Minor League Mailbag: Part 2 of 3

Make no doubt about it: Holland is a top prospect

Lone Star Dugout brings you part two of our three-part minor league mailbag. In this feature, we answer your questions about the Rangers' minor league system. This feature is a free preview of premium content!

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Where do you see Derek Holland ranking towards the end of the year in the Rangers prospect top 20 list?

Jered in Grand Prairie


I'll preface this answer by saying that I've seen Holland once in spring training and twice in Clinton this season. It also looks like I'll be seeing him in San Jose this coming Thursday. Holland has been outstanding every time I've seen him.

Looking at it right now, I'd rate Holland seventh in the system if you include any player that began the year in the minors. I say that because I'm not sure which players will still be prospect-eligible after this season. But the only current minor leaguers he would be behind are Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus [the big leaguers ahead of him are Davis, Harrison, Hurley and Ramirez].

I think a lot of people have a tendency to discount Holland because he wasn't a high draft pick [though he signed for a fairly hefty bonus] and he wasn't on people's prospect radars until recently. But everything about him screams ‘top prospect' to me.

He's a 21-year-old lefty [turning 22 in October] with an outstanding fastball-change combination. His fastball is definitely a plus pitch – it sat in the 91-94 mph range when I saw him twice in Clinton. He's able to locate the pitch fairly well. Holland's slider also looked impressive to me, particularly since he was mostly a two-pitch guy [fastball, change] coming out of college. The Rangers made a mechanical change with the arm slot on his slider last year and it has been extremely beneficial for him.

Holland also has a bit of swagger and confidence on the mound. He certainly isn't afraid to go after hitters.

There is a chance he could move up or down the prospect list before my ‘official' top 50 comes out in November. I'll see him at least one more time in Bakersfield and I may see him at instructs as well. At this rate, I wouldn't rule out a late-season or playoff promotion to Frisco.

Personally, I think if every Rangers fan were able to see Derek Holland, they would share my feelings on him. The numbers are definitely no fluke. He's one of the system's top prospects.

When might we see the likes of Blake Beavan, Omar Poveda, Fabio Castillo and Kasey Kiker in AA?

Robert in Grafton, WV


I'm surprised Poveda isn't already there. Coming into this season, I was expecting him to be one of the breakout guys. I thought he would tear through Bakersfield and be in Frisco well before the Texas League All-Star break. Obviously that didn't happen.

Look for Poveda in Double-A -- next year.
Poveda's 6.24 ERA is obviously disappointing, but he's only made 10 starts this season. Because he has been in Bakersfield all year, I've yet to see him, but he is another guy I will likely catch this week. When I saw Poveda last year, his velocity was up into the 91-93 mph range with some consistency and his breaking ball had shown a lot of improvement. His strikeout rate this season [53 in 49 innings] probably suggests that is still the case, but I won't be sure until later in the week.

I'd be surprised if we saw Poveda get out of Bakersfield before the 2008 season ends. He has just 15 total starts in High-A [including five last season] and he missed nearly two months earlier in the year. He could use more time in Bakersfield. Of course, I'm also assuming he shows enough improvement before the end of the season to warrant the promotion to Frisco.

As for Kiker, I think the Rangers are going to take it easy on him for the remainder of the year. He had the shoulder fatigue issues right after last season, causing him to be behind schedule in spring training, and now he's on the DL with it again. I also think he opens next season in Frisco. Assuming his shoulder can stay healthy, I think he is a definite candidate for a breakout season in 2009.

I think Beavan gets to Double-A during the second half of 2009. This season has been proof that he knows how to pitch – even without his best stuff. He should finish this season in Clinton and open in Bakersfield next year. But I don't think he will spend the entire season in High-A.

Castillo will be the last to get there without a doubt, barring a major injury from one of the guys mentioned above. He's having a rough season and I'm honestly pretty down on him right now. All three of his pitches – fastball, slider, and changeup – are inconsistent. He is also having a very difficult time adjusting to the full season. Castillo has a 9.64 ERA with 17 walks in 23.1 innings since the beginning of June.

I caught his start on June 25 against Beloit. Castillo was sitting at 90 mph with his fastball, dipping to 87 and topping out at 94. But he has also sat in the mid-80s during some starts this season. There are a lot of guys in the system that I have strong opinions on – Castillo is certainly not one of him. At 19-years-old, he is obviously still very young, but this has just been a strange season for him. Castillo may need another two years before he reaches Double-A. He has the talent to figure it out in a hurry, but it's hard to see that happening right now.

