Seven teams, seven sleepers

De Los Santos tops out in the mid-90s

The Texas Rangers have seven minor league teams from the Dominican Summer League all the way up to Triple-A. Each team has its fair share of top prospects, but each team also has some 'sleeper' prospects that have the talent to reach elite status. Lone Star Dugout takes an in-depth look at seven of those players.

Triple-A Oklahoma City: Guillermo Moscoso, RHP

Admittedly, there weren't many sleeper candidates on the Oklahoma City roster this season. It seems that every player was either a bona fide top prospect, had prior Major League experience, or is now a minor league free agent. Still, in a loaded system, Moscoso probably doesn't get the respect he deserves.

The 25-year-old [Moscoso turns 26 on Saturday, November 14] performed extremely well in the Rangers' system this year. After a slow start, he got back on the right track at Double-A Frisco before earning a promotion to OKC, where he posted an outstanding 2.31 earned-run average in 70 innings. Moscoso was tough to hit [.218 BAA], he threw strikes [15 walks] and he missed some bats [60 strikeouts]. He also pitched well in his first Major League action–which was mostly mop-up duty–surrendering five earned runs in 14 innings of work.

Although Moscoso was a starting pitcher in the minors for most of the season, he said that he still believes the Rangers view him as a reliever in the Majors, although that could change if he continues to pitch as well as he did in Triple-A this season. When he started in the minors this year, Moscoso threw a 91-93 mph fastball [topping out at 94 a few times per start] with excellent late life. In fact, Moscoso may have the most natural fastball movement of any righty in the Rangers' system.

The former Tigers prospect continued to make strides with his offspeed stuff in 2009, turning his breaking ball into an average pitch that can get swings and misses at the Major League level. He did a good job of commanding the upper-70s curveball, as he was able to both throw it for strikes and bury it in the dirt when needed. In an effort to keep him healthy, the Rangers had the Venezuela native scrap his splitter for a straight changeup, and the change became a usable pitch.

Moscoso is currently working out of the bullpen for the Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League, and the results thus far have been excellent. Assuming Moscoso continues relieving in the Majors, he has an opportunity to win a bullpen job out of Spring Training. The Rangers figure to have some holes to fill, and Moscoso has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.

Gentry got his big league debut in 2009.
Double-A Frisco: Craig Gentry, OF

Gentry spent most of the season flying under the radar as a sleeper, but he finally opened eyes when the Rangers added him to the 40-man roster and promoted him to the big leagues in September. While he struggled at the plate in very limited action with the Rangers [2-for-17 with one double and two walks], Gentry showed off the excellent speed and defensive skills that make him a valuable asset to a Major League club.

Entering the 2009 season, Gentry's plus speed and plus defensive skills were well known. A nagging hamstring issue limited him to just 25 stolen base attempts [17/25] in 2008, but a fully healthy Gentry led the Texas League with 49 steals in 55 tries this past season.

The health seemed to benefit Gentry at the plate, as well, but it was an adjustment to his approach that allowed him to have the breakout season. In the past, Gentry was regarded as a guy with top-of-the-order skills without the patience. But Gentry allowed himself to see more pitches in 2009, and he put himself into more hitter-friendly counts. The result was a .303 batting average, more walks, fewer strikeouts [almost one walk per strikeout once he made the adjustment], and it allowed his decent raw power to show up. The University of Arkansas product belted 21 doubles, seven triples, and eight home runs with the RoughRiders.

The most impressive facet of Gentry's game is, without a doubt, his defense. From the Majors to the Dominican Summer League, Gentry is likely the organization's best defensive centerfielder. He gets good reads on balls, and his excellent speed allows him to cover plenty of ground. Many of Frisco's pitchers often raved about the runs Gentry saved with his hustle in each of the last two seasons. The 25-year-old also possesses a plus arm for any outfield spot, which allows him to play all three outfield positions, giving him valuable versatility since he likely profiles as a quality reserve outfielder at the next level.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder would have been eligible for December's Rule 5 Draft, but as long as he remains on the Rangers' 40-man roster he'll obviously be under the club's control. Gentry may not hit enough to be an everyday outfielder in the bigs, but his excellent speed and defensive abilities should allow him to carve out a solid career.

