Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.
In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Texas Rangers site Nolan Writin':
The Rangers have always had plenty of offense. Their recent success can be attributed to Nolan Ryan’s commitment to developing pitching. What young pitchers are in the system that Rangers fans should get excited about?
Nathaniel says: There’s a ton of it, which is truly impressive given how much the organization has traded away in the past 15 months. Had they not traded away Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland at the trade deadline, the Rangers could’ve been looking at seven or eight Top 100 prospects from pitchers alone. Now, they’ll have to settle for 4-6, which is still more than almost any other organization can boast.
The seven guys that lead the pack in this system, in my eyes, are Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, Miguel De Los Santos, Barret Loux, Cody Buckel, Roman Mendez, and Luke Jackson. That’s in order of closeness to the majors, not overall potential.
Perez is a guy who I actually ranked as the #3 prospect in baseball two years ago, and he again made my top 10 last year. He’s slipped a bit with an up-and-down last two seasons, but we shouldn’t be too concerned about that because he’s still just 20. A lefthander with a solid fastball and changeup and plus curve, he resembles Erik Bedard somewhat in his delivery and arsenal. He could be similarly electric; hopefully he winds up staying healthier than Bedard.
You mentioned Nolan Ryan’s involvement in developing pitching, and it’s particularly interesting with regards to Ramirez, who was put on possibly the strangest promotion schedule I’ve ever seen in 2011. After spending all of 2010 in Low-A, he was given one start in High-A before being skipped over Double-A entirely and whisked to Triple-A. Shockingly, the power righthander was unfazed by basically skipping over two levels, and struck out 86 batters in 74 Triple-A innings. He’s an extreme flyball guy, which could be a problem in Texas, but the 22-year-old has excellent strikeout stuff.
De Los Santos struck out 142 batters in 94 2/3 innings (!) this season, and as a power lefty with a knockout changeup, it’s easy to understand why. But he does have trouble with walks (46), and he’ll need to fix that. He’s got incredible upside, but sometimes guys like this stay inconsistent forever (see Jonathan Sanchez or even Francisco Liriano).
Loux, who Arizona famously selected sixth overall in 2010 before declining to sign him due to medical concerns, certainly didn’t pitch like damaged goods in 2011, with a 127/34 K/BB in 109 High-A innings. He’s more of a polished guy (he was considered something of an overdraft at #6, regardless of the injury concerns) than purely electric arm, but he also isn’t as rough around the edges as the three pitchers I’ve discussed before him.
Buckel was the Rangers’ second-round pick last year, and he absolutely tore up the Low-A South Atlantic League in his first full season (120/27 K/BB in 96 2/3 IP, 2.61 ERA), which is made even more impressive by the fact that he turned 19 midseason. He’s got a balanced, wide arsenal and has even earned a few Tim Lincecum comparisons due to his size, delivery, and aptitude.
Mendez might be the hardest thrower in the entire system. The 21-year-old was acquired from the Red Sox last year, and his slingshot delivery produces some serious velocity. He joined the Rangers organization with a reputation as a wild flamethrower, but he walked a reasonable 45 batters in 117 innings in Low-A this season, so they’ve clearly gotten him somewhat under control. His 130 strikeouts show he’s still got the stuff to send batters packing, as well. Given his high-effort delivery and the high number of guys in front of him, Mendez will probably wind up a reliever, but he could end up as Texas’ closer if things break right.
Jackson was a supplemental pick in last year’s draft (45th overall) who also has a big arm. Like Buckel, he struck out over a batter per inning in Low-A as a teenager; unlike Buckel, he had trouble throwing strikes, as he walked 48 in addition to striking out 78 in 75 innings.
You could take any four of these seven, and they’d be better than the best four pitching prospects in at least half the other organizations. The depth is truly immense, and it’s a testament to Texas’ scouting and player development that they’ve unearthed and polished this many gems. While the Rangers have a history of seeing their top pitching prospects flame out, the sheer number of these guys means we’d have to see an unbelievable amount of attrition for the Rangers to not end up with a very good pitching staff in a few years.
Wally says: As Nathaniel is wont to do, he covered the seven above starters thoroughly and efficiently. I could drone on and on with my thoughts on each of the seven, but it would be counter productive as I would simply be agreeing with his takes and doing so in a far more long winded fashion.
Instead of doing that, I wanted to highlight a couple of additional rotation prospects that I find intriguing.
First off is RHP Justin Grimm. The Rangers selected him in the 5th round of last year’s draft and paid him $825,000 to get him under contract. He didn’t make his professional debut until this spring, but he did open some eyes in instructs last fall. Grimm has a number of things working for him, including a mid-90s fastball and potentially plus curveball. Like so many young pitchers just getting their pro careers underway, his changeup lags behind his other offerings. He had a rather lackluster career at the University of Georgia, but he has the stuff, size and arm to be a strong mid-rotation asset if things come together. He acclimated himself quite well in his first professional season throwing a combined 140.2 innings between the South Atlantic (A) and Carolina (A+) Leagues. The results were a 3.39 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9 and 8.1 SO/9.
I’m optimistic about Grimm’s chances, but they basically double when it comes to LHP Robert Ross (Robbie). The Rangers 2nd round pick in 2008, all Ross has done in his minor league journey is get results. In 2011 he had his best season yet and reached Double-A as a result. In 161.1 innings between Myrtle Beach and Frisco he posted a 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9 and 7.5 SO/9. He lacks premium velocity, but he has incredible life and movement on the pitch and couples that with a promising slider. His delivery also adds some deception to his offerings which will also continue to serve him well. For my money, Ross is a #3 starter in the making, and one who would command a lot more hype if he were pitching in pretty much any other system.
Beyond Grimm and Ross and the 7 Nathaniel mentioned above, the Rangers also landed 4 guys in the 2011 draft that got their professional careers underway in impressive fashion after they signed. It’s a case of the rich getting richer, as LHP Kevin Matthews (1st round), LHP Will Lamb (2nd), LHP Andrew Faulkner (14th) and RHP Nicholas Martinez (18th) continue to prove that Nolan Ryan and co. understand and can identify pitching talent.
For more on the Rangers, check out Nolan Writin’.
Tags: Andrew Faulkner Barret Loux Cody Buckel Justin Grimm Kevin Matthews Luke Jackson Martin Perez Miguel De Los Santos Neil Ramirez Nicholas Martinez Robbie Ross Roman Mendez Texas Rangers Will Lamb