The Texas Rangers organization continues to churn out high-ceiling prospects but, unlike some clubs, it relies heavily on home-grown players rather than flipping them in trades for established big-leaguers. If the playing time develops, look for Jurickson Profar to have a Bryce Harper-type impact in 2013.
Profar is quite possibly the top position prospect in all of baseball and is also ready to contribute at the big-league level. Impressively, he doesn’t turn 20 until Feb. 20 of this year. The term “five-tool prospect” is tossed around generously at times, but this young phenom is deserving of the tag. He has the ability to hit for average, power, he runs well, has outstanding defense and a strong arm.
Profar spent the majority of 2012 in Double-A but je also got a nine-game cup-of-coffee in the majors at the end of the year and he didn’t look out of place. He spent some time this past off-season polishing his game in the Dominican Winter League. The Curacao native has impressed everyone I’ve spoken to in the industry. One talent evaluator told me the prospect, at age 14, caught his eye. “He always seemed to be in the right spot on the field,” the source said, adding that Profar flashed good defense, made a lot of contact and always had a smile on his face. Another source said, “He plays the game aggressively, but in a polished manner. He’s aggressive, he’s athletic and has great instincts. He has the chance to be an all-star caliber defender at shortstop and has power potential.”
The Rangers were lucky enough to have a scout who had been watching Profar since the age of 11. As an amateur, the youngster was a two-way player and most teams felt he had a better future on the mound with a low-90s fastball. Profar, though, did not want to pitch and preferred to play everyday. The Rangers were happy to oblige. As one of my sources said, “We really believed he had the ability to play shortstop…. To be able to put that type of player and leader on the field [every day], it was a no-brainer for us.”
Profar’s current development wouldn’t be stunted by another trip to the minors, but he could also be an immediate impact player at the big-league level, similar to Washington’s Bryce Harper in 2012. Even if he were to hit at replacement level with the bat, Profar’s steady fielding could have a significant impact on the pitching staff — playing at either shortstop or second base. The Texas organization has been very clear that it is committed to incumbent Elvis Andrus, who still is just 24, in the middle infield but a relocation of second baseman Ian Kinsler (perhaps to first base or to center field) could open up an opportunity for Profar.
Olt has received a lot of hype in the past year and has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors. A potential plus defender at the hot corner, his path to third base at the big-league level is currently blocked by veteran Adrian Beltre. Olt has seen time in both right field — where his range would probably be below average — and at first base. His strong arm would be wasted at first base. I asked a talent evaluator if he thought Olt would be an above-average defender elsewhere on the field, right away. “Not necessarily,” the person said. “We feel he can be average at first base or in the outfield now and play higher as he gets more experience out there. He is athletic and has a plus arm, and the footwork, particularly at first base, should come along.”
Olt, 24, slugged 28 home runs in Double-A and has above-average power. His pop impressed the contact I spoke with and he said, “He has easy power. The ball jumps off his bat and has a different sound than many hitters. The challenge for him offensively will be to cut down on the swing-and-miss and continue being more selective at the plate. We think [ hitting coach] Dave Magadan will be a tremendous influence on Mike and they have already started to work together with some early, positive results.”
Olt isn’t afraid to take walks but he strikes out a lot, which will drag down his batting average. He struggles with pitch recognition at times and his swing can get long. He has a chance to be a .260 hitter with 20 home runs and above-average defense at third base. A potential 50-game suspension to right-fielder Nelson Cruz could open up a spot for the rookie on the big league roster. If he doesn’t break camp with the club, a slow start by first baseman Mitch Moreland could also present an opportunity.
Just 21, Perez reached the majors in 2012 and already has five years of pro experience under his belt. The young southpaw made 22 appearances (21 starts) in Triple-A to go along with 12 big league games (six starts). Perez has a four-pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, potentially-plus changeup and two breaking balls (curveball, slider) that are still developing.
