Hickory pitching coach Brad Holman, who is in his second year with the Texas organization, will work as pitching coach for the Surprise Rafters.
?As always, the Rangers' prospects in the Fall League will be playing with the Rafters. They'll share a team with players from St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, and Milwaukee. Non-Rangers prospects of note on the club include Danny Duffy (KC), Jeremy Jeffress (MIL), Mike Montgomery (KC), Chance Ruffin (DET), and Eric Hosmer (KC).
The league kicks off on October 12––near the conclusion of the Rangers' Fall Instructional League––and runs through November 18. The fifth-annual AFL Rising Stars game will be played at Surprise Stadium on November 6.
Lone Star Dugout looks at the eight Rangers prospects headed for the Fall League.
Adalberto Flores, RHP
The Puerto Rico native signed with the Rangers prior to the 2008 campaign as a minor league free agent. After starting in Clinton, the 23-year-old has steadily worked up the organizational ladder and developed into a relief arm with solid stuff along the way.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound righty has a three-pitch mix that includes a 90-92 mph fastball (topping out at 93 on occasion), a curveball, and an above-average changeup. The change has helped him limit left-handed batters to a .213 average this season (fellow righties are hitting .307 against him).
After recording 73 strikeouts in 55.2 innings with High-A Bakersfield last summer, Flores is getting his first taste of Double-A this year and he's keeping his head above water. The hurler has a 4.33 ERA in 38 appearances. After a strong start, he is limping to the finish line, with 12 runs allowed in 12 innings since August 7.
Flores was originally selected by Florida in the 32nd round of the 2005 MLB Draft. The Rangers re-signed him after the '09 campaign, and his Fall League assignment should make it all but certain that he'll be returning to the Rangers in 2011.
What to watch for: Can he rebound from a slow finish?
Daniel Gutierrez, RHP
The Fall League stint will be important for Gutierrez, who has had a disappointing 2010 campaign after showing dominant swing-and-miss stuff with the Surprise Rafters last fall.
Gutierrez flashed a consistent 91-93 mph heater as a starting pitcher last season before sitting mid-90s and topping out at 97 mph in shorter Fall League outings. His hard curveball was arguably the best breaking ball in the system.
However, after beginning the season with a 50-game suspension for a positive Adderall test, the right-hander hasn't shown the same stuff he did last year. Gutierrez's fastball has often sat in the mid-to-upper-80s, bumping 90 mph at times. His big curveball hasn't been as hard or sharp for the most part.
The former Royals prospect has logged 51.1 innings between Hickory, Bakersfield, and Frisco. He has given up 56 hits while walking 19 and striking out 42. The prospect has been playing catch-up most of the season, and he made only one regular-season start at Double-A.
What to watch for: Can Gutierrez recapture the stuff he showed in the AFL last season?
Eric Hurley, RHP
When Eric Hurley toes the rubber in the Fall League, it will be his first game action since he pitched at the Oakland Coliseum on July 27, 2008. The former first-round pick and Rangers top prospect has missed well over two years because of injuries.
Hurley attempted to rehab the injury for seven or eight months before eventually undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum. The right-hander began throwing light bullpens in January and was slated for a return to game action in May.
However, the pitcher broke a bone in his left wrist during Spring Training this past March. He has since needed three surgeries––with most recent coming late-June––to repair the wrist. Hurley's shoulder appears to be fine. At times this summer, he was throwing live batting practice sessions in Arizona with a trainer catching balls thrown back to him, protecting his injured wrist.
Even with all the missed time, Hurley will have just recently turned 25-years-old on the Fall League's opening day. His performance will be intriguing to follow not only because of post-injury uncertainty, but also because––if healthy––he could be an asset to the Rangers' pitching staff in 2011.
What to watch for: Does Hurley still have the above-average stuff he possessed pre-shoulder surgery?
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Tim Murphy, LHP
The former third-round pick has helped resurrect his prospect status by moving to the bullpen and making a key adjustment. After working over-the-top––and posting a 6.80 ERA with Bakersfield last season––Murphy dropped down to a low three-quarters-ish arm angle this year and it has paid dividends.
As Murphy explained in a recent interview his new arm slot is more natural. It has added some deception, his velocity has spiked, and it has helped him get better command of his breaking ball.
After working at around 84-88 mph last season, Murphy's velocity has ranged anywhere between 88-93 since his promotion to Frisco. The new slot has also given his fastball quite a bit more natural movement.
