10 Rangers prospects to watch
Texas farm system built around speed on the mound, basepaths
With the 2009 season quickly approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Rangers' most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Elvis Andrus, SS: Yes, he's only 20. Yes, he hasn't played above the Double-A level. And yes, he's ready for the bigs. At least the Rangers feel he is as they give him the keys to the job at short. There's no question about his ability to handle the defensive rigors of the position at the highest level and there's a decent amount of confidence in his ability to contribute offensively as well. Throughout the spring, the Rangers haven't hesitated to use him in hit-and-run and bunting situations and he's shown he can handle them. His plus speed will allow him to leg out hits and still contribute even when he's scuffling. His maturity will allow him to make adjustments and handle adversity well. There's sure to be ups and downs, but don't be surprised to see him right in the thick of the AL Rookie of the Year discussion at season's end.
Engel Beltre, OF: His stats line in the Midwest League in 2008 is decent enough: .283 average, 31 steals (eighth in the league) and 43 extra-base hits in 130 games. Then consider that Beltre played all year at age 18 and you understand why people are so excited about him. He's got all the tools you want to see in a true center field package. There are some who question his future power, but all you need to do is watch him take batting practice and see how he's growing into his body to know there will be plenty there when all is said and done. Defensively, he's always relied in his athleticism to get by and is now learning quickly about the instinctual side of the game. A natural leader with a great presence, he'll be given every chance to move up to Class A Advanced Bakersfield this year.
Julio Borbon, OF: It's hard to imagine a more successful full season for the Rangers' supplemental first-round pick from the 2007 Draft. The Tennessee product played at two levels, finishing in Double-A and hitting a combined .321 with 53 steals, second in the system behind Andrus. He got another 150 or so at-bats in the Arizona Fall League and winter ball in the Dominican. He's got a good bat and should eventually hit for some more power, though it's more gap-to-gap doubles pop than the home run variety. Speed is clearly a big part of his game, both on the bases and in center field, where he plays above-average defense. He's been focusing on his plate discipline as he knows he needs to be an on-base guy at the top of the order. Though he's only got one full season, the Rangers hope he's ready for Triple-A.
Neftali Feliz, RHP: It would be difficult to find a combination of arm strength and effortlessness that surpasses what the 21-year-old Feliz brings to the table. He's got a lightning arm and throws 96-98 mph while making it look like he's playing catch. He's still raw with his secondary stuff, but he's got great makeup and works extremely hard to improve. He's shown a plus breaking ball at times and feel for a change as well, though he hasn't had to throw it much. Learning to throw the change will be a big part of his game this season as will his ability to command all his pitches. He's got the stuff, the size and the makeup to be a future ace. He made the leap from Class A to Double-A last year and handled it well, so he's being given the opportunity to do well -- and advance -- at the upper levels.
Derek Holland, LHP: Every once in a while, a guy comes along that makes a scouting and player development department brim with pride. Holland is that kind of guy. The lefty who was a 2006 draft-and-follow started out as a guy with an intriguing arm, but one that threw fastballs at 88-92 mph. With more seasoning and maturity, Holland found himself touching 97 mph in his first full season. He pitched across three levels and was lights out in the Texas League playoffs as he quickly adjusted to his new-found arm strength. He's got a good changeup and shows a decent slider at times as well to go along with excellent fastball command and a pretty good idea of how to pitch for a guy this young. Like Feliz, he has jumped on the fast-track and even if he starts the year in Double-A, he may not stay there for long.
Kasey Kiker, LHP: Kiker has slowly progressed up the Rangers' ladder since being the 12th overall pick in the 2006 Draft. He spent all year in the hitter-friendly California League in 2008 and while his 4.73 ERA doesn't look all that pretty, there were some positive steps. The 21-year-old looks poised to make a big leap this year. He's had a good camp, really taking to some small mechanical adjustments and his secondary stuff. His changeup has always been good and now he's showing improvement with his breaking ball to go along with an above-average fastball. He's a tremendous competitor who loves to have the ball in his hand and could rise to the challenge of moving up a step in the organization, to Double-A.
Michael Main, RHP: The second of two first-round picks from the 2007 Draft, he didn't really get to show everything he can do on the mound in his first full season because of a rib injury. Once he got healthy, he looked more like himself in the second half and posted a 2.58 ERA in 10 starts for full-season Clinton in the Midwest League. That carried over to instructs and he's continued to look very good this spring. He throws his fastball 93-95 mph and goes right after hitters aggressively. He's got a curve that's a plus pitch and a good feel for a changeup. A two-way star who was a legitimate center field prospect in high school, he uses his athleticism to his advantage on the mound. This could be a big year for him and it will likely start with Class A Advanced Bakersfield.
Martin Perez, LHP: The Rangers' international scouting department did a good job finding this 6-foot-1 lefty who, at age 17, not only went to the Class A Short-Season Northwest League, but more than held his own against older competition. When he first signed, he was throwing 88-91 mph fastballs, but since has increased to 90-94. Some of that has come as a result of natural maturation, but he's also stepped up his efforts in conditioning. His curve is a true plus pitch and he's got a very good feel for his changeup, though it lags behind as of now. For all his arm strength, it's his feel for his secondary pitches and for how to use them that separates him from other young pitchers. He's ready for a full-season assignment, though it's possible the Rangers will hold him back just a bit until the weather warms up.
Justin Smoak, 1B: As impressive as Smoak's physical skills are, the Rangers may have been even more impressed with how the 2008 first-rounder conducted himself in big-league camp. He carried himself like a professional, kept his mouth shut and eyes open, got his work in and performed well. Oh, and the guy can hit. From both sides of the plate. With power. A lot of it. He's not particularly fleet of foot, but he's got good hands and actions around the bag defensively. But there's no question the bat is his biggest tool. Making comparisons to Major League stars can be unfair, but it's easy to understand the comps made to Mark Teixeira and Chipper Jones. Smoak will start making a name for himself and his bat should help him move through the system quickly.
Taylor Teagarden, C: Most organizations always are searching for catching depth in their system. The Rangers are fortunate to have quite a bit at the upper levels. Teagarden, the 2005 third-round pick out of the University of Texas, is the best defensive backstop in the system and perhaps in all of the Minors. His Tommy John surgery now a distant memory, he's got plus catch and throw skills and he's a natural leader who handles a staff well and calls a good game. His offense is behind his defense, though he did get to play in the Olympics and swung the bat well during a September call-up . It's a work in progress, but he does have some power potential. How much he'll hit may dictate just what kind of big leaguer he becomes long-term, but there's no question he's ready to catch at the Major League level.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.