2009 Prospect Mine: Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers organization has arguably the best system in all of Major League Baseball, thanks to astute trades and solid drafting practices. The club could hand the starting-catcher chores to one of its impressive rookies this season, and fans could finally get glimpses of two of the key trading chips received from Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira deal.

AAA/AA
Right-hander Neftali Feliz was part of the Teixeira deal with Atlanta. The 20-year-old split his first full season in Texas between High-A and Double-A. At the senior level, Feliz allowed 34 hits in 45.1 innings of work and posted rates of 4.57 BB/9 and 9.33 K/9. In total, he struck out 153 batters in 127.1 innings in 2008. Feliz features a 91-96 mph fastball that can touch triple digits, as well as a good curveball and change-up. Once he improves his command, Feliz could be an absolute monster on the mound – if the Texas pitching curse doesn’t get him.

Southpaw Derek Holland doesn’t throw quite as hard as Feliz, but he rocketed through three minor league levels in his first full pro season after being drafted in 2006 (He was signed as a draft-and-follow prior to the 2007 draft). Holland spent the majority of the season in A-ball and allowed 77 hits in 93.2 innings of work. He posted rates of 2.79 BB/9 and 8.74 K/9. He also made five starts in High-A and four starts in Double-A. The 22-year-old hurler can touch 96 mph with his fastball but he’s really a one-pitch pitcher at this point. Holland’s change-up is usually pretty good but his slider needs a lot of work.

Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez could both see time behind the dish for the Rangers in 2009. Teagarden is the far superior defensive catcher, but Ramirez (who could end up at 1B or DH) is the better all-around hitter. Teagarden’s biggest issue is the lack of consistent contact, although he has above-average power when he connects with the ball. Ramirez has a chance to hit .300 in the Majors with 20 home runs. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia playing well this spring and veteran Adam Melhuse also hitting well, both Ramirez and Teagarden could be headed for some extra work in Triple-A.

Julio Borbon could be a long-term fixture in center field for the Rangers. Drafted in the supplemental first round in 2007 out of college, he split 2008 between High-A and Double-A. At his second stop, Borbon hit .337/.380/.459 with 17 stolen bases in 255 at-bats. In total, he nabbed 53 bases in his first full season. Borbon still needs to tweak his approach at the plate as he walked just 5.2% of the time, which is too low for a lead-off hitter. He also has just enough power to mess with his mind, which causes him to over-swing and move away from the slash-and-run mentality that he should have.

There has been talk that Elvis Andrus, 20, could be the opening day shortstop for the Rangers. Like Feliz, Andrus was obtained from the Braves in the Teixeira trade. He spent all of 2008 in Double-A where he hit .295/.350/.367 with 54 stolen bases in 482 at-bats. Like his second-half teammate Borbon, Andrus has a ton of speed but he does not walk enough, after posting a rate of 7.3 BB%. Defensively, he has the makings of an above-average infielder, but he made more than 30 errors in 2008. In 17 games this spring, Andrus is hitting .250, which is about what the Rangers should expect from him at the MLB level in 2009. Veteran Omar Vizquel was brought in this past winter as a free agent, which could buy Andrus some more development time in Triple-A.

A+/A
A solid two-way player in high school, Michael Main was allowed to pitch and hit in his 2007 pro debut. However, the Rangers organization had him focus on pitching in 2008 in short-season ball. The now 20-year-old right-hander was slowed at the beginning of last year by a cracked rib but he still pitched well in the second half of the season in A-ball. Main allowed 38 hits in 45.1 innings, along with rates of 2.58 BB/9 and 9.93 K/9. His fastball can touch 96 mph and he also features a curveball and change-up.

The club’s 2008 first-round draft pick, Justin Smoak managed to get in just 14 games last year after signing. The 22-year-old switch-hitter slugged three home runs in 54 at-bats and batted .304 in A-ball. Smoak also hit well in the Arizona Fall League, with an average above .300. He should open 2009 in High-A ball and could see the Majors by the end of 2010. He is at least an average defender at first base.

Engel Beltre was acquired from Boston in the 2007 deal for closer Eric Gagne. The deal went sour for Texas after the organization foolishly chose Kason Gabbard over Michael Bowden but Beltre could help fans forget that fact. The athletic outfielder hit .283 with 31 stolen bases in A-ball in 2008, but his plate discipline is terrible and he posted a walk rate of 2.6 BB% in 566 at-bats (15 walks vs 105 strikeouts). That approach is obviously not going to cut it at the upper levels of the minors, or the Majors, but Beltre is just 19-years-old and has plenty of time to improve the rougher aspects of his game.

SS/R
Martin Perez, 17, spent 2008 in short-season ball and allowed 66 hits in 61.2 innings of work, along with rates of 4.09 BB/9 and 7.74 K/9. The southpaw can touch 94 mph with his fastball and is working hard to improve his curveball, which has plus potential, and his nascent change-up. He should move up to A-ball as an 18 year old for 2009.