I see Erik Morrison, a former University of Kansas 3B drafted in the 46th round, is showing decent numbers and has played RF for the Arizona team, along with 2B and DHing. It is early but his numbers are looking good compared to what he did at Kansas the last few years. How does he project out in this organization?

Curtis


Morrison is currently batting .318 with nine doubles and two homers in 17 games for the AZL Rangers. His .924 OPS is definitely impressive.

He has played eight games at third base, two at second, four in right field and three as a designated hitter.

I'm not able to say much about Morrison because I haven't seen him yet. I don't plan on getting out to the AZL until mid-August. Judging by his performance thus far, he could be in Spokane by the time I get there. But from looking at the numbers and versatility, it would appear that the Rangers are grooming him as sort of a Thomas Berkery-type utility player.

Berkery was the Rangers' 46th round pick in the 2005 Draft. He signed as a fifth-year senior draft-and-follow in 2006 when his Mississippi State club failed to reach the NCAA postseason. After playing with three affiliates in 2007, he has spent the entire season at Double-A Frisco this year, where he has played six different positions.

Going on my limited knowledge of Morrison, he seems to compare quite well to Berkery and could have a similar career path.

Neftali Feliz and Max Ramirez rocketed up prospect lists this year. Whom have you seen in A-ball this year that could see a similar increase in their prospect status in 2009?

David


I'll only look at Clinton here, since they're the only A-ball club I have seen so far this season.

From Clinton, Engel Beltre is the only guy that I think has the potential to make a Feliz or Ramirez-like leap up the prospect charts next season.

Most people, including myself, have been conservative in ranking him because he is very raw, despite the outstanding tools. But Beltre is currently putting together a big second half and if he breaks out next season, he could easily land himself atop everyone's Rangers prospect lists.

Even though I don't think it's going to be an overnight thing for him, Cristian Santana should creep up the prospect lists over the next couple of years. I see him as more of a guy that makes steady improvement, but he has the talent to peak as a top five guy in the system.

Alfonzo has a .989 OPS in July.
On a smaller scale, Mitch Moreland and Miguel Alfonzo have a chance to make significant jumps in 2009.

The Rangers have worked hard with Moreland on his swing and it is paying off. With that said, he's still a 22-year-old college hitter in Low-A ball. Big time college hitters should be expected to perform well in the Midwest League. As Mike Boulanger told me last year, he felt it would take some time for Moreland's raw power [which is very good] to return because they were working on his swing. He is in the middle of a big second half and the power numbers have been rising. I think Moreland is a legitimate prospect and he should steadily move up the rankings as he climbs the organizational ladder.

Alfonzo is another guy that could move up the rankings after the 2009 season. His statistics this season are not an indicator of his offensive potential. Alfonzo's raw hitting ability and power have begun to show up in July and I think he's a guy that could break out as a legitimate prospect next season. For now, he's one to keep an eye on.

With the recent tears that Mitch Moreland, Jonathan Greene and Renny Osuna have been on, are they establishing themselves as legitimate players to watch in the system?

Kevin in Carrollton


I think so. I already touched on Moreland above and I covered Renny Osuna in the last mailbag (which can be seen here), so I'll use this time to expand on Moreland and discuss Greene.

In the past, Moreland struggled with his balance at the plate, often getting caught out on his front foot when he was fooled by a pitch. That is one issue the Rangers have worked to correct and he appeared to be doing a better job of staying back on the pitch in Clinton this year. It was still a problem, but it appeared to be a relatively small one. I'm a fan of his approach at the plate, especially for a guy with good power. I think we'll see his power numbers take off a bit once he gets to Bakersfield.

In the field, Moreland impressed me at first base. His footwork was solid and he seemed to be at least a slightly above-average defender there. Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to see him challenged out in right field. I can tell you that he pitched in college and reportedly hit 93 mph when he pitched on Sunday afternoon, so that gives you an idea of his arm.

As I mentioned above, I'm cautiously optimistic with Moreland. He is hitting well in Clinton, but he will have to be successful at the higher levels before he is considered among the system's top hitting prospects.

