In the six-page “40-Man Roster Conundrum” chapter in the new Bound Edition, I talk about nearly 30 players in the Rangers’ minor league system who are not currently on the roster but who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in a little over two weeks if not rostered by today’s deadline. While the quantity of candidates is not unusual, the number of difficult decisions is remarkably small in comparison to the recent years since the Texas system elevated itself into the ranks of the best in the game.
This winter’s class would have included Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers had they not already reached Arlington – and yet wouldn’t have included Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, or Justin Grimm, each of whom was still a year away from draft-eligibility – but with Ross and Scheppers not part of the analysis, there’s really only one player who’s a lock to be announced later today as a new member of the roster: middle infielder Leury Garcia.
Garcia offers an element that’s been missing on the big club for years. He’s a versatile defender who runs well and can impact the game late off the bench, and there’s a fairly obvious reason there hasn’t been a veteran signed to fill that role in a long time. Texas infielders basically don’t rest. The best free agent utility infielders aren’t going to sign with a club on which playing time is basically dependent on injuries to a starter. Maybe that roster usage will change, but frontline free agents will need to see it before they believe it.
Garcia has the range and arm strength to make every play at shortstop and plus-plus speed, but the bat profiles in such a way that while he’s conceivably a starter on a mediocre team he’s probably a role player on a contender, which helps explain in part why the 5’7” switch-hitter was broken in at second base for the first time this season and also saw time in center field.
Players who can steal a base and defend in the middle of the field are prime Rule 5 targets, perfect candidates to fill the final role on the bench while having to stay in the big leagues the entire year. Texas won’t risk losing Garcia. He’ll be protected on the roster today, and he’ll go to camp with a shot to win a job on the bench, though realistically that’s probably a year off unless accelerated by someone else’s injury.
After that, nobody seems to be a sure thing, but because the Rangers have five open spots on the roster – and ultimately more than that in all likelihood, as there are roster members who probably won’t survive the winter and others who could be traded – chances are that the club will add one or two others to shield them from the draft.
But even if a couple are added, the candidates probably aren’t as strong as any of the six who were put on the roster a year ago at this time: lefthander Martin Perez and righthanders Neil Ramirez, Matt West, Roman Mendez, Jake Brigham, and Justin Miller. This feels more like 2006, when only righthander Alexi Ogando and lefthander A.J. Murray were added to the roster, or 2009, when the Rangers purchased only lefthanders Michael Kirkman and Zach Phillips.
I won’t recount the entire thought process as it’s laid out in the book, but after Garcia I put four players – lefthanders Chad Bell and Joseph Ortiz, catcher Tomas Telis, and middle infielder Odubel Herrera – in a second grouping, and another six – righthanders Wilfredo Boscan, Arlett Mavare, and Francisco Mendoza, catcher Jose Felix, first baseman Chris McGuiness, and outfielder Joey Butler – on a third tier. McGuiness, who was just named Arizona Fall League MVP, and Boscan, who has an ERA of 0.65 in six Venezuelan Winter League starts, five of which have been scoreless, have had tremendous off-seasons, but in the end I guessed that Bell and Ortiz (and nobody else) might get the nod along with Garcia.
Don’t rule out the possibility of a minor trade today, as clubs consider ways to get value out of players they don’t plan to roster. An (unfortunate) example: November 20, 2008, when Texas sent outfielder John Mayberry Jr. to Philadelphia for outfielder Greg Golson.
There could also be a player or two dropped from the roster to create additional space. On that same date in 2008, the Rangers designated righthanders Kameron Loe and Wes Littleton for assignment (releasing Loe a week later so he could sign to play in Japan, and trading Littleton to Boston for journeyman reliever Beau Vaughan).
There are probably four or five players who could conceivably lose their roster spots today, among whom are outfielder Julio Borbon and corner bat Brandon Snyder. Both go into 2013 with no options remaining.
We’ll know by the end of the day what Texas decided to do. The Rule 5 Draft frankly gets more attention than it should, but every once in a while there’s a Josh Hamilton or Johan Santana, a Dan Uggla or Joakim Soria, a Mitch Williams or Darren O’Day, although for every one of those there are three dozen Marshall McDougall’s, and a hundred Travis Hafner’s and Frankie Francisco’s who slide through the draft unselected.
For what it’s worth, I have Garcia ranked 17th on my list of the top 72 prospects in the Rangers system, with Bell 38th and Ortiz 47th. I have Herrera (33rd) and Telis (36th) higher than the two lefthanders, but for various reasons I think they’re less likely to be drafted and make an Opening Day roster this spring, and thus less likely to be given roster spots today.
In the book, after ranking those 72 players, I do a write-up on each of them. Here’s a couple samples for you to look over, one a first-round pick who I have ranked fourth in the system, the other a 48th-rounder who I have 13th overall (and fourth among pitchers).
