Name: Craig Gentry
DOB: November 29, 1983
Acquired: 2006 Amateur Draft, 10th round
Craig Gentry was always regarded as a talented, toolsy player during his career at the University of Arkansas, but he went undrafted after undergoing Tommy John surgery following the 2005 season.
After his '06 campaign–in which Gentry batted .326 for the Razorbacks–the Texas Rangers took a shot on the centerfielder, selecting him in the 10th round.
Gentry has been known for his excellent defensive skills from the get-go with short-season Spokane that summer, and he has always been one of the better outfield defenders in the system.
His speed and raw offensive skills made him an ideal top-of-the-order talent, except for one thing–he lacked the patience and on-base skills of a leadoff hitter.
Gentry's breakout as a prospect didn't come until over a month into the 2009 season because of his lack of patience and on-base skills, but that emergence is discussed later in the story.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Gentry took himself off the prospect radar a bit with a dreadful offensive performance between Frisco and Oklahoma City in 2008. Although he wasn't 100 percent healthy, Gentry's final .264 batting average, 22 extra-base hits, 26 walks, and 73 strikeouts [.676 OPS] in 94 games didn't look pretty.
It appeared to be ‘same old, same old' after April 2009, when Gentry returned to Frisco, only to bat .200 in 20 games.
He began to break out in May, batting .315 with plenty of power. And then he was off to the races.
Over the last four months of the minor league season, Gentry was outstanding, batting .323 with 18 doubles, seven triples, eight homers, and 40 walks.
In the last three months, he had 37 walks versus 39 strikeouts. His previous career high in walks for a full season was 28.
Bottom line–as Gentry saw more pitches, he saw a higher number of hittable pitches that he could drive into the outfield. Gentry finished the year with career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Because the 26-year-old was a collegiate player that had spent three full seasons in professional ball, the Rangers needed to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft by placing him on the 40-man roster in the offseason.
Gentry didn't just earn a 40-man roster spot–he got to go to Texas as a surprise September call-up.
The outfielder played sparingly during his month with the club, appearing in 11 games and going 2-for-17 at the plate with a double and a run batted in. Even in his limited experience, Gentry was able to show off his strong defensive skills and plus arm, as he mostly worked as a defensive replacement.
Gentry is currently in Major League camp for the Rangers, and he is competing for a spot on the opening day 25-man roster.
Also See: Top Prospects, Top Tools (February 11, 2010)
Seven teams, seven sleepers (November 13, 2009)
Sizing up the outfield prospects (October 1, 2009)
Gentry receives surprise call-up (September 1, 2009)
Batting and Power: When the Rangers drafted the Arkansas product in 2006, he was regarded as a hitter with top-of-the-order tools but not top-of-the-order performance. Through his first three years in professional baseball, Gentry showed the burning speed and solid base running, but–even though he could always put the bat on the ball–he was too often overaggressive at the plate, not letting himself see driveable pitches.
That changed in '09, with Gentry becoming a more patient hitter and working deeper into counts. His walk rate not only skyrocketed, but suddenly the prospect was able to see better pitches, allowing his underrated raw power to show up in games. On the whole, Gentry has a decent hit tool with decent raw power. He'll need to prove the plate discipline wasn't just a one-year wonder. Even if Gentry can do so, he may never hit enough to be an every day outfielder, but his bat should at least be solid off any Major League bench.
Base Running and Speed: With excellent base running skills and plus speed, all Gentry needed was healthy legs to become the organization's most successful base stealer. In '08, while nursing an injury, Gentry swiped just 17 bags in 25 attempts between Double-A and Triple-A. In '09, fully healthy, he got 49 in 56 tries. During his four professional seasons, Gentry has become better at reading pitchers and knowing when to run with each year.
Defense: Gentry is perhaps the best defensive outfielder in the Rangers' system because of his plus skill-set across the board. In addition to his plus arm strength, Gentry knows his arm very well, often making dead-accurate throws and hitting the cutoff man with consistency. Gentry is also able to track down fly balls in both gaps because of his excellent instincts, good first step, direct routes, and plus speed. He has spent most of his professional career in centerfield–where he skills play well as the leader of the outfield–but his arm also gives him versatility, allowing him to profile as a plus defender in both corner spots if needed.
Projection: While he likely doesn't profile as an every day player in the Majors, Gentry's skills make him an asset off the bench to any big league team. He has the ability to play plus defense with plus speed and base running skills. The 26-year-old's bat may be a bit underrated as well, especially if he continues showing solid plate discipline. He controls the bat well and has some raw pop that is beginning to show up in games. Gentry's skillset compares a bit to former Rangers farmhand Greg Golson–although his athleticism, speed, and arm aren't quite as good, but he has a superior bat.
2010 Outlook: Gentry is currently in Major League camp, and he has a chance to crack the big league opening day roster out of Spring Training–although it doesn't appear likely. The Rangers' current outfield depth means he is most likely ticketed for Triple-A Oklahoma City when the season begins, but that's not such a bad thing considering he didn't get any Triple-A experience last summer. Gentry spent some time as a reserve outfielder with the RedHawks in '08, before his breakout. Regardless of whether he opens the year with the Rangers, Gentry will almost certainly log some Major League time in 2010.
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