One of the ongoing debates that we have had on Lone Star Ball since...well, probably since its inception is about drafting. Specifically, the Texas Rangers draft success (or lack thereof), and whether they would be better off simply drafting based on the general publicly available consensus of who the top player on the board.
You frequently see the suggestion that the Rangers are trying to “get cute” by passing on whoever is perceived to be the top player on the board for someone else, though the reality is that that’s based on how the Rangers rank the available players. MLB teams have boards that diverge and differ dramatically, particularly after the top 20-25 players, and so a guy who one team might have a third round grade on, for example, another team may not have on their board at all.
In any case, I thought it would be a useful exercise to go through some recent drafts and compare who the Rangers picked in the first couple of rounds to who the top player on the Baseball America board was. I decided to start with 2012 because that is when the draft bonus pool system started. I decided to use BA because, well, I had to pick someone’s board, and theirs is the biggest and is generally used as the primary reference point in these sorts of exercises.
Here are the Rangers’ draft picks in the first two rounds of 2012, along with their slot values and what they signed for:
29 — Lewis Brinson — $1,625,000. Signed for $1,625,000
39 — Joey Gallo — $1,324,800. Signed for $2,250,000
53 — Collin Wiles — $954,800. Signed for $975,000
83 — Jamie Jarmon — $601,500. Signed for $601,500
93 — Nick Williams — $515,600. Signed for $500,000
Each of the top five picks signed for essentially slot except for Gallo, who got well over slot.
The Rangers’ top pick, Lewis Brinson, was ranked #52 in the BA pre-draft rankings. The top ranked player on the board when the Rangers picked was Lance McCullers, Jr., who was ranked #13 on the BA board. McCullers was also considered to be a difficult sign and dropped because of bonus demands. He went to the Houston Astros at #41, and signed for $2.5M — well before slot.
The top player on the board when the Rangers picked at #29, who didn’t drop because of bonus demands, was Oklahoma high school righthanded pitcher Ty Hensley, ranked #23. He went to the New York Yankees at #30, and signed for $1.2 million. Hensley only pitched 42 innings in the Yankees’ system — he missed all of 2013 due to surgery to repair both hip labrums, then missed all of 2015 and 2016 due to two Tommy John surgeries. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft after 2016, missed all of 2017 due to injury, and was released. Hensley pitched in indy leagues in 2018 and 2019.
The next player still on the BA board was Matt Smoral, a lefthanded pitcher out of high school in Ohio ranked #24. He went to the Blue Jays at #50 and signed an above-slot $2 million bonus. He only logged 120 innings as a professional and topped out at high-A. He hasn’t pitched in an organized league since 2017, when he pitched, interestingly enough, for the Hickory Crawdads. I don’t remember him being with the Rangers, but he apparently was.
The next player still on the BA board was Stephen Piscotty, an outfielder out of Stanford, at #26. He was drafted at #36 overall by the St. Louis Cardinals, and signed for roughly $1.4 million. He was in the back half of the top 100 prospect lists in 2014 and 2015, and has had a nice career thusfar — definitely better than Brinson. Brinson was more highly rated as a prospect, and I think had more trade value when they were both prospects, but Piscotty has been the better pick.
The next player on the BA board was Shane Watson, a righthanded pitcher out of Lakewood, California, at #30. He was picked #40 overall by the Phillies, and signed for $1,291,300. He logged 320 innings in affiliated ball, pitched in the Atlantic League in 2018, and now appears to be out of baseball.
Next is Joey Gallo. He was the #33 player on the BA board, and the Rangers went over-slot to sign him. The only player ranked above him we haven’t mentioned yet is Pierce Johnson, a righthanded pitcher out of Missouri State who went to the Cubs at #43. He showed up at the end of a couple of the top 100 lists after 2014, pitched one game in the majors for the Cubs, and was claimed on waivers by the San Francisco Giants, who released him after the 2018 season. Johnson pitched in Japan in 2019, did well, and signed a two year deal with the San Diego Padres prior to 2020. He’s pitching successfully out of their bullpen.
You can make an argument that the Rangers should have taken McCullers instead of Gallo, but really, I don’t think anyone would argue that pick.
Next is Collin Wiles at #53. That was the biggest reach, compared to the boards, of this group for the Rangers. Wiles, a righthanded high school pitcher out of Kansas, was ranked #268 on the BA list, and signed for a tad above slot. He never really did much or established himself as a prospect.
The highest ranked player on the BA board at #53 was California high school shortstop Tanner Rahier, who was #34, and was selected 78th overall by the Cincinnati Reds, signing for around slot. Rahier spent 2013-14 in low-A as a third baseman, not hitting missed 2015, played 24 games in 2016, and was in the Frontier League in 2017. He’s been out of baseball since.
The next highest ranked player on the BA board at #53 was Anthony Alford, at #36. A high school outfielder from Mississippi, Alford went to the Toronto Blue Jays at #112, and signed for $750,000. He was a consensus top 100 prospect from 2016-18, ranking as high as #25 on the BA list prior to 2016, though he has failed to hit in AAA or in a limited exposure in the majors. He was waived a couple of weeks ago by the Jays, and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alford hasn’t done much, but he has made the majors and was a prospect with significant trade value for a while.
The next highest ranked player on the BA board was Walker Weickel, a high school pitcher from Orlando. Weickel was taken two picks after Wiles by the San Diego Padres, who gave him a well above slot $2 million bonus. Weickel did very little in the Padres’ system, was released, and ended up pitching in the Rangers’ system from 2017-19.
