Rangers Prospect #49: Smerling Lantigua

Third baseman Smerling Lantigua is a long way from the major leagues, but he showed intriguing power for a young prospect in the Dominican Summer League last season. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 17-year-old with an in-depth scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Smerling Lantigua
Position: Third Base
DOB: February 3, 1994
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 185
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Acquired: 2010 International Free Agent

Four Latin American players who signed with the Rangers in 2010 appear on this top 50 prospects list. One is catcher Jorge Alfaro, who signed in January and made his debut later that season. The other two––Rougned Odor and Luis Marte––were relatively high-profile middle infielders who received six-figure bonuses.

The other is third baseman Smerling Lantigua, a prospect who signed to little or no fanfare. But after a strong debut campaign in the Dominican Summer League, the 17-year-old has put himself squarely on the Rangers' prospect map.

Kenny Holmberg, who was the DSL Rangers' manager in 2010, praised Lantigua's offensive potential in an interview from August 7: "I love this kid. He has a great body, a great swing, and he can compete. The strikeouts are high right now, but I think in the future, he's going to cut that down. And he's going to hit for some power. He finds the barrel and stays inside the baseball very well. He has hit one home run this year that he absolutely crushed to left field. That's something that he's going to start to do down the road."

The Dominican Rangers' skipper went on to discuss Lantigua's defense: "Right now, he needs to get more consistent defensively. He needs to anticipate better. He needs to work his feet, he needs to work his hands, and he needs to trust his eyes. I think he's going to be a nice third baseman with some mobility."

Like practically all players who sign as international free agents, Lantigua was an up-the-middle player prior to joining the Texas organization. The Dominican Republic native moved to the hot corner at the beginning of the 2011 season and committed 25 errors in 45 games defensively for a shaky .846 fielding percentage.

Lantigua has passable––if not better––defensive tools, which are detailed in the following scouting report. But he obviously has plenty to improve upon as he matures.

It's always important to take Dominican Summer League statistics with an extreme grain of salt. In addition to the fact that it's a developmental league for very young, often very raw talent, it's also a circuit that rarely yields flashy offensive numbers.

Still, Lantigua had a solid debut in 54 games and 200 official at-bats, posting a .260/.329/.340 slash line with 17 walks and 56 strikeouts. The youngster was especially good early on––he hit .313 with some pop in 23 June contests––before fading late in his first season.

Holmberg came away particularly impressed by the intangibles Lantigua flashed during his debut summer.

"He could be a very, very special player down the road," the skipper said. "He loves baseball, he's an intelligent kid, and he is passionate about his teammates. He is on his way."

Also See: Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Kenny Holmberg (August 7, 2011)
Tweeting Rangers Instructs (October 2, 2011)

Batting and Power: As Holmberg mentioned, the most impressive part of Lantigua's current game is the raw power. Although it led to just one home run in 54 Dominican Summer League games last season, he has some present strength with a quick bat. He shows good gap-to-gap batting practice pop for a 17-year-old. Lantigua has the raw potential to become a legitimate corner infield offensive producer. The game power may still be a couple years away, but he has the skills to succeed in rookie ball this season.

Base Running and Speed: The Dominican Republic native is currently an average runner and should lose a tick of speed as his body matures and fills out. He doesn't figure to be much of a base stealer, and the instincts are a definite work in progress.

Defense: Though his bat is somewhat advanced, Lantigua's defensive and base running skills are quite raw. As mentioned, he committed 25 errors in 45 games at third base last summer. Lantigua has smooth actions with at least passable––if not better––pure range for the position. His arm rates between solid-average to plus, though he needs to refine his accuracy and feel for throws at the hot corner. Lantigua's overall feel for the position has yet to come. He must learn to trust his instincts, particularly with positioning. One scout speculated that Lantigua could ultimately find a home at first base, but he's still very young and has the necessary tools to stick at third.

Projection: Born in February 1994, Lantigua is still a very young player who is miles away from the upper levels of the minors, let alone the major leagues. But he's a potential impact corner infield bat who shows some promising raw power. He has a well-proportioned body––more so than most players his age––and is listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. It's nearly impossible to throw a definitive projection on Lantigua's finished-product game at this point. While his ceiling isn't sky-high, his present strength and gap-to-gap power combined with his physical frame makes him an intriguing prospect.

2012 Outlook: Lantigua got his first state-side experience at fall instructional league earlier this offseason, and he should make his official U.S. debut in the rookie-level Arizona League this coming summer. While earning high marks for his makeup and work ethic, Lantigua's overall game isn't as polished as fellow infield prospects Luis Marte and Alberto Triunfel. He'll almost certainly spend the entire 2012 season in Surprise, beginning at extended spring training.

ETA: 2016.

2011 DSL Rangers (DSL) .260 200 7 1 23 21 4/8 17 56 .329 .340

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