The Texas Rangers have graduated some talent from their farm system over the years, and they have another talented wave on the way. They have talent up the middle, starting with their top prospect. They also have some intriguing lively arms. Most of their best hitters are in the low minors, but they should prove worth the wait.
Top 5 fantasy prospects
1- Jurickson Profar, SS
Profar has surpassed Manny Machado as the top shortstop prospect in the eyes of many, including myself. That's more a testament to what Profar has done, than an indictment of Machado. Signed out of Curacao in 2009, he has done nothing but impress. He's got a slick glove that will make him a plus defender at shortstop. If the Rangers sign Elvis Andrus to a long term contract, Profar will be an impact player at second base (I'm operating under the assumption the Rangers would let Ian Kinsler leave via free agency in this scenario). Regardless of where Profar plays up the middle of the infield, he'll be a special player.
He is an incredibly patient hitter that walked more than he struck out last season (65 walks versus 63 strikeouts) in 430 Low-A at-bats. He slugged the ball, posting a .207 isolated slugging (ISO) with 12 home runs and 57 extra base hits. Look for some of his doubles (37 in 2011) to turn into home runs as he physically matures. He's a player that could settle into the 20-25 home run range as a major leaguer. He used his speed well stealing 23 bases at roughly a 72 percent clip. He hit .286 last season, and his excellent contact rate lends hope for even bigger things in the future. His blend present skills and future projection makes him a tantalizing prospect.
2- Martin Perez, SP
The results haven't been there, but it is important to remember Perez has moved quickly as a prospect. He pitched all of 2011 as a 20 year old split between Double-A and Triple-A. He was very good in Double-A, but struggled in Triple-A. At some point, being young for his level won't be enough reason to continue ranking Perez amongst the elite prospects in the game. That time hasn't come yet.
He still throws hard for a left-handed pitcher, sitting in the 90-94 mph range with his fastball. He backs the heater with two plus pitches, a plus curveball, and a plus change-up. They are both inconsistent pitches, and his key to taking his game to the next level will be better harnessing both. Another aspect holding him back from realizing his full potential is his control and command, each of which need some work. If Perez is able to make the same leap in repeating Triple-A as he did repeating Double-A, he won't be far from making a major league debut.
3- Mike Olt, 3B
Olt was having an outstanding season before breaking his collarbone in June. He made up for lost time by knocking the stitches out of the baseball in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Olt hit .349/.433/767 in 127 AFL plate appearances. More impressive than that, his AFL leading 13 home runs were almost double that of Robbie Grossman's second place total of seven. His power is real, but so is his propensity for striking out. He helps offset his high strikeout totals with plenty of walks, but will always struggle to hit for a high batting average. His glove is good enough to make him an asset at third base defensively, but not good enough to unseat long term commitment Adrian Beltre. If he remains a Ranger, his ultimate defensive home is probably left-field. A move to the outfield would hurt his fantasy stock, but it is possible the Rangers may see more value in trading him as a third baseman, than converting him to a position lower on the defensive spectrum. Olt should start the year in Double-A, and might not need more than this season and part of next to complete his minor league degree and graduate to the majors.
4- Neil Ramirez, SP
Sometimes it all comes together for a player, in 2011, it did for Ramirez. John Sickels of Minor League Ball called him a breakout candidate heading into the season, and he hit the nail on the head. The component stats were there in 2010 (142 strikeouts to 37 walks in 140.1 innings), and the results caught up this past season. The slightly surprising part about the leap in production is that it came while moving up from High-A in 2010, to Double-A and Triple-A in 2011. 74.1 of Ramirez's 98 innings were thrown in Triple-A where he posted a 3.63 ERA, which was almost identical to his 3.59 FIP, struck out a staggering 10.41 K/9, and had passable control with a 4.24 BB/9. Further seasoning in Triple-A should help him reduce his walk rate a bit.
