Pina and Smith for Gutierrez.

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From my Draft Day report:


“But an added benefit
of the tremendous health that the Texas
minor league system enjoys is that risks like [drafting Tanner] Scheppers make
more sense to take.  If he doesn’t work out, it certainly won’t cripple
the system.” 


It’s a different set of circumstances, and less flashy, but
the Rangers’ Thursday acquisition of Class A righthander Danny Gutierrez from
Kansas City falls perhaps in the same category. 
Texas traded two players who are arguably better bets than Gutierrez to
fulfill their potential, but by all accounts the pitcher they got in return,
while a riskier proposition, has measurably greater upside.


Tim Smith (.300 at Clinton last year, .333 at Bakersfield
this spring, .309 at Frisco this summer) has proven that he has a hit tool that
ought to play at higher levels.  But the
rest of his tools project as solid-average. 
If everything were to fall into place, think Rusty Greer or Frank
Catalanotto with higher strikeout totals. 
But he could also be Vincent Sinisi. 
A prospect, to be sure, but with limitations.


Manny Pina was the Rangers’ minor league player of the month
in April, hitting .481/.518/.731 for Frisco as he posted the highest batting
average in the minors for the month.  It
was a stunning offensive breakthrough for the defensively advanced catcher, who
came into the season as a career .248/.306/.322 hitter in four pro
seasons.  But he regressed offensively
after that, hitting .216/.274/.327 the rest of the way.  He’s a prospect because of his
catch-and-throw skills.  But his
limitations – both with the bat and in his development as a game-caller – are evident
as well.


Given the crowd that Texas has in the outfield – Josh Hamilton,
Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, and Julio Borbon are all under team control through at
least 2012, and if Texas signs Marlon Byrd this winter, something there appears
to be mutual interest in, he will be under control that long as well – and Smith’s
skill set, his upside as a Ranger was probably going to be as a bat off the
bench, a National League type of player without the defensive versatility to figure
in here as much more than a shuttle player. 
While Smith might project to hit for better average than Brandon Boggs
(one option left in 2010), Greg Golson (two options), or Craig Gentry (three
options), those three are stronger defenders and run better, and that’s what
you want from your backup outfielders.  Engel
Beltre and Mitch Moreland are on the way with higher ceilings than Smith, and
David Paisano leads a pack of lower-level prospects who could enter the picture
before long.


And given the club’s catcher situation, Pina’s future here –
if not as a big leaguer regardless of franchise – was going to be as a once-a-week
backup, and not for another couple years at least.  The way his 2009 season went, Texas was
probably not going to add him to the 40-man roster this winter, which will be his
first as a Rule 5-eligible (though Kansas City will presumably put him on the roster
in November to protect its investment).  It’s
too soon to say that Leonel De Los Santos or Tomas Telis or Jose Felix had
supplanted Pina as the franchise’s top catcher prospect, but there is depth in
this system, and even if Pina remained at the top of the depth chart, this is a
club with five catchers on the 40-man roster at the moment.


Coming into the 2009 season, I had Pina ranked as the
Rangers’ number 39 prospect, and Smith number 52.  Yesterday, in my
latest column ranking the Rangers’ top prospects
, I had Smith ranked
number 16 in the system (though, to be fair, I cheat a bit by ruling out anyone
in the big leagues so I can feature more minor leaguers in the column – at season’s
end, based on big league service, players like Neftali Feliz and Julio Borbon
and Guillermo Moscoso and Pedro Strop will again show up on prospect rankings)
and didn’t have Pina in my top 40.  Texas,
because of its depth, is likely to survive their loss, even if they reach their


Gutierrez’s potential is why Texas made this deal.  While neither Pina nor Smith made Baseball America‘s list of the Rangers’ top
30 prospects over the winter, BA had
Gutierrez as Kansas City’s number seven prospect, and Baseball Prospectus’s
Kevin Goldstein had him at number six.  Despite
an early-season elbow injury in 2008 (possibly dating back to an elbow fracture
he sustained as a high school sophomore), the righthander saw his velocity jump
from 88-92 to 90-95 with movement that summer, complemented by a power curve (cited
by BA, along with his control, as the
Royals system’s best) and developing change.  According to BP, by the end of 2008 (a 4-4, 2.70 season for Low A Burlington
[104 strikeouts and 25 walks in 90 innings] that he capped with 17 strikeouts and
two walks in 12 Midwest League playoff innings, yielding two runs), “the Royals
felt he was by far the best pitcher
they had at any minor league level.”