Neil Ramirez was one of the Rangers’ supplemental first-round picks in the 2007 draft. He signed late and did not make his pro debut until 2008 as a 19 year old. The right-handed hurler allowed just 25 hits in 44 innings of work. He had a hard time finding the plate at times with a walk rate of 5.93 BB/9, but he also posted a strikeout rate of 10.64 K/9. Ramirez can touch 95 mph with his fastball and he also has a solid curveball and change-up.

Up Next: The Florida Marlins




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


15 Responses to “2009 Prospect Mine: Texas Rangers”

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  1. Adam says:

    Holland can touch 98.

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  2. Adam says:

    And link me to a story that says they choose Gabbard over Bowden.

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  3. t ball says:

    It’s amazing to think that by the end of 2009 TX could have FOUR players from the Teixiera trade on the major league club in meaningful roles, and that all four could be solid players for years to come.

    It looks like Salty and Teagarden will split the catching duties on the big league club, Melhuse is just insurance.

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  4. Marc Hulet says:

    Holland reportedly hit 98 mph in a playoff start last year, but has never done it over an extended period of time.

    Baseball America/ESPN chat
    Q: Paul from San Francisco asks:
    Is it true that Texas chose Gabbard over Bowden? Is that a slight to Bowden or did they just make a choice different than you would have?

    A: Jim Callis: That is true. Not a slight to Bowden. When they were trying to put the trade together, the Rangers scouted Bowden in Double-A and he was struggling. Gabbard was pitching very well in the majors, plus he’s a lefty and (obviously) was big league-ready, which appealed to Texas. I think Boston sold high on Gabbard, and I’d rather have Bowden.

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  5. Gdawg says:

    Well if he threw 98 once, then he can touch 98, not just 96.

    Also, where’s Blake Beavan?

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  6. Goyo says:

    A few more missteps than new ground here it seems:

    1. “Smoak could see the majors by end ’10″: try “will start at 1b on opening day 2010″, and could appear in TX before Sept callups _this year_ if all the scuttlebutt is any indication.
    2. “Holland as a one pitch pitcher”: Wow, this is the first I have heard of his “gimpy” repertoire. How ’bout: Holland will be called up to the rotation _before_ Feliz.
    3. “Tea could see some AAA”: Wow. Melhuse trumping Tea as the primary backup in 2009 can only be regarded as the 7th sign.
    4. “Smoak is an ave 1b defender”: See Callis’ man-crush
    5.”..Borbon plate dsicipline – ok but – see winter ball.
    6 “Andrus has the makings of an AA infielder”: suggests he is not one now (or better) by using error totals as your measure?

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  7. Tyler says:

    t ball –

    What’s more amazing is that the Braves farm system is still one of the top-5 in all of baseball after that trade.

    Although I’d have to argue with you about the defition of “solid players for years to come”. Harrison looked awful last season and a .716 OPS for Salty isn’t impressive. Jury is still out on Andrus and Harrison so let’s not count the chickens before they hatch.

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    • Tyler says:

      Doh…second Harrison is supposed to be Feliz, obviously.

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    • Gdawg says:

      Wow, you must be a Braves fan. Were you in the KG chat today?

      Harrison was a rookie. Check out what rookie pitchers generally do in their first exposure to the Majors. Check out what Salty has done since last July including winter ball and now ST. The guy has been doing nothing but mashing the ball.

      The jury is still out on Andrus and Feliz just like its still out on Hanson, Heyward, and Schafer. You can say that about every single prospect. I don’t see what the point of saying that again is. All t-ball said was that they look like they could be solid players for years to come. Just about every single person who knows anything about prospects thinks the same thing.

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    • t ball says:

      Tyler, Harrison looks like at least a back of the rotation guy. If he ends up being the 4th best out of that group that’s a huge win. Feliz is a potential monster, Andrus is impressing in big league camp, and Salty is still just 23 and will get about 60-60% of the starts this year and has looked very good in the last several months with the bat.

      Yes, it is very impressive that the Braves system is still so good, kudos to them.

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  8. Everett says:

    I worked for the Spokane Indians, the short A affiliate, and was impressed by both pitchers mentioned. At this point Ramirez is more polished, but I’d take Perez in a second, given his skills and potential. At times Perez was unhittable, and as he matures and becomes more consistent, the Rangers have a chance for a real gem.

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  9. Tim says:

    Marc,

    I believe Feliz pitched in Low-A and skipped over High-A right to AA. I could be wrong.

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  10. Adam B. says:

    Your right Tim.

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  11. GhettoBear04 says:

    “…the organization foolishly chose Kason Gabbard over Michael Bowden…”

    In hindsight, I agree this move looks bad. Even at the time, I would still have probably preferred Bowden over Gabbard. However, you have to include where the big league club was at as far as it’s rotation depth at the time. Obviously, they were rebuilding, but they still needed average or even slightly below average pitchers to fill out their rotation at the time. Gabbard gave them that for a time and now he’s being moved to the bullpen. Sure, normally, you want to just take the player who will be playing the best when you are contending, but I think the need of the big league club at the time has to be included when judging the trade.

    Other than that, I’m excited by the complimentary things you have to say about the Rangers.

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    • GhettoBear04 says:

      Hmm, looking back over it, Gabbard was really not good when he started for the Rangers that year. But he was still better than half the starters they threw out there that year.

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