Texas Rangers' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2015

Texas Rangers' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Any conversation about the Texas Rangers farm system begins with Joey Gallo, the 21-year-old slugger who led all minor league hitters with 40 home runs in 2013 and then broke that mark this past season with 42, ultimately falling one shy of Kris Bryant’s MiLB lead.

    Catcher Jorge Alfaro continued to flash his offensive upside and reached Double-A, though his defense is still very much a work in progress. 2013 draftee Alex "Chi Chi" Gonzalez is a high-probability right-hander who pitched better after a midseason promotion to Double-A, and he has the makings of a solid No. 3 starter with his plus fastball movement and deep arsenal. The organization added two impact arms in the Joakim Soria trade, acquiring right-handers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel from the Detroit Tigers.

    Outfielders Lewis Brinson, Nick Williams and Nomar Mazara’s tools began to play in games more consistently last season, resulting in the latter two players finishing the year in Double-A.

    In this year’s draft, the Rangers stole right-hander Luis Ortiz with the No. 30 overall pick, and they also got one of the class’ best pure athletes in Ti'Quan Forbes (No. 59), as well as an underrated prep hitter in Josh Morgan (third round).

    No team bets on tools in the draft and international market more than the Rangers. This strategy does lead them to missing a lot, but it also pays huge dividends when the player hits. Basically, the Rangers system always has something to be excited about, even if the majority of its best prospects are in the lower levels of the minors.

How They're Ranked

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: Number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: Delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: Present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: Feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal.
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Luke Jackson, RHP

    Michael De Leon, SS

    Ryan Rua, UTIL

    Ronald Guzman, 1B

10. Josh Morgan, SS/2B

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    Position: SS/2B

    DOB: 11/16/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 5’11”, 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2014 (Orange Lutheran HS, California)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades): 

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5540605555

    Scouting Report

    Josh Morgan made an immediate impact in his professional debut last summer after signing as a third-round pick, batting .322/.436/.347 with 65 hits and more walks (29) than strikeouts (23) in 243 plate appearances between the Rookie-level Arizona League and Short-Season Northwest League.

    As a 5’11”, 185-pound right-handed hitter, Morgan’s game is all about working counts and making contact. He has well below-average power but above-average speed, giving him top-of-the-order potential. Defensively, the 19-year-old’s range, hands and arm are all a tick above average at shortstop and therefore a clean fit at second base as well.  

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (major league regular)—High risk

9. Travis Demeritte, 2B

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    Position: 2B

    DOB: 09/30/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 178 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (Winder-Barrow HS, Georgia)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5055555550

    Scouting Report

    The No. 30 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Travis Demeritte smashed 25 home runs in 466 plate appearances last year in his full-season debut at Low-A Hickory, although they came at the cost of a .211 batting average and 36.7 percent strikeout rate.

    A 6’0”, 180-pound right-handed batter, Demeritte has above-average bat speed and a better feel for hitting than his average and strikeout rate suggest. However, the 20-year-old made a concerted effort last season to improve his in-game power, which ultimately came at the cost of a significantly reduced contact rate. It is worth noting, though, that Demeritte still managed to post a respectable 10.7 percent walk rate, which suggests room for improvement regarding his approach.

    On the other side of the ball, Demeritte has settled in at second base as a professional after manning both positions on the left side during his amateur days. He probably won’t become more than an average defender at the keystone, though that is all one could ask for given his bat-first profile.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (major league regular)—High risk

8. Lewis Brinson, of

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 05/08/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 170 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012 (Coral Springs HS, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 9

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4050655565

    Scouting Report

    Lewis Brinson returned to Low-A Hickory in 2014 and promptly took the South Atlantic League by storm, batting a robust .335/.405/.579 with 19 extra-base hits, before moving up to the Carolina League, where his production came back to earth in the form of a .246/.307/.350 batting line.

    Brinson is a physical specimen at 6’3”, 170 pounds with electrifying athleticism, with 65-grade speed that give him similar range in center field. He exhibits enough arm strength for right field if he’s ever forced to move from center, as he generally takes aggressive routes to the ball and plays with high intensity.

    A right-handed batter, Brinson has plus raw power with speed that helps him pile up doubles and triples. His exceptionally strong wrists and forearms create premium bat speed, while the ball jumps off his bat with loud contact to all fields.

    And while Brinson still has a significant amount of swing-and-miss to his game, he lowered his hands from chin-level to around mid-torso toward the end of the 2013 season, which improved his contact rate by better allowing him to stay closed with the front side and drive the ball up the middle and to the opposite field.

    The development and utility of Brinson’s tool will dictate his impact at the highest level, though it may take him a few extra years to ascend the Rangers system.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—High risk

7. Luis Ortiz, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 09/22/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 230 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Sanger HS, California)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    60605055

    Scouting Report

    The Rangers took a gamble on Luis Ortiz when they selected him with the No. 30 overall pick in last year’s draft, as the right-hander missed most of the spring with a forearm injury. However, after a great start to his professional career, he’s already looking like one of the big steals from the first round.

