The two-time defending American League Champion Rangers not only boast a loaded big league roster but one of the most impressive minor league systems in the game today. The system offers everything from potential stars to plenty of quality depth and that is without including the recently signed Yu Darvish. Darvish was not included in these rankings given his professional experience in Japan, but would have ranked atop the list had I included him.
1. Jurickson Profar (SS)
Profar is without a doubt one of the elite prospects in the game. He plays the game at a level beyond his years, a trait that showed as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League in 2011. Profar is a switch hitter that can hit for average and power from both sides of the plate with the potential to hit near .300 with 18-20 home runs at his peak. He is an outstanding defender despite just average running speed, thanks in no small part to his incredible instincts. Scouts gush when talking about Profar and few have trouble projecting him as anything less than a star in the big leagues.
2. Martin Perez (LHP)
Perez is a bit of an enigmatic prospect that has frustrated scouts the last few years. At times he shows dominating abilities that give him the look of a potential number two starter. At other times he lacks command and tried to do too much and looks like more of a number four starter. It is impossible to question his raw stuff, with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s from the left side, a 70-grade change-up and a curveball that will flash as a 60 pitch. When he’s on, Perez shows a good feel for his craft and can mow through a lineup without trouble. Finding that performance consistently is the only developmental step remaining for the 20-year old hurler.
3. Neil Ramirez (RHP)
A supplemental round pick in 2007, Ramirez was coming along slowly until he exploded in 2011. He will touch 97 mph with his fastball while sitting at 92-94 with an easy delivery that has excellent extension to the plate. His curveball can make hitters look downright silly at times and should be a true big league out pitch. He has refined his change-up to the point that it is consistently average and will show better than that at times. He has a durable frame and the competitiveness to work through a lineup multiple times, giving him a good chance to be a number three starter.
4. Mike Olt (3B)
Olt fits the part as the classic third baseman with outstanding defense and serious power potential. He employs plus-plus bat speed to generate easy plus power to all fields. He understands the strike zone well but struggles recognizing breaking balls out of the hand, leaving him as a fringe-average hitter; though that should be enough for his power to play every day. Olt is a terrific defender at third base and he has a plus arm for the position. He could be an All-Star at the hot corner if he gets a chance to stay there in the big leagues, which may not be possible because of Adrian Beltre’s presence.
5. Leonys Martin (OF)
The Rangers gave Martin a $15.6 million big league contract last May after he defected from Cuba in 2010. He is an above-average runner that uses it well on the bases and in the field, allowing him to remain in the middle of the diamond. He has easy plus bat speed and controls the bat well enough to hit for a high average in the big leagues. While he has plenty of strength in his body, he is more of a gap-to-gap line drive hitter that should rack up doubles. Martin is basically big league ready and he could step into the Rangers center field spot as early as Opening Day.
6. Roman Mendez (RHP)
Mendez has one of the best arms in the entire Rangers’ system with the ability to pump his fastball at 94-96 mph consistently and has touched 99 mph on numerous occasions. His heater has explosive late life and he has so much confidence in it that he sometimes tries to blow it by hitters too often. His slider will occasionally flash above-average potential but he throws it too hard much of the time. He lacks a usable change-up at this point his development. Mendez isn’t so much a pitcher but a guy that gets on the rubber and throws it as hard as he can. If he can harness his power stuff he has a chance to be a special big league arm, possibly at the back end of games.
7. Ronald Guzman (1B)
The Rangers spent like crazy in Latin America last summer and Guzman was just one of the fruits of that spending spree. I spoke with scouts that saw him prior to signing with the Rangers and they raved about his bat with many of them firmly believing he could develop plus hitting ability and plus power down the line. He is a massive teenager, standing 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds already and the Rangers have already moved him to first base. While Guzman is advanced for his age, he remains incredibly raw in the grand scheme of things, is light years from the big leagues and the pressure rests squarely on the development of his bat, but the potential exists for him to develop into an offensive monster.
