Rangers' Minor League system rich in prospects
Building blocks in place to keep Texas a contender for a while
We have seen every phase of the depth and balance of the Texas Rangers in the 2011 postseason. Their reward is a chance to win a World Series championship.
The composition of the team's roster is outstanding, to say the least. But there are more highly-talented players on the way. The Rangers' organizational depth will allow them to fill holes for years to come. Their Minor League system continues to develop players who can help in the future. Recently, the team used some of its wealth of prospects to bolster its bullpen. Even considering the trades -- that included pitchers like right-handers Joe Wieland and Blake Beavan and lefty Robbie Erlin -- the team remains loaded with excellent prospects who are progressing toward the Majors.
Organizational depth allows flexibility. It provides the ability for player movement via trade, as well as financial maneuverability.
Players in the Minors may assume any of three roles: Ones who can be promoted to play for the Major League club, trade chips can be moved to another organization or those who can fill out a Minor League roster to provide organizational competitiveness.
Included in the Rangers' depth are several power pitchers capable of missing bats with high velocity and good command. Among the lot of high-octane pitchers is right-hander Tanner Scheppers. Scheppers has been used both as a starter and reliever in his brief Minor League career. In 2010, Scheppers started seven games for Triple-A Oklahoma City. This past season, he pitched exclusively in relief.
Possessing a fastball he can throw at any velocity from 90 mph to the upper 90s is a nice weapon to have, but alone is not enough for Scheppers. He supports that with a wicked curve and a changeup that remains a work in progress. Scheppers is big and strong, too, at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Once he learns to consistently repeat his delivery and master the command of his pitches, he will be knocking on the door of the big league club.
Scheppers' curve keeps hitters off balance, as he changes eye levels and the plane of the ball as it approaches the plate. The availability and progress of Scheppers out of the 'pen could provide the team the flexibility it needs to move Neftali Feliz to the rotation, along with Alexi Ogando -- or retain Ogando in the rotation and slot Scheppers as a late-game reliever. Should C.J. Wilson leave the Rangers, the team will be able to move Feliz and Ogando to the rotation, with Scheppers and Mike Adams available in the 'pen.
Right-handed starter Neil Ramirez may not get as much attention as his heralded teammate Martin Perez, but Ramirez is a highly-regarded prospect. Ramirez was a supplemental Draft pick (No. 44 overall) by the Rangers in 2007. Ramirez pitched at three levels for the Rangers in 2011, finishing strong at Triple-A Round Rock.
If he can avoid the shoulder miseries that he faced in the past, Ramirez could be a dominant force in the Rangers' rotation. Ramirez, still just 21, has a strong arm with good command of a complete repertoire. He is very poised on the mound, throwing a fastball that sits at 93 mph and touches 95. Everything works off his fastball.
Ramirez throws a slow curve that misses lots of bats. He also throws a very good slider and an efficient, effective changeup. The mechanics of his delivery look very clean, as he mixes pitches well and consistently finishes his delivery -- throwing strikes and piling up strikeouts. Ramirez is working hard in the Arizona Fall League to further refine his approach. Solid health will dictate how soon and how far Ramirez moves in the organization.
Switch-hitting shortstop Jurickson Profar is a name Rangers fans are beginning to recognize. Think Jose Reyes. He's as compelling as electricity. His play screams, "Hey, look at me." Profar is young, athletic, wiry, and he makes playing baseball look effortless -- and has every tool scouts seek in a defensive shortstop. He has lightning quick feet, great range to both sides, soft hands and a very capable glove. His arm is strong and accurate, even from the hole.
Offensively, Profar can put the bat on the ball and run. Only 18, Profar is still learning to hit. He will grow into some power, but already has the ability to hit the gaps with line-drive ropes. Ultimately, Profar will challenge Elvis Andrus or provide organizational depth at shortstop that can facilitate trades to fill team needs. Currently, with the presence of Andrus, there is no need to rush Profar. He has the talent and the time available to refine his entire game. In short, Profar may still be a couple of years away, but he is making great strides.
Right-handed hitting Michael Olt is an intriguing corner infielder, with plenty of upside. Like Ramirez, Olt was selected in the supplemental phase of the Draft, at No. 49 overall in 2010.
Recovering from his second shoulder separation (once from an old football injury), Olt is working on regaining his stroke at the plate and has excellent power potential. As a solid contact hitter, Olt has the ability to consistently hit the gaps. He has refined hitting mechanics -- with a short, measured swing. Possessing an athletic build, Olt is strong and well conditioned. He is still working on attacking breaking pitches, but his plate discipline and pitch recognition are advanced. Olt also has very good rhythm at the plate.
Additionally, Olt projects as a quality defensive third baseman. If needed, he also has the ability and agility to play first. While he doesn't figure to be a superstar, Olt has shown the type of hitting mechanics, power, and defensive ability that should propel him to the Majors.
Left-handed hitting Leonys Martin is a Cuban outfielder signed by the Rangers in May. He received a $5 million signing bonus and a $15.5 million deal. Martin played well at both Double-A and Triple-A before joining the Major League club at the end of the season. He is a talented, multi-tool player -- with his greatest asset being his ability to hit for average and play a very good center field.
Martin has a strong and accurate arm. He can chase down fly balls with excellent closing speed and good routes. Still only 23, Martin reminds scouts of a Kenny Lofton-type outfielder. He doesn't slap at the ball, but he does make contact and finds holes, and can then use his quickness and speed to steal a base. Like Lofton -- and to some extent Juan Pierre -- Martin is a line-drive hitter. He likely won't be known as a power threat, but rather a table-setter. Texas is loaded with center-field candidates, but Martin may eventually leap to the top of the list.
Good teams sustain their success and momentum with solid organizational depth. The Rangers certainly meet that qualification. They could be championship contenders for years to come.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.