Sizing up the catching prospects

In this free preview of premium content, Lone Star Dugout analyzes the Rangers' top catching prospects. Which catching 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

Tomas Telis: At just 18 years of age, Telis has already taken over as the top catching prospect in the Rangers' system. And due to his outstanding offensive potential, he also has the highest ceiling of any young catcher in the organization.

Telis' rare hand-eye coordination skills allow him to get the bat on the ball regardless of where it is pitched. He hit a couple of balls in the dirt into the outfield for base hits with the AZL Rangers this past summer. Telis will have to become a bit more selective as he moves up the organizational ladder, but he will likely never be a patient hitter. Of course, with his exceptional ability to get the bat on the ball, it may not matter that much.

At the plate, Telis' tools compare somewhat to Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval. The native of Venezuela is a switch hitter with a plus hit tool and developing power. Though Telis stands just about 5-foot-9, his body is filling out and he is already showing some pop. Telis was outstanding with the AZL Rangers this year, but he really opened eyes after going 8-for-20 with a double and two homers during a late-season stint in Spokane.

Originally signed as a shortstop, Telis just finished his second season behind the plate. While he is making progress, Telis remains very raw and defense is his biggest question mark. There is no telling how good he will be with the glove, but Telis does have quick feet and above-average arm strength. As expected for a new catcher, his game management and receiving skills remain in the early stages.

Closest to Majors

Kevin Richardson: The 29-year-old's story has been well-documented since he initially joined the Rangers in mid-August. Richardson is an eight-year minor league veteran who doesn't have the best tools, but he has turned himself into an excellent defender through hard work. Richardson calls an excellent game, blocks balls well, and—while he doesn't have a particularly strong arm—it is extremely accurate and he has a quick release.

Richardson's hit tool is lacking, and that pretty much relegates him to a backup in Triple-A and the Majors. He is a career .239 hitter in the minors and he swings and misses too often, as shown in his 105 strikeouts in 205 at-bats in Triple-A this season. But Richardson is also strong and possesses good raw power—the ball flies when he makes solid contact.

The former Gonzaga Bulldog isn't likely to last on the Rangers' 40-man roster over the offseason, and he will have the option of choosing minor league free agency if he is pulled off the 40-man. Still, it wouldn't be a shock to see Richardson return to Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2010.

The "Sleepers"

'Macumba' has an incredible arm.
Leonel De Los Santos: The Dominican Republic product is known throughout the organization simply as ‘Macumba' [meaning ‘magic'] because of his incredibly strong arm. De Los Santos' hose is undoubtedly the best in the system, especially since Manny Pina was traded. ‘Macumba' is a streaky defensive player because his mechanics can get out of whack at times, making his throwing accuracy erratic at best. Still, he gunned down 33 percent of attempted basestealers with Hickory this year—a solid number for a young catcher that should get even better as he matures.

The 19-year-old is an underrated hitter, and he held his own offensively in '09, particularly since he'd never played above the rookie AZL level. De Los Santos batted .272 with four homers in 65 games, and he improved as the year progressed, finishing with a .286 mark in the second half. He has some raw power and could develop into an average offensive player with plus defensive skills down the line.

Jose Felix: A tireless worker, Felix is well on his way to being an outstanding defensive catcher. The native of Mexico doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he gets the most out of it with quick, clean mechanics behind the plate. Like all young backstops, the 21-year-old must improve his game calling, but he is ahead of the curve. Offensively, Felix shows a touch of gap power, but he often pulls his front foot out, which keeps him from consistently squaring up on balls. Felix could become a Manny Pina-type, and he profiles as more of a defensive-minded backup catcher.

Chris Gradoville: Although he won't appear on any top prospect lists, Graodville is one of the system's most undervalued commodities because of his outstanding defensive skills. The 25-year-old batted just .227 this season with Double-A Frisco—and while he is a better hitter than he showed—he will likely never hit enough to play every day at the upper levels.

However, pitchers and coaches rave about Gradoville's game-calling skills and his ability to handle a pitching staff. Gradoville does his homework and carries it over into games, making him arguably the best defensive backstop in the system. The Omaha native's work behind the plate will allow him to stay in professional baseball for quite awhile, and like Richardson, he could eventually get a look in the Majors.

Need to Make Their Move

Max Ramirez: Ramirez played in 80 games this year, but with two wrist injuries that left him severely limited at the plate, the 2009 campaign goes down as pretty much a lost season. Wrist injuries are known to sap power, and that was certainly evident in Ramirez's .334 slugging percentage this season—after he tore through the minors in 2008. He showed some signs of frustration when his normally outstanding plate discipline became very poor in the first half of the season.

Ramirez still has plenty of potential, and a rebound wouldn't be at all surprising. The 24-year-old simply needs to get healthy. At his best, Ramirez can hit for average and power while working his share of walks. Unfortunately, none of that happened in 2009. Questions remain about whether or not he can remain behind the plate defensively, but he could step up and play a key role for the Rangers in 2010 if he is healthy.

The Jury is Still Out

Hogan will play in the Arizona Fall League.
Doug Hogan: One of the system's stronger players, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Hogan has plenty of raw power. When he connects with the ball, it can travel a long way—even in the pitcher-friendly South Atlantic League. However, Hogan batted just .225 in Spokane last season and hit .241 between Hickory and Bakersfield this year, striking out in nearly one-third of his official at-bats.

Defensively, the former Clemson Tiger is solid, as he handles pitchers well, calls a good game, and has an above-average arm. Hogan did an admirable job with a young Hickory pitching staff in his first full season. The 24-year-old's defensive skills and raw power give him an opportunity to be a usable big-league backup someday.

Vin DiFazio: The Rangers' 12th-round pick in the 2009 Draft had an incredible debut campaign, posting a .943 OPS between short-season Spokane and Single-A Hickory. DiFazio was especially impressive with the Crawdads, as he went 18-for-62 [.290] with five doubles, one triple, and five homers in just 18 games. He also walked 12 times, leading to a .423 on-base percentage.

DiFazio's collegiate career spanned five years and three schools [University of Connecticut, Indian River CC and University of Alabama], and his only healthy Division I campaigns came in '05 and '08. Because of his lack of experience, the New Jersey native is a bit raw behind the plate, although he has a strong arm. DiFazio proved to be an advanced hitter this summer, showing power and excellent plate discipline. The 23-year-old is one of the club's more intriguing position players from the '09 draft.

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