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April 05, 2009

Texas Rangers Prospects #1-#9

In parentheses: position, age as of 4/1/09, highest level played, Jamey Newberg's ranking).

9. MARTIN PEREZ (LHP-starter, 18.0, short-A, Jamey’s #7) – In 2008, Perez was a full year younger than any player in the Northwest League. In early 2009, Baseball America published a report on Perez containing references to Ron Guidry and Johan Santana. BA also rated his curveball the best in the system. Today, Perez celebrates his 18th birthday. Some say he’ll arrive in Hickory on a winged horse. Some say he’ll arrive on foot after parting the Catawba River. There’s hype surrounding this youngster, that’s for sure. But seeing him pitch explains the hype. He’s no grunting, scowling, max-effort type. The ball just glides out of hand. His demeanor is competitive yet reserved. Though he didn’t post the gaudy peripherals of Wilfredo Boscan, he deserves the higher ranking. Bound for: Hickory.

8. ENGEL BELTRE (CF, 19.4, low-A, Jamey’s #9) – The bad news: Beltre reduced his SO rate, but his pitch-taking ability cratered in his first year in a full-season league. His 2.6% walk rate was the second worst among all pro hitters with at least 400 at-bats. Minor leaguers with that kind of batting eye rarely reach the Majors, much less make an impact. By my count, he was removed from three games after his first at-bat for not following instructions. He didn’t hit lefties at all (.215/.252/.257). The good news: Beltre’s walk rate improved from epically egregious in the first half (1.7%) to just exceptionally bad in the second (3.5%). His base-stealing also improved substantially – 9 steals versus 7 caught before the break, 22 versus 4 after. He pounded righties (.306/.327/.453, excellent for an 18-year-old in the Midwest League). He’s a five-tool fireball with ridiculous upside. Bound for: Bakersfield. He’s got a lot to work on, but I don’t see him repeating low-A.

7. MAX RAMIREZ (C/1B/DH, 24.5, MLB, Jamey’s #8) – Ramirez’s slim odds of making the active roster dwindled on a daily basis in March. While Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden left no doubt of their MLB worthiness in camp, Ramirez mostly bided his time on Venezuela’s bench. Roster crunches tend to work themselves out, but Ramirez is genuinely trapped at the moment: behind the aforementioned catchers at his nominal position, Chris Davis at first, and Hank Blalock at DH. That said, Ramirez has only 96 plate appearances above AA, so Texas isn’t doing him a disservice by planting him in Oklahoma City. He’s a .314/.414/.551 minor-league hitter and belted 21 homers in 96 games last year. But, can he provide enough defense to stick at catcher? If so, might he persuade Texas to trade Salty or Teagarden? If not, can he hit enough to play regularly at first or DH? In 2009, these questions get answered. I think. Bound for: Oklahoma City.

(RHP-starter, 20.3, low-A, Jamey’s #4) – Main suffered a rib injury that delayed his first appearance until late June. Meanwhile, Derek Holland was exploding into our collective consciousness, Neftali Feliz was meeting his lofty expectations, and Blake Beavan was enjoying an effective if oddly strikeout-free professional debut. Thus, Texas’s #3 pitching prospect didn’t receive as much attention as he probably deserved. Once he arrived in Clinton, he held Midwest League opponents to a line of .228/.299/.383 with a 30% SO rate (comparatively, Holland fanned “only? 24% in Clinton, Felix 33%). His athleticism and makeup are top-notch. You’ll hear of him early and often in 2009. Bound for: Bakersfield.

5. TAYLOR TEAGARDEN (C, 25.3, MLB, Jamey’s #6) – Teagarden has been all over the place offensively. He hit .310 in the minors in 2007, .211 this year, and .319 with the Rangers. Ultimately, he doesn’t profile for a high average, but with his strong secondary skills, he has the potential to bat .230 and still be average or plus offensively for his position. Per 100 games played professionally, Teagarden has 21 homers and 62 walks. Defensively, he’s the full package. If he can stay healthy, Teagarden is looking at no worse than a long career as a distinguished backup and occasional front-liner. If he can quell the lingering concern about his bat (he also strikes out 105 times per 100 games), he’ll be a fine starter, somewhere, perhaps Texas. Bound for: Texas, backing up Saltalamacchia, and potentially auditioning for a big trade.

