Sizing up the middle infield prospects

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

Note: For accuracy purposes, only prospects that have played professional baseball in the U.S. are eligible for this feature. These lists were compiled before Fall Instructional League, and any 2009 draft picks or international signees that have yet to play are ineligible.

Highest Ceiling

Marcus Lemon, 2B: Although Lemon was just 20-years-old at the beginning of the season, he handled the Double-A Texas League well in the first half of the season, batting .299 with 26 walks [versus 33 strikeouts] in 264 at-bats. He faltered in the second half, however, and hit just .209. Lemon's power declined and he was a little less patient. Still, it's important to remember that he was young for the circuit [he turned 21 in June] and he is a candidate to take off while he presumably repeats a league for the first time in his career in 2010.

Lemon doesn't stand out tool-wise, but his hard work and excellent makeup allow him to get the most of his abilities. The son of former big leaguer Chet Lemon is a disciplined hitter who can spray the ball to all fields. While his speed isn't overwhelming, he is becoming a better baserunner. Lemon also doesn't have much power, though he can turn on an inside fastball at times. Down the line, he should hit for a decent average and a high on-base percentage.

Originally drafted as a shortstop in 2006, Lemon pretty much made the transition to second base in '09, playing 77 games at second and just 38 at short. Lemon's range and arm are a better fit at second base, though his arm strength appears to be gradually improving with each season. Lemon can still struggle with the routine play at times, and his 24 errors led to an overall .954 fielding percentage. However, he was much more reliable at second base, committing 11 errors in those 77 contests. Lemon profiles as a solid utility player in the Majors, though he has a chance to be a decent everyday guy if he reaches his ceiling.

Garcia has a very strong arm.
Leury Garcia, SS: Garcia was 5-foot-7, 153-pounds at the time he signed with the Rangers, and he's not much bigger now. Regardless of his stature, the shortstop has intriguing tools. Garcia has learned to switch-hit over the last couple of years, and he batted just .209 with little in the way of discipline for the AZL Rangers in 2008. He came back just one month later and finished second [to Justin Smoak] in the hitters' points system [players are rewarded for base hits, good situational hitting, and the like] at Fall Instructional League.

One of seemingly many switch-hitting, speedy infielders in the system, Garcia swiped 19 bases in 25 tries in 83 games with Hickory this season. He hit just .232, but given his AZL numbers last season and that he was in a full-season league at 18-years-old, the numbers weren't that bad. The Dominican Republic native could develop some gap power, and he should be able to get a few more extra base hits because of his speed.

Garcia's defensive woes were well-documented in 2009, as he committed 42 errors in just 83 games at shortstop. Practically all young infielders struggle with ‘routine' ground balls, but Garcia had a little more trouble than most. He's still a promising defender because of his Rafael Furcal-like tools that include a cannon arm and above-average range. He'll obviously need to show improvement in the error category, but he has plenty of defensive potential.

Closest to Majors

Joaquin Arias, SS: The former Yankees prospect may have played in his last game as a Ranger. While Arias is still on the 40-man roster, he wasn't called up in September and he might not survive the offseason. The shortstop initially injured his shoulder in 2007, and it has never fully recovered. Some of the strength has returned, but Arias' arm is no longer a plus tool and it caused the Rangers to stick him at second base in 2008. Though he returned to shortstop in Triple-A this season, the arm strength wasn't quite the same.

Arias is a streaky hitter who can impress in stretches, but his power and plate discipline still haven't developed. The 25-year-old doesn't strike out much despite his free-swinging ways–a product of his long, wiry frame that allows him to make contact [albeit weak] consistently. Aside from his plus range, Arias' best tool his is outstanding speed, which allowed him to steal 24 bases in 27 attempts at Oklahoma City this season. He currently profiles as a utility guy with plus speed and good range, but his value decreases greatly if his arm won't let him spend much time on the left side of the infield.

