Mike Ballard, LHP – Armed with a pair of legitimate strikeout pitches—a big-breaking curveball and a plus changeup—to go along with an 86-88 mph fastball, Ballard cemented his status as a legitimate prospect with the help of a cutter, which he developed this past summer. The cutter helped allow the left-hander go on a dominant stretch with Frisco before his eventual promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma.
Mike Bianucci, OF – The Rangers' eighth round pick in the 2008 Draft, Bianucci signed for an above-slot $175,000 bonus. The outfielder is best known for his skills at the plate, including his above-average raw power. Bianucci was impressive after signing, as he batted .316 with 11 doubles and four home runs in just 31 games for short-season Spokane.
Richard Bleier, LHP – The 21-year-old left-handed sinkerballer faded a bit down the stretch with Spokane, but he still had a strong debut season. Bleier's 87-92 mph sinker helped him post a 3.5:1 groundout-to-flyout ratio with the Indians. A strike thrower, Bleier also uses a slider and a changeup. He could move through the system's lower levels rather quickly.
Jared Bolden, OF – The Virginia Commonwealth product got off to a slow start with Spokane, but he did bat .281 with 17 extra-base hits and 32 walks in July and August. Primarily a first baseman in college, the Rangers moved the left-handed Bolden between first and all three outfield positions with Spokane in 2008. But because of his athletic ability, Bolden's future with the Rangers likely rests in the outfield.
Joey Butler, OF – Butler introduced himself to professional ball by going 19-for-36 [.528] in his first 11 games with Spokane. Though he did eventually cool off—finishing with a .301 average—he still had an excellent debut season. Much like Bianucci and Bolden, Butler is an early second day college outfielder who is a good pure hitter with some power potential. If his 2008 season was any indication, he could turn out to be a steal for a 15th round selection.
|De Los Santos' curveball has plus potential. b>|
Chris Dennis, RHP – After struggling in an early season Cal League stint, Dennis returned to Clinton and made the necessary mechanical adjustments. The right-hander proceeded to dominate the Midwest League, posting a 1.97 ERA in 39 appearances. Dennis—who throws an 89-91 mph fastball with good movement, a slider, and a changeup—is experienced and could move quickly after putting in his time this past summer.
Jose Felix, C – The 20-year-old backstop drew rave reviews for his handling of the Clinton pitching staff in 2008. Felix began his professional career with Quintana Roo of the Mexican League in 2007 before starring for Mexico and batting .377 in last November's Baseball World Cup. The performance enticed the Rangers and they signed him last January. He has earned an fine reputation for his defensive abilities and he figures to mature as a hitter as well.
Eric Fry, OF – A 5-foot-10, 190-pound outfielder, Fry has loads of raw power from the left side of the plate. The former draft-and-follow signee repeated short-season Spokane in 2008 and batted .296 with six home runs in 56 contests. Fry, 21, will join a full-season club next season and he is a prime candidate for a breakout campaign at the plate.
Ian Gac, 1B – One of—if not the most—powerful players in the Rangers' system, Gac put on a show with Single-A Clinton, belting 19 home runs [two shy of the single-season team mark] in just 67 games. Though Gac's plus-plus power continued to shine in Bakersfield—including improved opposite-field pop—he struggled to make contact, striking out 96 times in 63 games with the Blaze. The 23-year-old should get his opportunity with Double-A Frisco at some point in the 2009 season.
Leury Garcia, SS – The Rangers have no shortage of excellent defensive shortstops in the minors, and Garcia could potentially be the best of them. The 17-year-old has phenomenal range, soft hands, and a strong arm. Though the switch-hitting Garcia batted just .209 in the AZL, he displayed his promise at the plate during Fall Instructional League by inching out Justin Smoak to win the points system contest [points are awarded for positive at-bats, such as reaching base or a productive out] for hitters.
Craig Gentry, OF – Gentry's outstanding defensive skills helped carry him to Triple-A Oklahoma in just his second full season. The Arkansas native has a plus glove and plus speed, but he has yet to find consistency at the plate. Gentry batted just .264 with a .329 on-base percentage between the Double- and Triple-A levels in 2008. However, if Gentry improves upon his on-base abilities, he could carve out a niche as a useful reserve outfielder at the big league level.
Jonathan Greene, 3B – The third baseman fell just one home run shy of Clinton's single-season record in 2008, as he belted 21 in 128 games. Despite a .239 batting average, Greene compiled a .349 on-base percentage with the help of a Midwest League record 36 hit-by-pitches. Though that number is sure to decline as he climbs the organizational ladder, it isn't quite a fluke—Greene refuses to duck for any inside pitch. The 23-year-old figures to take his above-average power to the hitter-friendly Cal League next season.
Geuris Grullon, LHP – The 6-foot-5 left-hander is supremely talented, but he is also raw. Grullon showed progress in 2008, but he still has frequent bouts with control. The native of the Dominican Republic works from a three-quarters arm slot and his fastball sits in the upper-80s, touching the low-90s. Grullon also uses a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. He has the talent and repertoire to become a starting pitcher, but there is no telling when—or if—that day will come.
|Gutsie could end up being a steal for the Rangers. b>|
Mark Hamburger, RHP – The Rangers' return in last summer's Eddie Guardado trade with the Twins, Hamburger is already one of the system's top relief prospects. The 6-foot-4 righty is an excellent story, as he was signed by the Twins after attending an open tryout at the Metrodome. Hamburger was signed for a reason, largely due to his low-90s fastball, which occasionally reaches the mid-90s. The 21-year-old also possesses a rapidly developing slider.
