Prospects.

Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook is out, ranking the Rangers farm system number 15 in baseball, after having judged Texas as the number 4, number 1, and number 2 system the previous three years.
The pipeline is strongest at the lower levels right now, and the system has been thinned out by promotions and trades, many of which directly impacted the World Series club in 2010 – an almost predictable outcome.  There were four organizations in the last decade to finish first or second in BA’s rankings in back-to-back seasons: the Cubs (second in 2001 and first in 2002), the Dodgers (second in 2004, 2005, and 2006), the Rays (first in 2007 and 2008), and the Rangers (first in 2009 and second in 2010).  All four made playoff appearances either during or shortly after those rankings.
Chicago, after those two years, was ranked as follows since: 3, 7, 10, 15, 18, 18, 27, 15, 8.
Los Angeles: 6, 6, 23, 24, 12.
Tampa Bay: 4, 1, 3.
The Rays have done a terrific job of sustaining their minor league dominance – and should stay in the top tier for years, with 11 of the first 65 picks in next June’s draft, expected to be an unusually strong crop – but most clubs, even those whose systems earn an extended run of accolades, tend to bounce back to the pack as players graduate to the big leagues, move on to other organizations, or drop back due to injury or other struggles.
Here’s BA’s ranking of the Rangers’ top prospects two winters ago, when the organization was ranked number one:
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Derek Holland, LHP
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. Elvis Andrus, SS
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. Taylor Teagarden, C
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. Julio Borbon, OF
10. Max Ramirez, C-1B
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. Blake Beavan, RHP
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. Warner Madrigal, RHP
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. Tommy Hunter, RHP
18. Jose Vallejo, IF
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. Omar Poveda, RHP
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. Joaquin Arias, IF
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. Mitch Moreland, 1B-OF-LHP
In just two years, that 2009 list looks like this once you remove the players who reached Texas and exhausted their rookie status (and thus their eligibility to be considered by BA): 
1. 
2. 
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. 
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. 
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. 
10. 
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. Blake Beavan, RHP
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. 
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. 
18. Jose Vallejo, IF
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. Omar Poveda, RHP
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. 
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. 
And after the players traded for big league help are taken off the list (which didn’t include Josh Lueke, whom BA has as Seattle’s number 12 prospect right now, after he’d been in the 50s or 60s with Texas in 2009):
1. 
2. 
3. 
4. 
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. 
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. 
9. 
10. 
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. 
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. 
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. 
18. 
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. 
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. 
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. 
From the remaining group, some have met or exceeded expectations (e.g., Perez), and others have progressed, if inconsistently (Ramirez).  Some been hurt (Font) or struggled (Kiker), some are trying to make their way in a new organization (Diamond).  
So what we have now is a system considered by at least one reputable source as middle-of-the-pack (ESPN’s Keith Law has Texas 12th, and Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo have yet to weigh in), though I think even the Rangers would admit that the upper levels of their system aren’t as strong right now as the lower levels (based in large part on the graduations and trades we’ve discussed).
Within a couple years the hope will be that David Perez and Jake Skole and Mike Olt and Cody Buckel and Jorge Alfaro and the players taken this coming June at number 33 and 37 overall and a handful of kids out of Venezuela and Japan and points in between will have this system right back in the top tier – at least according to an industry publication.  Texas isn’t interested in a closing window.
For now, here are BA’s top 31 Rangers prospects going into 2011 (with my own November rankings, as they appears in the Bound Edition, in parentheses):
1. Martin Perez, LHP (1)
2. Jurickson Profar, SS (3)
3. Tanner Scheppers, RHP (2) 
4. Robbie Erlin, LHP (5)
5. Engel Beltre, OF (4)
6. Michael Kirkman, LHP (6)
7. Mike Olt, 3B (19)
8. Luis Sardinas, SS (7)
9. Jake Skole, OF (11)
10. Miguel De Los Santos, LHP (18)
11. David Perez, RHP (9)
12. Christian Villanueva, 3B (17)
13. Roman Mendez, RHP (21)
14. Wilmer Font, RHP (10)
15. Leury Garcia, SS (22)
16. Kellin Deglan, C (26)
17. Jorge Alfaro, C (12)
18. Justin Grimm, RHP (33)
19. Robbie Ross, LHP (8)
20. Miguel Velazquez, OF (23)
21. Luke Jackson, RHP (16)
22. Joe Wieland, RHP (14)
23. Fabio Castillo, RHP (13)
24. Barret Loux, RHP (UR: signed after I went to print)
25. Jared Hoying, OF (27)
26. Jose Felix, C (41)
27. Neil Ramirez, RHP (30)
28. Cody Buckel, RHP (28)
29. Josh Richmond, OF (52)
30. Jake Brigham, RHP (38)
31. Carlos Melo, RHP (54)
(Players I had in the top 31 that don’t show up on BA’s list include RHP Matt Thompson [15], RHP Omar Beltre [20], RHP Eric Hurley [24], RHP Pedro Strop [25], SS Hanser Alberto [29], and C Tomas Telis [31].)
