Rangers Prospects to Watch For in 2015


Aug 7, 2014; Frisco, TX, USA; Frisco Rough Riders right fielder Nomar Mazara (9), third baseman Joey Gallo (24) and designated hitter Jorge Alfaro (8) on the field before the game against the Springfield Cardinals at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Springfield beat Frisco 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Tim Bogar-led Rangers have won 12 of their last 13 games and I think that’s pretty neat. This stretch has inspired some hope in me and Ranger fans everywhere; to continue on this wonderful feeling, I’m going to tell y’all about some guys down on the farm that fill me with this magic hopeful feeling. I would say that I am hooked on this feeling.

I would recommend playing this music in the background while reading this article because it really helps set the tone and describes my current mood. This is extremely early for me to think about 2015; Fall instructs just started and the Rangers haven’t even picked a High A team. I don’t care though, because I’m feeling hopeful for 2015 and I reckon you do too. I will hopefully be attending a week of spring training if my schedule permits and have more concrete stuff. However, for now here are some gut feelings supported by my observations and those of people with infinitely more baseball knowledge than myself.

I’ll start with the obvious: Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro, and Chi Chi. These 3 dudes are incredibly talented ball players and a joy to watch. My best guess is that they all start 2015 in Frisco but Cheech is the first to flock south down 35 to Round Rock. Look for Gallo to shrink the holes in his swing that have been exploited by Texas league pitchers after he spends another off season with the hitting guru of Vegas, Jason Giambi. Alfaro needs work on calming down behind the plate defensively. He is so antsy and his constant fidgeting behind the dish makes me uneasy. If he can cut down on those pesky passed balls on defense and recognize spin quicker on right handed sliders on offense, then he could have a trip south before the year is done. All Chi Chi needs is to keep throwing strikes and trusting his stuff. Towards the end of the season Gonzalez was just overmatching many of his opponents. He is the closest of all the players in Frisco to receiving a bump.

The Raw Toolsy Outfielders: aka what the Rangers drool over in their early round picks. These two guys have very loud tools which brought them success before their mid/late season promotions. Nick Williams‘ 2015 season is going to be a treat to watch. He hit .292 in High A but his average plummeted 66 points after his promotion to the Texas League. Pitchers were able to exploit his aggression at the plate, making him chase many pitches out of the zone and getting into few hitter’s counts. I’m interested to see what Jason Hart can do with more than a month of being Nick’s hitting coach. The Ranger’s front office also seems hell bent on trying Nick as a center fielder. He has the speed to do so but has looked like a new born deer trying to run the 500 meter hurdles out there so far. With time he might be able to do it, but I’m guessing his plate discipline will come in quicker than his center field defense. The prospect I’m most intrigued to watch in 2015 is Lewis Brinson. He has 4 potential plus tools and the most volatility of any prospect in the Ranger system. 2014 was going to be a critical year for but he missed almost a month and a half due to injuries. His slash line in Hickory was an unbelievable .335/.405/.579 with 10 round trippers in 43 games. His insane strike out rate of 2013 was cut down from 38% to a very manageable 25%. This was a huge red flag for him last year and the fact that he still hit .246 after his promotion to the Pelicans is an encouraging sign. I hope to see Brinson keep improving his swing and his gorgeous center field defense. Most importantly for next season I’d love to see him stay healthy and get a bigger sample size on his season production. If he keeps improving at his current rate, the 20 year old could easily see Frisco by August.

The Young and Surprising Infielders:  By my own admission, I am way too late on the Michael De Leon train. A 17 year old switch hitting short stop who ended the year at Myrtle Beach in his first season of professional baseball. From all reports I’ve seen, he’s played pretty dang solid baseball. This is a kid who ended the season in a league where he was 6 years younger than the average player. Michael did all of this while playing some of the slickest shortstop defense I’ve seen at the high A level. He struck out only around 10% of his plate appearances and walked around 8%. He hit .248 across 3 levels, one game in Frisco he hit a double, and I say again he is only 17 years old and in his first season of professional baseball. The kid also had 18 hits for extra bases in 93 games which ain’t bad for a 17 year old at any level. Crawdads beat writer Mark Parker, who saw him virtually every day, said the thing that impressed him most about was his excitement to come to work each day. Many of the guys are ready to pack it up in August, but Michael was always ready with a smile and belongs here. Keep an eye or two on this kid because he’s impressed quite a few people this year that are not easily impressed. Travis Demerrite is the Rangers’ second pick in the 2013 draft behind Chi Chi Gonzalez. Demerrite played in the South Atlantic League and lead all minor league teenagers in homers with 25. Though he was originally drafted as a shortstop, Travis has played mostly second base this year. He struck out an ugly 37% and hit only .211 for the season. A big portion of those gaudy K and low average numbers came at the end of the season when Dem hit the metaphorical brick wall that most kids hit in August of their first full season of pro ball.  In every month besides April and August Travis hit over .230. Keep an eye on how his stamina improves for next year, specifically his August stats. His walk rate of 10.7% was good to see from a young kid early in his career. There aren’t too many middle infielders with an offensive profile like Travis. I am interested to see if he begins 2015 with the Crawdads or with ______ high A affiliate.

