• Approximately one month into the Arizona League short season, the Surprise Rangers rank first in the circuit with a .294 team batting average and second with 150 runs scored.
The club has a roster stacked with solid position-player prospects, giving them arguably the top offensive attack in the league. From top to bottom, it's likely the deepest crop of position prospects on any single affiliate in the Rangers organization.
Seven of the AZL Rangers' position players are graduates of the DSL Rangers2 club that finished with an outstanding 47-15 mark in the Dominican Republic last season.
For the most part, the Latin American position prospects in Arizona weren't high-dollar July 2nd signees, but they are promising players with similarly advanced skillsets.
• One of the players from the strong 2008 international class is infielder Oduber Herrera, who was 2-for-4 with a triple in this particular game. Herrera has possessed an advanced bat since the day he signed––he hit .280 with 10 extra-base hits and 39 walks for the DSL Rangers last summer.
So far this season, the 18-year-old is hitting the ball well, going 18-for-64 [.281] with four doubles and two triples. He has three walks while striking out nine times.
At 5-foot-11, Herrera isn't particularly tall, but he has a short left-handed stroke and quick hands that allow him to turn around on plus fastballs while generating some nice gap-to-gap power.
When the Venezuela native signed in '08, he wasn't nearly as advanced defensively as he was with the bat. But with plus range, a strong arm, and decent hands, Herrera has the tools to become a solid defender, whether it be at shortstop or second base.
Playing almost exclusively at shortstop last summer, Herrera committed 34 errors in 53 contests. Despite the struggles, the club wanted to continue challenging him at short because they knew he had the tools to succeed.
Herrera has shown steady defensive improvement since the start of last season. While he still rushes his throws and fails to set his feet at times, he is showing the makings of becoming a solid defender.
In this particular game, Herrera flashed his range by cutting off a slow chopper in front of the second base bag and making a strong off-balance throw to first base to nail the baserunner.
The prospect has continued to play shortstop on an everyday basis with the AZL Rangers, and he has three errors in his first 18 games this year.
With above-average speed, intriguing offensive skills, and raw defensive tools, Herrera is worth watching. He doesn't turn 19-years-old until late December.
|Villanueva has excellent instincts in the field. b>|
The Mexico native played just eight games in the Dominican Summer League last season before sustaining an injury and going to Arizona to rehab for the remainder of the season. He has been in the U.S. ever since, and he is now 26-for-76 [.342] with six doubles, a triple, and two homers with the AZL Rangers.
Villanueva profiles as an above-average defender at third base with some range, a decent arm, and plus instincts. He has committed only one error in 20 games at the hot corner this summer.
Originally listed at 5-foot-11, 160-pounds, Villanueva has already grown well past that. His physical maturity, quick bat, and line-drive stroke give him some advanced present power.
Though his ceiling may not be huge, he's simply a very good baseball player that could move a little quicker than most other prospects with his age and experience level.
• Second baseman Santiago Chirino is another infielder with an advanced skill-set, and he has already moved on to short-season Spokane after only 16 games in the Arizona League.
Like Villanueva, the 19-year-old Chirino is a solid all-around player with good instincts. He has an advanced approach and controls the strike zone well. Chirino has some present gap-to-gap pop that should develop a bit, but he projects as more of an on-base threat.
His soft hands and smooth mechanics make him an above-average defender at second. The Venezuela native could fill in at short, but his range and arm strength aren't quite on Herrera's level.
Chirino's overall skills are a little Placido Polanco-like, although that's certainly not to say he's the next Polanco. He is a player that should get the most out of his natural ability.
The prospect batted .316 in his first 16 games with the Rookie Rangers, and he is off to a 6-for-16 start with three walks and zero strikeouts in his first four games at Spokane.
• Outfielder Jordan Akins, who was featured in this story, may have the highest ceiling of any outfield prospect in the Rangers system, but he is also a bit of a project.
