fifth-best prospect in baseball thanks to an effortless swing that produces both power and average.
Scouting Report: In August of 2014, Chris Mellen said of Mazara “the outfielder oozes ease, especially with his swing.” This encapsulates nearly everything about him, as he’s relaxed at the plate, on the field, and in the clubhouse, earning himself the nickname “The Big Chill.” Despite the trappings of youth, Mazara approaches at-bats with professionalism and grace, always looking to find his pitch to hit. He’ll rock at the plate to find his rhythm, waggling his bat, hands high near his ear. The pre-swing movement doesn’t stop him from setting his hands as the pitcher comes to the plate, and a leg kick allows for a smooth weight transfer. He generates significant torque thanks to his hips, aiding his bat speed, and allowing him to drive the ball with authority. Mazara will look to get extended, but doesn’t let it impede him from getting to pitches on the inner half, doing well to keep his hands inside the ball. Keeping his hips and hands in sync, and maintaining balance at the point of contact allows him to hit so consistently.
While swing-and-miss will always be a part of Mazara’s game, it’s less of a concern now than when the Rangers inked him, as he’s made strides in reducing the size of his leg kick, improving his timing. He has a chance to be the rare bat that doesn’t have to trade average for power. Mazara is competent on defense, with a strong arm that can generate good carry on the ball. He’s athletic enough for an outfield corner at present, though there are creeping concerns about how he’ll fill out and if that will necessitate a move to first base. He should be able to avoid that fate for a few years yet, but there are few concerns on the bat being able to carry him no matter the defensive position.
Immediate Big-League Future: Seemingly unflappable, Mazara will face his biggest test yet in his major-league debut. His actions are easy, but his tools are loud and his precocious approach means that immediate success isn’t out of the question. Choo isn’t likely to get Pipp’d in this situation, but a strong showing by Mazara could hasten a recall the next time the Rangers need some offensive punch. He is a major talent whose long-term outlook could include some .285+ seasons with 25 or more home runs. —Craig Goldstein
Fantasy Impact: A lot of this:
With Byron Buxton and Corey Seager already in the majors, and Yoan Moncada highly unlikely to get there this year, Mazara is the best prospect call up of the year—and we’re certainly getting it out of the way early. A highly advanced hitter, who the Rangers clearly think can make an immediate contribution (they did bat him second in his major-league debut, after all), he can offer everything but speed to fantasy owners.
In the near-term, he’s expected to fill in nearly every day for Shin-Soo Choo, who will miss the next 4-6 weeks with his calf strain. And while he’s known for both his hit and power potential, the former is more likely to show itself in a more advanced form than the latter. And while there are no guarantees that Mazara will stay up in the majors once Choo returns, there are a few paths to playing time if he hits the ground, well, hitting—the most likely being over Mitch Moreland, with Prince Fielder moving back into the field. Though to be realistic, it’s good to assume he’ll be back in Round Rock by Memorial Day. But until then, he can offer a .275-plus average with 3-5 homers and around 15-20 runs scored. If he were to stick and get 500 at bats, the expected average wouldn’t change, but you could bump the homers up to around 15-18 and the counting stats up towards the 75-80 range apiece.
Long term, Mazara is a high-end outfielder with the ability to hit at or near .300 with the potential for 25-30 home run power. His inability to steal bases is likely the only thing holding him back from being a no-doubt OF1 and potential first round fantasy pick in the future. Even with that demerit, he’s a potentially elite OF2 who still can’t legally buy a drink to celebrate his major league debut. He’s a top-25 outfielder and top-100 dynasty league player right now, and that will probably seem pretty light compared to how he’s viewed at this time next year.
While he’s in the lineup, and especially while he’s hitting second, Mazara should be owned in all leagues across the board. Redraft, keeper, dynasty, it doesn’t matter. Hell, pick him up in a fantasy basketball league—there are still a few days left in the regular season. If you’re in a keeper or dynasty, where he’s available, he’s the person you want to use your top waiver spot or FAAB on. In AL-only leagues, you’ll have to be aggressive to nab him (assuming he’s not already owned), and a $30-35 bid is worth it even with the likelihood he’s not up for good. —Bret Sayre
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