The international signing class of 2015 has a chance to be one of the best on record.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. debuted this season as baseball’s top prospect and appears to be headed to fame and fortune, though he has a long way to go to catch his father.
These players just turning 21 or 22. They would be juniors and seniors in college had that route been available to them.
They’re still young, in other words.
That goes for the best Texas Rangers prospect from that class, and he is the No. 6 prospect in the Star-Telegram’s ranking of the top 10 Rangers prospects.
No. 6: Leody Taveras, CF
Age: 21 (Sept. 8, 1998)
Weight: 171 pounds
How acquired: International free agent, 2015
The Rangers have some maneuvering to do this off-season, in part because of several minor-leaguers who could be exposed to the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster.
Leody Taveras will be added. He will be in big-league spring training for the first time in his career.
In some minds, that’s a year too late.
Taveras has been considered among the Rangers’ top prospects since his first stateside season in 2016. The Rangers pushed him, and oftentimes he was the youngest player in the league in which he was playing.
Things caught up with him in 2018, when he found himself in a pronounced drought at High A Down East. His defense and base running were still elite, but his hitting suffered while facing pitchers two, three and four years older than him.
But Taveras is back rolling again, having reached Double A Frisco before his 21st birthday. As of next season, he will be even closer to the Rangers’ active roster and is likely to appear on it at some point.
The Rangers contend that he’s on schedule, because every prospect’s MLB ETA is different, but he still has to show more pop at the plate before he can push any veteran out of his way for a permanent spot in the lineup.
He knows it, too.
“I think I can do it,” Taveras said. “There will be a time when I learn how to use my power. Now, I don’t think about homers because you’ve got to control your body first. I learned if you’re not looking for homers, you’ll get homers.”
Taveras was back at Down East to start 2019, but he jumped to Frisco at the All-Star break after batting .294 with a .368 on-base percentage. But his slugging percentage was only .376 as he collected a mere 13 extra-base hits in 66 games.
His numbers dipped at Frisco, but his .265/.320/.375 slashline shouldn’t be viewed as worrisome. He was facing a new level and better pitching, and that can trip up any young player.
Taveras, though, was at his best in August, the final full month of the minor-league season. He posted a .406 slugging percentage and helped Frisco make a late playoff push with consecutive walk-off hits Aug. 23 and Aug. 24.
“This year I learned to be a little more prepared,” Taveras said. “I worked a lot in the off-season. I worked on the offense. I feel more comfortable, in everything.”
The Rangers are happy with the way he rebounded from his 2018, but they want to see more power.
“He has a really good body and there’s plenty of strength in there and there’s plenty of snap,” assistant general manager Mike Daly said. “He can put the barrel on the ball and he can run, so he’s able to sustain a high average. When there are opportunities, especially in advantage counts, there’s a chance for him to drive the ball into the gap. That’s the evolution of a hitter, understanding when to take chances, when to get on base, when to move the guy over. That’s something he continues to do.”
The Rangers aren’t fretting much about Taveras. They continue to consider him one of their top prospects and a player they hope can be an everyday center fielder for years to come.
“There are a number of positives in terms of what he did last year,” Daly said. “He understands that we recognize he’s capable of more. This is the evolution of a player coming up through the system.”
Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Sherten Apostel, 3B
No. 9: Nick Solak, 2B
No. 8: Joe Palumbo, LHP
No. 7: Ricky Vanasco, RHP
No. 6: Leody Taveras, CF
No. 5: Wednesday
No. 4: Thursday
No. 3: Friday
No. 2: Monday
No. 1: Tuesday