Sizing up the outfield prospects

Lone Star Dugout analyzes the Rangers' top outfield prospects. Which outfield 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

Engel Beltre, CF: While the youngster made some encouraging strides in 2009, he lost an important chunk of his season after breaking a hamate bone when he was hit by a pitch. Beltre logged just 84 games at High-A Bakersfield before going down, and he was hitting .227 with 13 doubles, five triples, and three homers.

Beltre's body is slowly beginning to fill out, but he still has plus speed and covers plenty of ground in center. While his routes are still sometimes questionable, he range allows him to make up for most mistakes, and he has a strong arm. The 19-year-old also has tons of power potential, but his approach holds him back.

Although Beltre's approach improved slightly in 2009, he still loves to swing early and often, and he doesn't see many pitches per at-bat. If Beltre teaches himself to become more patient, his swing-and-miss rates will drop and he'll make solid contact with more consistency. His free-swinging ways were put on display during a late-season assignment to Double-A Frisco [where he was 1-for-14 at the plate], and he should start back in Bakersfield next summer.

Miguel Velazquez, RF: Regarded as perhaps Puerto Rico's most talented prospect in the 2006 MLB Draft, Velazquez fell all the way to the 19th round due to legal troubles. He signed for $72,000 and played for the AZL Rangers that summer, but was forced to miss the entire 2008 campaign with similar issues in his native land.

Velazquez returned in '09 with a bang, showcasing his extraordinary talent in the short-season Northwest League. Much like Beltre, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound outfielder has five above-average tools [though most of Beltre's raw tools are a slight tick better] that appear to be relatively well-developed. Despite the lack of pro experience, Velazquez batted .297 with 10 homers in 54 games for the Indians.

The 21-year-old is a good hitter with a fairly advanced approach. Because of his strong frame, some of his plus power potential is already showing up in games. Velazquez also has good speed and a strong arm. He could stand to improve his play in right field, but he has the necessary skills to be solid with the glove. The Rangers feel Velazquez has moved past his off-field issues, and if so, he could become the crown jewel of the Rangers' position-player crop.

Closest to Majors

Gentry stole 49 bases this year.
Craig Gentry, CF: Playing with a clean bill of health for the first time in his professional career in 2009, Gentry has broken out as a prospect. The speedster was slowed [both literally and figuratively] by a leg injury last season, but he has experienced no such issues this year. Overall, Gentry is the system's best defensive centerfielder due to his plus range and strong, accurate arm. He maximizes his speed by getting good reads on fly balls off the bat.

Entering the '09 campaign, all of the big question marks were about Gentry's offensive game, and he has begun to answer them. While Gentry typically didn't have trouble making consistent contact in the past, he wasn't particularly patient either. The 25-year-old's increased patience this season led to 37 walks [versus 39 strikeouts] in his final three months at Double-A Frisco. His much-improved approach allowed himself to see better pitches, and that helped turn some of his raw power into legitimate game power, as Gentry hit 21 doubles, seven triples, and eight homers with the RoughRiders.

A fully healthy Gentry was also able to own the basepaths once again, as he swiped a Texas League-leading 49 bags in 56 attempts. Gentry would be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, but he earned a September callup to the Majors and should remain on the 40-man roster.

Greg Golson, OF: The out-of-this-world tools are still there for Golson, but his production lags behind. Golson is extremely fast and he covers lot of ground in the outfield, giving him the ability to play centerfield. He's also above-average in right field thanks to his arm, which rates as at least a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Golson's arm is very strong and very accurate–in short, it's fun to watch him wind up and fire to a base. With Julio Borbon and Brandon Boggs splitting the time in center with Triple-A OKC, Golson manned right field until Borbon was called up.

For all his speed, the Austin native still doesn't always use it to the best of his abilities. Golson is a good baserunner who notched eight triples and stole 20 bases in 24 tries. The 24-year-old is a physical specimen who has shown plenty of raw power in the past, but he appeared to shorten up his stroke this year. The final result was a slightly lower strikeout rate [although still quite a few, with 114 in 123 games], but also less power. He could improve his game by bunting more often and perfecting the small-ball aspects.