The 23-year-old had command issues (24 walks and 23 strikeouts in 36 innings) initially after making the switch, but he has improved along the way. In 22.2 innings with the ‘Riders, Murphy has walked only four while fanning 23. He is spotting the fastball better and the 79-81 mph breaking ball has been a swing-and-miss pitch.
Murphy has certainly turned himself into an intriguing relief prospect. However, he was recently placed on the disabled list with what is being described as an elbow injury, so his Fall League roster spot may be in jeopardy.
What to watch for: Will Murphy be healthy enough to participate?
Jose Felix, C
Since he signed out of Mexico prior to the 2008 campaign, Felix has been an intriguing catching prospect because of his work behind the plate. The 22-year-old doesn't have the best tools in the system, but he maximizes his talent through advanced game-calling and smooth fundamentals.
Felix began to impress both offensively and defensively this season. He gunned down 58-of-105 (55%) attempted base-stealers in 100 games between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. He also posted a cumulative .278 batting average with 16 doubles, 18 walks, and only 31 strikeouts.
Realistically, the 5-foot-10, 198-pound prospect profiles as a future defensive-minded backup catcher. While his bat doesn't project highly, he is beginning to mature as a hitter. Despite an aggressive approach that must be refined, his excellent hand-eye coordination keeps him from swinging and missing with much frequency––he struck out six times in 107 plate appearances at Frisco.
Felix's work as a defender may very well carry him to the big leagues someday, but his role and how long he sticks could be determined by much he can contribute offensively.
What to watch for: How will Felix's bat play against the Fall League pitching talent?
Davis Stoneburner, IF
The 25-year-old infielder has earned a reputation as being one of the hardest working players in the Rangers system, and it has paid dividends this year. The work ethic has not only led to a career season for Stoneburner, but it also has earned him a late-season promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City and a Fall League assignment.
In 103 games at High-A Bakersfield this season, Stoneburner batted .290 and was the club's most consistent hitter. The 6-foot-0, 175-pound utility player has some surprising pop for his size, as he belted 28 doubles, four triples, and 16 homers with the Blaze.
He played 10 games at Frisco in the second half––hitting .297 in 37 at-bats––and was 1-for-6 with a double in the final two regular season contests at Oklahoma City.
With decent range and a strong arm, Stoneburner has the tools to be an adequate defensive middle infielder, but he has struggled with routine plays. He committed 30 errors between second base and shortstop in 117 games this season. The numbers are an improvement from his 43 miscues in 106 contests last year.
What to watch for: Can Stoneburner continue his offensive tear?
Engel Beltre, OF
The 20-year-old has emerged as arguably the Rangers' top position-player prospect this season. Simply put, Beltre has begun to pair his above-average across-the-board tools with refined baseball skills.
Beltre stood out when he batted .331 with 11 doubles, four triples, and five home runs in 68 games with High-A Bakersfield. He started strong after a promotion to Double-A Frisco but has cooled off since, hitting .254 over 47 contests.
Still, Beltre was among the younger position players in the Cal League, and he is extremely young for the Double-A Texas League. The prospect will be 21-years-old through the entire 2011 campaign.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound left-hander is an advanced centerfielder for his age that generally gets good reads and jumps (with the occasional misstep) and covers plenty of ground in addition to plus arm strength. He also has some raw power to go with an emerging hit tool.
Beltre's biggest development this season has been his ability to learn what makes him successful. Instead of consistently taking big hacks, the Dominican Republic native has put more emphasis on hitting the ball on the ground and using his good speed to change games.
What to watch for: How will Beltre perform against much older competition?
Joey Butler, OF
The former 15th-round draft pick is an intriguing prospect because he doesn't have any below-average tools, but he also isn't well above-average in any area. Butler tends to do everything pretty well, and he has posted decent––though not dominant––numbers at each of his three minor league stops.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Butler has been is streakiness. The 24-year-old seems to run hot-and-cold from month to month. He hit .304 in April, .272 in May, .183 in June, .313 in July, and .308 in August. When Butler is working deeper into counts, he allows himself to see better pitches and that's when the average generally thrives.
Butler often struggles to catch up to above-average fastballs because he doesn't have elite bat speed, but he does have plenty of strength that gives him good raw power, including to the opposite field. He competed in the Texas League's Home Run Derby prior to the All-Star Game.
A corner outfielder, Butler has played the entire 2010 season as Frisco's right fielder. He covers adequate ground and has solid-average arm strength for the position.
What to watch for: Can Butler become a more consistent producer?