    Ortiz was assigned to the Rookie-level Arizona League after signing and made an immediate impact, posting a 2.03 ERA and 15-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.1 innings. The 18-year-old's success earned him a quick promotion to full-season ball, where he allowed one run in seven innings over three appearances.

    Ortiz throws a heavy fastball in the low to mid-90s as well as a sharp, downer breaking ball, but he will need to improve his overall secondary arsenal and command as he climbs the organizational ladder. It likely will take him several years to develop, but the young right-hander’s upside should make it well worth the wait.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)—High risk

6. Nick Williams, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 09/08/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: Second round, 2012 (Ball HS, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 6

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5555604550

    Scouting Report

    Nick Williams hit .292/.343/.491 with 28 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs at High-A Myrtle Beach last season, but he also struck out 117 times compared to 19 walks in 94 games. The 21-year-old finished the season with a 15-game stint at Double-A Frisco, where he batted .226/.250/.290 with a 32.8 percent strikeout rate.

    Williams is an aggressive left-handed hitter, with a lightning-quick bat, outstanding barrel control and above-average raw power. Unfortunately, even after his productive season in the Carolina League, there’s still reason to worry whether his free-swinging approach will allow those hitting tools to translate against advanced sequencing at higher levels.

    Williams has the potential for legitimate plus hit and power tools at maturity, as his plus bat speed allows him to turn around high-end velocity with ease. Even though he shows decent recognition of secondary pitches, he still is an overaggressive hitter who attacks the ball and doesn’t even attempt to coax walks.

    At 6’3”, 195 pounds, Williams is a 60-grade runner with long strides that cater to his overall range, whether it is in center, right or left field. He should continue to see time at all three positions moving forward. In general, his arm is below average and is really his only down tool, while his inconsistent reads and routes highlight his areas for improvement.

    2015 will be a telling year for Williams, as he’ll be forced to make significant adjustments in his return to the Texas League. There's no questioning that he has the tools and athleticism to be an impact player; however, whether he'll develop the capacity to make the necessary adjustments to move through the high minors is a different story

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—High risk

5. Nomar Mazara, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 04/26/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Signed: 2011 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 10

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5060406045

    Scouting Report

    Nomar Mazara made the jump directly to Double-A Frisco last season after posting an .828 OPS with 19 home runs while repeating the Low-A level. The 19-year-old outfielder impressed during his 24 games in the Texas League, batting .306/.381/.518 with 11 extra-base hits and 16 RBI.

    The 6'4", 205-pound left-handed hitter features plus bat speed, whipping the barrel through the zone with controlled force to generate effortless plus raw power. Meanwhile, the fact that it’s already showing in games at such a young age is very encouraging.

    Mazara’s hit tool has the potential to be average, although his swing does have some unnecessary movement—it was cleaner last season—and, at times, lacks fluidity, leading to a high whiff rate. However, the 19-year-old did show a more refined approach, raising his walk rate by more than three percent. It’s also worth noting that Mazara continued to struggle against same-side arms last season, highlighted by his .200/.268/.331 batting line in 142 plate appearances.

    Mazara’s combination of decent range, plus arm strength and huge raw power make him a clean fit in right field at the highest level, and he’d still have considerable upside in a platoon corner outfielder given his ability to mash right-handers. Mazara will return to Double-A in 2015 and spend a majority, if not all, of the season there, putting him on track for a potential debut sometime in mid- to late 2016.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—High risk

4. Jorge Alfaro, C/1B

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    Position: C/1B

    DOB: 06/11/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2010 (Colombia)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4560457050

    Scouting Report

    Jorge Alfaro turned in another strong offensive campaign in 2014, batting .261 with 48 extra-base hits (17 home runs) and 87 RBI in 121 games, with his final 21 contests coming at Double-A Frisco. However, his approach and plate discipline didn’t improved as hoped, as the 21-year-old struck out 123 times against just 29 walks.

    Alfaro has as much upside as any catcher in the minor leagues, as he’s incredibly agile and aggressive behind the plate with legitimate 70-grade arm strength. However, his blocking and receiving are inconsistent and even sloppy at times, which is why, despite having a cannon on his right arm, he threw out only 28 percent of attempted base stealers last season and committed 23 passed balls in 90 games behind the plate.

    Alfaro also logged 18 games at first base last season, though a full-time move to the position at this point in his career would be a waste of his athleticism. I’d expect the Rangers to first try him at third base or right field.

    At the plate, the right-handed hitter has the bat speed to turn around velocity but struggles to recognize spin and keep weight on his backside. Alfaro’s above-average speed is a weapon and makes him a rare dual-threat catching prospect, with the potential for 20-plus home runs and double-digit stolen bases in his prime.