From what I've seen, Greene has one plus tool – power. At 6-foot-0, 200-pounds, he's not the most physically imposing player, but he can hit some monster shots. I saw him hit two home runs in Arizona [one at instructs, one in spring training] right down the left field line that landed at least 50 feet beyond the fence. The Midwest League is a difficult place for hitters and to hit 16 home runs in three-quarters of a season there is definitely no joke.

Greene will also wear a pitch more often than anyone in the system. Even though he's walked just 33 times in 90 games this season, his on-base percentage is nearly 120 points above his batting average. That's because Greene has been plunked 27 times this year. He doesn't back down from any pitch. If it's coming inside, he'll take one for the team without a problem.

The issues with Greene are obvious from looking at his statistics – consistency at the plate and finding a position. As he moves up the ladder, it's reasonable to expect that Greene won't be able to rely on HBPs quite as much to get on base. He'll need to make more consistent contact and raise the batting average.

Greene has spent most of his time at third base this season. He did play one game at first base, but that is only because Ian Gac's promotion left the L-Kings without a backup there.

After catching almost all of last season [and being drafted as a catcher], Greene hasn't spent a day behind the plate in Clinton. At third base, he currently has a .909 fielding percentage with 23 errors in 83 games. He has the arm to play the position, but he can still look a bit uncomfortable and stiff over there, as this is the first time he's been a full-time third baseman.

Greene certainly isn't without his flaws, but his raw power is among the best in the system. As we've seen with Ian Gac this year, it's always good to keep a close eye on the power bats.

Hey Jason, will we see Greene, Tracy, and Santana at catcher during the second half? Can you offer any insight into why they have been switched to other positions? Can Tracy and/or Greene become major league catchers? It would seem that they are all much more valuable as catchers especially now since our top catchers are all above AA now (and some of those are surely to be traded) leaving the lower levels less crowded.

Greg


Santana probably isn't done behind the plate.
The Rangers have been a bit quiet on the Cristian Santana front. I haven't been able to get much of an answer as to whether or not the move to the outfield is a long-term deal or if it's just to protect his often-ailing shoulder for the time being. I tend to believe he isn't completely done behind the plate.

Remember, Santana – not Pina – is the guy who got the "Pudgito" moniker when he signed with the Rangers in 2005. But he missed all of 2006 because of shoulder surgery and struggled behind the plate last summer, throwing out just seven of 50 attempted base stealers between the AZL and Spokane. Still, I can't see the Rangers giving up on him as a catcher this soon. I think their primary focus is just keeping him healthy right now.

Greene told me in an interview last month that he didn't expect to move back behind the plate. That's all the info I have there. I can't really comment on his defensive abilities as a catcher because I didn't see him in Spokane last summer.

I am surprised that Tracy isn't catching more often. I was in spring training for parts of two weeks this year and Tracy was catching every time I saw him. I figured this meant he was moving back behind the plate, but he has caught just seven times this year. It's definitely something that I plan on talking to Tracy about this week.

How would you rank the Rangers' four young left-handers (Harrison, Kiker, Holland, and Perez) and why?

David


Harrison, Holland, Kiker, Perez.

I am very high on Harrison. I think his stuff is better than he gets credit for, although there are some command issues that still need to be ironed out. I'm not sure that his upside is as high as Holland's, but I am confident that he can be a dependable mid-rotation starting pitcher in the Majors. When he was called up a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a detailed scouting report on Harrison that can be found here.

I think Holland currently has the highest upside of the bunch mentioned. I also expect him to move through the system rather quickly. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him in Arlington by the end of the 2009 season.

Aside from the shoulder concerns, I have actually been pleased with Kasey Kiker's season statistically. He has continued to cut down on the walks. I am very disappointed that it looks like I'll be missing Kiker this week. When I saw him in Clinton last year, his velocity was more in the 89-92 mph range [much like with Blake Beavan this season], but reports on his velocity this season have generally been positive. I will say that I often don't trust amateur and minor league velocity reports unless I see it with my own eyes, which is part of the reason why I'm so disappointed that I will [probably] not see Kiker pitch.

Martin Perez is fourth largely because he is so far away from the Majors. The most impressive aspect of his two appearances at instructs last year was that he seemed to belong, despite being just 16-years-old at the time. Now he seems to belong in the Northwest League as a 17-year-old. He isn't a guy that will light up the radar gun [though he does figure to add some more velocity] but I was impressed with his poise and ability to command his curveball and changeup at such a young age. I expect him to shoot up the lists over the next couple of seasons, especially as I get to see more of him.

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