While the Rangers sit at 15 overall in BA’s rankings, they sit ahead of the Angels (16, up from 25 a year ago), Mariners (18, down from 11), and A’s (28, down from 12).  
Law sees things differently, putting Los Angeles (6th overall) and Seattle (10) ahead of Texas (12), with Oakland (18) at a much more respectable level than BA had the A’s.
He’s also much higher on Ross and Ramirez than BA is, ranking the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows: Martin Perez, Profar, Scheppers, Beltre, Erlin, Ross, Ramirez, Olt, David Perez, and Sardinas.  (Goldstein’s Rangers top 11 will hit the streets this week.) 
Law ranks Martin Perez as the number 18 prospect in the game (“Perez’s performance this year was one of the most disappointing for any player in last year’s top 20, even though nothing significant changed in his delivery or stuff. . . . Had Perez rolled out a 3.00 ERA and peripherals . . . in Double-A this year, he’d still be in the top ten overall, but the poor results mean he’s not quite the sure thing he appeared to be a year ago, and he’s probably further from major league production than we thought.”), and Profar number 81 (“Profar is toolsy, not off-the-charts like fellow Rangers farmhand Luis Sardinas, but is more mature than most 17-year-olds and shows outstanding instincts that separate him from his peers. . . . He’s a long way off, but comfortably projects as an above-average regular with a lot of star potential.”).  (BA’s Top 100 isn’t out yet.) 
Law noted in a chat session that Scheppers missed his top 100 because he believes he’ll be a reliever in the big leagues, that Beltre didn’t figure in because of his microscopic walk totals, and that he’d be surprised if Erlin were to work his way into the top 100 a year from now.
Righthander Anthony Ranaudo (Boston) and lefthander Drew Pomeranz (Cleveland), both drafted by Texas out of high school in 2007 but unsigned, are number 54 and 60 on Law’s list, respectively.
Mayo, who ranks the top 60 prospects in baseball. has Martin Perez at number 23, Scheppers number 43 overall, and Profar number 57.  As we discussed a few days ago, Mayo ranks Perez as the number five minor league lefthander in baseball and Profar as the number five shortstop.  He also ranks Beltre as the number 10 outfielder prospect in the game.
(Mayo has six Royals in top 37 overall.  A bunch of you may not be old enough to go with me on this, but baseball is better when Kansas City contends.  The Royals are about to be the new Rays, and even better – since that team will draw when it’s winning.)
In a separate feature identifying a sleeper prospect in each system, Law pinpoints David Perez from the Texas system (number 9 Rangers prospect in his rankings, number 11 for BA, number 9 for me), noting that the 18-year-old “hit 97 in instructional league and will show 94-95 on a regular basis.  The Dominican right-hander is long and lean with a clean arm and repeatable delivery.  His secondary stuff isn’t there yet, but you can project at least average on the curve and change.”
Some other stuff:
Peter Gammons devotes his latest MLB.com column to the Rangers’ thought process behind giving Neftali Feliz a shot at the rotation this spring, and includes: (1) this interesting comment – “There is little doubt that if everything goes right in Surprise, Ariz., this spring, Feliz will be a starter”; (2) confirmation that Texas offered Vladimir Guerrero $8 million earlier this winter (Jon Daniels said in a radio interview on Friday that the offer was before Christmas); and (3) a note about the report I wrote evaluating the Mike Napoli trade.
At this point Guerrero is said to be weighing an offer from Baltimore of $3-5 million for one year, without much sign of any serious interest from other clubs.  
Lance Berkman: More, please.  Keep taking shots.  
Randy Levine: Jetes may be the heart and soul of the Yankees, but you, sir, epitomize the organization.  
(And man, I know it sucks that Texas was in the playoffs for like a few minutes and yet . . . never mind.)
Good luck with Andruw Jones, by the way.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post ranks the 30 teams’ off-seasons, placing the Yankees’ winter effort at number 21, citing the failed plan to sign Cliff Lee, the “public hissing” with Derek Jeter, the desperation overpayment to Rafael Soriano, and, “as the offseason neared conclusion, the . . . fending off [of] storylines of dissension in the ranks and falling significantly behind the Red Sox.”  (Tomorrow’s headline: Levine calls Sherman “delusional”?)
Sherman gives the Angels the number 30 spot, suggesting among other things that Los Angeles failed to get Toronto to take on Scott Kazmir (or insist on more of a cash subsidy) in the Vernon Wells deal, and included Napoli in the trade rather than using him in a separate deal.