    While his long-term projection as first-division backstop still involves considerable risk, Alfaro should continue to make significant developmental strides next year after getting his feet wet in Texas League.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—High risk

3. Jake Thompson, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/31/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 235 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2012 by Tigers (Rockwall-Heath HS, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 4 (Tigers)

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    60605050

    Scouting Report

    Jake Thompson was acquired from the Tigers along with Corey Knebel last July as part of the Joakim Soria trade. The 20-year-old right-hander made 16 impressive starts in the High-A Florida State League before moving up to Double-A, where he had a 3.01 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 46.2 innings, a majority of which were logged after joining Detroit’s system. Overall, Thompson posted a 3.12 ERA and 130-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129.2 innings.

    Thompson’s stuff steadily improved over the course of the season, as his fastball gained a few ticks to sit in the 93-96 mph range consistently, making his baseline 60-grade slider all the more effective. His changeup isn’t anything special but should be average at maturity, giving Thompson a three-pitch mix that suggests No. 3 starter potential. However, the right-hander also has some effort to his delivery as well as command that requires further refinement, portending that his realistic long-term role might be that of a late-inning reliever, possibly even a closer.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3 or 4 starter/second-tier closer)

2. Alex 'Chi Chi' Gonzalez, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/15/1992 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 192 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (Oral Roberts)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 3

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballSliderChangeupControl
    6050605550

    Scouting Report

    Chi Chi Gonzalez’s command was on the raw side coming out of college, but a full season facing quality hitters at the High- and Double-A levels has improved his execution within the strike zone.

    The 23-year-old right-hander was promoted to Double-A after registering a 2.62 ERA and 49-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65.1 innings for High-A Myrtle Beach. His success continued in the Texas League, where he pitched to a 2.70 ERA with 64 strikeouts over 73.1 frames.

    The right-hander’s fastball registers in the 91-95 mph range, at times touching a tick or two higher, and he’s adept at cutting it to create slicing action to the glove side. He has an aggressive approach with the pitch, attacking both sides of the plate while consistently working down in the zone. 

    Gonzalez’s slider is his best secondary offering, as he throws it with velocity at 84-87 mph and generates good tilt and late break. It’s a plus offering and will serve as his out pitch at the highest level, though he still has room to improve in terms of chasing whiffs outside the zone. Gonzalez is still developing feel for his changeup, but it projects as a potential solid-average offering that helps keep opposing hitters off his fastball-slider combo.

    Gonzalez doesn’t have an especially high ceiling, but I also wouldn’t put it past him to blow past projections given his overwhelming success last year in his first full season. He should have a spot waiting for him in the Rangers rotation once he’s ready.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)—Low

1. Joey Gallo, 3B

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 11/19/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 205 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012 (Bishop Gorman HS, Nevada)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 7

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4580407050

    Scouting Report

    Joey Gallo led all minor league hitters with 40 home runs in 2013 and then improved on that total this past season with 42, finishing one long ball shy of Kris Bryant’s MiLB lead. The 21-year-old’s impressive campaign began at High-A Myrtle Beach, where his refined approach and shorter swing produced a .323/.463/.735 batting line with 21 home runs and respective strikeout and walk rates of 26.0 and 20.7 percent over 246 plate appearances (58 games).

    The slugger hit another 21 dingers in 68 games following a midseason promotion to Double-A Frisco, but his approach was exploited by Texas League pitchers and resulted in a .232/.334/.524 batting line with respective strikeout and walk rates of 39.5 and 12.4 percent over 291 plate appearances.

    At 6’5”, 205 pounds, Gallo is a physical specimen with enormous, 80-grade raw power. The combination of his quick wrists, explosive bat speed and lofty swing gives him effortless in-game power to all fields, making it easy to envision him being a true 35-home run threat at the highest level. The 21-year-old will always be a streaky hitter and have a considerable amount of swing-and-miss to his game, but he’s also learning to work counts and take walks, therefore allowing him to see more hittable pitches.

    Gallo’s simplified swing played a major role in his improved consistency last season. Specifically, he reduced his pre-pitch load so as to be shorter to the ball, which allowed him to better control the zone and get to many of the pitches he missed the previous year. The adjustment led to improved strikeout (33.3 percent) and walk (16.2 percent) rates as well as a solid average (.271), and it didn’t come at the cost of sacrificing power (42 HR, .344 ISO).

    Gallo has worked to become a quality defender at third base, but his present average range is likely to worsen as he ages due to his 6’5” frame. His athleticism and plus-plus arm strength would also play in the outfield, which is where the Rangers began giving him reps this past fall in instructional ball.

    Gallo likely will return to Double-A next season to continue refining his swing and approach, and a late-season call-up could be a possibility if he’s able to make more consistent contact in his second tour of the Texas League.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (Potential All-Star)—Medium risk

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