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January 10, 2009

Ranking Texas’s Top 72 Prospects, a/k/a Confirming Your Insanity In Writing

(Cross-posted from The Newberg Report)

Following the 2005 season, Jamey Newberg increased his list of Texas’s top prospects from 60 to 72. When he hired me to replace Mike Hindman in 2007, I decided to create my own list. It’s a bit of a fool’s errand, albeit an entertaining and hopefully informative one.

When ranking prospects, one can consider age, age relative to league/level, height, weight, handedness, current position, likely future position, tools, progress in developing those tools, statistical performance, intelligence, maturity, desire/tenacity, injuries, and other factors. Some of those attributes are concretely measurable, some inferable, and some complete unknowns. Then comes the issue of upside. Some prospects have a pretty good chance of drawing a consistent Major League paycheck but little chance of being an All-Star. Others have a better chance of being an All-Star but a much higher probability of flaming out in A-ball. Whom do you prefer?

Maintaining internal consistency is darn near impossible. Jamey generally ranks his players in terms of who he’d least prefer to be traded. That’s a good system, but even it breaks down for me eventually. I have a few players with limited upsides ranked ahead of some intriguing teenagers, because I think those in the former group are more likely to contribute marginally at the Major League level. But, I’d much rather trade one of them than the intriguing youngster with a 1-in-200 chance of catching fire.

So, why bother making a list? Because I like to see how my list compares to Jamey, to Baseball America, to Kevin Goldstein, to Jason Cole, to the folks at Baseball Time In Arlington, to Mike Hindman. Because it’s a way to test my knowledge and analysis, and to learn from mistakes. Because it’s fun.

Keep in mind that prospect values tend to decrease quickly and then flatten out as you move down the list. Here’s a hypothetical example of the relative talent/upside levels of a team’s prospects:

There’s a much bigger difference in trade value between #1 and #10 than between #40 and #70.

With all that said, I’m leading out with 28 players who didn’t make the Top 72. They aren’t ranked, and they aren’t necessarily prospects #73 through #100. They’re just more players who deserve a little of your attention in 2009.

I’ve included a guess of where they’ll begin 2009. Constructing potential rosters for the full-season teams isn’t especially difficult. For the pitchers, it’s tough bordering on impossible, the “downside? of having so much depth. Texas has about 60 slots available for the Rangers and its full-season teams, and at the moment I count 72 pitchers in-house with full-season experience. That doesn’t include hurlers from Spokane (or lower) who deserve promotions. Injuries and extended stays in Spring Training will ease the logjam to an extent, but the folks in charge still have some very tough decisions ahead.

Player ages are as of April 1, 2009. If Jamey had the player in his Top 72, it’s noted.

STARTING PITCHERS

JUAN GRULLON (LHP, 19.1 years old, DSL) – Grullon’s last seven appearances: 19 innings, three earned runs, .155 batting average, 6 walks, 32 strikeouts. Bound for: Rookie ball in the US.

BEN HENRY (RHP, 20.0, low-A) – Henry is the guy who threw three scoreless innings with a 50% strikeouts rate. He’s also the guy who threw two wild pitches in five different outings. Still learning how to pitch. Bound for: Spokane.

MICHAEL KIRKMAN (LHP, 22.5, low-A) – Injuries in 2006-2007 limited Kirkman to 74 total innings. 74 extremely frustrating innings (22% walk rate, 22 wild pitches). Healthy at last, Kirkman got the ball over the plate and resumed showing the promise that made him Texas’s 5th-round pick in 2005. Bound for: Bakersfield.

ANYENIL MENDOZA (RHP, 20.3, DSL) – Dominican Summer League manager Jayce Tingler lauded Mendoza in an interview with Scout.com’s Jason Cole. Mendoza displayed pinpoint control and precision against righties (10-to-1 SO:BB ratio) while losing his aim against lefties (1.33-to-1). Bound for: Rookie ball.