8. Tanner Scheppers (RHP)
When the Rangers nabbed Scheppers in the first round in 2009, the consensus expectation was that he would be in the big leagues in short order as a reliever. While he has developed primarily as a bullpen piece, Scheppers still has not seen the big leagues. With an explosive fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and a hard breaking ball, Scheppers has the profile of an eighth or ninth inning stopper. He frequently struggles with his control and must refine this part of his game to take the next step and help in the Texas bullpen in 2012.
9. Matt West (RHP)
I toyed with the idea of placing West ahead of Scheppers on this list but talked myself out of it given West’s limited experience pitching. After converting from third base to the mound, West blew people away in 2011 showing a mid- to upper-90s fastball and an absolutely ridiculous slider. The combination of the two pitches can absolutely dominate hitters and could allow West to succeed as a big league closer. Even though he has yet to pitch above A-ball, West could be a fast mover that could find time in the Texas bullpen this year.
10. Jorge Alfaro (C)
Alfaro was handed $1.3 million coming out of Colombia in 2010 and after battling some injuries in 2010 he started to give a glimpse of why in 2011. With short-season Spokane Alfaro posted a whopping .300/.345/.481 line as an 18-year old. While he offers plus-plus raw power, his hitting approach is highly unrefined and will need to improve dramatically for that power to show in games at higher levels. He has an 80-grade arm behind the plate but much like his hitting ability the rest of his defensive game remains raw. For all the question marks there is little doubting that Alfaro has one of the highest pure ceilings in the system with the potential to play a premium defensive position and hit in the middle of a big league lineup.
11. Jordan Akins (OF)
Akins is a crazy athlete with tools to spare. He can run, throw, catch, hit for power and he shows some early aptitude for hitting. Though he is a well-built athlete, there is little concern that Akins is going to slow down, allowing him the potential to stay up the middle as an above-average defender in center field with a plus arm. He has at least plus bat speed and his hitting instincts have already shown improvement since signing in 2010, leaving some scouts to wonder if he could be one of those rare players that translates freakish athleticism to actual baseball skill.
12. Luke Jackson (RHP)
The numbers weren’t there in his pro debut (5.64 ERA, 10 H/9, 5.8 BB/9) but Jackson still showed premium stuff from a highly projectable frame. Though not as consistent as in the past he still showed 95-96 mph heat while sitting at 91-92 throughout most starts. His curveball was also inconsistent but flashed above-average more frequently than his change-up. He needs to improve his feel for pitching but he has the building blocks to become a premium pitching prospect over the next couple of years.
13. Leury Garcia (2B)
More than one scout I spoke to in 2011 tossed Rafael Furcal comparisons around when talking about Garcia, citing his speed and explosive style of play. He shows 80-speed in games, getting down the line as fast a 3.7 seconds from the left side and 3.8 seconds from the right. He has strength in his 5-foot-7 frame and can drive the ball into the gaps with ease. His approach at the plate is extremely aggressive and will need to be tamed but he has the potential to be a second baseman that offers speed, surprising pop, a decent average and solid defense.
14. Robbie Ross (LHP)
A slightly undersized left-hander, the Rangers plucked Ross in the second round in 2008 and he has made steady progress through the system since then. Developed as a starter, some scouts I spoke with like him better as a high leverage reliever with above-average velocity and a plus slider. They cited his lack of a consistent change-up as the big factor in their projection. Ross commands his fastball and slider very well and could be a reliable big leaguer in any role.
15. David Perez (RHP)
Perez received a lot of buzz after dominating the DSL in 2010 and as a result there were high expectations placed on him entering the 2011 season. He struggled in a short-season assignment to Spokane, posting an 8.60 ERA in 30.1 innings, walking 29 and striking out 43. He can dial his fastball up to 95 mph with ease and has the long, loose frame and delivery that causes scouts to project more velocity down the line. He is still learning to control his long limbs in space and as a result his control of the baseball is flat our poor. Scouts project him as anything from a front line starter to a high power reliever, albeit with a huge potential to flame out.