Newberg Report: Top Minor League additions
Rangers show knack for acquiring young talent via deals
One thing that the salary cap has virtually taken away from football and basketball is the good, old-fashioned trade, the one where a team in the hunt sends a couple of top prospects to a team looking to retool in exchange for an impact bat or arm.
The headlines always focus on the star player joining the contender, but the reason those trades get made every year is they often pay huge dividends for the "seller," assuming their scouts do a good job targeting the right young players. A quick look at the team the Rangers are fielding right now reveals that half the starting infield (Michael Young and Elvis Andrus), two of the four primary outfielders (Nelson Cruz and David Murphy), one of the club's catchers (Max Ramirez), and three key members of the pitching staff (Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Frankie Francisco) were acquired by Texas as Minor Leaguers with another franchise.
What follows is a ranking of the top 10 players in the Rangers system acquired from other organizations. Only players who haven't exhausted rookie status were considered.
1. ALEXI OGANDO, RHP, Frisco
Texas used a pick in the Minor League phase of the 2005 Rule 5 Draft to steal the 22-year-old Oakland farmhand, at the time an outfielder with a big arm and big power that caused some scouts to invoke Vladimir Guerrero comparisons. Ogando was already caught up in the marriage-visa scam when Texas invested the meager fee of $12,000 to take him off the A's hands, with a plan to immediately convert him to the mound. It took four years for the Rangers to clear the right-hander's legal issues and bring him stateside, but their patience is being rewarded. Now 26, Ogando is off to a remarkable start as a RoughRider, allowing two runs on four hits and four walks in 13.2 innings, setting 19 Texas Leaguers down on strikes with a power package featuring an upper-90s fastball and plus slider. There's a good chance he could make an impact in Arlington this year.
2. ENGEL BELTRE, OF, Bakersfield
Beltre was the third-most prominent of the three players the Rangers acquired from Boston for reliever Eric Gagné at the trade deadline in 2007, seemingly a tack-on in the deal that brought outfielder David Murphy and left-hander Kason Gabbard to Texas. But the Rangers knew Beltre well from his amateur days in the Dominican Republic, and they wouldn't have made the deal without the 17-year-old, who had all of 34 games played in the States at the time of the trade. Flashing all five primary tools, Beltre had an eye-opening 2008 season but a miserable 2009. There are signs that it's all starting to come together in 2010, keyed by a dramatic improvement in both his walk and strikeout rates.
3. DANNY GUTIERREZ, RHP, Extended Spring
Off-field issues in the Kansas City system are what prompted the Royals to trade Gutierrez to Texas last summer for outfielder Tim Smith and catcher Manny Pina, two Minor Leaguers with big league potential but nowhere near the upside that the 23-year-old right-hander has. The patience that Texas has had to draw upon with Ogando and Beltre is different from the kind they'll need to show with Gutierrez, who was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games after a positive test for a banned substance. He'll go back to flashing mid-90s velocity and one of the system's dirtiest hammer curves when he comes back, most likely in Frisco.
4. PEDRO STROP, RHP, Oklahoma City
Colorado tried to sneak Strop off the 40-man roster and quickly re-sign the injured right-hander to a Minor League contract in September 2008, but Texas pounced and signed him before the Rockies could get a deal done. A converted infielder who features a mid-90s fastball and plus slider, Strop improved every month on the farm in 2009, earning a late-season look in Texas. He's currently working in late relief for Oklahoma City, allowing two earned runs each in his first and last appearances of the season but none in the nine times he pitched in between.
5. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Texas
Ramirez has been traded in July twice, first by Atlanta to Cleveland for closer Bob Wickman in 2006 and then by the Indians to the Rangers in 2007, for outfielder Kenny Lofton. He was nearly traded a third time this winter, to Boston for corner infielder Mike Lowell, before Lowell's failed physical killed the deal. Texas was selling low at the time, as Ramirez was coming off a miserable 2009 that was nowhere near in line with the career .311/.410/.512 numbers he'd put up in his first five pro seasons. The potential to be a productive, versatile hitter remains, but Ramirez is now 25 and probably projects as a role player at best.
6. GUILLERMO MOSCOSO, RHP, Oklahoma City
Texas traded catcher Gerald Laird to Detroit for Moscoso and fellow right-hander Carlos Melo in December 2008. Though he had only six games of Double-A experience at the time and had never thrown as many as 91 innings in any of his four pro seasons, Moscoso earned a promotion from Frisco all the way to Texas in May and spent the rest of the season bouncing between Arlington and Oklahoma City. He maintained the same strikeout rate (7.7 per nine innings) at all three levels in 2009, limiting his walks, and he's been working out of the RedHawks' rotation this spring, sitting at 1-2, 4.30 through five starts, with his sixth assignment slated to come tonight.
7. BEN SNYDER, LHP, Frisco
Selected by Texas in December's Rule 5 Draft, Snyder struggled in camp, but Texas got him through waivers on April 1 and convinced San Francisco to forgo buying the left-hander back for half the $50,000 draft fee and instead take 17-year-old southpaw Edwin Escobar in return. The Rangers assigned Snyder to the Frisco bullpen and while he's struggled with his command (issuing 10 walks in 17.1 innings), he's been difficult to hit (.137 opponents' average) and just as tough on right-handed hitters as on the lefties that Texas envisions spotting him against if and when he works his way up to the big leagues. Snyder's RoughRider ERA is 1.04, and he's stranded all six baserunners he's inherited.
8. DAVID PAISANO, OF, Bakersfield
Like Beltre, Paisano was a player that Texas keyed on at the back of a significant trade, even though the club knew he was years away from entering the picture. Picked up from the White Sox in the 2006 trade that sent John Danks and Nick Masset (and Jake Rasner) to Chicago for Brandon McCarthy, Paisano is a standout defender who is starting to put things together at the plate. Playing primarily right field for the Blaze (capable of playing center field but ceding that position to Beltre), the 22-year-old is hitting .308/.365/.436 in the early going this year.
9. BEAU JONES, LHP, Extended Spring
The fifth of the five players acquired from Atlanta in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade, Jones is being held back in Surprise right now to work through a minor arm injury. The 23-year-old was solid between Bakersfield and Frisco in 2009 (3.57 ERA, 83 strikeouts in 70.2 innings). He's been passed by several other young left-handed relief candidates (including Snyder and Zach Phillips), but he's still young enough to push his way onto the radar.
10. CARLOS MELO, RHP, Extended Spring
Coming over with Moscoso in the Laird trade with Detroit two winters ago, the 19-year-old struggled in the Arizona League last summer (7.09 ERA, half as many walks as innings pitched) and is likely slated for a return to the complex league when it gets going again in June. The 19-year-old hasn't yet harnessed his mid-90s velocity, but there's projection for more in his lanky, 6'3" frame, and if he begins to develop command, he could give the Rangers another interesting high-ceiling arm.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.