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03/03/11 10:00 AM ET

Scheppers among elite of Rangers' farm system

Right-hander ascends to No. 2 among club's Top 10 prospects

The key objective for the Texas Rangers and 2009 draftee Tanner Scheppers was to keep his prized right arm and shoulder healthy in 2010.

Mission accomplished. A shoulder injury had forced Scheppers into the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and was the reason the Pirates chose not to sign him that summer. He pitched in independent league ball to prove he was healthy and re-entered. The Rangers felt confident enough in his arm to take him No. 44 overall, then nursed him along in his first full season. Now, it's time to see just what it is the Rangers have in the Fresno State product.

"I'm definitely blessed to be a part of the Texas Rangers organization," Scheppers said. "2010 was a great year. I stayed healthy. I think that was the most important thing. I learned a lot and got to work with a lot of great people. It really was a stepping stone to this next step."

The next step for Scheppers is to show what he can do pitching every five days. He came into his own as a starter in his junior season at Fresno State. Scheppers began the 2010 season pitching in relief in Double-A, quickly earning a promotion to Triple-A after 11 completely dominant innings.

He was in the 'pen at first in Oklahoma City, posting a 1.13 ERA over his first seven appearances. Then, as planned, Scheppers made several starts in order to stretch him out and allow him to work on his pitches. He did close out the Futures Game in Anaheim, just a stone's throw from where he grew up and finished the year, albeit not as successfully, back in a relief role. All along, though, the Rangers saw Scheppers as a starter, and he'll get the opportunity to do just that in 2011.

"They said for Year 1, they wanted to take it slow, to limit my pitch counts and innings," Scheppers said. "For them to give me the chance to start in Spring Training, I'm really happy that they're going to give me that shot. Hopefully, I'll prepare myself and be ready physically and mentally."

If all goes well, Scheppers will likely be a part of the rotation for the Rangers' new Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock. A phone call away in an organization that values the concept of promoting from within, Scheppers is excited about making that final leap and helping the big league club that made it to the World Series in 2010 get back there this year, and in seasons to come.

"To be a part of that is just great," Scheppers said. "The team, they earned it, they worked their butts off all year long. To be able to be at that next step would be great."

Rangers' Top 10 Prospects

1. Martin Perez, LHP: As a teenager in Double-A, Perez had an uneven 2010 season, though scouts still love his stuff. The Johan Santana comparisons come from his size, background and plus changeup, and many still believe he'll live up to that billing. Refined command will help his three-pitch mix, giving him the ability to top a big league rotation in the future.

2. Scheppers, RHP: The big right-hander is getting the chance to start and he could see Texas at some point this season. It's a nice fall-back to have, knowing that his fastball can hit near triple-digits in a short-relief role and has the power breaking stuff to work well, should the Rangers decide ultimately that's the place for him.

3. Jurickson Profar, SS: Just 18, Profar is ready to hit the full-season South Atlantic League after performing well as one of the youngest players in the short-season Northwest League last year. He looks up to current Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and has some of the same skills, both in terms of defensive ability and makeup. He won't be pushing for Andrus' job soon, but the Rangers should have a nice problem on their hands in a few years.

4. Engel Beltre, OF: The 21-year-old is the epitome of the toolsy center fielder, with the potential to do everything well on the field. His defense in center is a plus, both in terms of range and arm. His outstanding speed helps him on both sides of the ball and he'll become a more dangerous runner as he learns the nuances of that part of the game. He should hit for average and at least some power as he continues to mature.

Rank Player ETA
1. Martin Perez 2012
2. Tanner Scheppers 2011
3. Jurickson Profar 2014
4. Engel Beltre 2013
5. Robbie Erlin 2013
6. Michael Kirkman 2011
7. Robbie Ross 2013
8. Mike Olt 2013
9. Jake Skole 2014
10. David Perez 2015
5. Robbie Erlin, LHP: While Erlin may not wow you with plus stuff or overwhelming size, he can flat-out pitch. He led the South Atlantic League in ERA last year as a teenager and walked just 17 all season. He mixes his fastball, curve and changeup very well and keeps hitters off-balance. He goes right after hitters, with his pitchability and competitiveness allowing his stuff to play up. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts as he moves up the ladder to face more advanced hitters.

6. Michael Kirkman, LHP: The 2005 draftee has come a long way, and '10 cemented his place on prospect lists. A starter in Triple-A, he was the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, then came up and pitched well out of the Rangers' bullpen to earn a spot on the postseason roster. He's back starting -- at least for now -- competing for a spot in the Rangers' rotation this spring, but the club knows he can be a major contributor as a reliever if he's needed in that role.

7. Robbie Ross, LHP: Like Erlin, Ross is an undersized lefty who had success in the South Atlantic League in 2010. The California League proved a bit trickier, and some see a future in the bullpen. He'll start for now, and he's got a better fastball than Erlin -- one with a ton of life. If he gets shortened up as a reliever, he could start to advance more quickly.

8. Mike Olt, 3B: Taken out of Connecticut in the sandwich round last June, Olt has the skills to fit the profile as a power-hitting corner infielder. A former shortstop, he's got the defensive tools to stay at third. He may not hit for a high average, but his power and his glove should move him up the ladder fairly quickly.

9. Jake Skole, OF: A two-sport standout in high school, Skole walked away from playing with his brother at Georgia Tech (and playing football) when the Rangers took him No. 15 overall in last year's Draft. He played well in his brief summer debut and showed a bit more polish than anticipated for a two-sport guy who missed most of the spring with an ankle injury. Next stop is full-season ball, and with only one sport to focus on, his ceiling is pretty high.

10. David Perez, RHP: The Rangers have done excellent work in finding young talent in Latin America, and Perez looks to be the next intriguing prospect to come from that effort. The 6-foot-5 right-hander hasn't pitched yet in the United States, but he'll bring his three-pitch mix and a better-than-you'd-think feel for pitching to a Minor League park near you in 2011.

Under the Radar

Matt Thompson, RHP: A seventh-round Draft pick in 2008, the right-hander made his full-season debut last year. While he allowed 167 hits and finished with a 4.66 ERA over 129 1/3 innings, he also had struck out nine per nine innings and posted a 5.65 K/BB ratio. His curve is his best pitch, but he'll have to show he can handle the rigors of a full season. Thompson's performance suffered as the year wore on in 2010. He'll get the chance to show he's up to the task with the Rangers' new Carolina League affiliate in Myrtle Beach.

Christian Villanueva, 3B: He won't turn 20 until June -- and perhaps he gets overshadowed by the young shortstops in the system -- but Villanueva made a very strong first impression during his U.S. debut last summer. An excellent defender at third, he also hit .314 with a.365 on-base percentage and.413 slugging percentage in the rookie-level Arizona League. The next step could be short-season Spokane.


Hitter of the Year -- Beltre
He'll figure out the Texas League and earn a promotion to Triple-A, continuing to turn his raw tools into performance. He'll hit over .300, have better success on the basepaths and even see some of that power develop.

Pitcher of the Year -- Erlin, LHP
Had he been moving up to the California League, it might have been a bit more difficult, but Myrtle Beach will be a great place for him to pitch -- though he may not spend the whole year there. Look for him to pocket his second straight organizational award while topping the system in ERA for a second consecutive campaign.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMay oB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.