The Rangers have certainly made it to the upper-echelon of major league baseball teams. No more waiting for the future- the future is no and anything else would be absolutely excusable. The Rangers made it to the World Series the past two years and want to enter every season knowing that they have a shot to make it there again (and finally win it). Their minor league system has always been an enormous strength. It still is, but a gap has developed. Their top prospects like Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt are in the big leagues now and the next generation of those type of players is a few years away right now. This year is a bridge year for the Rangers farm system and their crop this year for the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League is surprisingly weak- but even with that being the case, there could be a whole bunch of big league contributors from this group. Brace yourself and know that even if these guys aren’t the top of the top prospects, there is still plenty more topflight talent coming up for the Rangers.
Sorry Rangers fans, but the best we can give you is a player whose upside used to be considered right there with Jurickson Profar. Sardinas, just 19, has fallen off quite a bit and Profar seems like he’s on his way to becoming a household name, but Sardinas still has plenty of potential. Sardinas is a lean 6’1″, 150 switch-hitting shortstop. A lot of his problems have to do with his lean, frail frame as he has been extremely injury prone. Building more muscle will be key for him moving forward. In any event, Sardinas stayed mostly healthy this season and delivered a good season at Low-A Hickory, posting a .291/.346/.356 line with 14 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 30 RBI, 32 stolen bases in 41 attempts, and 52 strikeouts versus 29 walks in 96 games and 412 plate appearances. From both sides of the plate, Sardinas shows great bat speed with gap power- something that could also be more present when he fills out. He does have good patience and makes a lot of contact. He’s certainly a notch or two behind Profar even if this best case scenario. But his upside everywhere else could be as high as you’ll find. Sardinas is a true burner still figuring out how to read pitcher on the basepaths but already starting to swipe bases at a high rate. He would have stolen more if he hadn’t ended up on the DL. And defensively at shortstop, he has excellent potential thanks to outstanding range, smooth actions, and a strong arm. He has, though, worked out at second base as well thanks to presence of Profar and Elvis Andrusin Texas. Sardinas looks more like a 4-tool player than a 5-tool player, but he has excellent potential and the Rangers are excited to see what he can do if he stays healthy. In the Arizona Fall League, the Rangers will see how Sardinas does against more advanced pitching and see if he could be in line for a Profar-esque promotion from Low-A straight to Double-A. He will be on taxi squad, meaning he’ll be eligible to play just 2 times a week- although the other five days could be huge as hopefully he’ll spend time in the weight room starting the process of filling out and adding durability. The Rangers think they have another keeper coming up in Sardinas and they hope that this season will go down as a turning point for him.
Two years ago, the Rangers selected lefty-swinging catcher Kellin Deglan in the first round of MLB Draft. They are still waiting for him to break out. Deglan, 6’2″, 195 and now 20 years old, posted a .234/.310/.438 line at Low-A Hickory (two Low-A guys before we get to a single Double-A or Triple-A player?) with 25 doubles, 12 homers, 41 RBI, and 96 strikeouts versus 32 walks in 92 games and 362 plate appearances. Defensively, he managed just a .989 fielding percentage with 12 passed balls but managed an outstanding 38% caught stealing percentage. Deglan missed time this season with a thumb injury. None of Deglan’s numbers are all that impressive, but it is telling that the Rangers are sending him to the AFL and as a full-time player at that. Deglan features good strength and hits for above-average power, especially for a catcher, but his offensive numbers have never been so impressive because his swing gets long and his patience has never gotten up to par. He also needs work against breaking pitches. Deglan has the ability to be an above-average offensive catcher someday, but he looked a long way from that in 2012. The Rangers hope that maybe the rush of playing against more advanced competition could finally get him going. Defensively, Deglan features a strong arm and quick release, but his receiving and ability to block balls in the dirt still leave something to be desired. Deglan’s package of tools is wrapped up by great leadership and intangibles, but despite everything, Deglan has never played as well as the Rangers know he can. The Rangers hope the Arizona Fall League can be the place where Deglan makes the necessary improvements both offensively and defensively and finally gets himself going.
In Leury Garcia, 21, the Rangers certainly don’t have the most exciting prospect, but they think they have a player with the ability to contribute at multiple positions at the big league level. Garcia, just 5’7″, 153, posted a .292/.337/.398 at Double-A Frisco this season with 12 doubles, 11 triples, 2 homers, 30 RBI, 30 of 37 stolen bases, and 79 strikeouts versus 22 walks in 100 games and 416 plate appearances. Garcia split time between second base, shortstop, and centerfield respectively. Garcia stands out first and foremost for his defense. Thanks to excellent speed, fluid motions, and a strong arm, he has the ability to be a plus defensive shortstop and profiles extremely well, at least defensively, all over the diamond. He needs work on his defensive focus and not rushing plays, but the tools are there for him to be a plus defender just about everywhere. At the plate, Garcia features a compact swing with some gap power, and when he does get the ball into the gaps, he’s off to the races and a threat to end up on third base every time. The problem is that Garcia needs quite a bit of work against breaking balls and his overall plate discipline is lacking right now as well. The result of that is that Garcia strikes out way too much for a player with so little power. And if he could draw more walks, he could be an even bigger stolen base threat. In the Arizona Fall League, Garcia will work on his patience and on fine-tuning his defense, and the Rangers hope he can be a major league option as a super-utility player by the end of 2013.