Ben Harrison, OF – Harrison responded in a big way after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2007, batting .300 with 17 home runs in 91 games with Frisco. The 26-year-old finished the year in Triple-A Oklahoma and he should open the 2009 campaign there. Although he is prone to the strikeout, Harrison possesses promising power and he draws his fair share of walks. If the Florida native is able to prove his production in Frisco—and his clean bill of health—was no fluke, he could force his way into the Rangers' outfield plans.
Ben Henry, RHP – The 6-foot-4 hurler often runs under the prospect radar, largely because he was a 30th round pick in 2007. But Henry is a talented pitcher with a good arm. The right-hander struck out 50 batters in 42 innings this past summer with the help of an above-average 12-to-6 curveball. His heater generally runs between 88-90 mph, topping out at 91.
Jared Hyatt, RHP – Last summer's 33rd round pick, Hyatt was perhaps the organization's biggest surprise in 2008, as he reached Triple-A Oklahoma in his first full season. Though Hyatt made just two appearances [both successful] with the RedHawks, he finished out the season with a 3.53 ERA in nine starts for Double-A Frisco. The 6-foot-5 hurler displayed good command of an 87-90 mph fastball. He also uses a curveball and a split-fingered changeup.
Kea Kometani, RHP – Kometani will have to put a disappointing 2008 campaign behind him when he enters next year's spring training. The 25-year-old showed spotty command with Triple-A Oklahoma all season, as he posted a 5.55 ERA with 10 home runs allowed in 60 innings. But Kometani still has an upper-80s, low-90s fastball and a legitimate big league splitter, so he still has an opportunity to contribute to the Rangers' bullpen in the future.
Josh Lueke, RHP – Lueke struggled statistically in 2008, posting a 5.03 ERA with Bakersfield, but his stuff looked plenty good. At his best, Lueke has a very good fastball that works between 91-94 mph. The 23-year-old also flashes a plus slider and an above-average changeup at times—leading to 84 strikeouts in 69.1 innings in '08—though he had trouble commanding all three of his pitches with the Blaze. Lueke has an outstanding arm and, if he irons out the command issues, could become one of the system's best relief prospects in short order.
Steve Murphy, OF – The 24-year-old got off to an encouraging start, as he batted .337 with Frisco in the month of April. However, he slowed down and didn't bat higher than .262 in any month for the remainder of the season. Murphy has good power—as shown by his 64 extra-base hits in '08—and is a heady player on the field. But the former Kansas State standout has batted just .269 in two full seasons in Double-A, and he must become a more complete hitter in order to take the next step.
Matt Nevarez, RHP – Nevarez saw his first extended action in 2008 after being the Rangers' 10th round pick in the 2005 MLB Draft. The hard-throwing righty was limited to a combined 29 innings in 2005 and 2006 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he missed the entire 2007 campaign. Nevarez, who stands 6-foot-5, looked raw with Spokane this past summer [43 walks in 43.1 innings], but he was also difficult to hit [.238 batting average against] and missed quite a few bats [50 strikeouts]. Nevarez could move back into a starter's role in 2009.
David Paisano, OF – The toolsy outfielder took a step back this past summer, as he played with short-season Spokane. The 20-year-old is one of the system's best defenders in centerfield, possessing plus range and a plus arm. Paisano also has speed with some potential at the plate and he produced a bit in Spokane, batting .262 with 18 doubles and six round-trippers in 275 games. He should return to low Single-A in 2009, where the Rangers hope he will finally break out.
Manny Pina, C – Best known for his cannon of an arm, Pina made great strides offensively in 2008. Just one season ago, Pina batted .228 with 14 extra-base hits in low Single-A Clinton. This past summer, he hit .267 with 21 extra-base knocks, including a .275 mark with seven doubles in 23 games at Double-A Frisco. If the 21-year-old continues to develop as a hitter, he could become a fine backup catcher at the big league level.
|Reed can run his fastball into the mid-90s. b>|
Tanner Roark, RHP – The 22-year-old reached the High-A California League, and had success there, in the same summer he was drafted. Roark fanned 37 hitters in 30 innings with the Blaze through the assistance of an 89-90 mph fastball that jumped up a tick when he worked out of the bullpen. Although it's unclear what role Roark will occupy in 2009, he is likely to begin the season in the Bakersfield bullpen.
Dan Sattler, RHP – Sattler had a slow start with Bakersfield in 2008, but his 2.17 ERA in 37.1 innings after the Cal League All-Star break helped to right the ship. The 25-year-old Purdue product is yet another under-the-radar reliever whose fastball sits in the low-90s. Sattler should begin the 2009 season in the Frisco bullpen, where he has the potential to turn some heads.
Ryan Tatusko, RHP – Standing 6-foot-6 and possessing a low-90s fastball, Tatusko is an intriguing talent. The 23-year-old's 88-93 mph fastball has some natural cut, allowing him to get in on the hands of left-handed hitters. Tatusko also uses a hard curveball and a changeup. He figures to work out of the bullpen for High-A Bakersfield in 2009, though he could continue to do some spot starting as well.
Matt Thompson, RHP – Thompson proved to be raw during his time with the AZL Rangers in 2008, but he has one of the system's better arms. The Burleson native has an 88-92 mph fastball, a curveball with definite plus potential, and a developing changeup. Thompson figures to attend extended spring training in 2009 before joining either the rookie-level AZL Rangers or the short-season Spokane Indians.
Corey Young, LHP – Despite being a starter for most of his three-year career at Seton Hall, the Rangers moved the left-hander to the bullpen after taking him in the 12th round of the 2008 Draft. Young, whose fastball sits in the upper-80s, flourished as a middle reliever in Spokane's bullpen. With the help of a deceptive arm angle and a plus big-breaking curveball, he limited left-handed hitters to a paltry .105 batting average.