As many who follow the Rangers already know, the Rangers' farm system ranking has taken a hit with a number of high profile graduations and a clutch of less developed talent at the lower levels of the organization. However, the collection of gifted writers who cover the Rangers system remains strong. I've gathered three of the best (Jason Parks, Jason Cole and our very own Brett Perryman) to answer a series of questions about the performances they've seen over the course of Spring Training. There's plenty more after the jump:
JP - Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus and Texas Farm Review (the best $20 you'll spend all year).
JC - Jason Cole of LoneStarDugout (the most comprehensive minor league Rangers site out there).
BP - Brett Perryman (Editor of SBN Dallas, general lover of young latinos).
Who was the most impressive minor leaguer you observed?
JP - Mike Olt looked more advanced than advertised, with major league quality bat speed, in-game power, and above-average defensive tools at 3B. He is definitely a top 5 prospect in the system, and an argument can be made that he is the best position player on the Rangers farm.
JC - Overall, I'd have to say the most impressive minor leaguer I saw on the back fields was Martin Perez. He looked to be putting it together. His velocity was about the same as it has been - working anywhere between 92-96 mph - but the curveball was more consistent and he was doing a better job of commanding his fastball. The changeup was also strong, as it was for most of last season. I've heard good things about Martin's three-inning outing in the exhibition against the Triple-A club. If he continues to command his fastball the way he did in camp, he should begin to produce results with Frisco.
BP - I unfortunately had to schedule my visit to camp just prior to the first full practice for minor league position players, but I did get to see a lot of the pitching and catching group, as well as Jurickson Profar and those who were in major league camp and who, like Mike Olt, were already playing in big league games. Martin Perez was the best looking talent in camp for me, but Jorge Alfaro was the guy whose physical tools really jumped out. The power in his bat and arm were the two biggest eye openers for me in the early days of minor league camp, and though he obviously has miles to go, his swing was more polished than I expected, given his DSL numbers.
Based on what you've seen, which position players currently have and project to have the best hit/power/run tools?
JC - I did a story like this prior to spring training (http://rangers.scout.com/2/1039439.html). And because the organization's better position players are mostly in the lower levels, it mostly included those guys. I'd give the best hit tool to Jurickson Profar, although Hanser Alberto certainly isn't far behind. For raw power, it's definitely Jorge Alfaro. And best speed would go to Myrtle Beach shortstop Leury Garcia.
BP - I'll stick with catchers for this one, since that is the only full group that I saw and since Jason and Jason can cover the entire set of position players. I would have given Tomas Telis the highest hit grade of the catchers. He still isn't very strong, but he is a hitter, particularly from the left side. Alfaro wins out on the power tool, particularly if we're figuring in projection. Kellin Deglan projects to above average power for some, but there is no comparison between the two at this point. Alfaro is one of those guys whose bat makes a different sound when he hits the ball. Probably the most impressive thing I saw him do was twice flick balls on the outer half to right-center - and it didn't even seem like he put a good swing on either one - 370-380 feet. His bat is electric, and he has a man's body with a baby face. I didn't get to see Deglan run much, so Alfaro was the speediest, most athletic of the bunch that I saw.
Who is currently the best position prospect in the system? Has Mike Olt now overtaken Jurickson Profar?
JP - See the first question.
JC - I think it's a dead heat between Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, though Engel Beltre is right there with those guys. If you're going on pure ceiling, Jorge Alfaro is probably on top, but he obviously has a long way to go.
BP - I get the Olt love - the guy hasn't even played at a full season level, and he doesn't look that out of place in the late innings of big league games - but I still think it's Profar. I think that Rangers people may struggle to be objective about Jurickson because he's such a likeable, fun, hard working guy. The instructors and scouts gravitate toward him just like the other players whenever there is a huddle of players between action or around the cage. That said, he's getting bigger already, and, though he certainly doesn't show consistent power even in batting practice, I don't believe that he's going to be a weakling. His hands and arm are superb, and I don't think that you can forget how rare good, true shortstop prospects are.
How did Martin Perez look and what do you think he needs to improve upon next season?
JP - I didn't get to see a lot of Perez this ST; I saw him throw three pens, but only caught one inning of a Double-A back field game. Perez needs to continue refining his fastball command and tightening the function of his secondary pitches in 2011, but he is still way ahead of schedule. If everything goes as planned, Perez could see major league action before his 21st birthday, and should be a rotation fixture before he is 22. He's special. People who fall in love with minor league numbers saw 2010 as a disappointment. I saw it as development. As long as he continues to take steps forward, the numbers mean very little, at least at this stage.
BP - I got to see throwing sessions, not game action, but the velocity was there and the action on his change and curve was better than what I saw at times in Frisco last summer. I'm anxious to see how he competes with AA hitters this spring.
After Perez, which pitchers in the Rangers' system excite you the most?
JP - Excitement might be the wrong word to describe how I view prospects (Alfaro is the exception). The Rangers have a very pitching-heavy system and several arms impressed me this spring. A few: RHP David Perez, RHP Neil Ramirez, and RHP Luke Jackson.