High-A Bakersfield: Joey Butler, OF

The former University of New Orleans standout has the tools to become one of the system's top outfield prospects, but consistency is his primary issue. Playing with High-A Bakersfield, Butler had a solid first full season that included a .280 batting average, 33 doubles, and 12 home runs, but it was filled with peaks and valleys.

Over the course of the season, Butler went through many stretches where it seemed that he was getting two hits on a nightly basis. However, he had just as many slumps where the hits didn't come and the strikeouts seemed to pile up [leading to 146 punchouts in 134 games]. On the bright side, the 23-year-old did exactly what a young player should do–he improved as the season went on, batting an even .300 with increased power in the second half.

When he's on, Butler has excellent gap-to-gap power, and he'll knock his share of balls over the fence. At his ceiling, he has the potential to hit 30-40 doubles with 15-20 home runs. Butler appeared slightly more patient and, like Gentry, got himself into more hitter's counts during his periods of success. Defensively, Butler's skills are somewhere between average and slightly above-average. He has solid arm strength, but there is room for improvement accuracy-wise. Butler is likely destined for a corner spot, whether it be in left or right field. He played some center with the Blaze in '09, but the vast majority of his time came in right.

Single-A Hickory: Leury Garcia, SS

Garcia has an extremely strong arm.
By the numbers, Garcia wasn't very impressive in 2009. He batted just .232 while committing 42 errors in 83 games for Single-A Hickory. But it's the raw tools that make Garcia stand out as one of the system's top middle infield prospects.

The switch-hitter made drastic improvements from his debut campaign in 2008, when he hit .209 in 129 at-bats with the rookie-level AZL Rangers. Garcia impressed at instructs later that fall, finishing second to Justin Smoak in the hitters' points system. Bakersfield hitting coach Jason Wood–who worked as a coach in this year's Advanced Instructional League–raved about the 18-year-old's performance against much older competition in the recently completed advanced league.

The primary question about Garcia's game is whether or not his bat will play at the upper levels. While he made big strides this past summer, he still has a long way to go offensively. At 5-foot-7, Garcia has a small frame and he likely won't hit for much power, but his outstanding speed will allow him to push singles into doubles and doubles into triples.

Despite the alarming error total with the Crawdads, Garcia is a standout in the field. Even though the Dominican Republic native clearly struggles with the routine play [such as getting his body in front of ground balls], it's not uncommon to see him range to the other side of the second base bag to make a play. Garcia has plus range and an absolute cannon for an arm.

Rangers officials have been excited about Garcia's skills since they signed him, and that's part of why he was sent to the Single-A South Atlantic League as an 18-year-old in his first full season. Garcia may very well be back in Hickory in 2010, but at his young age, he still has plenty of time to develop his exceptional skills.

Short-season Spokane: Braden Tullis, RHP

The Rangers' eighth-round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft may not be a high-profile arm like supplemental selection Tanner Scheppers, but he has the pitchability and stuff to move quickly through the system.

The Boise native turned heads as a freshman at Skagit Valley College this past year, where he went 9-2 with a 1.56 ERA in 75 innings pitched. After the Rangers selected Tullis in the eighth round, they were able to sign him for a very reasonable $90,000 bonus.

Tullis impressed immediately upon joining the Rangers organization. While playing for short-season Spokane, the 19-year-old worked out of the rotation and posted a 3.04 ERA in 68 innings. Over that span, he yielded 68 hits while walking 20 and striking out 64. Though the overall numbers were solid, perhaps the most impressive number was the one home run allowed all summer.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound prospect was able to keep the ball in the park and get 2.61 groundouts per flyout through his 88-91 mph sinker, which he commanded extremely well in his debut season. Tullis' fastball may not be overpowering, but he's still relatively new to pitching and he could add a few miles per hour as he develops. The right-hander's bread-and-butter is his excellent changeup, which should become a plus pitch. His slider also showed improvement during his time with the Indians, and it should at least be an average pitch with time.