The next highest ranked player on the BA board was Ty Buttrey, a high school pitcher from Charlotte. Buttrey was taken at #151 by the Boston Red Sox, who gave him $1.3 million to sign. Buttrey was never a top 100 guy, and ended up being sent to the Angels in 2018 for Ian Kinsler and cash. He has been a decent reliever over 109 IP for the Angels since going there in 2018.
The next highest ranked player on the BA board was Carson Kelly, who went to the St. Louis Cardinals at #86 for above-slot money. The next highest ranked player who didn’t get above-slot money was Mitch Brown at #44 — he was a righthanded pitcher from Rochester, Minnesota. He went at #79 to the Cleveland Indians, signed for $800,000, had a decent season in 2014 in low-A, struggled the next two years, moved to the bullpen, and hasn’t pitched above AA. He didn’t pitch in 2019, for whatever reason.
Next is Jamie Jarmon at #83. A high school outfielder from Delaware, he was #133 on the BA board.
The highest ranked player on the board when the Rangers picked Jarmon was Walker Buehler, who dropped because of signability issues and went to college rather than sign with the Pirates, who took him at #436. Next was lefthanded California prep pitcher Hunter Virant, who was ranked #53, was taken at #339 by the Houston Astros, didn’t sign, went to UCLA, and appears to have never been drafted again, nor pitch professionally.
The next highest ranked player on the board is lefthanded pitcher Alex Wood, at #54, who was drafted 85th overall by the Atlanta Braves out of the University of Georgia. Wood signed for $100K above slot and has gone on to have a successful major league career.
The next highest ranked player who signed was Adam Brett Walker, a corner infielder from Jacksonville University ranked #58. He was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Twins. He was in the 16-20 range in their prospect rankings for a few years. He was released after striking out 202 times in 531 plate appearances in AAA in 2016, bounced around among a few teams in 2017 and 2018, and has played Indy Ball the last few years.
The next highest ranked player on the board was Jameis Winston, a high school outfielder from Alabama, at #59. He was picked by the Rangers at #486 but didn’t sign. He apparently didn’t get drafted again or play pro baseball. I wonder what happened to him.
The next highest ranked player on the board was Dan Langfield, a righty pitcher from the University of Memphis ranked #60, who went to the Reds at #109. He missed all of 2013 due to injuries, pitched in 2014, and hasn’t pitched since.
Next is Nick Williams at #93. Williams was ranked #100 on the BA list as a high school outfielder from Galveston Ball.
The players ranked #61-65 on the BA top 500 all were still on the board at the time — Matt Koch, Kyle Twomey, Stephen Johnson, Jake Barrett and Tom Murphy.
Koch went #107 to the Arizona Diamondbacks, was traded to the New York Mets for Addison Reed in 2015, generally was in the back part of the BA top 30 rankings for the Mets, and is now a Mets reliever who has a career 4.88 ERA in 125.1 IP.
Twomey went in the 13th round to the Chicago Cubs, signed for just $100,000, but only pitched one game above low-A. Twomey was a third round pick of the Oakland A’s in 2009, but went to USC instead. He was released by the Cubs in the spring of 2017, signed with the A’s, and put up a 4.91 ERA, mostly in low-A, in 69.2 IP. He hasn’t pitched since.
Johnson was a 6th round pick out of St. Edwards by the San Francisco Giants. He appeared near the end of their organizational top 30 a couple of times, but was a reliever who never made it to the majors. The Giants traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for Marlon Byrd in 2015, and Johnson topped out in AAA for the Reds in 2016. He last pitched affiliated ball in 2017, and has been in Indy Ball in 2018 and 2019.
Barrett was a third round pick of the Diamondbacks out of Arizona State, being taken #120 overall. He was in the middle part of the top 30 rankings for the D-Backs in the mid-teens, gave the D-Backs a quality season out of the bullpen in 2016, struggled in 2017, and spent most of 2018 and 2019 in the minors, while also going from the D-Backs to the Giants to the Pirates to the Yankees in a series of waiver claims in the spring of 2019. He was released in November, 2019, and isn’t with a team now.
Tom Murphy was a catcher out of the University of Buffalo who was a third round pick for the Colorado Rockies in 2012, taken #105 overall. He snuck into the back of the top 100 rankings for BA in 2016 and was the Rockies’ #6 or #7 prospect for four straight years. He was a replacement level backup catcher for the Rockies from 2015-18, got claimed on waivers by the Giants in the spring of 2019, was traded to the Seattle Mariners in 2019, and promptly put up a 2.7 win season for them. He has missed all of 2020 with a broken foot.
Other notables ranked higher than Williams and still on the board were Peter O’Brien (ranked #69, went #94 to the Yankees), Adrian Sampson (ranked #84, went #166), R.J. Alvarez (ranked #78, went #114), Preston Beck (ranked #90, went to the Rangers at #186) and Edwin Diaz (ranked #75, went #98 to the Mariners). Diaz is the one on that list you’d have wished to have seen Texas take.
So if the Rangers had gone chalk, and only gone well over slot for their pick at #33, based on the BA rankings, they would have taken:
#29 — Ty Hensley
#33 — Lance McCullers, Jr. (assuming Rangers went over slot for him as they did for Gallo)
#53 — Tanner Rahier
#83 — Alex Wood (who was $100K above slot) or Adam Walker (who would have signed for slot)
#93 — Adam Walker (if we give the Rangers Wood at #83) or Dan Langfield
I will do 2013 next.