Stock Up, Stock Down for Rangers Prospects After Week 8
The Texas Rangers have long been considered to have one of baseball's premier farm systems. It's now time for them to start using it.
This season, the club has been inexplicably ravaged by injuries—earlier this week, first baseman Prince Fielder became player No. 16 to land on the disabled list.
You thought it couldn't get any worse, especially after Fielder missed more than one game in a season for the first time in over five years. But the storm of injuries keeps rolling on, and nothing other than (maybe) the law of averages says there might be an end in sight.
With Fielder down, roughly 40 percent of the Rangers' Opening Day lineup is now on the DL. Not many teams could overcome that on the way to a 26-25 record after 51 games. But then again, not many organizations can boast the minor league talent that Texas can.
Right now, that talent is helping to keep this club afloat in a big way. Some of these guys are being thrown into the fire and are really stepping up. There are also a number of other prospects in the Rangers' system, particularly in the lower levels, who could be earning a promotion soon.
With that said, here is the Week 8 stock report for the Rangers' top 10 prospects. I ranked them numerically in order of their current talent and potential to blossom at the major league level.
Because they are now significant contributors for the Rangers, Michael Choice, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas are not included on this list.
On the Radar
Jake Smolinski—OF/1B, Double-A Frisco
A second-round pick in the amateur draft by the Washington Nationals in 2007, Smolinski signed with the Rangers organization as a free agent over the offseason. Last season, he played in the Miami Marlins' system with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs and put up solid numbers.
This season with Frisco, he is emerging as an offensive threat in the outfield. If there is another injury in the Rangers' outfield, don't be surprised to see him called up.
Last week's totals:
3-23, HR, 0 3B, 0 2B, 4 R, 2 RBI, 6 SO, 2 BB
.287/.382/.474, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 8 2B, 3 3B, 37 SO, 26 BB
Down. Smolinski had a bit of a rough week, with his batting average dropping 23 points since Monday. But he should pick it back up soon. He has been one of Frisco's better players this season.
Travis Demeritte—3B/SS/2B, Class-A Hickory
The Rangers were impressed with Demeritte's raw power for a middle infielder, which is why they drafted him with the 30th pick in the 2013 amateur draft straight from high school. He is considered to be a particularly raw talent who still falls short in plate discipline. Defensively, he has a plus arm and range.
Last week's totals:
7-19, HR, 3B, 0 2B, R, 3 RBI, 8 SO, 2 BB
.228/.313/.469, 9 HR, 22 RBI, 4 2B, 2 3B, 55 SO, 15 BB
Up. Demeritte is a classic power hitter, even with a slight 6-foot, 178-pound frame. He whiffed an alarming eight times in his 19 at-bats this week, but he also collected at least one hit in each game he played in. He is one of Hickory's leaders on offense and showed it this week.
Brett Nicholas—C/1B, Triple-A Round Rock
A 2010 sixth-round draft pick out of Missouri, Nicholas has advanced his way through the Rangers' system over the last couple of years. He's 25, but because of his power and the relatively shaky catching situation up in Arlington, he has a shot to get called up as the Rangers' most advanced backstop prospect.
Last week's totals:
7-22, 0 HR, 0 3B, 2 2B, 0 R, 0 RBI, 4 SO, 2 BB
.266/.352/.378, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 7 2B, 34 SO, 12 BB
Up. If for nothing else, then because he hit .318 for the week. Round Rock is a team relatively barren of talent, so Nicholas doesn't get a horde of opportunities to drive in runs. Still, he has three homers and 17 RBI to his credit this season, which shows he has some true ability at the plate.
10. Nomar Mazara: RF, Class A Hickory
Mazara is playing in his second full season at Class A Hickory. The 19-year-old right fielder put up strong numbers last season but is off to a bit of a sluggish start in his 2014 campaign.
He has impressive power, but outside of that, he doesn't have many other tools. He isn't a strong defender and he lacks speed as well as a standout throwing arm.