A talent evaluator I spoke with is impressed with where Perez is at this point, especially considering his age: “Like many young pitchers he needs to trust his stuff, and not to try to force things,” the source said. “I think he is starting to learn than sometimes in pitching, less is more. He is gaining confidence, maturity and refining command, all at a very young age. His time in the big leagues lasts season was a huge step forward for him. He struggled a great deal at Round Rock in the middle of the season but was able to right the ship, make some adjustments and get himself to the big leagues and put himself in contention for a role in our rotation for this season.”
The Venezuelan has a nice, compact delivery and should be able to provide a solid number of innings per season despite a modest pitcher’s frame. Perez’s ceiling is not quite as high as it once was projected, but he could still be a solid No. 3 starter at the big-league level. He has a chance to break camp as the Rangers’ fifth starter but it’s more likely he’ll head back to Triple-A for more seasoning.
The Rangers’ Top 15 list is one of the most diverse in the majors, with prospects hailing from the United States, Curacao, Venezuela, and Colombia. The Cuban-born Martin is definitely not out of place. Given a massive $15.6 million big league contract in 2011, the gifted outfielder has already received tastes of major league action in each of the past two seasons and the center field job could be his to lose this spring.
Martin, 24, is a left-handed hitter with just enough power to mess with his mind. He has plus speed and the Rangers would like to see him focus more on hitting the ball into the gaps and use his legs. The contact I spoke with said once the prospect gets a hang of the majors, he could then focus on developing his power game. He said 15 to 20 home runs might not be out of the questions for Martin in his prime. “He has all the tools…. He has the ability to do everything,” the talent evaluator said.
In the field, Martin shines. He has good range, outstanding instincts and an above-average arm that was given a 70 rating on the 20-to-80 scout scale. For Martin to fully realize his potential he needs to tone down his approach at the plate and become more selective — although he makes solid contact and doesn’t strike out much. A strong spring by Julio Borbon or Craig Gentry could allow the organization to give Martin a little more work in Triple-A, although a potential 50-game suspension to Nelson Cruz could open things right back up.
The date July 2, 2009, was one of the most important days in the Texas Rangers’ recent history. The organization added two high-profile shortstop prospects on that day when scouts officially signed Jurickson Profar and the underrated Sardinas. While the former has gone on the play in the majors at the age of 19, the latter has struggled with injuries and appeared in 96 games in Low-A ball in 2012.
Despite the litany of injuries, Sardinas could develop into a four-tool prospect, with his power having little chance of developing into a plus tool. A talent evaluator told me, “He’s an extremely talented shortstop…. He can hit from both sides of the plate, he can run and he can play a legit shortstop.” At the plate, Sardinas isn’t afraid to use the whole field and could develop some gap power as he fills out. His speed could allow him to steal between 20 and 30 bases at the big-league level, according to a second contact, who added, “[Sardinas is] another athlete and plus defender, with a plus arm and no fear defensively. He works the backhand plays well.”
It’s not often that teenage prospects — especially those who spent the year in Low-A — are assigned to the Arizona Fall League. Sardinas, though, is a rare case: He hit .318 in 11 games. He’ll likely open 2013 in High-A but he could reach Double-A by the season’s end if he can stay on the field. Texas could have a very big (but good) challenge in two to three years when it has to find a way to get all its middle-infield talent on the field while also maximizing their defensive value.
Jackson’s first full pro season saw him split the year between Low-A and High-A ball. His numbers are not all that impressive to date but he has a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s and can touch 96 mph to 97 mph. His curveball has plus potential but is currently inconsistent and his changeup is a work-in-progress — which helps to explain the early struggles that he’s had against left-handed hitters. The big, strong Jackson should develop into an innings-eater but his delivery needs be ironed out and he could use better balance through his delivery.
