Now that there’s been good discussion about the Nashville Sounds and the Frisco Roughriders here, let’s turn our attention to the A ball teams. I’ve been saying for a while that the Rangers true strength in the farm is the sheer number of players with upside that the Rangers are hoarding, but that doesn’t mean they are without some good individual projections. The Down East Wood Ducks and Hickory Crawdads rosters will showcase both the depth and the highly talented individuals that give this system a good probability of launching its reputation upward over the next two years. Starting with the Wood Ducks, let’s investigate why there’s buzz surrounding these teams.
Advanced A – Down East Wood Ducks
The two main attractions for Kinston baseball watchers in 2019 have starkly different profiles despite both being speedy athletic centerfielders. Leody Taveras has a lean but slim frame with gazelle like movements, advanced instincts both in CF and at the plate, and a problem getting his above average raw power into his swing consistently in game. Bubba Thompson is broad shouldered and shredded, has no problem tapping into his plus raw power, but is raw in the outfield and in his approach at the plate. I’ll likely expand on the similarities and differences between the two profiles later, but needless to say they both have risks and serious upside. Perhaps the player that I didn’t anticipate mentioning in this tier, but now feel the need to, is Anderson Tejeda. I’ve been skeptical of Tejeda’s profile in the past and he had a fatal flaw in his OPS against LHP’s, but he’s continued to improve every year both offensively and defensively and he is now is a switch hitter in 2019. The offensive profile is fun with its loud contact and an improving walk rate, but still screams high risk to me until he can show that he can be at least passable against LHP’s. This is a situation I will follow closely, especially if he makes the trip to Frisco.
Down East’s pitching staff is filled with big arms and plus breaking stuff. AJ Alexy has been flashing a starter’s repertoire with a reliever’s control, but he took a big step in 2018 in his consistency. He’s got plenty of upside with his swing and miss, but the odds that he sticks as a starter before cracking an MLB roster is still low. Emmanuel Clase burst onto the prospect scene for Spokane last year as he sat upper 90’s and struck out 27 in 28 innings while only walking 6. His velocity and good feel for both a cutter and slider probably overpowered the hitters at that level, which can mask poor command, so Down East will be a big jump and big opportunity. Demarcus Evans has a fastball/curveball combo that is consistently generating swing and miss from everyone and his control took a tremendous step forward in 2018. The control is still well-below average, but Evans improving enough to show off his huge tools in an MLB bullpen seems significantly more likely now than it did post-2017. Tyler Phillips is coming off a huge 2018 campaign where his feel for a plus changeup and potential above average command was essentially a cheat code against low-A hitters. The velocity is still in the low 90’s and he doesn’t have a great breaking ball, so while advanced A might not be a huge challenge, a jump to Frisco probably will be.
There are plenty of guys with impressive tools that you should keep an eye on just in case they take big steps forward. Tyreque Reed continues to flash his power and his post all-star break last season was among the most impressive slash lines in the org. Yohel Pozo continues to make contact with almost everything and all while playing catcher. Diosbel Arias is putting on some impressive BP shows and lead the Northwest league in batting average in 2018. Jason Bahr, Noah Bremer, Peter Fairbanks, Reid Anderson, and Mike Matuella are all names to keeps eyes on just in case they can stay healthy and/or see their stuff take a jump. Last, I still keep tabs on Eric Jenkins despite the contact problems that have ailed him through his career. He remains one of the best defensive outfielders in the system and an elite athlete, so any offensive improvement could vault him back into things.
Full Season A – Hickory Crawdads
Hickory is headlined by a pair of starters at the top that turned heads in 2018 with extremely strong performances. The well-known Hans Crouse dominated the Northwest League with one of the most impressive fastball/breaking ball combos in the entire MiLB. What’s more is Crouse is evaluators are bullish on the changeup development, too, as many have seen it flash average in his starts. The command is still going to be a big question for Crouse moving forward as it’s currently below average and the cross-fire delivery makes it hard to project much improvement. Starter or shutdown reliever, Crouse and his personality are one of the best shows in the system. Yerry Rodriguez is the less-known starter who should be on everyone’s radar in 2019. The right-handed starter sits in the low-mid 90’s with a changeup that flashes plus and a curveball that some feel could be average or better in the future. Rodriguez has a clean delivery and has advanced command for his age that could see him shoot through the system at an accelerated rate.
Hickory’s second group is one of the most impressive collection of talented position players you’re like to find in A ball. The recent videos of Chris Seise are encouraging to say the least and at this point he might be one of the most interesting prospects in the system. The arm is back, and he can make the long throws from the SS hole and he spent his injured time getting yoked. The feel for hit and plus bat speed is evident, but I’ll be anxious to see how he fairs against advanced pitching as that was the main concern pre-injury as well. Julio Pablo Martinez seemingly shook off a lot of the rust in 2019 after he followed up a pedestrian stint in the Northwest league with a scorching performance in the Arizona Fall League where he posted a .985 OPS over 52 PA’s. He’s a small statured dude but has surprising pop, plus speed, and a quality approach. There are still concerns that he’ll have the bat to ball skills to be a regular in the MLB, but he’s another guy with significant upside in the system. Jonathan Ornelas has whippy twitchy bat speed and power and flashed an approach much more mature than pre-draft evaluators suggested. Ornelas looks to play a great deal of second base for the Crawdads although he’ll likely also get reps at SS and 3B. This guy is a lot of fun and I expect he will surprise some folks this year. Sherten Apostel is a large mature-bodied 3B with athleticism that is surprising for a person of his size. He has an incredibly patient approach at the plate to go along with huge raw power. The glove is behind the bat in polish, but he could very well stick at the hot corner with time and improvements to consistency.
The next group doesn’t have quite the skillset or polish that the above groups do, but still have some big-league tools that give them real shots if they can improve in other areas. Pedro Gonzalez has feel for hit, power, and should be a quality defensive corner outfielder, but hasn’t taken any real steps forward in his poor plate approach and patience. Miguel Aparicio is an org favorite and a quality defender with good athleticism, but the bat lags behind both in pop and polish. Curtis Terry has huge raw power and good coordination but might not have the explosive quickness or eye to carry a poor defensive profile to the MLB. Frainyer Chavez can play any position in the infield with aplomb and shows impressive feel for hit but lacks power projection on his frame. Matt Whatley is an advanced behind the plate presence, but injuries and inconsistent performances have left questions about his offensive capabilities. Sam Huff still looks like he will stick behind home plate and has loud power and athleticism for his height, but he has among the worst BB/K ratios you will see and remains one of the riskiest profiles in the MiLB. John King had some helium in extended spring after returning from injury and is someone to watch. Tai Tiedemann and Hever Bueno bring some interesting tools and could both create some noise if they can take big steps in consistency.
The criticism that the farm system doesn’t currently have any elite tier prospects with both upside and a high likelihood of being above average MLB regulars or better is a valid one. Many players of that reputation and projection started out as interesting depth players with tools to watch in case their work ethic and baseball abilities could carry them to higher tiers. The Rangers system is filled to the brim with arms that could take another step forward and has quite a few position players of the same ilk. Systems like the Rangers are often the systems that sneak up on evaluators and take huge leaps in reputation year-to-year. 2019 is one of the more important years in a very long time for the farm as now evaluators are expecting to see jumps forward from certain players. Regardless of the end results, it’s going to be a fascinating year on the farm and I look forward to getting the MiLB season started.