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March 17, 2009

Texas Rangers Prospects #10-#18

In parentheses: position, age on 4/1/09, highest level achieved, Jamey’s ranking)

18. JOSE VALLEJO (2B/SS, 22.6, AA, Jamey’s #18) – We’ve all seen enough “toolsy? players fail to develop as hoped that the description sometimes feels perversely derisive. Vallejo was justifiably lauded for his tools and deserved prospect consideration despite lines of .234/.289/.284 and .269/.326/.327 in two seasons at Clinton. Vallejo batted .353/.413/.515 in his first 17 games in Bakersfield, better than any comparable period in his career. The Cal league deserves partial credit, but Vallejo had clearly taken a major step forward. He would finish with 11 homers after tallying only four in the previous three seasons combined. Over the past two seasons he’s posted 89 steals versus only seven caught. He’s also working out as a shortstop. Whether he’ll hit enough to warrant a full-time job is still in doubt, but he might become an awfully good utility player. Vallejo Bound for: AAA.

17. TOMMY HUNTER (RHP-starter, 22.7, MLB, Jamey’s #19))– Hunter threw 188.2 innings last year (including playoffs), more than anyone in the organization (minors or Majors) by a healthy margin. Having pitched over 130 innings between Alabama and Spokane in 2007, the increase in workload was large but not Feldman-esque. Though 6-3 with a trunk like a sequoia, Hunter nevertheless succeeds mostly with excellent control and plenty of grounders. That’s not to say he’s a finesse pitcher; Hunter’s fastball consistently exceeds 90 and misses a fair number of bats. Hunter didn’t belong in the Majors so soon and was blasted in his three appearances, but on the bright side, I think the episode revealed Texas’s belief in his maturity and toughness. The Rangers wouldn’t have brought him to Arlington if they thought being roughed up would wreck his confidence. Hunter confirmed that view by pitching well after returning to Oklahoma. Bound for: AAA rotation.

16. KASEY KIKER (LHP-starter, 21.4, high-A, Jamey’s #15)– For several reasons, Texas’s #1 pick from 2006 didn’t receive much notice last year. Assign partial blame to his location. Kiker spent the entirety of 2008 in Bakersfield. The Blaze play in one of pro baseball’s worst facilities, attendance is understandably poor, and the local paper stopped covering them after the first week of the season. (Indeed, via a link to the Newberg Report, the team itself used me as its de facto beat writer for most of 2008. That’s fine, but it underscores the lack of coverage.) Thus, players who spend the entire season there toil in relative obscurity. Also, Kiker missed portions of the season with fatigue and shoulder soreness, he didn’t repeat the gaudy numbers of his first full season, and folks like Feliz and Holland deservedly commanded more attention. In truth, Kiker actually lost little ground statistically. His homer rate barely budged despite the move to a hitter-friendly league. He struck out over 21% of opposing batters, 7th best among the 41 Cal League hurlers to log at least 90 innings. Given his occasional wildness in the past, his most notable achievement might have been his 7% walk rate, well under the league average. Still, 2008 was a mild disappointment. In response, Kiker has bought wholeheartedly into Nolan Ryan’s conditioning directive. Bound for: The AA rotation, soon if not immediately.

15. OMAR POVEDA (RHP-starter, 21.5, high-A, Jamey’s #17)– Much of what I said about Kiker applies to Poveda: He spent the entire year in Bakersfield, missed nearly two months, and didn’t have the season hoped of him. Poveda’s 25% SO rate led Cal League qualifiers, but he also struggled with his control for the first time. He did show enough, and promised enough, to merit placement on the 40-man roster this winter. Poveda is a prominent exception to the “needs a changeup? descriptor applied to many young pitchers. His is already refined, whereas his fastball and slider aren’t quite there yet. Bound for: Just like Kiker, the AA rotation, soon if not immediately.

14. NEIL RAMIREZ (RHP-starter, 19.o9, short-A, Jamey’s #12) – Short-season Boise carries its games live on the net, so I was able to watch Ramirez at his best last August. In three innings, Ramirez fanned four (three on devastating curves) and featured a low-to-mid 90s fastball that consistently stuck in the bottom of the strike zone. Ramirez struck out 28% of opponents on the season. Alas, he also occasionally exhibited some of the worst control in the system, walking nearly one of every six batters. He was a rookie, so that’s not a problem yet. Huge upside, long journey. Bound for: Hickory rotation.

13. WILFREDO BOSCAN (RHP-starter, 19.4, short-A, Jamey’s #13)– Boscan and Ramirez aren’t polar opposites, but they’re sure not twins. How in the world does an 18-year-old in the Northwest League post 6.3 strikeouts for every walk? Relative to league average, Boscan’s 3.9% walk rate was the best in the organization (including relievers). His command of his fastball, change and curve is the envy of players ten years his senior. Many pitchers of that ilk are soft-tossers with ceilings below AA, but Boscan has surpassed 90 on the gun and might gain a little more as he reaches full maturity. Bound for: Hickory rotation.

12. JULIO BORBON (CF, 23.1, AA, Jamey’s #11)– I was something less than enraptured by Texas’s selection of Borbon in the 2007 draft. His skill set made (and makes) him almost certain to make the Majors, but in what role? Borbon displayed tremendous contact skill and speed in his three seasons at Tennessee. His modest power was acceptable for a center fielder, but his inability to take pitches was a serious problem. I feared he’d end up a guy who offered a .280 batting average and little else. In his first full season, he’s lessened those concerns, if not eliminated them. First, he maintained his contact and even thumped seven homers while reaching AA. Then, though he’d walked as little as ever during the regular season, his Arizona Fall League performance was a revelation: 17 walks in 104 plate appearances resulting in a .404 OBP. That’s just a data point, just a fraction of his regular-season appearances, but he’s now shown the potential to develop into a genuinely effective and well-rounded leadoff hitter. Bound for: Oklahoma City. No less than a cup of coffee in September. Maybe a whole pot.

11. BLAKE BEAVAN (RHP-starter, 20.2, low-A, Jamey’s #10) -- What would you reasonably expect from a brash American flamethrower dealing with velocity loss? I’d fear (if not outright expect) overthrowing and a dismal walk rate. To his immense credit, Beavan took the opposite route and focused hard on his control. Making his professional debut in full-season ball, he walked only one of every 24 batters faced and posted a 2.37 ERA (and 3.11 RA). Better still, word on the street is that his speed inched back up in fall instructionals. If he fully regains his velocity while maintaining his control, well… Texas did draft Beavan before Michael Main. Expect his placement outside the top ten to be a one-year anomaly. Bound for: Bakersfield.

(RHP-starter, 23.5, MLB, Jamey’s #14) – Ugh. Bound for: Rehab.

Posted by Lucas at March 17, 2009 11:48 PM