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AZL Rangers Open Play Tonight

Texas' rookie league level club opens its season tonight, after just releasing its roster hours before first pitch. This version is one of the more talented rosters fielded in recent years, and it includes a couple of surprises. Here are the highlights:

POSITION PLAYERS

SS Luis Sardinas - Sardinas is regarded by many to have a ceiling similar to hot shot prospect Jurickson Profar, though his game is based more on speed and athleticism. The Rangers gave the two shortstops the largest international signing bonuses in franchise history last summer ($1.2 million for Sardinas, $1.55 million for Profar). Baseball America ranked Sardinas #13 in a deep Texas system (ranked second in baseball) before he played a game. Pure shortstop prospects with offensive ability are rare, so Sardinas' development should be followed closely.

C Tomas Telis - Telis seemed to be arriving on the prospect scene after a solid rookie league campaign thrust him onto prospect lists. BA ranked him #26 in the system, and he appeared primed for his first full season action in the spring. But an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery over the winter appeared to knock him out for the season. His inclusion on the roster comes as a pleasant surprise, and made the lineup as a DH in the opener.

OF Jake Skole, C Kellin Deglan - The one upside of the Rangers' forced low budget draft approach is that almost all of their top picks signed quickly and will benefit from an entire summer of pro ball. The two first rounders signed quickly and are both in the lineup in the opener. Skole already has his first career hit tonight off of rehabbing all-star Erik Bedard.

OF Braxton Lane - Last summer's 7th round pick oozes athleticism but is a major project. After hitting .185 in 22 games for the AZL club last summer, he's back and looking to gain solid footing in pro ball.

3B Christian Villanueva, OF Teodoro Martinez - Two somewhat unheralded but promising recent international signees played last season at the DSL level and make the jump to U.S. ball.

PITCHERS

Richard Alvarez - Alvarez repeats rookie ball as a 17 year old after being one of the youngest players in the U.S. last summer and ranking among BA's top 20 prospects for the league. He received one of the larger international bonuses in club history ($800k) in 2008 and has a complete package. If his fastball adds velocity into the 90s, look out.

Shawn Blackwell, Paul Strong - Two lower picks in last June's draft, the two high schoolers received six figure bonuses. Blackwell, a righty, has a projectable frame and repertoire. He started the opener tonight against the Mariners and completed four innings, striking out four and allowing a walk. Strong is a lefty who can reach 90 mph.

Highly regarded catcher Jorge Alfaro was recently assigned to the DSL Rangers and is off to a .182/.217/.182 start in six games.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.