Sherman had Seattle at number 29, Oakland at number 4, and Texas at number 15 (“Like the Yankees, they whiffed on Lee.  And you can argue that they overpaid for Beltre, especially because Beltre faltered the last time he received a long-term contract.  But the signing of Beltre did serve as a final trigger to get the division-rival Angels to make the foolhardy Wells deal, which has value.”).  And he had St. Louis at number 24, an assessment with which Lance Berkman vehement
ly disagrees.
Joe Sheehan on the Napoli-Francisco trade: “Napoli is much more valuable than is Francisco, is under control for longer and fits the Blue Jays’ needs better than Francisco does. . . . Laugh at the notion, but this trade may help the Rangers more than signing Adrian Beltre did.  They gave up nothing they can’t replace.”
Fun fact: Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. was 32 when the Angels signed him to a five-year, $50 million contract in 2006.  Center fielder Torii Hunter was 32 when the Angels signed him to a five-year, $90 million contract in 2007.  Wells is 32 as the Angels inherit $81 million of the final four years of his contract.  And a 23-year-old making league minimum (Peter Bourjos) could be their center fielder this season.
According to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post, Colorado has not talked to the Rangers about Michael Young since the Winter Meetings in early December.
Lefthander Miguel De Los Santos, who earned a 40-man roster spot in November even though he hasn’t pitched above Low Class A, had a brilliant Dominican Winter League campaign.  After posting a 2.00 ERA in five regular season DWL appearances (nine innings, six hits, seven walks, 11 strikeouts), his playoff work was extraordinary.  In three starts spanning 12 innings, De Los Santos scattered four hits (.100 opponents’ batting average) and five walks, punching out 19.  He’s got to cut down on the walks, but if he does manage to do that, watch out.
Texas signed 28-year-old slugger Brad Nelson to a minor league deal, coming off a standout winter league campaign in which he led the Dominican Winter League with nine home runs (105 at-bats), hitting .295/.402/.590.  After eight seasons in the Milwaukee system (getting brief big league looks in 2008 and 2009), Nelson has spent the last two with AAA Tacoma in the Seattle system.  
Interesting: One local reporter suggests the signing of Jose Julio Ruiz to a minor league deal with a big league invite could be protection in case Texas decides to trade Chris Davis, who has now fallen not only behind Mitch Moreland on the depth chart but also has Napoli and Young ahead of him as first base options in the event of a Moreland setback.  The club has added a number of first basemen to the upper levels of the system in the last six months, bringing Chris McGuiness aboard in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade and signing Nelson and Ruiz.  Chad Tracy remains in the mix as well, having split his AAA time between first base and left field in 2010, when he wasn’t DH’ing.
Assistant GM Thad Levine told reporters that the Rangers were probably the runners-up to sign Ruiz out of Cuba when the Rays signed him in June to the unique low-dollar deal for 2010 ($20,000 per month) with a four-year, $4 million option that they ultimately declined in November, making the 25-year-old a free agent once again.  He’s been described as having a “David Ortiz-type” frame and raw power, though the power didn’t translate in his two months with the Rays last summer (.313/.416/.468 over 139 at-bats between the Dominican Summer League and AA Montgomery, after hitting .305/.408/.467 in Cuba in 2009 before defecting).  He’s shown more athleticism than Ortiz (leading the Cuban National Series with 32 stolen bases in 2007-08), but by all accounts this is an aging prospect whose one tempting tool hasn’t yet turned into results.  
Not that I have an particular insight since I’ve never seen Ruiz play (and am not qualified to really evaluate him even if I had), but I’d equate the signing to a Loux-type risk-reward flier, with Loux (who I’ve also not seen play) having more potential to pay off.
Seems like the signing of 27-year-old catcher Robinzon Diaz to a minor league contract may be similar protection in case the Rangers choose to move Taylor Teagarden.  Diaz (described by Goldstein as a “career .297 hitter in the minors with no secondary skills,” though BA notes that he has “a pretty good arm and crazy hand-eye coordination”) joins Teagarden and journeyman Kevin Cash to boost the Rangers’ AAA catching depth – which became somewhat less of an issue than in most years with the addition of the versatile Napoli at the big league level.
Diaz was considered at least a viable prospect in 2008, when he played at four levels in the Toronto system (including a one-game big league debut) before being traded late in August to the Pirates for third base disappointment Jose Bautista, who had been optioned to AAA a few weeks earlier and cleared league-wide waivers in order to set up the post-July 31 trade.  Two years later, Bautista hit 54 Jays home runs, while Diaz spent the entire season with AAA Toledo in the Detroit system.