The Young Hurlers: Pitching prospects are the most finicky creatures on planet earth. One start they dazzle you with well located fastballs and dirty breaking stuff and the next month they don’t know what a strike zone looks like. So while Yohander Mendez and Luis Ortiz are baffling hitters, I suggest we both enjoy them. Mendez is a 6’4″ Venezuelan lefty wizard whose fastball sits a tick above Colby Lewis’s velocity (Mendez sits 89-91). Yohander is only 19 and weighs in at around 180 so his frame will support more weight and likely more fastball velocity. The dirty changeup is his most valued weapon which is complimented by a curveball that comes in around the mid 70s. Mendez lost a significant chunk of his season due to a shoulder injury. The kid was going to be on an innings limit anyway but ended up only pitching 36.2 innings in 10 games. In his 10 games Mendez was dominant and usually had his good stuff. This lead to his 2.32 ERA. I look forward to seeing how Mendez does next year in starts where he doesn’t have his best stuff. Pitchers who can get outs when their stuff isn’t there are pitchers who succeed at the next level. Luis Ortiz is also a 19 year old who ended his season in Hickory. Ortiz’s pure stuff is lovely to see and a big reason that the Rangers used their only first round pick on him. Ortiz was projected to go anywhere as high as 7th to 12th overall but many teams backed off once they found out about a forearm injury. The injury turned out not to be as serious as other teams feared and the Rangers reaped the benefit. This is some video on Ortiz before he was drafted. Luis Ortiz’s fastball sits around 91 to 94, touching 95 at times with consistently good movement. He also has a changeup that usually is between 84 and 86 with decent movement but hasn’t consistently thrown it for strikes. His slider comes in 85 to 87 with hard downward break. He can throw it for strikes to both left and right handed hitters, and gets a good amount of chases if he can establish his fastball low in the zone. Ortiz, like many young pitchers, lives and dies by his fastball command, which wasn’t a huge problem for him. Something very unique about Luis is that prior to being drafted he never had a pitching coach. Ortiz said that he tried to model himself after Felix Hernandez by watching his starts. That is an impressive feat for a high school pitcher without a coach to teach himself by just watching tv and to have such repeatable mechanics. I look forward to seeing him with a full year surrounded by the incredibly smart coaches in the Ranger system and what he can do throughout a full season. Ortiz will no doubt have an innings limit next year, but I’d love to see what he can do in more than 20 innings. It would be nice to see him nail down the release point on his changeup and maybe even work on learning a slow curve. This could keep hitters’ timing off by creating a greater disparity in velocity between his fastest and slowest pitches. I’ve been told that sort of thing happens quite often. I can’t wait to see him with a full season of him against A ball guys.

The Flyin’ Hawaiian: I saved the best for last, y’all. Nobody is as fun to watch in batting practice as Keone Kela. This 21 year old Californian (his grandparents were Hawaiian) is a closer prospect in an AL team’s system, yet every day I saw him in batting practice he was on the field bunting with a fungo bat. Who does that? Keone Kela does that. His name is pronounced Key-OH-nay KAY-la. Off the mound Keone is a kind soul who loves people and shoes almost as much as my friend Tepid at lonestarball.com. When he steps on the mound, Kela is a completely different dude. He’s got a wicked fastball that sits 96-99 and touches 100 with movement. The only other 100 mph’er in the system is Aaron Poreda, and don’t ask me how because I’m still not sure. Kela’s only other pitch is a wipeout curveball that leaves AA hitters looking foolish. Here is a video by Scott Lucas of Kela; 40 seconds in he paints the outside corner with a curveball and it’s a beauty. His curveball hovers around 80-83 and drops off the table. After seeing an upper 90s heater to that curve is just downright unfair. Keone has the mentality of a closer. The man wants to finish the game on the mound dominating hitters and winning ball games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Round Rock at some point early in 2015. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a September cup of coffee in 2015. Yet baseball has a wonderful way of making me look incredibly stupid when I try to predict anything so I should just keep my trap shut and not predict anything.

Wow, that got really lengthy. I guess I did have a lot to say after all. For those of you still here I’ll have more writeups this winter, these are just the first guys I wanted to say stuff about. To reward those who made it this far here’s a video of dogs being dogs. Enjoy baseball and happy Friday!