Ramirez missed time with a shoulder injury mid-season, but was throwing by season's end and saw time in the AFL as well. He throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball, and a promising change-up that is in the development stages. At worst, his fastball/curveball combo would play well in high leverage situations out of the bullpen, at best, his change-up comes around and he's a solid starting pitcher that can strike batters out with regularity. The Rangers starting rotation is full, so Ramirez will likely open in Triple-A with a chance at a promotion when rosters expand in September.
5- Jorge Alfaro, C
Dubbed #TheLegend by Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus and Texas Farm Review, Alfaro is a prospect that is eons away from reaching the majors, but a prospect worth dreaming on. He currently is all about projection. As an 18 year old in Short Season ball he showed impressive in game power hitting six home runs in only 171 plate appearances. Unfortunately, like most youngsters, his approach is awful. He walked just three times unintentionally, and struck out a whopping 54 times. His defense needs work, but he has the tools necessary to stick behind the dish. Middle of the order bats that sport catcher eligibility are a rare breed, and Alfaro could be just that. Now is the time to get in on the floor level before he shoots up prospect lists.
Bonus- Ronald Guzman, 1B
Like Alfaro, Guzman is multiple years away from reaching the majors. Also like Alfaro, he's special enough that he warrants waiting on. In fact, Guzman is so special that Jason Parks declared him the most impressive 16 year old he has ever seen. His value is tied entirely in his bat. He projects to hit for plus power, and is considered an advanced hitter for his age. Here is some video of Guzman.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Leonys Martin, OF
Martin is a Cuban defector that made his state side debut last year. He moved quickly through the minors and saw time in September with the Rangers. He has gap power that could play up because of his home ballpark, and the speed to be a factor in stolen bases. Opinions vary on his on-base skills, and how they develop will determine whether he hits near the top of the order during his peak years, or finds himself at the back of it. In the short term, expect him to start at the back of the lineup and work on earning his way up. He'll have a chance to win the center field job in the spring, and I fully expect him to do so. The Rangers lineup is loaded. Because of that, he'll have a chance to chip in runs and RBIs from any spot in the order, be a positive contributor in stolen bases, and possibly hit for average. He struggled to hit for average in Triple-A, so it isn't a given the he'll hit the ground running with the Rangers.
2- Martin Perez, SP
Perez is has the type of stuff that he could force the Rangers hand if it were all to come together for him this year. I don't expect that to be the case, and the sheer depth of the Rangers rotation could result in a bullpen apprenticeship ala Johan Santana even if he does breakout.
3- Neil Ramirez, SP
Ramirez has a lower ceiling than Perez, and is equally unlikely to get a crack at starting for the Rangers in 2012. For that reason, he ranks behind Perez.
4- Tanner Scheppers, RP
The song remains the same with Scheppers. He struggles to stay healthy, even working in relief full time now, but when he is healthy he shows back end of the bullpen stuff. He throws an upper-90s fastball and two power breaking balls, a curveball and a slider. His command is iffy, and there is a lot of talent jockeying for high leverage innings in Texas, but Scheppers could make a splash in leagues that value non-closing relievers with gaudy strikeout totals.
5- Matt West, RP
After struggling to hit for multiple seasons as a third base prospect, the Rangers move West's 80 grade arm to the bump last season where the results were downright astonishing. In 26 innings pitched at the Short Season level, West struck out 35 batters and walked one. That's right, he had a 35:1 strikeouts-to-walk rate. He throws hard, 93-96 mph and reaching back for a little more now and again. He also throws a filthy slider that Parks referred to as one of the best in the minors on Baseball Prospectus's most recent Up and In Podcast. Addison Reed's 2011 season serves as an example of just how fast relievers can move through the minors. Of course, Reed wasn't making the transition from being a position player to pitching either. West is admittedly a long shot to get to the majors this year, but other position player converts like Kenley Jansen and Jason Motte have shown it's possible to get to the big leagues in such short order after the transition.