It’s that time of year again! The Rangers are already off to a start you might expect a rebuilding team to have, but that’s all well and good as long as the rebuild is coming along nicely. The farm was in shambles coming off a near decade of competitive baseball and was in serious need of re-stocking. In the past Jon Daniels has been able to trade a huge asset for returns that could carry a team, but this rebuild has shaped up a bit differently. The assets that carried the team to big seasons were aging, underperforming, or overpaid and the industry was being even more stingy than usual with prospects. The result is that the trades would mostly be for lotto picks and far away projection prospects that would need to supplement strong drafting and international signing classes. Here we are, 2 full seasons removed from anything resembling a playoff run and in the middle of a complete overhaul of the farm system, both players and personnel.
So what’s the status? The Rangers released their four full season rosters this week and it gives us an excuse to tear it down to see. Quite a bit of the strength is still tied up in the short season squads, as Cole Winn and the “never pitched a pro game” squad are prepping for their careers in extended spring to start at Spokane. That being said, these rosters are significantly more encouraging than in years past, so let’s start from the top and work our way down to see why.
AAA - The
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AAA isn’t generally where you find a plethora of high upside prospects, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely uninteresting. The most notable pieces are the potential impact prospects in Willie Calhoun, Taylor Hearn. Calhoun probably is ready for an MLB gig and I’m still a firm believer that the ability that he has in his quickness and body control will eventually shine through enough to make him a strong middle of the order bat. Taylor Hearn is on his last stop as he continues to work on his changeup consistency and command before attempting to cement himself into a role in the back of the rotation or as a quality multi-inning reliever depending on the extent of his improvement.
The net set includes the guys who could very well provide significant value off the bench, in part time roles, or strong bullpen pieces. Jose Trevino will look to improve the bat enough to the point where the team can be comfortable putting him in a lineup 250 times per season, Brett Martin looks to maintain the consistency he found out of the bullpen since spending time in the Rangers’ Driveline partnership program. I’ll admit I still would be hesitant to give up all hopes of him starting as there aren’t many lefties who throw mid 90’s with two secondaries that flash plus, but the team knows Martin’s situation and are making the move they think of as right. Eli White is getting a bunch of attention from the decision-makers, but barring improvement to his raw strength or pitch recognition it’s hard to see him as an everyday player down the line. Carlos Tocci shows signs that he may have something interesting in the tank offensively, which would be significant due to his quality defensive profile. He’s had the plus bat speed and the barrel control, but combinations of fringy power and poor approaches generally don’t translate well to MLB production. CD Pelham is going to be wickedly tough to hit for lefties assuming he can just make marginal improvements to the control. He throws hard, he works hard, and mixes in cutters and breaking balls to throw guys off when he’s going well. I guess we’ll include Matt Davidson in here. He hits the shit out of the ball and the Rangers are working on a swing change that they see unlocking a bit more from him than he’s shown in the past. Skeptical is the wrong word, but I’m not sure Davidson’s swing is the elephant in the room. If he starts recognizing and stops chasing, I’ll be on that train the next day.
The depth is important and for the first time in a while, the Rangers have some in AAA. Patrick Wisdom can fill in at 3B and provide some value with the glove and potentially at the plate if he doesn’t get over-exposed. Zack Granite and Danny Santana are both interesting and versatile guys who can play a few important positions and put up competitive PAs against MLB pitching. Jurado and Herrera can give the Rangers a couple of spot starts assuming Herrera can get and stay healthy. Zac Curtis and Nick Gardewine can provide some bullpen relief up top if the Rangers want their reliever prospects working on stuff early in the year.
AA – Frisco Roughriders
The top prospects are all in the rotation here. Joe Palumbo is coming off a partial season after returning from TJS. Palumbo is another lefty sitting in the mid 90’s with a plus curveball and a changeup that flashes. Command is generally the last thing to come back after a UCL tear and Palumbo did struggle with it a bit in Frisco last year, but not terribly and he was still effective. Jonathan Hernandez arguably has the best pure stuff in the group with a fastball that sits in the mid-high 90’s, a plus changeup, and a plus breaking ball, but his current command is below average and the projection isn’t any better due to a rotational cross-fire delivery. Even if he doesn’t improve too much there, he should be impact out of the pen. Brock Burke follows in a similar vein to Taylor Hearn as he combines a high effective velocity fastball with a plus breaking ball with a changeup in development. People who have recently seen Burke express that he’s seen significant improvement to the changeup although the command is still a work in progress.
The remainder of the Frisco crew is full of role player projections, but it’s not complete without some upside. Brendon Davis is a quality athlete with some tools and he’s been improving while maintaining a diverse defensive skillset and if he taps into more raw power, it could get interesting quick. Charles Leblanc had himself a fine season in 2018 and turning himself into a nice platoon utility player isn’t out of the question. Michael De Leon is an above average defensive SS who can play any position in the infield well. His approach and bat to ball skills allow him to compete each time at the plate, but it’s still mostly a utility player’s bat projection. If you’re going to have fill ins, you want them to look like Eliezer Alvarez or LeDarious Clark. They both have the tools, some feel for hit, and flash some pop, but both have subpar pitch recognition that currently severely limits the offense. I’m not sure what Adretty Cordero is yet, but they say he can hit a little so I’ll get back to you.
The bullpen has a couple of interesting pieces as well as some familiar faces in strange new roles. Wei-Chieh Huang will look to get himself and his insane changeup back on track after struggling late in the season. Yoel Espinal was the other other piece received in the Profar trade and we’ll see what he has to offer. Jake Lemoine continues his journey, which is great because there for a while it was hard to tell if he was ever going to pitch again. Jefferson Medina was taken in the MiLB portion of the rule 5, so the jury is out on him as well. Last but not least, the two hitting to pitching converts come to Frisco and we’ll finally get first hand looks at what Jairo Beras and James Jones have to offer besides throwing hard.
All in all, the top two affiliates for the Rangers are looking solid compared to the past couple of years when the Rangers lacked both top end talent and the depth required to put out a competitive product on the MLB squad through injuries. Neither team is stacked with talent nor are they sporting new premier prospects that create a buzz in the stadium every PA or pitch, but there’s some potential impact and quite a few player who could carve out some decent MLB careers. Check in soon and we’ll talk about the premier attractions in Hickory and Down East and the plethora of talent on those rosters.