Sierra is still raw, but he is already improving.
Rookie Level Arizona Rangers: Ruben Sierra, OF

To put it simply, Sierra had a dreadful debut season, batting just .202 with 47 strikeouts in 109 at-bats for the rookie-level AZL Rangers. But the Rangers like his potential–enough to give him a $125,000 signing bonus as a sixth-round pick–and he is already beginning to show drastic improvement in just a short period of time.

Sierra's struggles this past summer came as little surprise. At the time the Rangers drafted him, he was regarded as a player with elite skills but little polish. A number of reports leading up to the draft [including from Baseball America] alluded to his struggles against live pitching and 90-plus mph fastballs. That was certainly evident while Sierra was in the AZL.

However, approximately three-quarters of the way through the Arizona League season, Sierra's father [former Rangers great Ruben Sierra, Sr.] visited Surprise and helped his son, giving his son some of dad's swing mechanics, including the high-sitting bat and front leg kick. The 18-year-old showed improvement in the season's last few weeks, as he made harder and more consistent contact.

At the recent Fall Instructional League, the Rangers refined Sierra's mechanics a bit more, toning down his leg kick just a bit. As instructs progressed, Sierra's timing improved and he began making solid contact to all fields. By the end of camp, the Puerto Rico native ranked among the leading hitters in the points system, which rewards things such as base hits and smart situational hitting.

At 6-foot-2, 172-pounds, the speedy Sierra has an ideal body frame that should fill out over the coming years. While Sierra clearly has a long way to go as a hitter, he has some raw power. In the outfield, the left-hander is raw with his reads and jumps, but his plus speed allows him to cover plenty of ground, and his plus arm makes him a good fit for center. Sierra must mature and improve defensively, but he has the natural skills to play all three outfield positions.

Dominican Summer League Rangers: Miguel De Los Santos, LHP

De Los Santos may be a strange call as a sleeper pick, but he's also had a strange career. The left-hander signed with the Rangers in February 2006, and he shined with the Dominican Summer League club later that summer, surrendering just 16 hits while striking out 48 in 34 innings pitched. The following season, after just three starts for the AZL Rangers, De Los Santos was shut down and underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. He returned to action with the AZL club in 2008, and he continued to miss bats, getting 54 punchouts in just 34.2 innings.

Just prior to the 2009 campaign, De Los Santos got held up in yet another MLB investigation along with Johan Yan, Cristian Santana, and a few others. While Yan and Santana were allowed to return to the U.S. before the end of Spring Training, De Los Santos spent the entire year in the Dominican Republic even after being cleared. To make a long story short, De Los Santos' age or name didn't change–he just wasn't able to get his visa before the end of the season. According to DSL Rangers manager Jayce Tingler, he should be cleared to return to the States for the 2010 season.

And that's a good thing, because De Los Santos' already above-average stuff took another big step forward in 2009. The hurler's velocity continued to improve after his surgery, as he sat in the low-90s and topped out at 94 and 95 mph on occasion. Although his fastball command must improve, De Los Santos has the raw stuff to be a top prospect. His sharp curveball has the potential to be one of the best in the system, and it's the swing-and-miss pitch that helped him rack up an incredible 70 strikeouts in 32 innings this summer in the DSL. He surrendered just eight hits all season. His bender was too much for the young catchers to handle at times, as he also uncorked 11 wild pitches. When the Dominican Republic native was with the AZL club in 2008, he flashed an advanced feel for a changeup as a starting pitcher.

If De Los Santos were still in the States, he probably wouldn't be a sleeper at this point. But since he was relegated to the Dominican Summer League as a 21-year-old this past summer, his production and improvement in stuff went largely unnoticed. Whether the Rangers like him as a starting pitcher or a back-end bullpen guy–assuming he gets back to the U.S. in 2010–he shouldn't be a sleeper after next season.

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