We're nearly halfway through the Major Leagues, having now looked at 13 of the 30 teams. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:
You might think that a team coming off of back-to-back appearances in the World Series might have had to empty their system to help accomplish that, but the Texas Rangers may have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. This is in spite of trading two pitchers who seem to be appearing on a number of top 100 lists (Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland). While the team did not graduate any players of note from the minors last year, the system is likely to help the team to fill in any gaps that may occur at the big league level in the near future.
Ready in 2012
Perez has been at or near the top of many prospect lists for the past few years, especially after finishing the 2009 season at AA despite being just 18 years old for the whole season. However, his performance in AA in the following season lead to some concerns, but still a very high ranking, as he was still just 19 years old and already in AA. He made 16 starts in AA to start the 2011 season, and the performance returned to a high level. He finished in AAA with 10 more starts, but allowed a WHIP of almost 1.9 and an ERA of 6.43. He did show an unusually high BABIP allowed (.386) and a 62.5% strand rate, so the performance in 2011 was a bit better than it appeared. Here's what Nathaniel Stoltz had to say about Perez:
Perez throws from a deceptive delivery with a hip turn that hides the ball. He works in the 90-94 mph range with good life on his fastball, and his curveball is devastating when it’s on. His changeup is inconsistent but works well when he trusts it. If all the ingredients come together for him, Perez could be a #1 starter, and he obviously has ample time to adjust, given that he turns just 21 in the first week of the 2012 season.
Despite the fact that he's been on prospect lists for a few years, he will likely be able to spend a majority of the 2012 season in AAA further refining his skills. The Rangers' rotation as it stands now actually has 6 or even 7 potential pitchers already in the Majors to use before they would call on Perez. As a result, I think it will be unlikely unless the team suffers multiple long-term injuries to the rotation that we see Perez before the end of the season.
Martin defected from Cuba during 2010, and signed with the Rangers early during the 2011 season. He moved quickly through the system, spending just 33 games below AAA and finishing up with the big club in September. I actually saw Martin briefly when Round Rock came to Sacramento last season, but it was hard to take too much from seeing just 3 at bats out of him. Here's a bit of what Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball had to say about him as a part of their community prospect rankings:
As far as tools go, Martin is similar to Profar, in that he is solid across the board, with above average speed, range, and arm, but none of those tools grade out as elite. He doesn't profile as having much power, but has gotten good reviews for his plate discipline, and if his hit tool develops, he could turn into the prototype leadoff hitter everyone is looking for.
The one thing I will say that concerns me about Martin is that a lot of his perceived value relates to his defense, which isn't particularly relevant for our purposes. I can see where a .300 hitter could emerge, and it seems like if that happens he'll be able to provide 20-25 stolen bases, a lot of runs, and maybe 5-10 home runs. I do think he'll get there, but I want to see him duplicate the production he showed in AA at the AAA level. I agree with Adam that he'll likely start the season at AAA, and could potentially be in Texas before the end of the season.
A supplemental first round draft pick of the Rangers back in 2007, Ramirez had not pitched above Low-A prior to the 2011 season. However, he was called up to AAA after just 1 start in High-A to help fill in for the injured Eric Hurley, and pitched so well that he stuck around once Hurley returned. Here's what Bart Klett of Baseball Instinct had to say about Ramirez:
The good news is that Ramirez took the increased levels of competition in stride. In 74.1 innings pitched he was good for 86 k’s while allowing 6 home runs. Relying on a solid 3 pitch arsenal, his stuff is quite good. To compliment his fastball which sits in the low to mid 90’s is a curve and change up which both show flashes of major league average or better.
I am still a bit concerned about the walk rate (3.8 in AA, 4.2 in AAA), but another season down in AAA could really help refine him further. Like Perez, the team does not have an urgent need in the Majors right now, so they can take the time to allow him to pitch more innings with Round Rock, and could be in Texas before the end of the season.
Could Be Ready by 2014
Signed out of Curacao, Profar exploded to the top of prospect lists everywhere after his performance in the Sally League last season. Just 18 years old, Profar showed across the board power (57 XBH), and speed while playing a solid shortstop. He also drew more walks (65) than strikeouts (63), extremely impressive for a player his age. Here's what Nathaniel Stoltz over at Seedlings to Stars had to say about him when he ranked him as the #2 prospect in all of baseball:
Profar projects as the quintessential leadoff hitter, much like Harper is the ideal cleanup man. The shortstop switch-hits, runs well, and shows an incredibly advanced approach for his age–he walked more than he struck out in 2011, which is shocking given his youth. Furthermore, he ripped an extra-base hit every other game (57 in 115 contests), and could be an annual 15-20 HR player with a ton of doubles and triples.
Defensively, Profar is a sure bet to stick at shortstop. He has an extremely strong arm–in fact, Texas was the only team that were willing to not make him a pitcher in pro ball, which is why he signed with the Rangers in the first place–and good infield actions and range. Many young shortstops post obscene error totals in the low minors, but Profar already has his fielding percentage up above .950.
A shortstop who is likely to provide across the board solid to above-average production, and is likely to stay at shortstop long-term? Yes please. Profar may not be available in a lot of dynasty leagues at this point due to his excellent production last year, but if he is he should be at or near the top of your target lists. He will likely be sent to High-A Myrtle Beach, and with Elvis Andrus already cemented in the bigs right now, I don't see a particular reason for them to rush him up the levels. He seems likely to spend the full season in High-A, unless his performance dictates otherwise, and will likely continue on going up a level each year.