Baltimore signed three lefthanders to minor league contracts: Clay Rapada, who pitched for Texas late in the season and in the ALCS against New York; Michael Ballard, who spent five seasons in the Rangers’ farm system and got about as close to a call-up that didn’t happen (in 2008) as you can get; and Nick Bierbrodt, who was the Diamondbacks’ first-ever draft pick (in 1996, with Buck Showalter calling the shots), whose last big league work came with the Rangers (in 2004, when Showalter was Texas manager), and who will once again get a shot with a Showalter-led club.  I don’t think Bierbrodt or Ballard got big league spring training invites, while Rapada definitely did. 
The Orioles are also showing interest in outfielder Kevin Mahar, whose first three seasons as an undrafted free agent in the Rangers system came while Showalter was still around.  His lone big league action came in 2007, when he appeared in seven straight games for Texas in May, the second month of Ron Washington’s Texas tenure.
Baltimore also named Einar Diaz a coach with AA Bowie.
Righthander Dustin Nippert signed with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization.
For the first time in years, there’s not one Rangers player whose lack of options will be an issue this spring (unless you consider Andres Blanco a bubble candidate).  Rapada, Nippert, and Max Ramirez have moved on, and Ryan Tucker slid through waivers and was outrighted.  Among those with one option remaining in 2011: Davis, Teagarden, Pedro Strop, and two players who may never exhaust their options: Tommy Hunter and Julio Borbon.  (Interestingly, Mark Lowe and Eric Hurley still have all three options remaining, having never been optioned since arriving in the big leagues midway through the season in 2006 and 2008, respectively.)
The closest thing to an options-like issue this spring will be Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin, who must be exposed to league-wide waivers (and then, if he clears, must be offered back to the Angels) if he’s healthy and doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.  (However, like left-on-left specialist Ben Snyder a year ago, if Tobin does clear, Texas could make an effort to trade Los Angeles a lower-level prospect in exchange for the right to keep Tobin in the minor leagues.  The Rangers traded 17-year-old lefthander Edwin Escobar to San Francisco just before Opening Day last year, and sent Snyder to Frisco.)
(Escobar isn’t among the Giants’ top 31 prospects, according to BA.  Righthander Michael Main is slotted at number 31 for the club.)
The Mets signed righthander Chris Young and gave righthander R.A. Dickey, at age 36, the first multi-year contract of his career.  (Someone ought to look up how close that is to a record.)
Seattle invited righthander Blake Beavan to big league camp.
Minor league deals: righthander Chris Ray (Seattle); rig
hthander Warner Madrigal (Yankees); infielder Ramon Vazquez (St. Louis); infielder Alex Cora (Washington); righthanders Francisco Cruceta and Casey Daigle and catcher Chris Stewart (San Francisco); righthander Jose Veras (Pittsburgh); shortstop Ray Olmedo (Tampa Bay); and righthander Virgil Vazquez (Angels).
Washington designated outfielder Justin Maxwell for assignment.  
Former Rangers lefthander Mike Bacsik tried out for the independent Fort Worth Cats this weekend and earned a spot on the American Association club.  His father, Mike Sr., also a former Ranger, is the Cats’ new pitching coach.
The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League signed first baseman Freddie Thon.  The Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League extended infielder Donnie Ecker’s contract.  The Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League claimed infielder Chase Fontaine off waivers from the Sussex Skyhawks.   
Florida named Andy Barkett manager at AA Jacksonville.
Houston signed lefthander Wandy Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million extension.  The top tier of next winter’s free agent starting pitchers continues to thin out.  Assuming St. Louis and Philadelphia exercise 2012 options on Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt, the cream of the free agency crop could include C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Pineiro.
Correcting a January 25 note that I ran based on a local report: Brewers play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson is the brother of Rangers pro scout Mike Anderson, not his son.
Plans are starting to come together for the next Newberg Report party, which will be on Thursday evening, February 10, at Sherlock’s in Dallas.  Chuck Greenberg and John Rhadigan are in, Jon Daniels is a good bet, and we should have a key Rangers player with us as well.  We’re planning on a couple hours of Q&A, plus a charity auction of some unique Rangers stuff.  
On the same night, former Rangers GM Eddie Robinson will sign copies of his memoirs, authored by the great Paul Rogers, at SMU.  Tom Grieve and Dr. Bobby Brown will be on hand as well.  If you’re not planning to come to the Newberg Report event, think about making plans to go to SMU that night.  You might even be able to swing both, as the two events are about four miles apart.
We’re thinking about having a Newberg Report gathering at a game in Round Rock sometime this season.  
If you order your 2011 Bound Edition now, you’ll have it well before Pitchers & Catchers, just 17 sleeps from now.  It may not carry the weight of a Baseball America, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, or Jonathan Mayo, but in addition to more than 350 pages telling the story of the Rangers’ World Series season, there’s 30 pages up front that do nothing but rank and comment on the minor league prospects coming up in the Texas system, getting you ramped up on the young players the Rangers will look to in order to keep winning, through graduations to Arlington and trades for veterans counted on to make instant impacts.

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