I asked a contact about Jackson’s strengths and he mentioned his power arm, plus fastball and plus curveball. “He will need to refine the delivery further if he is to remain a starting pitcher, but we still have time to determine that,” the source said. “At the very least, he could be two-pitch, big arm at the back-end of the bullpen.” Jackson, 21, made 13 starts in High-a in 2012 and could return to that level for a month or two before getting a bump up to Double-A. A strong spring, though, could force an earlier assignment to the higher level. If he can smooth out his actions on the mound and develop a reliable third pitch, the right-hander could become a No. 2 or a No. 3 starter.
The 2012 strikeout total — 159 Ks in 145 IP — is one of the first things that jumps off the stats sheet with Buckel. However, the smallish right-hander’s game is not about power, as his fastball sits in the 89 mph to 91 mph range. He uses a four-pitch repertoire to disrupt hitters’ timing and he moves the ball around the plate. Still, his habit of working up in the zone with his modest fastball could have ugly results against big-league hitters. He uses a slider, a curveball and a changeup, as well as a fastball. Despite his success in 2012, a contact I spoke with said Buckel still has a few things correct. “He needs to continue to increase his pitchability and greater refinement of his mechanics,” he said.
I spoke with another talent evaluator who was familiar with Buckel as an amateur and I asked if he was surprised with the amount of success the prospect has had to date. “Surprised? Not really, [we] always liked his advanced feel for pitching with average stuff, which has played up since arriving in pro ball. [He’s a] very intelligent kid who works his tail off at the game and has just refined and worked to achieve what he has to this point.” Buckel should return to Double-A for the beginning of 2013 but could see Triple-A by the end of the season. He should reach the majors in 2014 and has the ceiling of a No. 3 or a No. 4 starter.
Brinson was a 2012 draft pick whom I liked better than the consensus thanks to his impressive athleticism and promising swing at the plate. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Rangers take him with the 29th overall selection. He performed well in rookie ball with an impressive power-speed combination and he hit .283. But he also struck out 74 times in 54 games and he clearly needs to make more contact and improve his pitch recognition at higher levels to take advantage of his plus speed.
A contact I spoke with said that Brinson has been unfairly labelled as a raw talent: “I believe the biggest misconception with Lewis is that he’s a raw, crude athlete that lacks baseball skills,” the source said. “We spent a lot of time and effort scouting Lewis and knew that was far from the case, and I believe his Arizona [Rookie] League success showed that. All 18-year-olds that come into pro baseball need to improve their overall game and that goes with Lewis also. But I do believe with his skill-set and tools he has a chance to come quickly and be an impact player.”
In the field, Brinson shows plus skills, including range, instincts, reads and a strong and accurate arm. The center fielder, who will turn 19 in May, could jump on the fast-track with a strong spring training. As a result, he could open the year in Low-A. Still, he might need some additional seasoning in extended spring training and that could result in a return to short-season ball in June. He’s still has a lot of development ahead of him, but Brinson has the ceiling of a five-tool all-star.
The Boston Red Sox made a strong push to sign Grimm out of high school — he slid to the 13th round due to signability concerns — but he turned down Boston for the opportunity to pitch at the University of Georgia. He didn’t improve his stock as much as he hoped, in part due to inconsistent results in college, and he was available to the Rangers in the fifth round in 2010. Working with professional coaches has helped unlock some of Grimm’s potential and he reached the majors in just his second pro season.
A talent evaluator familiar with the right-hander said Grimm has “improved all aspects and its truly a credit our of development staff along with the non-stop work ethic of Justin. [He’s] a great kid who continues to always look at ways to improve and get better.” Grimm, 24, has a live, athletic body with a fast, loose arm. His fastball works in the 90 mph to 94 mph range and he’s done a better job getting a downward angle on the pitch.
He backs up his fastball with an above-average curveball and a solid changeup. He’s also been known to throw a cutter. His above-average control helps his stuff play up and he has the ceiling of a No. 3 or a No. 4 starter. Grimm should return to Triple-A to open up 2013 and he could be one of the first arms recalled in the event of an injury.