No one questions his ability to crush balls. However, his plate approach is also very raw, and he doesn't have great contact numbers—hitting just .230 over his last 698 at-bats with Hickory.
Mazara probably has at least as much potential to be a bust as he does to transform into a star. But his power potential is enormous, as he has plenty of room to beef up on that 6'4" frame. If he makes it to The Show, it will be by the ticket of the thunder in his bat—it might be his only hope.
Last week's totals:
4-15, 0 HR, 0 3B, 2 2B, 4 R, 3 RBI, SO, 2 BB
46 G, .224/.292/.333, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 10 2B, 0 3B, 39 SO, 16 BB
Down—for now. I expect that he'll get his average up a bit and raise his OBP back up over .300 at least. His power numbers are lower than expected after 46 games, but it's still early, and Mazara is one of the organization's most exciting young prospects at the plate.
9. Chris Bostick: 2B, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach
Bostick was "the other guy" the Rangers acquired in the trade with the Oakland Athletics over the offseason that netted them Michael Choice in exchange for outfielder Craig Gentry and right-hander Josh Lindblom.
It was a great deal for Texas. General manager Jon Daniels managed to swipe away two of Oakland's best prospects for a fourth outfielder and a pitcher who made a habit of getting shelled in spot starts.
Bostick could very easily be classified as a steal of an acquisition for Texas. He does everything well. At just 21 years old, he seems to be well on his way to becoming at least a serviceable middle infielder at the major league level.
He has a disciplined plate approach that places him ahead of the average 21-year-old. He strikes out a lot but also walks at a healthy rate, which suggests he has a solid hitter's eye. He has a smooth—but not necessarily compact—swing that allows him to hit for both average and power.
Defensively, he possesses active feet and above-average range, but his arm strength is just that of an average second baseman. Overall, though, Bostick has quite a bit of potential.
The biggest question surrounding his future with the Rangers: What about Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor? Bostick could be blocked for the next several years.
Last week's totals:
4-20, HR, 3B, 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI, 10 SO, 4 BB
45 G, .258/.341/.438, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 12 2B, 1 3B, 48 SO, 22 BB
Slightly up. He only hit .200 last week, which hurts his stock, but he was productive in both scoring and driving in runs. He was able to put himself in good spots despite only collecting four hits. His .341 OBP on the season says a lot—he's a versatile offensive player who can get the job done in a variety of ways.
8. Ryan Rua: 3B, Double-A Frisco
Rua, 24, was taken by the Rangers in the 17th round of the 2011 amateur draft. The Rangers' scouting and talent development teams are generally held in high regard around the league, as the team hits on many guys who are drafted in later rounds.
Rua has the potential to be another such hit for the Rangers organization.
Playing mostly third base, Rua put up solid numbers in his time at short season Class A Spokane. He was promoted to Class A Hickory in 2012 and didn't impress anyone enough to be considered more than positional depth.
But then came 2013. Rua blew his relatively low expectations out of the water and finished his second season at Hickory with 29 homers and 82 RBI. He put himself back on the map with that breakout production and earned a promotion to Double-A Frisco, where he is now considered a very strong Ranger prospect.
Rua is an offensive-minded infielder. He can man both second and third, but his defense is nothing more than average. Like Mazara, his bat will get him to the majors. He whiffs his fair share, but he makes solid contact and has nice pop to go along with it.
Still, Rua remains a bit of a mystery. He is relatively difficult to project, and a more clear projection likely rides on the remainder of his 2014 season in Frisco and a possible call up to Triple-A Round Rock.
We know he's talented. We really just don't know what this kid will turn into.
Last week's totals:
4-23, HR, 0 3B, 0 2B, R, 3 RBI, 7 SO, 0 BB
47 G, .290/.368/.491, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 8 2B, 1 3B, 36 SO, 20 BB
Down. Rua is having a nice season so far overall. But he's gone a little cold at the plate lately, with his average dropping about 20 points in the last week. Still, he's hitting close to .300 and has an OBP just south of .370. His plate discipline is respectable and continues to improve.