4. ELVIS ANDRUS (SS, 20.6, AA, Jamey’s #5) – Being limited to about 38 players, I didn’t give Andrus a separate entry in my Rangers preview for the Hardball Times. He earned only a sentence or two in the opening essay. Michael Young was going to have to move someday, probably 2010, but Andrus wouldn’t get more than some token September at-bats this season. Right? Not so much. Unable or unwilling to consummate his annual breathtaking winter trade, Jon Daniels found a worthy substitute in moving his Gold Glove-winning shortstop to third and installing a 20-year-old in his place.

I don’t think Andrus is in above his head. He’s played alongside older men for his entire career. The bigger crowds and bigger expectations won’t faze him. That said, there will be growing pains, as Andrus is still a work in progress. Defensively, you’re going to see plenty of amazing plays… and plenty of errors that will undoubtedly have fans yelling for Young’s reestablishment at short. Offensively, my normally trusty computer predicts a line of .263/.329/.339. I hope so. Frankly, I’d take the under. If he can produce an OBP of about .320, just enough not to be a sinkhole, I really won’t care about his batting average or slugging. He’ll probably be attempting plenty of sac bunts in front of Ian Kinsler, and for once I heartily approve this strategy.

As I wrote in a separate Hardball Times piece, Young and Andrus ought to rank among the worst-hitting left sides of the infield in the American League. On the other hand, Young was really no better than average at short last year, and Texas’s 3B defense was uniformly awful. Slightly above-average defensive contributions from Young and Andrus will largely mitigate the offense. Bound for: Texas!

(1B, 22.3, low-A, Jamey’s #3) – From all accounts, catcher Jason Castro is a fine prospect and may eventually justify his #10 overall selection in the 2008 draft. Bully for Houston. As for Smoak, his astonishing descent last June 6th made Texas’s draft a success from the get-go. Though the Teixeira comparison is a little too easy, Smoak is in a fact a switch hitter offering contact, patience, power, and a fine glove at first. As expected, he handled a brief trial in low-A with ease. He then dominated the Arizona Fall League, batting .353/.468/.588. That and a terrific spring have apparently earned Smoak a “Get Out Of Bakersfield Free? card. Before long, Texas will have a stickier roster situation than Blalock/Teixeira in 2003. Smoak is a first baseman, period, as is Chris Davis, in my opinion. Davis can DH, of course, but that feels like an underutilization of someone so young. We’ll see. Bound for: AA.

2. DEREK HOLLAND (LHP-starter, 22.5, AA, Jamey’s #1) – Holland’s a lefty with a bit more refined breaking stuff, so why not rank him above Feliz? Good question, and I wouldn’t argue my case for Neftali Feliz too hard. It’s partly based on appearance: Feliz held elite prospect potential way back in 2007 when still a Brave, while Holland still retains a faint air of “where did this guy come from.? Jamey and I both ranked Holland 40th entering 2008. Scout.com’s Jason Cole pegged him 41st. Nobody else mentioned him, to my knowledge. He was a college pitcher with nice stats in short-season A. Swell, but there’s plenty of guys like that, hence the middling ranking. Then, he began 2009 by pitching just as well in Clinton, Then, he began hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. Then, the upper 90s. I don’t have the transcript of our AIM chat, but when I asked him how he gained so much on his fastball, his answer was approximately “lol, who knows.? Lol, indeed, unless you’re facing him in the batter’s box. Bound for: AAA.

1. NEFTALI FELIZ (RHP-starter, 20.9, AA, Jamey’s #2) – Accord all praise to Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein, who ranked Feliz Texas’s #1 prospect entering 2008. As for me, I ranked him lower than just about everyone, swayed far too much by a single internet broadcast of an August appearance in Boise where he offered a hot but erratic fastball and some comically off-kilter slidery-looking thing. Feliz pretty effectively harnessed his control last year, walking over three batters only twice all season and lowering his overall walk rate to 10.0%. He also struck out 30% of opponents and allowed only three homers in 127 innings. As you’ve heard, Feliz is still working on command of his fastball, his offspeed repertoire is lacking, and baserunners can run at will against him. He still posted a 2.98 ERA and held opponents to a line of .217/.321/.287 in AA as a 20-year-old. Now, imagine him with a developed curve and change and better awareness of the basepaths. I saw his worst start in Frisco last year (3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 BB), but this time I’m not holding it against him. #1. Bound for: AAA.

Posted by Lucas at April 5, 2009 08:24 PM