The Rule 5 decisions on Lewis Brinson and C.J. Edwards aren’t set to come around until 2016 and 2014, respectively – though at least in Brinson’s case, chances are he’ll be in Arlington before a November roster decision ever comes up, fitting in Profar’s category rather than Garcia’s.
Lewis Brinson, OF
Brinson . . . arguably has the highest ceiling of any high school position player in the draft, but there is fatty tuna in the finest sushi restaurants that isn’t as raw. — Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), June 4, 2012
Nobody questioned Brinson’s upside heading into the draft, as he’s a monster athlete with the potential for power, plus speed and impact defense in center field. He was also seen as an extremely raw player, with some scouts even categorizing him as a project too risky for first-round consideration. Instead, he’s shown surprising — almost shocking — baseball ability in the Arizona League . . . . He’s clicking much faster than expected, and few, if any draft prospects have seen their stock increase more than Brinson. — Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), August 22, 2012
Texas used its first pick in June (29th overall) on Brinson, convincing the high school center fielder to forgo a University of Florida scholarship and turn pro, and the selection wasn’t surprising. The Rangers tend to target middle-of-the-diamond talent and to favor high risk/reward amateur players, preferring impact potential even though that usually means a greater likelihood of flameout as well. Brinson fit the profile. What the organization couldn’t have expected was that he’d be as productive as he was right out of the gate. The 18-year-old collected multiple hits in nearly half (13) of his first 28 AZL games, and overall more than half of his hits (36 of 67) went for extra bases. Hitting .283/.345/.523, he led the league in total bases, extra-base hits, and runs scored, was one short of the lead in hits and RBI, and tied for third in home runs. The 6’5” specimen also led in strikeouts, a reminder that there will be lots of things to learn and unlearn for a young player Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks described on Draft Day as a “tools werewolf [and] monster athlete.” Texas raves about Brinson’s feel for the game and his leadership skills, and one of the organization’s player development officials said he “plays the easiest game in the system,” including defensively, where he has a chance to be a lockdown weapon in center field. Statistics aren’t everything when a player laces on professional cleats for the first time, but when a player that young and with that much upside shows the instant ability to do damage (he also hit .313/.476/.625 in Fall Instructional League, leading camp with a gaudy 24 percent walk rate), you gladly accept that part of the equation, with the conviction that it’s one thing when Jeremy Cleveland puts up video game numbers, and quite another when a player flashing Brinson’s tool set does so.
C.J. Edwards, RHP
“He was the best pitcher we saw all year. He’s got something to him. The last five feet of his fastball, it’s going up like a rocket ship. There’s a lot of hop on it.” — Eugene Emeralds manager Pat Murphy (Baseball America)
As a player, Chris Kemp’s brush with something short of greatness was that the undrafted free agent backed Chris Davis up at first base for Short-Season A Spokane his first summer, and then backed Mauro Gomez up at Low A Clinton his second and final season. Davis and Gomez both got to the big leagues, but the player Kemp could be most associated with in the long run is Edwards. When Kemp finished playing, he coached for two years at Spartanburg Methodist Junior College, and while there he pushed a skinny kid from rural South Carolina to think about coming to play for the Pioneers once he finished high school in 2011. When the Rangers hired Kemp to scout in 2010, he stayed on Edwards, who went almost completely unscouted otherwise (Boston was the only other team who took a look at the All-State righthander, who didn’t attend any high-profile showcases), and pounded his fist on Draft Day 2011 until Texas used its 48th-round pick in the 50-round draft on the 19-year-old. The Rangers paid Edwards $50,000 at the mid-August deadline to sign, convincing him to forgo a scholarship to Charleston Southern University. He didn’t see game action until 2012, and to suggest his staggering breakthrough was one of the most unexpected in the minor leagues is probably selling it short. After honing his delivery during extended spring training, Edwards was assigned to the Arizona League when its season began in mid-June, and his mound work in four games was simply silly. In 20 innings, he allowed no runs on six hits and six walks, punching out 25. That included just one hit over his final 15.2 frames, lowering his AZL slash to .094/.181/.109 and prompting a promotion to Short-Season A Spokane. Edwards made 10 Indians starts, holding opponents to a .160/.255/.184 line while fanning another 60 in 47 innings — and true to form, he allowed only two hits in his final 11.1 innings. All told, Edwards yielded only 32 hits (27 singles and five doubles) in 67 innings, and the scouting camp probably came away even more impressed than those fixated on the numbers. League managers and scouts named him the top pitching prospect in the AZL, and the number three pitching prospect in the NWL. He was sitting 95-96 for most of the season, touching 98 in Arizona — and this is a player with plenty of further physical projection to dream on — and he showed advanced feel for a tight curve while flashing an effective change. Rangers officials rave about Edwards’s intelligence and hunger to get better, adding that he’s an unusually good self-evaluator, a rarity in a kid of his age, especially one with so little experience. A big key for Edwards, whose fastball readings hovered around 89-91 at Fall Instructs, will be to get stronger in 2013, a year in which he’ll be asked to take the next step and pitch a full season.