He's definitely one to keep an eye on going forward.
7. Ronald Guzman: 1B, Class A Hickory
Signed in July of 2011 to a $3.45 million bonus, Guzman was immediately attractive to the Rangers as a big, power-hitting, left-handed first baseman.
The 19-year-old Dominican has the same defensive deficiencies as Mazara—a below-average arm and lackluster speed. But he is far more advanced at the plate, and unlike Mazara, he doesn't rely on his power exclusively. Guzman can really hit for average and drive/spray the ball.
Guzman also has a large frame and can amplify his power by bulking up, which he has plenty of room to do. He was invited to spring training this season, and he immediately turned heads by cranking two homers in his first four Cactus League at-bats. So the potential is glaring.
So far this year at Class A Hickory, Guzman has had a difficult time getting into a groove. For all of his power and contact ability, he only has one long ball and is hitting a paltry .218 in 146 plate appearances. That's bound to pick up soon, however.
Last week's totals:
3-16, HR, 0 3B, 2B, 3 R, 5 RBI, 3 SO, 2 BB
35 G, .218/.288/.301, 1 HR, 21 RBI, 8 2B, 0 3B, 31 SO, 11 BB
Down. He having a disappointing 2014 campaign thus far. But remember, this kid is just 19 years old and is playing regularly in Class A. That's quite remarkable for someone that young. His numbers should improve soon, but he also likely isn't going to Double-A anytime in the near future.
Guzman will have plenty of time to prove himself at Hickory.
6. Lewis Brinson: Outfield, Class A Hickory
The Rangers took Brinson 29th overall in the 2012 amateur draft out of Coral Springs High School in Florida. He is a true high risk-high reward prospect—a guy who could be a star but has a fair chance of never making it to the big leagues.
Brinson has all the tools he needs to get him to The Show: plus speed and defensive range, an excellent throwing arm and some pop in his bat. His most pressing deficiency is his contact ability. Brinson is the definition of a free swinger, and his long, lanky frame is conducive to an open swing that leaves holes.
The 20-year-old outfielder had a very nice debut in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .283 with seven homers and 42 RBI in just 265 trips to the plate.
But he struggled badly in his first full season with Class A Hickory. He only managed a .237/.322/.427 line. His 21 dingers and 52 RBI can be deceptive—he struck out 191 times in 503 at-bats, which is good for a 37.9 percent K rate. That is more than alarming.
If Brinson can ever learn to eliminate the holes in his swing, he could possibly turn into a five-tool star. At this time, poor contact ability is the only thing holding him back, but boy is that a biggie. It could conceivably slow his progression through the Rangers' system by a couple of years.
Brinson has been out with a quad injury since April 26, when he was put on the seven-day DL with Hickory. There has been no reported timetable as to when he might return. He was off to a far better start this season before his injury.
22 G, .287/.333/.425, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 3 2B, 0 3B, 27 SO, 5 BB
Down. But that's obviously due to the injury. Still, he was having a much more level start to his 2014 season, and he remains one of Texas' most talented prospects. He has an extremely high ceiling and there's really no telling how good he could be if he puts it all together.
5. Nick Williams: Outfield, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach
Galveston, Texas' very own, Williams was a second-round draftee by the Rangers in 2012. Off the bat, he is one of the Rangers' most exciting prospects.
He is a three—maybe three-and-a-half—tool player, displaying above-average contact and power ability as well as plus speed. Williams lacks a strong throwing arm and doesn't boast impressive defensive range for an outfielder.
Center field is likely out of the question for Williams because of his short range. Right field requires the strongest-armed outfielders, and Williams lacks that tool. So in all probability left field will be his position in the majors.
Offensively, Williams has a ton of talent and is a complete, thorough hitter. He does get fanned a lot, and his low walk rate accentuates his higher-than-average K rate. However, he has a potentially special bat and can make up for his defensive setbacks at the plate.