Olt was drafted by the Rangers in the supplemental 1st round in 2010, and signed quickly enough to appear in 69 games in the Northwest League. He got off to a quick start in April and May in the Carolina League, hitting .285 with 10 home runs in just 54 games. However, a broken collarbone forced him out of action until August, and he struggled with his batting average the rest of the season. The Rangers sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get some more reps, and he really made great use of them to the tune of .349/.433/.764 with 13 HR in just 27 games. The scouting reports on Olt's defense at 3B have been excellent, but it remains to be seen whether he will end up playing there for the Rangers in the future. Here's a bit of what Jamey Newberg had to say about Olt during the AFL:
But this is a kid with middle-of-the-lineup potential who was headed for Carolina League MVP honors when he went down with a broken collarbone in early June, and seems poised to land the AFL MVP award as well.
There’s still some swing-and-miss in the bat (Teixeira’s, too), but Olt has the chance to be a versatile, productive offensive player (he led the Carolina League in walks when he broke his collarbone) whose plus tools at third base could certainly translate to plus tools at first as well.
Olt will likely be in AA to start the season, and I would imagine he'll be allowed to stay at 3B until he forces the team to find a way to get him into the big league lineup. There's a lot to like here, and the team could definitely look to move him either to a different position (1B, OF), or possibly to acquire the last piece they may need to return to the World Series for the third straight season.
Long-Term Prospects (Not Likely to Be Ready until 2015 At Least)
Signed out of Colombia, Alfaro was sent to the Northwest League for his first stateside assignment, and posted a .300 batting average with 6 home runs in just 45 games there. Here's what John Sickels had to say about him as a part of his top 20:
Scouting reports and word-of-mouth are glowing, praising offensive and defensive potential. Somehow he hit .300 with power in the Northwest League despite appalling plate discipline, and he needs a lot of polish on defense. Very young, high-ceiling, high-risk. I can't give a higher grade to a guy with a 4/54 BB/K no matter what the scouting reports say.
4 walks and 54 strikeouts in 45 games? Wow that's some crazy bad plate discipline there. He was still just 18 years old last year, and I have to imagine that the ability to draw a walk is something that they are going to have him work on in 2012. I can see him returning to either the Northwest League or possibly being pushed to the Sally League to see if they can keep him moving forward at the same time. Either way, Alfaro isn't likely to be ready for a few more years.
Odor was signed out of Venezuela, and given an extremely aggressive assignment in 2011. The Rangers sent him to the Northwest League as a 17 year old, where he was the youngest player in the league. The numbers weren't amazing (.262/.323/.352), but he was still the youngest player in the league, and didn't struggle entirely. Here's what Marc Hulet of Fangraphs wrote about him as a part of his top 15 prospects list:
He needs to get stronger, having faded late in ’11, and should eventually display solid line-drive strength but power will never be a big part of his game. Odor flashes signals that he could develop into an above-average hitter in terms of batting average and should take a decent number of walks as he matures.
He is still a long, long way away from being productive in the Majors, but in really deep leagues he is a player who should be monitored next season. If the Rangers continue to push him, I could see an assignment to their Low-A affiliate, where he'll likely be the youngest player in the league again. Beyond that, I would imagine he could be on a path to hit the big leagues in 2015 or 2016 depending on how fast he adjusts to each level.
Buckel emerged on a lot of prospect lists this season after posting excellent strikeout (11.2/9) and walk rates (2.5/9) in the Sally League last year, and it appears to be with good reason. The most aggressive ranking I've seen of Buckel to this point is from Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars, and here's a bit of what he had to say about Buckel:
Buckel also brings a polished four-pitch arsenal to the mound, highlighted by a 90-92 mph fastball and a plus curveball. Furthermore, he uses an extremely long stride to the plate that evokes Tim Lincecum, which both a) helps him maintain clean, repeatable mechanics and b) gives him excellent leverage and deception for a 6’1″ pitcher.
I would tend to agree with Nathaniel that lack of plus-plus velocity would probably keep him down on most rankings, but there's definitely value here for fantasy owners. John Sickels stated that he saw a "Mid-rotation projection" as a part of his top 20 list, and a pitcher with that kind of control and strikeout numbers could be very valuable indeed. He will likely pitch in High-A this season, which will still be a fairly aggressive slotting for a 19 year old. I think that if it all goes according to plan (which is always extremely rare), he could be in Arlington by the end of 2015.
A few words about some extremely long-term prospects in the Rangers' system:
Nomar Mazara (OF) - Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Mazara has yet to play either in the United States or in the Dominican. John Sickels gave him a C+ grade, and noted that his power is likely to be what carries him to the bigs long-term. Way too early to tell what to make of him, but the Rangers clearly believe he has potential after giving him a $5 million signing bonus.
Ronald Guzman (OF) - Another 2011 Dominican signee, Guzman signed for $3.5 million, the second highest bonus of the 2011 signing period. Again, way too far out to make any particularly strong judgments about him, but according to Jeff Reese of Bullpen Banter, he "wow'd observers during the instructional leagues, and ranks among the highest ceiling players in the system."