Golson's defensive skills and speed alone make him an asset to many Major League clubs, particularly in the DH-less National League. His speed and glove skills are comparable to Gentry, who was called up in September while Golson returned home. He'll need to improve at the plate to see significant action with the Rangers, but Golson has the talent to do so.

Mitch Moreland, RF: Moreland proved his legitimacy as a prospect in 2009 by closing up holes in his swing and hitting .331 with 38 doubles and 16 homers between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. He missed the season's last three weeks after breaking a bone in his foot, but he will return in the Arizona Fall League.

The 24-year-old didn't draw a ton of walks with Frisco [23 in 73 games], but he was a selective hitter who could wait for his pitch and drive it. Moreland is a line-drive hitter who projects to hit for a solid average and good gap power. He'll also run into more than his share of home runs.

The left-hander throws in the low-90s off the mound, and he has a legitimate plus arm from right field. Moreland doesn't cover a whole lot of ground, though, and he's a tick below average as an outfielder. He could also wind up at first base while seeing some time at DH if he reaches the Majors. Moreland has bounced between first base and the outfield in two full seasons, and he is still getting accustomed to a corner spot.

The "Sleepers"

Pimentel is a breakout candidate for 2010.
Guillermo Pimentel, OF: The Santo Domingo-born outfielder isn't particularly well-known, but he has elite skills. Pimentel has plus speed, a strong arm, and lots of raw power. His approach isn't bad–in other words, he's not afraid to take a pitch or draw a walk–but Pimentel often has trouble with timing, leaving him off-balance and vulnerable to good fastballs.

Pimentel, who is just 11 days younger than Engel Beltre, turns 20-years-old in November. He is a candidate to repeat the AZL next season in hopes that his raw power and overall baseball skills can take a step forward and translate into results. Though he flashed his potential in stretches this past summer, Pimentel finished with just a .245 average and six extra-base hits in 42 games. He has no shortage of talent, but the production must become more consistent.

Joey Butler, RF: The 6-foot-2, 210-pound outfielder is one of the streakier players in the organization, but he has a handful of intriguing tools. After a disappointing first half at High-A Bakersfield, Butler rebounded to hit .300 with 23 doubles and five homers in his final 69 games. Butler is often a free-swinging hitter, which resulted in 146 punchouts this season. However, he appeared to have more of a plan and a more advanced approach in the second half. When the 23-year-old became more patient, his power came out and he began driving balls into the gaps. He could develop more home run pop if his overall approach continues to improve.

David Paisano, CF: Paisano is a classic example of a player who performs better than his numbers would suggest, but there are still some legitimate concerns. The 21-year-old suffered late slumps in both Hickory and Bakersfield, causing his overall numbers to look much weaker than he performed for most of the year. Paisano finished the regular season on a 2-for-25 slump that dropped his High-A average from .286 to .253.

The former White Sox prospect is an excellent centerfielder with above-average range and one of the system's strongest, most accurate arms. However, he appeared to lose a step both in the field and on the bases this season, perhaps due to a nagging hamstring injury that has bothered him for the past two years.

Even though Paisano appeared to have lost his plus speed in 2009, he continued to progress as a hitter. The Venezuela native began to show more gap power, as he hammered 33 doubles between the two A-ball levels. He also has a patient, top-of-the-order approach at times, but consistency was the primary issue. Despite a couple of extended slumps, Paisano has improved his offense game in each of the last two seasons.

Need to Make Their Move

Bolden is a good defender at multiple positions.
Jared Bolden, OF: The 22-year-old was a jack-of-all-trades with Single-A Hickory this season, seeing extended time at first base and all three outfield positions. An excellent athlete, Bolden is an above-average defender both at first base and in the outfield thanks to his solid range and good arm.

The natural southpaw is a more talented hitter than he showed with the Crawdads this year [.238, 15 extra-base hits in 107 games]. Bolden had a tendency to step in the bucket with his front foot, causing him to pull off pitches and taking away virtually all of his power. The Virginia Commonwealth product was impressive in batting practice, but he failed to barrel balls up in games, as most of his hits were of the bloop variety.