Alfaro is quickly moving up prospect lists as his development behind the plate continues to improve. The Colombian teenager was a teammate of Luis Sardinas at Low-A ball in 2012, and he also struggled with injuries. Despite that fact, he appeared in a career-high 74 games during the regular season — but just 29 behind the plate — and then played another 18 games in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
A contact I spoke with about Alfaro had high praise for the developing prospect. “He shows tremendous potential…. He has as many tools as anyone [in the system],” the source said. Because he’s only been catching for a few years, though, Alfaro is still raw behind the plate. “He wants to be a good catcher,” the contact told me. “It just takes time and you need to get a lot of experience.” He has a plus arm but he’s still learning to control iy. His receiving, blocking and game calling all need significant work.
Alfaro’s offensive potential — which includes plus bat speed — is currently hindered by an overly aggressive approach, which led to just 16 walks at Hickory last season. He also needs to add strength to hold up over a full season, which could also help him turn his gap power into over-the-fence pop. The contact I spoke said Alfaro has the chance to be a solid threat at the plate. “He has a chance to hit for power and be an impact bat,” the talent evaluator told me.
Alfaro should move up to High-A ball in 2013 and will likely spend a full season at the level. If he can avoid the disabled list and continue to improve both at the plate and behind it, the backstop prospect could reach the majors in 2015. If he fails to develop as a catcher, Alfaro could end up at first base, or possibly right field if he doesn’t fill out too much.
It’s easy to get excited about Gallo’s introduction to pro ball. The 2012 prep draftee slugged an eye-popping 22 home runs in 59 games. However, small-sample-size results often are misleading — and a similar pro debut was had by Houston’s Mitch Einertson in 2004. Einertson ended up topping out at Double-A. In fairness, though, Gallo was a much higher-ranked amateur with plus-plus raw power from the left side of the plate. his debut also is all the more impressive because he was a two-way player in high school and a number of teams preferred him as a pitcher.
I asked a talent evaluator about Gallo’s strengths as a ball player. “[He has a] big arm, and is a better defender than people give him credit for, and a very instinctual base runner,” the source said. “Maybe his best attribute is his baseball make-up, confidence and the professionalism he brings to the game.” Currently a third baseman with below-average foot work and modest range, Gallo, 19, could develop into a prototypical right-fielder with the power in both is bat and in his throwing arm. But he also has the athleticism to improve enough to become average at the hot corner — if he keeps up his conditioning — but it could slow down his development. Fellow prospect Mike Olt, if he remains in the organization, is a significant roadblock at the third base and is further along in his development.
At the plate, Gallo piles up strikeouts — 78 Ks in his debut — so he needs to make some adjustments, including shortening his swing and getting quicker to the ball. He also has a very patient approach (48 BBs). The young third baseman has a lot of work to do but there are few, if any, prospects who can match his raw-power potential. Gallo will likely move up to Low-A ball in 2013 and should spend most of the year at that level. He could be ready for the majors around 2016, and will look to avoid becoming the next Russell Branyan.
Originally a shortstop, Odor was not as naturally gifted at the position as both Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas, so the organization shifted him to second base. The move allows his offensive the ability to set the pace for his development. The offensive-minded second baseman should be no worse than average on defense, and he has the instincts and the pedigree to be above-average in time.
A left-handed hitter, he has a solid approach at the plate, although he needs to improve against southpaws while also getting stronger overall. After posting an .838 OPS before the minor league all-star break, Odor’s OPS was just .613 in the second half. A contact told me Odor wore down. “Those last 30 to 40 games he really tired,” the source said. “He’s worked hard this off-season to get stronger.” When asked if he was worried about his long-term offensive potential the contact told me, “He’s always hit, even as a try-out player.”
