Rangers Top Prospects, Top Tools

Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the Texas Rangers' top prospects with the top pitching, offensive, and defensive tools. In this feature, we crown players with titles such as "Best Curveball," "Best Outfield Arm," "Best Power," and many more.

Offensive Honors:

Best Hitter for Average: Jurickson Profar – The switch-hitting shortstop has the best future hit tool in the organization for the second consecutive season. Profar, who doesn't turn 19 until February 2012, has an advanced all-around game that led to Sally League MVP honors this past season. He has the complete package of tools and skills necessary to become a perennial .300 hitter––or close to it––in the majors. From both sides of the plate, he shows excellent bat speed, pitch recognition, and plate coverage, among other aspects.

Honorable Mention: Ronald Guzman, Leonys Martin

Best Hitter for Power: Jorge Alfaro – Alfaro and Mazara both have 70-grade (plus-plus) raw power, but Alfaro gets the nod because he's closer (albeit slightly) to actualizing it. Both prospects are still light years away from the majors. At the present, the freakishly strong backstop takes big hacks and rarely shortens his swing during games––something he'll have to learn as he matures. But Alfaro puts on mammoth displays of power in batting practice, and it's already showing up in games. The 18-year-old slugged .481 as a youngster in Spokane this season.

Honorable Mention: Nomar Mazara, Mike Olt

Best Plate Discipline: Jurickson Profar – The Curacao native not only projects to hit for a high average, but he also has the system's best eye at the plate. Profar's uncanny ability to recognize and track pitches out of the hand is a skill that's well beyond his years, and it stood out against low Single-A competition. He finished his first year in full-season ball with more walks (65) than strikeouts (63) in 115 contests. Profar should draw a healthy number of walks at every level, and he rarely expands his strike zone.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Clark, Mike Olt

Profar has excellent instincts.
Best Base Runner: Jurickson Profar – Given Profar's overall polish and game awareness for his age, it's also little surprise that he projects to become the system's top base runner. The 5-foot-11 shortstop doesn't project to have plus speed––it's closer to solid-average––but he makes the most of it on the base paths. Profar is an intelligent player who gets out of the batter's box quickly and swiped 23 bases in 32 attempts this season. Though he isn't a blazing runner, he should be good for 20-plus steals yearly.

Honorable Mention: Leury Garcia, Ryan Strausborger

Best Raw Speed: Chris Garia – Coming from a track and field background as a sprinter, Garia rates as the fastest player in a system loaded with 70 grade-plus runners. Prospects who narrowly missed the cut include Leury Garcia (75-80), Jordan Akins (70), and Chris Grayson (70). The 18-year-old Garia, who played on the Willemstad Little League World Series team with Profar, has worked to become a switch-hitter during the last two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He swiped 31 bases in 61 games this year and should be an even bigger threat on the bases as his game continues to develop.

Honorable Mention: Desmond Henry, Saquan Johnson



Pitching Honors:

Best Fastball for Starting Pitcher: Roman Mendez – The former Red Sox prospect may find his ultimate home in the bullpen, but many in the Rangers' organization remain hopeful that he can start after his command and secondary stuff took a step forward in 2011. While plenty of starting pitching prospects in the system have plus velocity, Mendez's peak velocity is largely unmatched. His overall package––including the plus to plus-plus velocity––drew comparisons to Alexi Ogando from one National League scout. The 21-year-old's fastball sits between 92-96 mph during starts, and he touched 99 at spring training this year.

Honorable Mention: Wilmer Font, David Perez

Best Fastball for Relief Pitcher: Matt West – The converted third baseman created buzz at the end of spring training when he touched 94 mph during an experimental bullpen session. He didn't look back from there. West and his lightning-fast arm pitched at extended spring training before joining Spokane, where he fanned 35 and walked only one in 26 innings. The 22-year-old filled up the strike zone with plus-plus velocity during his debut season on the mound, flashing a fastball with heavy, late life that sat at 95-97 mph and touched up to 99 on multiple occasions.

Honorable Mention: Carlos Melo, Tanner Scheppers

Best Curveball: Tanner Scheppers – After a disappointing 2011 campaign, Scheppers has seemingly gone from future savior of the Rangers' bullpen to somewhat under the radar. But the dominant raw stuff is still there, including his knee-buckling 78-81 mph curveball. It's a plus-plus offering that can miss bats at all levels. The right-hander's struggles this season were largely a product of inconsistent fastball command. At his best, he flashes two 70-grade pitches in the curveball and 95-98 mph heater. His curve, which has lots of depth and late two-plane break, remains the system's best.

Honorable Mention: Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez

Ross is throwing his slider harder.
Best Slider: Robbie Ross – The southpaw began throwing his slider harder down the stretch in 2011, and it became more of a swing and miss pitch. The offering worked between 82-87 mph and even sat more in the 85-87 range during some late-season Double-A starts. He shows good command of the plus slider, which has plenty of late break and tilt that darts away from fellow left-handed hitters. The result was complete dominance of lefties at the High- and Double-A levels this year––they posted a punchless .167/.243/.210 slash line against him with a 30.5 percent strikeout rate.

Honorable Mention: Francisco Mendoza, Matt West

Best Changeup: Miguel de los Santos – The Dominican lefty has a whopping 324 strikeouts in 197 innings over the last three seasons, and it's primarily due to his plus-plus changeup. The upper-70s, low-80s offering is a unique pitch in that it's heavily pronated, which leads to a screwball-like action and more vertical depth than most pitchers' changeups. Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman commented that it "looks like it stops in mid-air" due to his deceptive arm action and life on the pitch. It's also the pitch that de los Santos commands best, but he can rely on it too often at times.

