A player-development system can help the major-league club in several ways. For the Rangers in the last two years, prospects brought in needed talent at the major-league level.
Since July 2015, the Rangers have acquired starter Cole Hamels, relievers Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson and Jeremy Jeffress, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and since-departed designated hitter Carlos Beltran through trades. In those deals, the Rangers gave up 13 minor-league prospects, including eight pitchers.
That has thinned out the supply of talent in the system, particularly at the upper levels. The Rangers recognized that and took what general manager Jon Daniels called a “concerted effort” to protect the system. They refused to sacrifice their first-round draft choice for a free-agent signing. They stayed away from deals that would have cost them more young players.
“We need to develop our young players,” Daniels said. “We have done that and have a lot of guys in the big leagues. … We have a good young pitching nucleus at the lower levels. We’ve got to establish that foundation and get those guys going.”
With that in mind, a look at the top 10 prospects in the organization. About 20 players merited consideration. The lone stipulation is the player cannot have more than 50 days of major-league service time. That rules out slugging infielder Joey Gallo, who has 103 days of major-league service time while appearing with the major-league club in each of the last two seasons. Gallo has moved into the hazy world between prospect and big-leaguer.
1. LHP Yohander Mendez
Opening day age: 22
Last year’s stats: 12-3, 2.19 ERA, 111 innings pitched, 113 strikeouts, 41 walks in minor leagues
Hometown: Valencia, Venezuela
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent in 2011
Notable: The Rangers loosened the restrictions on Mendez last season after handling him with care during his first four years in the organization. He pitched at four levels, reaching the majors in September, and had a career-high 114 innings.
Mendez has an average to solid combination of fastball, slider and changeup with good command. He is effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. In the minors last season, Mendez held right-handed hitters to a .213 average for 253 at-bats. Left-handed hitters hit .167 for 108 at-bats.
Mendez is seen as a middle-of-the-rotation type, with a possibility of going higher. He needs more innings to add to his development.
By Gerry Fraley