Sizing up the corner infield prospects

In this feature article, Lone Star Dugout analyzes the Rangers' top corner infield prospects. Which corner infield prospects have the highest upside? Which ones are ready to make a Major League impact soon? Who needs to make their mark quickly?

Highest Ceiling

Chris Davis, 3B: The native Texan spent his first full professional season displaying his number one tool – raw power. Davis belted 36 home runs between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. He possesses the most raw power in the organization and only fellow Frisco slugger John Mayberry comes close. But Davis' season still raised a few concerns. The left-handed hitter whiffed 123 times and worked only 22 walks in 386 at bats with the Bakersfield Blaze. Upon being promoted to the Double-A level, Davis worked to shrink his strike zone. The Navarro College product saw immediate results, as he drew 13 walks and struck out just 27 times in 109 Double-A at bats. Davis will most likely always swing-and-miss at a high rate, but he should continue to improve upon his strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In the field, Davis probably has the best arm for an infielder in the system. Davis spent the 2007 season at third base after splitting his time between left field and first base with the Spokane Indians one season ago. He struggled throughout the season, but felt he made strides with his footwork and eventually began to feel more comfortable at the hot corner. In the event that Davis is unable to play third base long-term, he could move to a corner outfield spot – which he certainly has the arm for – or first base. Because of his large frame, first base may be the most likely spot for Davis if he is unable to stick at third.

Whittleman is one of the organization's top prospects.
John Whittleman, 3B: While Davis is the organization's top power hitter, Whittleman may be the system's best pure hitter. The Houston-area product was the Midwest League's best hitter in the first half of the 2007 season and he capped it off with a home run off Mets prospect Deolis Guerra in the MLB Futures Game. Whittleman has a sweet swing and an advanced eye at the plate -- as evidenced by his 86 walks in 124 contests this past year. He appeared to wear down both mentally and physically as the season wore on and lost much of his plate discipline in the process, leading to a lot of strikeouts and a much lower batting average.

One of the hardest workers in the organization, Whittleman's defensive struggles definitely do not come because of a lack of effort. The 20-year-old third baseman moved back and played deeper in the hole this season in an effort to slow the game down and make the hot corner feel more like shortstop, his natural position. Despite the adjustments, Whittleman finished 2007 with nearly identical defensive numbers as his previous year. If the Rangers decide he is unable to stay at third base, a move to left field would not be surprising.

Closest to Majors

Nate Gold, 1B: The first baseman could be a prime candidate for December's Rule 5 draft if the Rangers do not add him to the 40-man roster this offseason. If the power-hitter survives the Rule 5 draft and remains in the Rangers organization, he could contribute off the bench next year. At 27 years of age, Gold is older than 24 members of the Rangers' 40-man roster. But the first baseman has batted .292 with a combined 60 home runs between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma over the past two seasons. Because of his age and the fact that he isn't a wizard with the glove, it seems Gold is destined to become a big league reserve. But his powerful bat could prove to be valuable for the Rangers as early as 2008.

The "Sleepers"

Mitch Moreland, 1B: If any 2007 draft pick is being overlooked at this point, it's Moreland. The left-handed hitting Mississippi State product has the most raw power of any Rangers draft pick. Moreland put that raw power on display when he belted 15 home runs to win the Cape Cod League Home Run derby in 2006. The power has yet to consistently show up in games, however, as he had only 17 long balls in three years at Mississippi State and hit just two in 108 at bats with the Spokane Indians. Because Moreland is nothing special in the field, he could be put on the mound if he does not realize his power potential. Also a left-handed thrower, Moreland works with a fastball that reaches the low-90's.

Ortiz impressed with the bat.
Michael Ortiz, 1B: The Rangers took Ortiz in the 28th round despite playing just one year of high school baseball at Miami's Palmetto Senior High. The 6-foot-2 first baseman has a strong, thick frame to go with a line drive swing. He showed the ability to hit the ball hard with regularity during his professional debut with the Arizona Rangers. In 172 at bats, the lefty batted .302 with eight doubles, two triples, and three home runs. Primarily used as a DH in high school, Ortiz – who committed 14 errors in the short season – has a lot of work to do with the glove.

Need to Make Their Move

Emerson Frostad, 1B: Frostad has played three positions in four years in the Rangers organization, but first base seems to be his best fit thus far. Although Frostad will probably never be an above-average defender no matter where he is put, most felt he did a decent job at first base. The 24-year-old broke out with the bat at High-A Bakersfield in 2006 and continued to hit well in the first half with Double-A Frisco in '07. However, Frostad batted just .177 in the season's second half and finished with a .241 batting average. The native of Canada is a line drive hitter with gap power, but he also gets his share of home runs. Frostad may never be a full-time big leaguer, but he has a chance to contribute with the bat.

Freddie Thon, 1B: Despite batting .289 over his minor league career, Thon has never progressed above the High-A level in four professional seasons. Coming off an outstanding stint with Bakersfield in 2006, the Puerto Rican first baseman was sent back there in 2007 and struggled out of the gate. Thon quickly rebounded and posted a .313 batting average with 10 home runs after the Cal League All-Star break. The 23-year-old makes contact often enough and has some raw power, but his inability to consistently reach base is holding him back. Though Thon hit .284 in 429 at bats with the Blaze this past season, he drew just nine walks, leading to an on base percentage of .300.

The Jury is Still Out

Mauro Gomez, 1B: Gomez's power this past season was impressive, especially considering the league he played in. His 21 home runs were good enough for third in the pitching-heavy Midwest League. However, the 23-year-old spent 59 games with High-A Bakersfield -- one level above Clinton -- in 2006 and struggled at the plate. Gomez's 2007 campaign was mostly the product of one outstanding month, as 12 of his round-trippers came in July. The first baseman is solid in the field and helped save a good amount of throwing errors from his young infield counterparts in Clinton this season. But whether or not he can continue to do it with the bat remains to be seen.

Talent is no question for Solis.
Emmanuel Solis, 3B: Solis is arguably the most talented position player the Rangers have signed since stepping up their efforts in Latin America three years ago. The 18-year-old struggled in his first professional season, as he batted .205 with 12 doubles in 166 at bats with the Rookie level AZL Rangers. Possibly Solis' biggest weakness was that his plate discipline deteriorated and he showed a tendency to get swing-happy when in slumps. Also raw in the field, the young third baseman has a strong arm to work with.

Johan Yan, 3B: A former shortstop, the highly-talented Yan moved to third base in the middle of last season. Yan got off to a quick start with the AZL Rangers in 2006, but slowed down in a hurry. He began his competitive 2007 season with the Spokane Indians and batted just .156 with 44 strikeouts in 96 at bats. His numbers didn't improve much after he was sent back to Arizona. The 19-year-old went 12-for-60 with 26 punchouts. Just like with Solis, it is still far too early to count Yan out. Both prospects have immense talent and could break out in a flash.


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