The 18-year-old is strong––he hits the ball hard and far when he squares it up, but he doesn't do that with much consistency at this point. On the plus side, Akins is making contact at a decent rate so far, striking out 11 times in his first 17 games with the AZL Rangers.
While Akins is also a raw defender, he possesses plus speed, athleticism, and arm strength. Playing as the club's every day right fielder, Akins struggles with his reads and route-running, and he must learn to get maximum carry behind his powerful throws.
A former two-sport star in high school, Akins signed a letter of intent to play both baseball and football at the University of Central Florida. This summer is the first time he has focused solely on baseball.
The 6-foot-3, 192-pound Georgia native may have to spend two or three years at the short-season levels as he refines his baseball skills, but he also has true five-tool potential.
Prospect Video: Oduber Herrera takes batting practice
Herrera, Telis, Martinez hit in the cage
Christian Villanueva takes batting practice
Villanueva, Herrera, Roof take infield
Santiago Chirino takes batting practice
Chirino hit by a pitch
Herrera, Roof, Chirino, Robinson take infield
Jordan Akins grounds out
Akins legs out bunt single
• Starter Ezequiel Rijo pitched well, yielding one run on four hits over four innings pitched. He walked two and struck out two.
Rijo has never been much of a strikeout pitcher. Even when he posted a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings with the Dominican Summer League Rangers in 2008, he only struck out 41 batters.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound righty works with an upper-80s fastball that touches 91 mph on occasion. The heater has good sink when he spots it down in the zone, but he also leaves it up too often, making him hittable and prone to extra-base hits.
Rijo's second-best pitch is a low-80s changeup with some fading action that can induce swinging strikes against left-handed batters, and he clearly has confidence in the offering, using it in any count against both lefties and righties.
The 19-year-old has an inconsistent mid-70s curveball that looks improved at times, but it's clearly his third pitch and an offering that he doesn't show a ton of confidence in.
Rijo has a good frame and his sinking fastball has reached 93 and 94 mph at times in the past, but his fastball command and breaking ball development will determine his ultimate fate as a prospect.
|Grullon still has command issues. b>|
Not much has changed with the new angle––Grullon still has an electric fastball, and he still has trouble locating it. The 6-foot-5 southpaw threw his fastball between 90-95 mph, sitting right around 92-93. As usual, his fastball had tons of natural cut, but he also had trouble commanding it.
The 20-year-old struck out rehabbing slugger Joe Dunigan on a 93 mph fastball [swinging] and he froze the next hitter on a 91 mph heater that cut over the outside corner.
Grullon didn't throw a secondary pitch in Saturday's game against the Royals, and he only mixed in one 83 mph slider in his inning versus the Mariners two days later.
• Right-hander Anthony Haase, the club's 17th-round pick in last month's draft, surrendered two runs in two innings of relief, walking one and striking out three.
The 20-year-old stands at 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, and he creates quite a bit of deception in his delivery, turning his back to the hitter before releasing the ball from a three-quarters arm angle that's seemingly behind right-handed hitters.
It's a funky motion that certainly makes it difficult for a fellow righty to pick up the ball. They are just 3-for-22 with 11 strikeouts against him thus far, but left-handers also have seven hits in their first 16 at-bats.
Haase featured an 87-90 mph sinking fastball against the Mariners, and he also mixed in a low-80s changeup. He also has a curveball––generally considered his third pitch––but didn't use it in the outing. The hurler struggled with his fastball command early on, but it improved as his two innings progressed.
The New Mexico native fanned rehabbing lefty slugger Joe Dunigan on an 83 mph changeup [swinging] and he picked up a pair of swinging punchouts on upper-80s fastballs in the sixth inning.
• After pitching in the Dominican Summer League for four years, 22-year-old righty Jonathan Rojas is finally getting to make his debut in the U.S. The Venezuela native fanned two in his scoreless frame––both swinging on an 80 mph breaking ball and an 89 mph fastball.
With a fastball that sits in the upper-80s with some sink, Rojas doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he generally throws strikes and flashes a decent changeup with good action.
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