Texas was extraordinarily aggressive with left-hander Derek Holland in 2008, promoting him from Low Class A to High Class A and then to Class AA in the span of a month. He was 21 years old.
The organization took an even bolder step with right-hander Neftali Feliz last summer, sending him from Low Class A all the way to Class AA, skipping a level. He was 20.
This summer, with Holland and Feliz having reached Arlington and making key contributions, the challenge that the Rangers are presenting to left-hander Martin Perez is, in some ways, more dramatic than the ones Holland and Feliz met in 2008. Perez is making the two-level jump from Hickory to Frisco -- and is only 18 years, four months old. The next youngest player in the Texas League is two years older.
Perez went 5-5, 2.31 for the Crawdads, including a 1.35 ERA in his last 10 appearances, fanning 45 and walking 12 over 40 innings in that span.
Holland and Feliz and Tommy Hunter head the current wave of Rangers pitching prospects. Perez fronts the next wave.
This week's Top 20 Rangers prospects:
1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (number 1 last week)
Smoak didn't take long to make an impression on Pacific Coast League managers, garnering top defensive first baseman honors in a Baseball America poll this week. As for his work at the plate, the switch-hitter has encountered his first real challenge since turning pro, but to his credit he's finding a way to get on base even though the average and slug have been slow to grow. Smoak sits at .220/.325/.340 in 37 games as a RedHawk, but notably, he's drawn a walk for every 6.4 at-bats and has reached safely by hit or walk in 21 of his last 23 games.
2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Double-A Frisco (2)
Perez's Double-A debut was his worst as a pro, as Tulsa got to him last night for seven runs (six earned) on eight hits, a walk, and a wild pitch in 2.2 innings. No worries. The 18-year-old departs the South Atlantic League (as its youngest pitcher) with its second-best ERA (2.13) and ninth-highest strikeout total (105), and as we've said in this space regularly, there's a silver lining to outing's like Perez's Wednesday effort, as he'll finally be tested to see how he rebounds from an unfamiliar dose of adversity.
3. WILMER FONT, RHP, Low A Hickory (4)
Font twirled five scoreless innings on Tuesday, improving to 7-2, 3.14 for the season. In his last eight appearances, the big righthander's ERA is 1.63, with an opponents' average of .190 (26 for 137, no home runs) and 14 walks and 35 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.
4. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (5)
Kiker threw 52.1 innings in his rookie season of 2006, 96.1 innings in 2007, and 121.2 innings in 2008. The left-hander, up to 110.2 innings this year, is wrapping up a sensational season but is in the midst of his one real stretch of ineffectiveness all year. He's only given Frisco 8.2 innings in his last three starts, yielding 12 earned runs on 12 hits and nine walks in that stretch, though he did set a dozen down on strikes to extend his Texas League-leading strikeout total to 108.
5. ROBBIE ROSS, LHP, Short-Season A Spokane (8)
Ross leads his league in strikeouts as well, punching out 63 Northwest Leaguers in 54.1 innings. Pair that with the diminutive walk total (15) and the otherworldly groundout-to-flyout rate (4.71), and it's obvious as this summer nears its end that Ross is poised to bust into national consciousness in 2010, just as fellow southpaws Holland (2008) and Perez (2009) have done the past two seasons.
6. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Low A Hickory (6)
Like Kiker, Wieland has struggled of late (7.85 ERA over his last five appearances), but he maintains a standout rate of 46 strikeouts to 17 walks in his 58.1 innings and has a quality 1.48 groundout-to-flyout rate.
7. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Double-A Frisco (7)
Though his strikeout numbers remain alarmingly low (24 in 67.1 innings), Beavan has been effective for a month, posting a 3.03 ERA in his last five starts. The big right-hander's Double-A ERA was 6.48 in June and 4.10 in July, and it's 3.38 thus far in August.
8. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (9)
Ramirez is back in action, having caught on Monday and Tuesday in what amounts to a rehab stint with the rookie-level Arizona League. In eight trips to the plate, he has one hit (a double) and four strikeouts. Still, he should be back in Triple-A soon.
9. MITCH MORELAND, OF, Double-A Frisco (10)
Moreland has had a terrific month for the RoughRiders, hitting .362/.400/.596 in 47 at-bats, and he's improved an already stingy strikeout rate, going down on strikes only six times in the month. The left-handed hitter finally has enough at-bats to qualify among the Texas League leaders, and he sits in the top 10 in the circuit in hitting (.323), slugging (.488), and OPS (.860).
10. GUILLERMO MOSCOSO, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (12)
Moscoso's brilliant run as a Triple-A starter continues. In eight starts, his only two not to qualify as quality starts were a five-inning scoreless effort late in June and seven-inning, four-run performance late in July. It's unclear whether the wiry right-hander, 4-3, 1.89 as a RedHawk, profiles as a starter or reliever in the big leagues, but he's making a statement in 2009 that he intends to factor in one way or another next year.
11. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, High A Bakersfield (11)
Nothing new to report. Main is expected to work in the Rangers' fall instructional league program in September with an eye toward a healthier, more effective 2010.
12. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Low A Hickory (13)
After an ineffective mid-season run, Boscan has settled down, posting an ERA of 3.04 in his last seven appearances. In that stretch, he's allowed 29 hits (.271 opponents' average) and just three walks in 26.2 innings, striking out 19 South Atlantic League hitters. The 19-year-old continues to have first-inning troubles, posting a 5.63 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .300 in the opening frame.
13. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, High A Bakersfield (15)
It will be interesting, as Julio Borbon gets a chance to nail down the Rangers' leadoff job in 2010, to see whether the Rangers decide to approach Beltre's development differently. It's possible he could continue to bat first on the farm as the organization tries to instill a more disciplined approach in the toolsy outfielder, but if it appears that the leadoff question in Arlington has been answered, it wouldn't be shocking to see Texas try something different with Beltre, whose power potential is unquestioned but has been nearly as slow to develop as his on-base results. Don't forget, however, that Beltre is one of the two youngest players in the California League. There's plenty of time.
14. MICHAEL KIRKMAN, LHP, Double-A Frisco (16)
I was in the stands on Saturday when Kirkman two-hit San Antonio -- a team that's seen him four times already - and while he touched 94 early before settling down in a 91-93 range, his command was inconsistent. Still, he held the Missions to one run over six innings, and has a 2.39 ERA over his last three starts. This is his Rule 5 year, and he's making a case for 40-man roster consideration.
15. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Dounle-A Frisco (14)
Poveda's effectiveness has swung wildly from month to month. After a 4.00 ERA in April, the Frisco right-hander posted a 2.62 ERA in May. He followed with an 8.44 ERA in June before putting up a 3.43 mark in July, but in his two August starts he's allowed 13 runs on 14 hits and six walks in 5.1 innings, amounting to an unsightly 21.94 ERA. His off-season roster spot should not be in jeopardy, but the Rangers will look for more consistency out of the Venezuelan in 2010.
16. PEDRO STROP, RHP, Double-A Frisco (UR)
The 24-year-old shortstop-turned-pitcher has gotten markedly better as the season has progressed. Stolen by Texas in September when the Rockies tried to sneak him off their 40-man roster and re-sign him to a minor league deal, Strop started the 2009 season posting a 10.61 ERA in eight Triple-A appearances before the Rangers dropped him to the Texas League. His Frisco ERA in May was 9.52. In June, it was 5.02. In July, it was 3.14. Thus far in August, Strop has fired eight scoreless innings for the RoughRiders, scattering two singles and two walks while striking out a pair. All told, he's allowed only one AA home run in 48 innings, inducing 1.42 as many groundouts as flyouts with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s.
17. MIGUEL DE LOS SANTOS, LHP, Dominican Summer League (17)
The 21-year-old has pitched in 20 DSL games. He's allowed runs in three of them. In 30 innings, De Los Santos has permitted four earned runs (1.20 ERA) on three singles, two doubles, and 20 walks while punching out a silly 67 hitters.
18. JOHNNY WHITTLEMAN, 3B, AA Frisco (18)
Whittleman earned the Rangers' Minor League Player of the Month Award for July, hitting .293/.421/.620 with eight home runs in 92 at-bats -- oddly, the only eight homers the 22-year-old has in 349 at-bats this season. Though he sits at just .235/.363/.385 for the year, he's once again among the walk leaders in the minor leagues, with 72 thus far in 2009.
19. CHAD TRACY, 1B, AA Frisco (UR)
Tracy has become somewhat of an overlooked prospect since Texas chose him in the third round in 2006, but his bat has taken a step forward in 2009. Primarily a catcher in 2006 and an outfielder in 2007, the 24-year-old began to see time at first base when he was promoted last summer from Bakersfield to Frisco. Tracy began this season in left field for the RoughRiders but has moved back to first base since Smoak's promotion to AAA, and for whatever reason, he's been dramatically more productive offensively as a first baseman (.286/.340/.485) than as an outfielder (.198/.240/.341). After hitting 14 and 17 home runs in his two full seasons, the son of Colorado manager Jim Tracy has already gone deep 19 times this year.
20. JURICKSON PROFAR, SS, Unassigned (20)
It's about time for me to make my fall instructional league reservations.
Off the list this week: Julio Borbon (majors), Braden Tullis
Ten pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Fabio Castillo, Edwin Escobar, Kennil Gomez, Beau Jones, A.J. Murray, Yoon-Hee Nam, Matt Nevarez, Carlos Pimentel, Corey Young
Ten hitters to watch: Mike Bianucci, Joey Butler, Leury Garcia, Craig Gentry, Greg Golson, MAURO GOMEZ, Tommy Mendonca, Erik Morrison, David Paisano, Miguel Velazquez
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.