So what happened in 2009?


Nobody is really saying.  According to BP co-founder and Royals fanatic
Rany Jazayerli in a blog piece he wrote just three weeks ago, Gutierrez “had a
fight with the organization over his rehab process” following another arm issue,
this time shoulder inflammation, that delayed the start of his 2009 season.  (Jazayerli, a dermatologist, added: “One way
to look at this is that Gutierrez has some growing up to do.  Then again, given my opinion of the Royals’
training staff, it’s hard to be too upset with the kid.”)  The 22-year-old reportedly did at least some
of his early season rehab work with the Boras Corporation (which he’d switched
to as his agency) rather than with the Royals.


There are rumors of other off-field issues that have gotten
no mainstream media play that I could find, and that are all over the map if
you spend time sifting through blogs whose credibility I can’t vouch for.  The conclusion I cautiously draw from them,
with some amount of uncertainty, is that the reason Gutierrez has logged only
27.1 innings in 2009 may not be strictly physical, and without which the Royals
probably don’t begin to entertain trading him.


Call it a change of scenery. 
A slap in the face.  A second
chance.  However you characterize it, the
fact that Gutierrez was traded for what certainly seems to be less than 100
cents on the dollar might just result in a chip on his shoulder, a boost in
motivation, that centers his career in exactly the right direction.  The Rangers’ prospect depth allowed them to bet
that he’ll do just that, in his second organization.


Whatever the reason, or reasons, Gutierrez didn’t show up
with a minor league club this year until July 28, and his ramp-up has been
methodical: one inning, then two, two again, three, four, 4.2, 4.2 a second
time, and, a week ago today, six innings of work.  His first four appearances came out of the High
A Wilmington bullpen: eight scoreless innings, three hits, one walk, 10 strikeouts.  His next four outings were Blue Rocks starts:
four no-hit innings on August 12 (one walk, three strikeouts), a poor
4.2-inning effort on August 18 (five runs on five hits and a walk, four
strikeouts), 4.2 scoreless frames on August 23 (three hits, two walks, four strikeouts),
and six zeroes last Friday (six hits, two walks, four strikeouts). 


All told, he’s held the Carolina League to an anemic
.173/.229/.204 slash line, fanning 25 and issuing seven walks in those 27.1
innings of work.  And I love this: after
left-handed hitters (.261/.360/.377) soundly outproduced righties (.235/.274/.360)
against Gutierrez in 2008, he reversed things in 2009, crushing lefties at a
.128/.226/.170 rate (righties: .216/.231/.235), suggesting his changeup has
made significant progress, or perhaps that he’s developed significant cut action
on his fastball.


Standing just 6’1″, the Los Angeles native doesn’t have a
prototype, projectable pitcher’s build, which may help explain why he fell to
the 33rd round in 2005 (signing as a draft-and-follow in the spring
of 2006),


Like Smith (and unlike Pina), Gutierrez is a year away from
40-man roster consideration (joining a class that includes, among others,
Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan, Beltre, Moreland, Kasey Kiker, Carlos Pimentel, Kennil
Gomez, Miguel De Los Santos, Marcus Lemon, and Leonel De Los Santos).  Presumably he’ll join Bakersfield as the Blaze
motors toward the post-season. 


As for the off-season, he was already delegated by the
Royals to pitch for the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Rafters next month, which
he still might do, as the Rangers feed players to that same AFL club.  Texas has a designated pitching spot it can
still fill – and might have two, if Thomas Diamond ends up with another
organization within the week, following his September 1 designation for
assignment.  Gutierrez could use some innings,
and Texas will probably see to it that he gets them in the AFL.


Diamond is a classic example of how routinely a blue-chip pitching
prospect’s fortunes can change.  More
than any other position in sports, for various reasons the development of frontline
pitching can be maddeningly unpredictable, and because of that you can never have
enough arms with upside. 


Trading two position players whose ceilings, at least with
this franchise, were probably as bench players in exchange for a young pitcher
with the chance be an impact arm is something you do every chance you get, and
though there’s possibly added risk with this particular pitcher (without which
he probably would have never been available), Texas has deepened its farm
system so effectively that it’s a risk it can afford to take, with an exciting potential
reward tied to Gutierrez’s right arm.





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(c) Jamey Newberg



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