Hey errrrrybuddy, it’s your old pal Michael Tepid here taking a moment to introduce our new MiLB contributor, RJ Coylio. He’s a journalism major at UTA and he’s been around our scene for a minute and even contributed a super-fun fanpost about the Odor brouhaha. http://www.lonestarball.com/2016/9/10/12874150/the-ballad-of-sam-dyson-the-unsung-hero-of-the-rangers-bluejays-brawl RJ’s a “dude”, for sure, and he’ll be providing farm insight all season. Give him a follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/coylio33
Last year at this time Joe Palumbo wasn’t on John Sickels’ top 20 Rangers prospects list. He wasn’t on MLB Pipeline’s top 30. He wasn’t on Jamey Newberg’s top 72. This year he’s going to be in the top 15 and higher on just about every Rangers list you see. Baseball moves fast and a calendar year is an eternity, plenty of time for guys under-the-radar (or in Palumbo’s case, off-the-radar) to make a name for themselves and climb the rankings to become serious, bonafide, Major League prospects. I put together a list of five guys you may or may not have heard of who have a chance to make some noise and break out this year, but who might not necessarily be garnering the attention they could be garnering at this time in 2018.
Cole Ragans (19, LHP) - Okay I know I said just under-the-radar and it’s hard for first round picks to be under-the-radar but I’ve been wanting an excuse to talk Ragans as he’s been lower than I thought he would be on most Rangers’ rankings lists I’ve seen. Physically, he’s the freakin’ prototypical lefty. A 6’4”, 190 lb. 19 year old that throws low-90s fastball/curve/change and all can be plus. He’s got good command and could add weight and velo. And he takes a big deep breath before every pitch. The Rangers drafted Ragans with the 30th overall pick in 2016 and paid him 2 mil then gave him 7 innings in the Rookie League to whet his pro-ball whistle. His ceiling is going to be compared to Cole Hamels until he debuts, which might be unfair, and it doesn’t help that they have the same name, play for the same org, and he even kinda looks like Hamels. He does have some cons; his mechanics will go wonky on him occasionally and he struggles with consistency like most 19 year olds. But if Ragans can develop some steadiness he could cruise through the lower levels this year and next, and could start being looked at as more TORPy than MORPy by the time he’s flirting with his ML debut.
Pedro Payano (22, RHP) - It’s hard to believe that Pedro is only 22. First of all you have to remind yourself not to confuse him with Victor Payano, who had been slogging around in the Rangers’ system for 6 seasons before signing with the Marlins as a minor league free agent this winter. Pedro has been in the org for a while as well, signing as an IFA in 2011 when he was 16 years old out of the Dominican Republic. If you don’t recall, 2011 also brought in Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Yohander Mendez, and Ronald Guzman from the international market. Easy to get swept under the rug behind that quartet, but Payano has quietly been putting up very solid numbers in the rookie leagues and A ball for the past few seasons. He returned to Hickory in 2016 and continued his run of success, striking out 10 per 9 and posting a sub-3 FIP in 73.2 innings. Then he broke his arm /: Yeah. The righty throws a low 90s fastball with a curveball and a change, and he’s got decent command with a deceptive, rather flailing delivery. A broken arm isn’t really indicative of injury problems, but a full season of health would bode very well. I expect he’ll start the season as a Wood Duck (heh) and is one of the guys the Rangers would love to take a step forward and become a legit arm in this wave of pitching prospects post-2016 trades.
Drew Robinson (24, IF, LF, RF) - Not exactly a breakout candidate but a guy who, now with the all important 40 on his side, could get time at the major league level and show a little something. He’ll be 25 in April and he’s been steadily climbing his way up the organizational ladder for a long time. A wRC+ of 120 and 20 dingers in 125 games for Round Rock teases a good bit of pop and the org has been playing him all over the place defensively. He’ll probably end up as a four-corner lefty with a little second base mixed in, meaning he could see time in the bigs as the LH half of a platoon if Hamilton gets hurt or if Profar gets traded or if either gets injured or struggles. Not unlikely. He needs to strike out less, but the walk rate is solid, and at the very least he’ll see time with the Rangers as a bench bat in September. If all goes well he could establish himself as a usable piece in 2018 and on in a Ryan Rua-type role but, you know, the left-handed version.
Adam Choplick (24, LHRP) - This one is fun. And it provides the opportunity for a very obvious joke about how this kid is licking his chops at the thought of getting an opportunity in the bigs. Choplick is the son of two former UNT hoopers and was born and raised in Denton. The 24 year old lefty followed a strong debut in 2015 with a stronger 2016, pitching 60 relief innings for the Crawdads and putting up a 3.20 FIP and striking out over 11 per 9 innings. And he was fairly lights out for the last 2 months of the season. At 6’9”, 250 (!) he’s about the most imposing mound figure the Rangers have in their organization. And he’s also a member of the 2 Tommy Johns club, both occurring before age 21. He’s been mostly healthy since, though, and if you include his final year at OU, 2016 was the third straight season of him putting up very solid numbers out of the pen. He throws a high 80s/low 90s fastball that he hides well, a 12-6 curve, and a change that flashes plus but is very inconsistent. I read that guys his size have a lot of trouble keeping their mechanics sharp and that’s what he’ll have to work on in order to lower his BB/9 below 5. And he’s on his last elbow. But he’ll see time in high A this season and could sneak up to Frisco, and an ETA of 2018 wouldn’t be crazy if he continues to blaze from the left side and establishes himself as one of the farm’s top prospects out of the pen.
Curtis Terry (20, 1B) - Drafted by the Rangers in the 13th round of the 2015 draft and signed for 100 thousand, this dude is just straight hitter. And he’s gonna have to be. He has happyfeet and sort of a strange throwing motion in the field, but if he hits like he looks like he can the D will be good enough. At 6’2”, 255, Terry’s highly-touted raw power (described with the very Hamiltonian “it just sounds different when it comes off his bat”) started to actualize itself into game power in his 39 games with the AZ rookies, knocking 4 homers and 17 doubles and posting a .525 SLG. That said, he’s by far the longest shot on this list. The power might not ever catch up to the frame and he needs to improve his eye and walk more. He doesn’t strike out too terribly much for the style of player he is, and he’s only 20. He’ll mostly likely return to Spokane in 2017 and it’s going to be very interesting to see any adjustments he may have made over the winter, and to see if he can start showing off those dingers in game situations. If he can, look the F out. Because he could turn into a serious hitting prospect and a seriously fun one to watch at that.