Odor, who just recently turned 19, could be one of the youngest players in high-A ball in 2013 where he figures to spend most, if not all, the year. The Rangers organization has an embarrassment of riches in terms of up-the-middle talent so there is no need to rush Odor. He could also eventually be used as trade bait to snag some MLB-ready pitching talent.
Lamb, 22, was a two-way player at Clemson University and wanted to be an everyday player but he flashed the ability to hit 93 mph to 95 mph as a left-handed pitcher (usually in shorter stints). Because he focused much of his efforts on hitting as an amateur, he’s further behind in his development than most college pitchers at the same age. “[He’s an] athletic, loose lefty who had big upside on the mound,” a talented evaluator told me. “We scouted Will from both sides, but believed he had the chance to have the biggest impact on the mound. Strengths are his natural action on the ball, along with deception and plus fastball.”
Lamb also has a promising slider but his changeup is a work-in-progress. He also needs to polish both his control and his command, which should help him rack up more strikeouts. It’s possible his future could come in the bullpen if his repertoire doesn’t fill out or he can’t maintain his promising velocity as a starter. Another contact I spoke with thinks Lamb has a lot of potential but he also has some things he needs to work on.
“A lot will be depend on how his body holds up to the rigors of starting,” the source said. “He has a high metabolism and works hard to maintain his weight through the course of a long, hot summer. He is learning to pitch with more conviction and has worked hard to clean up his delivery, he has improved his changeup and is throwing in to hitters on a more consistent basis.” With a number of promising arms ahead of him, the organization can afford to be patient with Lamb. He should move up to High-A to beging 2013.
#14 Jairo Beras
If you’re new to the Beras saga, you may want to catch up on the back story with this article written by Yahoo’s dynamic duo of Jeff Passan and Tim Brown. But the story, in a nutshell, is that Beras lied about his age — suggesting he was both 16 and 17 years old, which eventually allowed him to sign with the Rangers for a massive contract and avoid the new financial limitations on the international market that went into effect this past July (when Beras would have been eligible to sign if he had been 16 as he originally claimed).
Although he’s $4.5 million richer, Beras was given a one-year suspension from playing professional baseball and will not be eligible to make his pro debut until this July. The only action he’s seen to date were in workouts and practice games during the Rangers’ fall instructional league. A contact I spoke with says Beras — who stands 6-foot-5 and has a projectable 175-pound frame — should hit for plus power in time and also has arm strength that falls somewhere in the 60 to 70 range on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
I’m told the organization will take it slow with Beras’ development to begin with and, once his suspension expires, he’ll likely head to the rookie league in Arizona. “He just needs to get at-bats and real game experience,” the talent evaluator said. Beras, aka the International Man of Mystery, remains a considerable distance away from impacting the big league squad.
Yet another up-the-middle talent, Garcia’s ceiling is a little below that of his fellow prospects found higher on this list. With that said, a strong showing from 2012 could help him make a legitimate push for a 25-man roster spot in 2013. Although he’s too aggressive for his own good — just 22 walks in 100 games — and has below-average power potential, Garcia hit .292 at Double-A in 2012 as a 21-year-old.
He then got the rare opportunity as a prospect to play regularly in the veteran-laden Dominican Winter League and showed the ability to handle both shortstop and center field. A contact I spoke with said Garcia could potential give big league manager Ron Washington a lot of options. “He’s taken a big jump in winter ball….,” the source told me. “There aren’t a lot of guys that can play both shortstop and center field. He had a tremendous offseason.”
With Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar ahead of him, Garcia has moved around the field a bit and can also play second base and third base. The contact I spoke with called him a legitimate shortstop who has the ability to play regularly with plus speed at the big league level. The feeling is he’s underrated because the organization has been aggressive with his development. “He’s always played a level above where, perhaps, he should have.” If Garcia doesn’t break camp with the Rangers, he should head to Triple-A where he’ll continue to polish his defensive repertoire while also learning to become more patient at the plate.