TANNER ROARK (RHP, 22.5, high-A, Jamey’s #71) – Texas’s 25th-round selection handled a July promotion from rookie ball to high-A with aplomb. He struck out 27% of his Cal League opponents and maintained a 2.48 ERA until allowing four runs in his final appearance. On the downside, he allowed five homers in 30 innings. Bound for: Probably some more innings in Bakersfield.

GLENN SWANSON (LHP, 25.9, high-A, Jamey’s #59) – Drafted as a fifth-year senior, Swanson was already 23 when he made his pro debut. Then, Tommy John surgery in mid-2007 limited him to 53 innings last year. His command was as good as ever, but he allowed seven homers in 33 innings in Bakersfield. 2009 is a critical year for him. Bound for: Possibly a brief stint in Bakersfield again, followed by Frisco.

RYAN TATUSKO (RHP, 24.0, low-A) – Pitching much better now than in college, and better than his 4.46 ERA indicates. Peripherals improved significantly when converted from reliever to starter. Bound for: Likely Bakersfield, though a roster crunch could force him to Hickory for a while.

RELIEF PITCHERS

KENDY BATISTA (RHP, 27.7, AAA) – Despite his advanced age, Batista has a grand total of just 227 professional innings (excluding winter ball) because of a five-year gap in his career. A June arm injury ended his season. Batista began exhibiting control problems upon promotion to AA, and he’s fared no better in that respect this winter. Bound for: AA or AAA.

REINIER BERMUDEZ (RHP, 23.8, DSL, Jamey’s #72) – A little old for the Dominican League and a little short for a stormtrooper, Bermudez nonetheless made a name for himself by throwing mid-90s cheese and posting a 36% SO rate. Righties hit .092/.200/.147 against him. Bound for: Spokane or even Hickory.

CHRIS DENNIS (RHP, 25.2, high-A) – Dennis took an absolute beating in Bakersfield (17 baserunners allowed in 4.2 innings), then went scoreless in 30 of 39 appearances in Clinton. He also stranded 12 of 16 inherited runners. Bound for: Swimming or sinking in Bakersfield.

RYAN FALCON (LHP, 24.6, high-A) – Falcon doesn’t throw hard but has managed to strike out over a quarter of his opponents during the past two years while displaying impeccable control (5% BB rate). Bound for: Bakersfield or Frisco.

JUSTIN GUTSIE (RHP, 22.2, short-season A) – Gutsie’s fastball can touch 95, but results were mixed in Spokane. Lefties had his number (.341/.431/.455), righties cried in despair (.196/.283/.239). Bound for: Hickory.

MARK HAMBURGER (RHP, 22.2, low-A, Jamey’s #48) – The return for Eddie Guardado was quietly effective in Clinton after striking out 26% of Appy League opponents. Literally signed out of a tryout camp with the Twins. He features a nice fastball/slider combo. Bound for: Hickory or Bakersfield.

KEA KOMETANI (RHP, 26.3, AAA) – Fearsomely effective after converting to relief in ’07, Kometani became one of 2008’s big disappointments. His rate of homers allowed tripled, his strikeouts declined, his walks increased, and his ERA suffered the consequences. A nice rebound candidate. Bound for: Oklahoma City.

A.J. MURRAY (LHP, 27.0, MLB) – Amazingly, still a rookie as defined by Baseball America (under 50 MLB innings). Quite effective in AAA, hot and cold in the Majors. Perpetually injured, but don’t write him off just yet. Bound for: Oklahoma City if healthy.

RYAN SCHLECHT (RHP, 23.7, short-season A) – Schlecht offered arguably the best statistical performance in Spokane, striking out 26% of his opponents and holding them to a line of .181/.253/.215. In his last 43 batters faced, he walked none and struck out 13. Bound for: Hickory, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he debuted in Bakersfield.

RYAN TURNER (LHP, 24.1, low-A) – The soft-tossing lefty had the lowest Fielding-Independent Pitching score of any stateside Ranger. Turner didn’t surrender a homer in 68 innings and walked just one of every 23 batters. Righties hit him pretty hard (.298/.323/.420). Bound for: Bakersfield.