If he can cut down on the number of strikeouts, he can become a player without any noticeable weaknesses with a bat in his hands. He's having an all-star caliber season right now with Myrtle Beach, hitting .298 even with a 27.5 percent K rate.
Last week's totals:
8-21, 0 HR, 3B, 0 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI, 6 SO, BB
43 G, .298/.346/.462, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 14 2B, 1 3B, 51 SO, 8 BB
Up. Williams has been phenomenal as of late, hitting .380 over the last week. His power numbers might be a little off from where they probably should be, but you can really see his contact ability. He's hitting almost .300 while carrying a high strikeout rate.
4. Alex Gonzalez: SP, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach
Alex "Chi Chi" Gonzalez was the Rangers' first selection in the 2013 amateur draft, taken 23rd overall out of Oral Roberts University. He spent a significant time as ORU's ace and therefore is likely well ahead of the typical draftee development curve.
I rank him as Texas' second-best pitching prospect behind Luke Jackson, as he is quickly emerging among an increasingly sizable talent pool of young arms in the Rangers' system.
Gonzalez is not an overpowering guy on the mound. He has plus control and features a four-pitch repertoire of a low-90s fastball, a high-80s cutter, a low- to mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. His slider is his out pitch, but he has that coveted ability to throw and locate any pitch in any count.
Because his fastball won't blow hitters away, Gonzalez needs to develop his changeup a bit more. The danger with him particularly could be not separating the velocity differences across his pitches enough. But the kid can really locate and has an advanced level of maturity and presence on the mound.
He likely won't become a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but Gonzalez could easily become a serviceable No. 3 in a solid rotation. I always say that location trumps pure velocity every single time, and Gonzalez has that down pat. If he ever adds a sinker to his arsenal, look out.
He's been outstanding in 10 starts this season as Myrtle Beach's ace.
Last week's totals:
2 GS, 1-0, 13 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 10 K, 5 BB
10 GS, 5-2, 61.1 IP, 2.49 ERA, 49 H, 47 K, 15 BB, 1.043 WHIP
Way up. Gonzalez really couldn't be pitching any better right now. His 47-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio is fantastic, and he's averaging more than six innings per start. He's being efficient with his pitches and pounding the zone, keeping hitters off balance by mixing things up. He's well on his way to Arlington.
3. Luke Jackson: SP, Double-A Frisco
Taken with a 2010 supplemental draft pick—No. 45 overall—the Rangers really hit a home run with Jackson.
He is the best pitching prospect in the Rangers' system, and he's had no trouble backing up that status with his numbers over the last year. Jackson has absolutely electric stuff, namely a screaming fastball that is said to touch 98.
For a couple years, Jackson's two biggest issues were a lack of a serviceable second and third pitch as well as shaky command. He was relying on a plus-plus fastball that could get hitters out, but he also got hit and walked a lot of batters early on in his pro career.
Since his breakout campaign with Myrtle Beach last season, Jackson has really refined his curveball, which has a break resembling a slurve and is his primary off-speed pitch, and has polished his changeup. He's cut way down on his walk rate, and that's helped him go deeper into starts.
This season, Jackson started the year in Frisco, and he hasn't missed a beat from last season. He's the ace of the Double-A team and should easily make the Texas League South All-Star team. Not yet 23, he has moved through the minors relatively quickly.
He has potential as a very good No. 2 starting pitcher in the majors with his stuff. He may need to add a fourth pitch as he begins to transition to Triple-A hitters, likely by the end of this season. Get excited about this kid, Rangers fans.
Last week's totals:
1 GS, 1-0, 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 K, 1 BB
10 G, 9 GS, 5-2, 55 IP, 2.78 ERA, 38 H, 53 K, 14 BB, 0.945 WHIP
Up, up and away! Take a look at that WHIP. Goodnight. Jackson has effectively eliminated his two weaknesses and has excelled even more against a higher level of competition. We could be looking at a bullpen call-up later this season and him cracking the Rangers rotation in 2015.