Bolden has a good approach, good speed, and good raw hitting tools, so if he corrects the issues, he could be in for a breakout season in 2010. Although it was a small sample size, Bolden was impressive in a late-season stint with Triple-A OKC, going 7-for-20 with a homer and two walks.

Cristian Santana, LF: After two consecutive disappointing seasons in Single-A, Santana has one thing working for him: monstrous raw power. The 20-year-old has arguably the most raw power in the system, but the other phases of his game lag far behind. Santana's below-average plate discipline and pitch recognition skills have led to a total of 234 strikeouts [with just 38 walks] in 170 games over the last two seasons.

The Dominican Republic native is an incredibly streaky hitter who has his share of hot streaks, but he also has plenty of extended stretches where he strikes out in two-thirds of his plate appearances. Though Santana squared up pitches more often in 2009, his overall approach remained unchanged and it'll be interesting to see where the Rangers put him next summer.

A former catcher, Santana moved to the outfield because of shoulder problems that kept him out for all of 2006 and much of 2007. A number of injuries have limited him to only 203 games in three professional seasons [87 and 83 the last two years, respectively], and he now appears to be a full-time left fielder. When healthy, Santana's arm is playable in left field, and he could be an average defender with more work.

The Jury is Still Out

Bianucci isn't short on power.
Mike Bianucci, OF: The powerful slugger led the Rangers' organization with 30 home runs this year, hitting 15 apiece between Single-A Hickory and High-A Bakersfield. After three seasons at the University of Auburn, Bianucci proved to be advanced for the Low-A Sally League, as he batted .331 with 21 doubles and 15 homers [1.001 OPS] in just 72 games. Through he belted 15 round-trippers in only 50 games at Bakersfield, his batting average dipped to just .232 and he whiffed 69 times in 198 at-bats.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Bianucci is not only built like a lumberjack, but he also has the strength of one, giving him some of the best power in the system. Coming into the 2009 season, there were questions about Bianucci's swing and whether or not he'd be able to make consistent contact. Those issues were highlighted in Bakersfield, but the 23-year-old still held his own and it was only his first full season. Bianucci can play both the left and right field spots, but he profiles as more of a strong DH down the line. He should be in Frisco by midseason at the latest.

Braxton Lane, OF: The Rangers went the raw-but-talented route with outfielders in this year's draft, and Lane is another to fall in that category. The Atlanta-area high school product turned down an offer to play both football and baseball at the University of Oregon. A wide receiver prospect, Lane has premium speed, but the question is all about his bat.

Lane was just 12-for-65 [.185] with 33 strikeouts before getting shut down with a triceps injury in the AZL this summer. He was recently sent home from instructs after undergoing triceps surgery that will keep him out until Spring Training. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound switch-hitter is learning to spray the ball to all fields and use his speed to get on base. Because Lane has some strength, he could develop some power if his hit tool comes around. Lane will likely need at least another year of rookie ball, but he is coachable and has top-of-the-order potential.

Ruben Sierra, OF: When the Rangers selected Sierra Jr. in the sixth round of this summer's MLB Draft, he was known as a toolsy batting practice superstar who struggled to make contact against live pitching. That proved to be true, as he batted just .202 [22-for-109] with three doubles, eight walks, and 47 strikeouts with the rookie-level AZL Rangers this year.

Sierra was mostly a left fielder this summer, but he saw action at all three outfield spots. The 6-foot-2, 172-pound prospect has plus speed and plus arm strength, but he struggled with reads and jumps in the field. The left-handed Sierra made some improvements at the plate after his father [former Rangers great Ruben Sierra Sr.] came to Arizona in mid-summer and helped make a few adjustments. Now, Sierra Jr.'s actions at the plate–stance, leg kick, and swing–look almost identical to his dad's. The 18-year-old may need a couple years of development in Arizona, but he has tons of raw talent and a high ceiling.

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