CATCHERS

DOUG HOGAN (C, 24.5, short-season A) – A homer-hitting catcher who provided more raw power than John Mayberry, Ben Harrison and Chad Tracy (relative to their respective leagues). Alas, he also batted .225. Known for capable defensive skills, Hogan gunned down 36% of would-be stealers but allowed 16 passed balls. Bound for: Hickory, though it’s conceivable he could be a backup or job-sharer in Bakersfield.

EMERSON FROSTAD (C/1B/3B, 26.2, AAA, Jamey’s #68) – Frostad moved from catcher to first after 2006, then third to start 2008. By late June, when both Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez had moved on, Frostad resumed regular catching duties. He shot down a respectable one-third of potential base stealers after a layoff of over a year. Frostad started white-hot (.308/.378/.542 on May 10th) and finished cold (.230/.310/.349 thereafter). Bound for: Frisco or Oklahoma City in a multi-purpose role.

INFIELDERS

IAN GAC (1B, 23.6, high-A, Jamey’s #64) – Gac’s power has increased prodigiously over the years. He terrorized Hawaii in the winter of 2007 and was the Midwest League’s most feared hitter for two months, hitting 15 homers and reaching base at a .448 pace. Improvement in his batting eye continues to elude him. Upon promotion to Bakersfield, Gac hit another 13 homers but drew only 17 walks versus 96 strikeouts. Despite his still-young age, he’ll be a six-year free agent after 2009 unless protected on the 40-man roster. Bound for: Bakersfield (primarily as a DH if Justin Smoak is there) or Frisco.

EDWIN GARCIA (SS, 18.1, DSL) – Signed in 2007, the youngster showed impressive contact and patience in his pro debut. Bound for: Rookie ball in the US.

OUTFIELDERS

MIGUEL ALFONZO (COF, 20.9, low-A) – Alfonzo skipped Spokane after a solid US debut in rookie ball. Alfonzo struggles mightily with strikeouts (98 in 89 games) but did show a little more pop in the second half. Bound for: Probably Hickory, perhaps Bakersfield.

ERIC FRY (COF, 21.6, short-season A) – In terms of performance to date, Fry has been analogous to German Duran: not great at anything, but not bad at anything. He has some power upside. Bound for: Hickory.

BEN HARRISON (COF, 27.5, AAA, Jamey’s #61) – Harrison endured a miserable 2007 after suffering a shoulder injury the previous winter. In 2008 he resumed hitting as if the previous year hadn’t occurred. Harrison stood almost no chance of being taken in the Rule 5 draft, as too many free agents of similar age, position and caliber were available. Known more for power, he’s surprisingly Kinsler-esque on the bases (18 stolen and only two caught in ‘08). Bound for: A potentially crowded AAA outfield.

DUSTIN MAJEWSKI (OF/1B , 27.6, AA) – Okay, he’s 27 and has yet to reach AAA. He’s also able to play first or any outfield position while providing 10-15 homers and a .380 OBP. A sergeant among organizational soldiers. I’d praise him even if he’d gone to Texas A&M. Bound for: AA or AAA.

STEVEN MURPHY (COF, 24.9, AA, Jamey’s #65) – Murphy followed 2007’s power outage with a career-high 20 homers. The roadblock continues to be his batting eye. Bound for: Three-peating AA isn’t out of the question.

DAVID PAISANO (OF, 21.3, low-A, Jamey’s #66) – Paisano didn’t hit a lick in 2007 and was dropped last June from Clinton to Spokane, where he showed moderate improvement. In light of his formidable defensive skills, Texas likely will continue to be patient. Bound for: Hickory.

GUILLERMO PIMENTEL (OF, 19.4, DSL) – Gifted, raw youngster who hit .300/.440/.411 in the Dominican Republic. Bound for: Arizona.

Posted by Lucas at January 10, 2009 02:06 PM