Eighth in a series of spring training previews
The annual Baseball America rankings of the top farm systems in the game was revealed last week, and the Texas Rangers held onto the same spot they had entering last spring.
Ordinarily, that would be a good thing. Beginning in 2009, the Rangers have routinely been in the top 10. They have been ranked as high as No. 1, a distinction that went to the Atlanta Braves this year.
But the Rangers are No. 23. If not for the Seattle Mariners bringing up the rear, the Rangers would have had the worst-ranked system in the American League West.
Just as trades have left the Mariners’ cupboard bare, the Rangers are reloading following trades in 2015 and 2016 that cut some of the top advanced players from their system.
Oh, there’s talent. But the majority of Rangers’ best prospects won’t be reaching the majors this season or the next.
“I like laying in the weeds,” farm director Jayce Tingler said. “I’m guessing we’re undervalued, but as we start to go and as they start to perform, I think people are going to start giving us some attention.”
The Rangers have a nice chunk of high-upside, high-risk players at their lower levels — Leody Taveras, Hans Crouse, Cole Ragans and Bubba Thompson, to name a few. To many, Taveras is a can’t-miss prospect even though he’s only 18.
But only three of their top 10 prospects in the Baseball America rankings this year — Willie Calhoun (No. 1), Yohander Mendez (No. 5) and Ronald Guzman (No. 6) — have played above Double A.
That’s a reason the Rangers are ranked so low.
“The majority of the guys are in the lower levels, and that’s the nature of the beast,” Tingler said.
They also have been unwilling to unload their top prospects in trades to help restock the system, and they can’t strip down the big-league club and go in a rebuilding mode because there aren’t enough prospects at the highest levels to put a quality, competitive product on the field.
But there are minor-leaguers who can help in 2018. Two, Nick Gardewine and Ricky Rodriguez, reached the majors last season and could win a spot on the Opening Day roster.
They could also start out in the minors with a few others who might be donning a Rangers uniform at some point in 2018.
Calhoun has the best chance. Here’s a look at four others with a shot:
LHP Yohander Mendez: The left-hander will open the season at Triple A Round Rock, where he didn’t pitch last season. He spent the season at Double A Frisco to work on his fastball command to make his plus-changeup more effective. There were bumps along the way, but he still received a September call-up to the Rangers and remains their most advanced pitching prospect. He also has a spot on the 40-man roster, and that will help his case if the Rangers need a spot starter or injury replacement.
1B Ronald Guzman: The mammoth prospect (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) is the reigning Rangers Minor League Player of the Year after a second consecutive solid season. He did it at Triple A last season. Guzman is hampered by a lack of power, though he remains confident it will come. He’s only 22. He also plays only first base, and in an era where a player’s versatility makes him more valuable, Guzman will have trouble making the roster without an injury to a Rangers regular.
RHP Connor Sadzeck: The big right-hander (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) will be a reliever this season and likely going forward, and he could turn into a key bullpen piece. Sadzeck can pitch multiple innings, and he can do so while pumping fastballs at, near or over 100 mph. He needs to command the heater, though. If he does, the Rangers, whose bullpen cost them a chance at the postseason in 2017, won’t be able to keep him in the minors.
C Jose Trevino: Managers across the game value defense from their catchers more than anything. That said, they have to be able to hit a little. Once Trevino’s bat closes the gap to his Gold Glove-caliber defense, the Rangers will have a bona fide big-league catcher. Trevino has tweaked mechanics in his swing and worked tirelessly on them this off-season. His defense, from throwing and blocking to pitch calling and leadership, is good enough for him to catch in the majors.