With the next Collective Bargaining Agreement expected to set limits on international spending, the Texas Rangers went out and spent on international free agents like we rarely seen before in 2011. with outfield prospect Nomar Mazara ending up one of the top beneficiaries. Mazara received a bonus of just under $5 million that year, the largest received by an amateur IFA ever.
The Rangers sent him to the Arizona League to start his professional career in 2012, where as a 17-year old he posted very solid numbers in his debut. In 54 games there, Mazara hit .264 with six home runs, five stolen bases, and 37 walks, which was tied for second in the league. He also finished second in the league with 70 strikeouts (behind teammate Lewis Brinson), but by no means was that unexpected from a player so young.
He was given a full-season assignment in 2013, sending him to Hickory in the South Atlantic League along with a number of the other top prospects in the Rangers' system. He played the full season there as the primary right fielder, but the performance wasn't quite what was hoped. He did hit 13 home runs and 23 doubles, but with just a .236 batting average and more than a strikeout per game. Reports after the season noted that Mazara struggled in part due to a pronounced leg kick, and also showed potential platoon issues that year. In general though, the reports on the 18-year old were relatively positive, noting how the raw tools were still present for a good power hitter down the line.
The Rangers sent Mazara back to Low-A Hickory to start the 2014 season, and after struggling through the first two months, something clearly clicked for the big lefty bat. Over the months of June and July, he hit .300/.404/.579 with 14 home runs and 51 RBI. The Rangers promoted him on August 4th, but skipped him past High-A and sent him straight to AA Frisco. They clearly thought he could handle the jump, which made him one of the youngest players at the AA level at the age of 19, and he did little to prove them wrong on that. He hit .306/.361/.518 with six more home runs over 24 games with Frisco.
Mazara improved dramatically in 2014 in translating his potential hit tool into game action. The improvements regarding his leg kick specifically were mentioned in a number of reports, and more recent video points to that being less of a concern than previously thought. His bat speed is excellent, and while he has shown issues with making consistent contact in the past, he has also shown improvement last year. There are concerns about his platoon splits, as he hit just .200/.268/.331 last year against LHP, which was an improvement over the previous year. Long term, the tools are all there for Mazara to provide an excellent batting average, with .280 to .290 a potential reality on a regular basis. His on-base percentage should also be solid to go with it, as his approach at the plate is considered above-average and very advanced for his age and experience.
The potential for high home run totals is what separates Mazara and gives him the potential to be a true middle-of-the-order run producer. He has excellent raw power, and has started showing the ability to utilize it in-game and not just during batting practice. His swing should continue to help with this, as his swing generates good loft and should help him translate the raw power into 25 to 30 home runs per season on a fairly regular basis. He's not going to be hindered by his home park either, and there could be years with even more down the line.
Mazara isn't going to provide much value on the basepaths, as he's considered a below-average runner and unlikely to steal more than a token few stolen bases each year. With that said, it doesn't necessarily hurt his defensive profile, as he's still expected to be a decent defender in right field on the strength of a plus throwing arm. He also gets great reviews on the mental parts of his game, and specifically his makeup and overall baseball instincts.
Both Brian and I ranked Mazara as our #46 fantasy prospect this year, and there's the potential he moves substantially higher by season's end. He is slated to head back to AA Frisco to start the 2015 season, and will turn 20 in late April. If he goes out and continues to hit at even a slightly lower level than he did in 2014, it's not out of the question that we might see him in Texas before the end of the year. Long-term, I can fairly easily see him taking over in right field by the end of the 2016 season, and shifting Shin-Soo Choo to left field.