The Rangers’ may not have any superstars coming from the AFL group, but several of the relievers they are sending are awfully impressive and that starts with Ryan Rodebaugh. Rodebaugh, a 23 year old 6’0″, 165 right-hander, had an incredible season at Double-A Frisco in 2013, going 3-5 with a 2.44 ERA, a 10.8 K/9, a 1.7 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 37 relief appearances and 51.2 IP. And Rodebaugh is intriguing for more than just the numbers. He throws a fastball primarily in the low-90’s with good late life that he controls extremely well, and he pairs it with a tight slider that gives him a second swing-and-miss pitch. Between his stature and stuff (and his name), Rodebaugh sounds a little bit like David Robertson, but the big difference for Rodebaugh is that he really pounds the zone while Robertson is effectively wild. Rodebaugh has setup man upside but the key for him will be to improve his fastball command and learn that especially when he’s ahead in the count, throwing strikes is not always the best idea because you can get hit hard. Most relievers heading to the AFL need to work on control. Rodebaugh is the opposite as he needs to throw fewer strikes but make them better quality strikes. If all goes well between the AFL and Triple-A next year, Rodebaugh will see time in the big leagues next season.
A late addition to the Rangers’ AFL selections, 6’2″, 195 right-hander Joe Van Meter, who will turn 24 in October, had a breakout season this season while spending most of the year at High-A Myrtle Beach (with 3 appearances at Double-A Frisco), going 4-5 with a 2.71 ERA, a 9.0 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 8 starts, 20 relief appearances, and 79.2 IP. Van Meter was an extreme flyball pitcher according to Minor League Central, managing just a 33.6% groundball rate on the year. Van Meter is an interesting pitcher thanks to his low-90’s fastball that touches 95 MPH with solid life up in the zone but particularly for his sharp 11-to-5 curveball that has looked like a plus pitch quite often this season. Van Meter also throws a decent changeup. Van Meter’s big issue right now is fastball command as he left a lot of pitches up in the zone and was lucky not to get hit harder. Van Meter seems unlikely to profile as a starter moving forward, but with his curveball as his wipeout pitch, he could be an interesting relief prospect. The Rangers are going to see whether Van Meter can hold his own against more advanced hitters over the fall and potentially get him on the fast-track to the big leagues if he can succeed.
You have to be an awfully good hitter to crack the Texas Rangers’ lineup these days, especially at a corner position. The Rangers are challenging Chris McGuiness to reach that level. McGuiness, 24, is a 6’1″, 210 first baseman who had himself a breakout season of sorts in 2012, posting a .268/.366/.474 line at Double-A Frisco with 25 doubles, 23 homers, 77 RBI, and 107 strikeouts versus 69 walks in 123 games and 530 plate appearances. McGuiness’ power is just slightly above-average, not the ideal for a first baseman, but he shows excellent plate discipline to go along with good bat speed. Defensively, he’s athletic for his size and has the ability to be a good defender. The big question is how much his hitting and plate discipline will show up at higher levels. The Rangers are giving McGuiness an opportunity to prove himself in the AFL. It’s going to be awfully tough for him to make it into the Ranger’s future plans, but here’s his chance and let’s see what he can do.
Back to relievers who put up excellent numbers in 2012. Jimmy Reyes, a 23 year old 5’10”, 195 lefty had a big year in 2012 for High-A Myrtle, going 6-3 with a 2.44 ERA, a 9.6 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 41 relief appearances and 66.1 IP. According to Minor League Central, his groundball rate was a nice 48.4%. The problem with Reyes is that his stuff isn’t the caliber of the players above him. He throws a sinker from 87-91 MPH that he commands pretty well but can’t dream of missing bats with it and relies heavily on his good slider. One good thing is that his slider was a good enough pitch to get both righties and lefties out at High-A, but who knows whether that will be the case moving forward. Between his age and lack of luster in his repertoire, Reyes look like mostly an afterthought prospect, but after a great year, the Rangers are giving him the chance to see whether he can hold his own against more advanced hitters and have a future in the big leagues. Lefties are always valuable out of the bullpen and if the Rangers are lucky they could have another possible contributor in Reyes.
And we’ll finish off the Rangers’ AFL participants with sidearming right-hander Ben Rowan. 6’4″ and 190 pounds, the 23 year old Rowan befuddled High-A hitters in 2012, going 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA, an 8.2 K/9, just a 0.5 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 38 relief appearances and 57.1 IP. Minor League Central has his groundball rate at an unbelievable 64.9%. Rowen even managed to fluster both righties and lefties with his low-90’s fastball and solid slider out of an arm slot that leaves hitters uncomfortable. Rowen doesn’t have nearly the best stuff, but he has good command and combining that with his arm slot gives him a chance. Ben Rowen is yet another potential big league contributor for the Rangers, most likely as a righty specialist. The Rangers want to see him keep AFL batters way off-balance like he did at High-A. Rowen caps off an AFL class for the Rangers that could include four major league relievers when it’s all said and done.
The Rangers love upside. This group does not fit that profile except maybe Sardinas and Deglan. But with the Rangers’ roster mostly filled out with the type of players they need to continue contending, the players they’re sending to the AFL have the chance to be the type of complementary players the Rangers need to push themselves over the top. The Rangers could see six players from this group make big league appearances over the next two years. Even if they aren’t the top prospects, that would still be special.
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