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What three position and three pitching prospects are you highly excited to watch in the upcoming year?
Tomas Telis - Obviously I like his offensive skills a lot, and I'm very interested to see where the Rangers start him off next year. They could be aggressive and put him in Hickory, or they could back off a little bit and stick him in Spokane. I think his bat may be ready for Hickory, but the defense is the question mark here.
Tom Mendonca - He has the potential to be the next Chris Davis. He'll likely start in Bakersfield next season, and I want to see how he performs in the full season with a chance to adjust at a level. He's done a good job of making adjustments and being coachable thus far.
Ruben Sierra/Miguel Velazquez - I'll lump these guys in together. Sierra because he bounced back from a rough AZL season to have an incredible instructs. Velazquez because I think he has an opportunity to make himself undoubtedly the top outfield prospect in the system. It's either between him, Moreland, or Beltre.
Jake Brigham - I think the stuff is much better than the results right now, and I think he's going to surprise people. Scouts I spoke to this year were very high on Brigham, and he has definite power stuff with a fastball that touches 95-96 and a good curveball. I'm excited to see if he can take the next step forward.
Tanner Scheppers - Obvious reasons. I think he'll start in Double-A and make his debut with the Rangers at some point during the 2010 season. I'll throw Martin Perez into this as well. I don't think Perez reaches the Majors next season, but I figured I'd stick him here because he's a cheap answer, but I'm obviously excited to see what he can do next year.
Robbie Erlin - So far, so good for him. He absolutely has the ability to be every bit as good as Robbie Ross was this year. I saw him throw one inning in the AZL, and I didn't get to see him at instructs at all, so I haven't seen much of him. But he looked good in that one inning, and I've heard nothing but great things. Throw Nick McBride into this list as well, as I've never seen McBride pitch.
Do the Rangers have to worry about losing anyone in the Rule 5 Draft this offseason? Do you think anyone will be added to the roster?
Eric in Arkansas
Honestly, I don't think anybody would be selected in the Rule 5 if the Rangers left their roster as-is. Eligible players include Mike Ballard, Brennan Garr, Beau Jones, Michael Kirkman, Zach Phillips, and Chad Tracy. Some promising talents in there with a shot to contribute in the Major Leagues, but I don't think there's too much worry about a team picking one up this year.
In my opinion, Michael Kirkman would be the most likely to go. He's got a solid low-90s fastball, a couple of decent breaking balls [with a potential for a plus slider], and he's working on the changeup. Even if Kirkman can't stick as a starter, some scouts I've talked to like him as a power lefty out of the bullpen. Because of injuries, Kirkman really doesn't have all that much experience, and I think he's still a year or two away from the Majors. But a team could feasibly take a flyer and stick him deep in a bullpen now. However, like I said, I don't think it's too likely.
A lot of your velocity reports from instructs seemed to be on the low side. Is that normal?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: It's hard to tell with instructs velocity. Everyone's arm reacts differently. The same is true when trying to judge guys based on Spring Training velocity. Matt Thompson, for example, had his normal velocity at instructs [90-93 mph]. But he was pretty much the only player I saw with normal velocity. Most guys–like Robbie Ross, Johnny Gunter, and Justin Jamison–were down from the regular season.
Lots of guys are firing it up for the first time in a few weeks. For some of the players, they were firing it up for the first time in a few months. It just depends. My general rule of thumb is to not pay too much attention to what you see and hear velocity-wise at instructs. It's best to judge pitchers off the natural movement, their ability to pitch, and the secondary pitches, which most of them are using instructs to work on anyway.
What prospects seem poised to make the leap to elite status of Feliz/Smoak/Perez and what would it take for that to happen? Exclude Scheppers, that's too easy to answer.
After reading the first half of the question, my immediate answer was going to be "Scheppers," because I think he's already reached that elite status without even throwing an official professional pitch. But that'll happen when you top out at 99 mph with a hammer curve and a solid feel for pitching.
Aside from that, I'll give a bit of a disappointing answer. I don't think we'll see anybody reach the elite Feliz/Smoak/Perez status in 2010. I think Rangers fans have been a bit spoiled over the past couple of years. But don't take that to mean there isn't high-ceiling talent, because there absolutely is. There are a handful of guys that I think can eventually reach that ceiling, but I don't think there is a can't-miss prospect like Smoak that will be knocking on the door this time next year. And I don't think we'll see another 18-year-old pitcher make a meteoric rise in 2010.
If someone does become one of baseball's true elite prospects, I think it'll be a healthy Michael Main. But he seemed to be there coming into the 2009 season, so I don't think anyone would be totally shocked about that.
There are a handful of guys that I think are capable of putting themselves among the prospect elite over the next couple of seasons. First off, I'm becoming a believer in Wilmer Font. He is gradually learning how to pitch, and his curveball and changeup both showed drastic improvement in 2009. He has the outstanding fastball, the good body, and he had very good results in Hickory. I don't expect him to move quickly and I don't think he's going to become elite overnight, but he's definitely on track.
Robbie Ross is already a very good pitching prospect, but I'm not sure he'll ever be in the elite range. By that, I'm saying I don't think he has top-of-the-rotation potential. I think he's more of a mid-rotation guy, but I think there is a high probability that he reaches the Majors and becomes a solid starting pitcher.
Speaking of lefties, don't sleep on Edwin Escobar. Another guy with a pretty high ceiling, but he's also another guy that I don't expect to develop overnight. It's going to take some time on him, and he may not become a household name for another two years. But that's okay–he was born in April of 1992.
Looking at position players, I think there definitely isn't another elite prospect waiting to happen. If Jurickson Profar turns out to be as good as advertised and his progression is similar to Elvis Andrus', I think it'll be at least another year or two before he can be considered among the elite.
Obviously Engel Beltre has the ability to catapult himself way up the rankings, as he probably still has the highest ceiling of any position player in the system. But there are plenty of concerns with him, beginning with the plate discipline that has caused him so many problems over the last year.
I've been on the Tomas Telis bandwagon from day one because of his outstanding skills with the bat. I would expect him to produce offensively, and that'll make him a commodity even if he isn't able to stick behind the plate.
Those are just a few names for you, even though the real answer is that I don't expect anyone to do it next year.
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