2. Joey Gallo: 3B, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach
Well, Rangers fans, remember how upset many of you were at the time C.J. Wilson signed with the LA Angels in the 2012 offseason?
Here is your consolation: That compensatory draft pick Texas got back from LA turned into Joey Gallo, who might have the most impressive power of any Ranger player or prospect since Juan Gonzalez.
The power is off the charts.
Off. The. Charts. It's prodigal. It's second coming-level stuff, especially for a 20-year-old.
As a big bonus, Gallo also draws a lot of walks with a good batter's eye.
But two well-documented flaws could be potentially fatal to his career as a position player: average contact ability and an absurd strikeout rate. The major question surrounding Gallo is whether or not he'll be able to make enough contact to utilize his unreal power.
He's started to really answer that question in a positive direction this season at Myrtle Beach. So far this season, he has a whopping 18 homers in just 47 games. He has 53 punch-outs in 205 plate appearances, which equals a 25.8 percent K rate. That's a significant improvement from his 2013 season in Class A.
Gallo has also worked 41 walks this season. A 53-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio is phenomenal, and that number of free passes can work to minimize his still existing—even if improving—flaw as a free swinger.
But at least to this point, Gallo has laid to rest those critics who knocked him for his weak contact ability. He's hitting .329 and getting on base at an insane .463 clip. That blistering pace won't continue, but if Gallo can finish the season with an average of .285 or higher, he could really be a threat to start tearing up Double-A.
Defensively, Gallo has a rocket arm at the hot corner. So much so that he could possibly make it as a pitcher if he doesn't make it as a third baseman.
Visions of a younger Adam Dunn in Cincinnati are dancing in my head right now.
Last week's totals:
2-12, 0 HR, 0 3B, 2B, R, 0 RBI, 9 SO, 9 BB
47 G, .329/.463/.753, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 7 2B, 3 3B, 53 SO, 41 BB
Barely down. Only because this was a tough week for Gallo contact and power wise. But he still managed to take nine walks and pad his OBP. He's had such a unbelievable start to this 2014 season, though, that a slight regression was due. Remember, he's just 20 years old and is putting up these numbers.
1. Jorge Alfaro: C, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach
Now that former top Rangers prospect Rougned Odor is playing an everyday role with the major league club, I consider Alfaro to be Texas' best prospect.
Although I also believe that Gallo's play this season as one of Alfaro's teammates could very easily put him in full discussion as having potential top prospect status. No matter who you think should be No. 1, to me, it's a very close race right now.
In the end, I gave Alfaro the spot as the Rangers' top prospect because he plays a position that isn't blocked by star talent at the major league level. Whereas Gallo is blocked by Adrian Beltre at third as well as Prince Fielder, since he could conceivably also play first, Alfaro has a pretty clear path to the majors.
JP Arencibia probably won't be in Texas beyond this year, and the futures of Geovany Soto, Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez are also uncertain beyond 2014.
There's quite a bit to drool over regarding Alfaro's tools and overall game. He has a Pudge Rodriguez-like cannon arm and power that also reminds me of one of the top two or three backstops of all time. He does not possess Pudge's defensive prowess behind the plate in terms of blocking balls, nor does he make contact like Pudge.
But those are Alfaro's weak points right now. He has an incredibly high baseball IQ and a desire to improve his game every day. If he can refine his ability to block wild pitches and receive well and enhance his contact tool, he will likely be an All-Star level catcher in the major leagues.
This season with Myrtle Beach, he's posting solid numbers. They could be a little better, but he is dealing with the "next big thing" tag on him.
Last week's totals:
6-23, HR, 0 3B, 2B, 4 R, 4 RBI, 7 SO, 3 BB
44 G, .257/.309/.400, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 8 2B, 1 3B, 47 SO, 10 BB
Down. As I said, the numbers could be better in several categories, namely average and OBP. Alfaro needs to reduce his number of strikeouts—he's averaging just over one per game. The power and run production numbers are on a decent pace. He just needs to keep working knowing his time will come.