BP - I went to camp wanting to see David Perez, and I was able to see a lot of him. His stuff doesn't blow you away, but it's not bad now and he's the picture of projection. I didn't see Neil Ramirez live last season, but I have a hard time believing that he won't be several slots higher on next season's BA ranking than this year's (he was #27). Roman Mendez excites me some, but you probably could have told me that. He had possibly the best velocity I saw on the minor league side (eyeball, no gun). Wilmer Font has grown into a monster. I really hope the velocity comes back.
JC - I saw [David] Perez in a one-inning outing in a Low-A game. He was almost too efficient and it was difficult to get a great look at him. He pitched to his scouting report though, showing an easy delivery and commanding a 91-93 mph fastball low in the zone. He mixed in a couple of 75-76 mph curveballs. The breaker is a mature pitch for his age and looks like it'll be a future plus offering.
One of the most hyped prospects in camp this year (and from the moment he signed in 2010) was Jorge Alfaro. What excites you about Alfaro and what are you looking for/expecting in terms of development next season.
JP - Alfaro owns two 70 grade projections in his tool collection (power/arm). As a catcher, if Alfaro can fully develop those tools, he would be an all-star level major leaguer. Those don't grow on trees. "Georgie" (Alfaro) is still quite raw, so 2011 might not look pretty on the page. What matters is his development at the plate and behind it. The catching skills will take years to refine, so that isn't an immediate concern. His hit tool needs to improve in order for his plus-plus raw power to translate to game action. He will join a short-season team as an 18 year-old, and a promising season (developmentally speaking) will set him up to open the 2012 season at full-season Hickory. He has the highest ceiling of any position player in the Rangers system. He could be very special, but he still has a long, long way to go.
JC - Alfaro is certainly improved and he was showing some game power in spring training. Still, I wouldn't expect too much from him statistically this year, whether he ends up in the complex league or at Spokane (I think the AZL is mostly likely). But the progress was evident, and that's all you really want to see at this point. The raw power and arm strength are plus-plus tools––there's clearly a lot to work with and dream on. His body has matured since last season, too.
Who will be the next young Latin American player that emerges into the spotlight a la Alfaro and David Perez?
JP - I really like infielder Rougned Odor. He doesn't have elite tools, but he is a gamer with very strong present tools and solid-average projections. Not a player likely to become a top prospect, but a player that will impress those that have the opportunity to see him play in person. Another prospect I want to throw some light on is LHP Victor Payano. Originally considered a high six-figure arm, the price fell when concerns about a shoulder injury scared off the Red Sox. The Rangers took a gamble (for a lesser amount) and Payano looks to be a very wise investment. Standing 6'6'' with long, lanky limbs, 18 year-old Payano oozes projection. His fastball currently sits in the 87-89 range, but touches higher and his curveball looks like a future plus pitch. With an excellent feel for command (rare for his age), size that can't be taught, and a very good present curveball, Payano could be the next prospect to emerge from the Rangers' LA machine.
JC - The position player could be Hanser Alberto. He doesn't have an incredible ceiling and may ultimately end up as a second baseman or a utility-type. But for a young guy, he has a nice all-fields approach and showed the ability to turn on above-average velocity. He just has a knack for hitting. If he goes to Spokane, I'd expect him to put up pretty good numbers despite the relative inexperience. On the mound, I think Victor Payano is a little overlooked. He throws more in the 88-91 mph range right now, but he hides the ball well and it can sneak up on hitters. He has a very easy arm action and a slim body, so he should add some velocity as he matures. The curveball and changeup were both improved from last instructs––he was slowing his body down on the offspeed stuff last year but was doing a better job of keeping his mechanics consistent, and both pitches were much more firm as a result.
BP - I didn't get to see either of these guys in camp, but if we're excluding guys like Alfaro, David Perez and Christian Villanueva, my money would be on Roghned Odor and Hanser Alberto, the newest MI combo.
Which minor leaguers would you tip to break out next season?
JP - RHP Luke Jackson has the stuff to become a top 5 prospect in the system in short order. His fastball sits in the 92-95 range and touches 97. His curveball already flashes plus and his changeup could give him another above-average offering down the line. He's very promising. I think shortstop Hanser Alberto could hit over .300 in short-season ball (he's advanced enough to jump to Spokane). He might have the best hit tool in the system and could really jump up prospect lists if he continues to assault pitching with his easy, line-drive swing.
JC - I think I'd have to go with Neil Ramirez, who was one of the most impressive players in camp. The argument could be made that he has already broken out––at least in the eyes of most scouts and officials. Everyone saw that he was pumping 98 mph in the short big league outing, but he was working between 93-96 mph in starts on the minor league side while showing a plus curveball and an improving (possibly future average) changeup. Over the last two years, Ramirez has improved his work ethic, and in turn the mechanics and command/control have also progressed. I'm very interested to see what he does at Myrtle Beach to start this season.
BP - Luis Sardinas would have been one of my first choices, but for his injury, though he was already making top ten lists. I think that David Perez could have a big year with his command and solid repertoire. Cody Buckel's present stuff is as advertised. I'm a fan of Villanueva and Teodoro Martinez, but the jump to full season ball is really tough for most young hitters.
Many thanks to Jason, Jason and Brett. Rangers fans are truly lucky to access to this depth of minor league coverage. Coming up in Part 2 of the Minor League Rangers Primer, opening day rosters and previews for each of the stateside Minor League teams.