The "Sleepers"

Alex Gonzalez, 2B: One of the more exciting players on a young AZL Rangers squad, Gonzalez had a solid season at the plate before faltering late. The switch-hitting 18-year-old finished by hitting .243, but he batted .306 during the month of July. Gonzalez is a high-energy player with good bunting skills and plus speed, giving him top-of-the-order potential. He swiped 16 bases in 18 attempts this summer. Gonzalez is also a spray hitter who simply hits the ball where it is pitched.

Garcia is a smooth defender.
Edwin Garcia, SS: Edwin is the lesser known of the [unrelated] middle-infield Garcias, but he isn't far behind as a prospect. The slick-fielding 18-year-old is already one of the best defensive shortstops in the system, and he isn't too shabby with the bat either. A switch-hitter, Garcia was one of the DSL Rangers' top performers in 2008, when he batted .292 with more walks [31] than strikeouts [28]. The Venezuela native held his own at the plate in his state-side debut with the AZL Rangers in '09, hitting .265 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 walks in 53 games. The defensive tools are there for Garcia, and he appears to have some offensive promise as well.

Alejandro Selen, 2B: The 5-foot-10, 175-pound second baseman lost the entire 2009 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He rehabbed in Arizona throughout the season and he is close to returning. When healthy, Selen is a guy to keep an eye on because of his skills both at the plate and in the field.

Despite his relatively small frame, the 20-year-old has some surprising raw power. He also has good range and a strong, loose arm at second base. Selen made huge strides in all aspects of his game in 2008, when he started 16-for-43 [.372] with the DSL Rangers and earned his first state-side promotion after two full summers in the Dominican Summer League. The Dominican Republic native should be ready to go on opening day in 2010.

Need to Make Their Move

Edward Martinez, 2B: The switch-hitter had a very disappointing season in 2009, as he batted .214 with five extra-base hits in 65 games between short-season Spokane and Single-A Hickory. Martinez played very well with the AZL Rangers in 2008, and he broke this year's Spring Training with the Crawdads. However, Martinez failed to hold his own, hitting just .196 in 102 at-bats.

The 21-year-old had a rough year, but he still has some tools that make him an intriguing hitter. At 5-foot-9, 160-pounds, Martinez is certainly undersized, but he is also very fast–he had 16 steals in those 65 games this season. Martinez is also a good defender who can play at both second base and shortstop.

Osuna struggled with the transition to Double-A.
Renny Osuna, UT: At 6-foot-0, 172-pounds, Osuna isn't particularly large or strong, and that was his biggest downfall with Double-A Frisco this summer. The Venezuela native is a disciplined hitter with an excellent opposite-field approach. Though he can take outside pitches the other way with ease, Osuna has trouble handling power stuff on the inner half of the plate.

Osuna tore through the Midwest and Cal Leagues in 2008, hitting a cumulative .338 in 130 games. But he batted just .246 with eight extra-base hits in 252 games with Frisco this season. The 24-year-old is both athletic and versatile, allowing him to fill in adequately second, third, and shortstop. The right-hander should be back as Frisco's utilityman in 2010, but he'll need to prove he can produce at the upper levels.

Mike Hollander, 2B: The former LSU standout has one of the strongest infield arms in the entire organization. Hollander is an excellent defender, and he showed off his versatility with Single-A Hickory this season, playing 51 games at second base, 11 at third, and seven in the outfield. The Rangers experimented with Hollander behind the plate in Spring Training this year, and he could get a look there eventually. If the move never comes, he could fill the utility position in Bakersfield next season.

The Jury is Still Out

Matt Lawson, 2B: Though he doesn't get much prospect recognition, Lawson is a solid player who does a lot to help his team win. Baseball America recently named him the California League's best defensive second baseman, largely due to his athleticism, soft hands, quick feet, and quick release on double plays.

The 23-year-old made great strides as a hitter in 2009. Although his plate discipline is spotty at times, he often made solid contact and showed some gap power. Lawson doesn't really have any plus tools, but he does most everything pretty well and is just a very good baseball player. He should see Double-A Frisco next season.

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