Honorable Mention: Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez

Best Control: Cody Buckel – Although Ross (1.8) and Tepesch (2.1) posted better BB/9 rates than Buckel this season, the 19-year-old righty projects to throw just as many strikes as the other two hurlers. Buckel, who walked 27 in 96.2 innings with Single-A Hickory this season, already fills up the strike zone with all four pitches in his repertoire––the fastball, cut-slider, curveball, and changeup. Though he rarely runs his fastball into the mid-90s during starts, Buckel impresses with his ability to get ahead in counts and locate his deep repertoire despite his youth and inexperience.

Honorable Mention: Robbie Ross, Nick Tepesch

Best Overall Potential: David Perez – The 18-year-old followed a dominant extended spring training performance with a disappointing summer at Spokane, posting an 8.60 ERA with 29 walks in 30.1 innings. Perez seemed to battle his mechanics all summer, leading to less velocity and much less command. But he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system. During extended, the 6-foot-5 righty worked downhill and spotted up with a 92-96 mph fastball that bumped 98. His mid-70s curveball is also a future plus pitch, with both good depth and two-plane break. He's a good athlete and should repeat his mechanics with more ease as his body matures. There's little reason to worry about Perez for now.

Honorable Mention: Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez



Defensive Honors:

Best Defensive Outfielder: Engel Beltre – While Beltre's offensive performance in 2011 was borderline disastrous, he has continued to develop in the outfield. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty is a true centerfielder but also has the arm strength to fill in at the corner spots. He has excellent range in center and has improved his instincts with experience. He did a better job of getting full carry behind throws from his plus (60-grade) arm strength in '11, and his throwing accuracy also improved.

Honorable Mention: Leonys Martin, Ryan Strausborger

Garcia's defensive tools are outstanding.
Best Defensive Middle Infielder: Leury Garcia – Garcia projects as the system's best middle infield glove due to his elite range and arm strength, which is detailed in categories found below. There is still plenty of development needed for the 20-year-old, who can make spectacular plays in all directions but must learn to slow the game down. Though 5-foot-7 shortstop clearly has the organization's best defensive tools, he also committed 37 errors in 109 games at Myrtle Beach this season––a .920 fielding percentage.

Honorable Mention: Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas

Best Defensive Corner Infielder: Mike Olt – The former supplemental first-round pick has the complete package of tools, skills, and instincts at third base, making him a plus to plus-plus defender. A good athlete, Olt plays the hot corner with shortstop-like actions given his ability to center himself on tough ground balls and set his feet before making throws with his plus arm. He's a polished defender with sure hands, but it's the combination of quick reflexes, outstanding range, and arm strength that set him apart from the pack.

Honorable Mention: Tom Mendonca, Christian Villanueva

Best Defensive Catcher: Jose Felix – Like Beltre, the 23-year-old Felix scuffled offensively at Double-A Frisco this season but continued to shine as a defender. Felix's skills behind the plate let him profile as a potential future major league backup catcher. While his arm strength is ‘only' about solid-average, he makes up for it by repeating smooth mechanics. After gunning down 71-of-122 (58%) attempted base stealers overall last year, he caught a solid 36 percent in 2011. The Mexico native has become fluent in English and also earns high marks for his game calling and management.

Honorable Mention: Jorge Alfaro, Kellin Deglan

Best Arm Behind the Plate: Jorge Alfaro – The young backstop began catching just shortly before the Rangers signed him prior to the 2010 campaign, and his all-around defensive game understandably has a long way to go. But his 70-grade (some scouts argue 80) arm strength from behind the plate already helps him post sub-2.0 (plus) pop times. The number should improve as his footwork, glove-to-hand transfer, and overall mechanics progress with further seasoning.

Honorable Mention: Kellin Deglan, Jose Felix

Best Outfield Range: Engel Beltre – Beltre's speed and quick-twitch athleticism alone give him a major leg up in the range category, but his instincts in the outfield have also improved with each professional season. While he used to more or less guess on the location of fly balls before adjusting with his raw tools, Beltre now accurately reads balls off the bat and gets quick jumps with more consistency. He still has the occasional misread, but the prospect is still young and often has the ability to adjust and track down fly balls in both gaps.

Honorable Mention: Leonys Martin, Ryan Strausborger

Best Outfield Arm: Jordan Akins – A former high school quarterback, Akins entered professional baseball with plenty of arm strength but little in the way of throwing mechanics. He improved his mechanics in '11 and did a much better job of maximizing the carry behind his throws from center field. The 6-foot-4 prospect may ultimately stick in center due to his excellent athleticism, but if he doesn't, he should have more than enough arm strength as a right fielder.

Honorable Mention: Engel Beltre, Leonys Martin

Best Infield Range: Leury Garcia – Garcia's aforementioned error totals are an issue, and the Rangers hope the errors will decrease with experience. He has all the tools for success, including quick reflexes and the ability to seemingly glide to balls in all directions. His mixture of range and athleticism leads to lots of spectacular plays, but the lack of polish also means there aren't many routine ones.

Honorable Mention: Luis Marte, Luis Sardinas

Best Infield Arm: Leury Garcia – Like many shortstops, Garcia often doesn't flash his best arm strength unless it's absolutely necessary. But when he lets it go, he displays an easy 70-grade arm. His arm stands out above the rest not just because of its strength, but also due to his extremely quick glove-to-hand transfer and release. The combination allows him to finish the highlight-reel plays that his range can allow.

Honorable Mention: Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar

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