Teenage Dreams

**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 7/19/12**

No other sport has a farm or minor league system quite like baseball does. For every one of the 30 MLB teams, there is a Triple-A team, Double-A team, High-A team, Low-A team, Short Season team, and at least two Rookie teams (some have three Rookie teams). That is a minimum of seven minor league teams to go along with the MLB team, each one of them loaded with players trying to make their dreams come true of playing in the major leagues one day. Some of those will make it, but most won’t. Some are truly considered prospects, while some are just organization players filling a roster spot, who are still incredible baseball players compared to the rest of us, but are still probably not going to make it to the bigs. 
Prospect watching is fun. When you watch a prospect play, or look at the stats he compiles, you can begin to envision what his career could one day look like. Oftentimes, what’s discussed with a prospect is his ceiling, or the highest peak his career may climb to. That ceiling then becomes a foregone conclusion in the mind, as the brain grabs hold of that mirage and creates a projection, and that projection then is considered to be reality. The brain can be tricky in that regard, for when it comes to prospects reaching their ceilings, there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion. Still, the illusion of grandeur for a prospect can be too intoxicating to withstand.

The Rangers have packed their minor league system with young and extremely talented ballplayers that are easy to dream on, and that is by no accident. In both the U.S. amateur draft and the international market, Texas has targeted high ceiling, all-or-nothing type players that are toolboxes filled with all of the raw tools, but are still in their teens and several years away from becoming big leaguers. Due to the big-league success of uber-prospects like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, being 20 years old as a prospect sounds old now (“you’re 20! You went to your high school prom a year ago! Why aren’t you making something of yourself in the majors?”), but rest assured, that is still very young. The Rangers are looking to these teenagers to shape the future of the franchise, in one way or another. They are all still very young, very raw, and have a long way to go, but they are exactly the kinds of players that the Rangers are wanting to groom, and are the most fun to dream on.

Joey Gallo, 18, 3B – Gallo is currently destroying the Arizona Rookie League in his first 20 professional baseball games. After being selected with the 39th overall pick by the Rangers in the 2012 draft, and receiving the largest signing bonus of any Ranger in this year’s draft, Gallo has been beyond impressive. Through 20 games, he had 10 home runs, 24 walks, and a .349/.528/.952 slash line. None of that means much at this point, but it’s a testament to the advanced approach to the plate and the near elite raw power that was reported on Gallo.

Nomar Mazara, 17, RF – The Rangers signed Mazara to the a record-breaking international amateur bonus of $4.95 million in 2011. Mazara profiles as a prototype corner outfielder with huge raw power and an above-average arm. Standing 6’4”, 195-lb. as a 17-year old, Mazara’s body has plenty of time to mature and progress from long and lanky to MLB-ready.

Jairo Beras, 17, RF – The most hotly-debated signing of 2012 is now a Texas Ranger. While the 17-year old won’t be able to participate in game action with the Rangers until July 2013, the Rangers feel they can be creative with his development so that doesn’t slow him down. Beras was signed for $4.5 million, the 2nd-largest international amateur bonus ever paid, and likely the largest bonus we will see paid to an international amateur for some time to come. According to Don Welke, Beras’ raw power may exceed that of Mazara’s, and Mazara’s was given the label of the best in the international market in 2011. Beras was the best international prospect in 2012, and might have been a top-10 draft pick if he had been in the U.S. amateur draft.

Ronald Guzman, 17, 1B/OF – Signed for $3.5 million in the same international draft class as Mazara, so far in his professional career Guzman has earned higher critical praise than Mazara. His approach is advanced, his body and power project to be well above-average, and perhaps most importantly his makeup and work ethic are unmatched.

Jorge Alfaro, 19, C – Though he has perhaps taken a bit of a step backwards in 2012 as a prospect, Alfaro is still a very toolsy shortstop-turned-catcher with the possibility for plus power and plus speed for his position. He still has work to do when it comes to learning a solid hitting approach and how to be a good receiver at catcher, but the raw talent is there.

Rougned Odor, 18, SS – More than just an awesome name, Odor has been overshadowed as a prospect by the greatness of Jurickson Profar. Yet, here is what Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus had to say on Odor: “His overall feel and comfort in the game is outstanding, and his work ethic as it pertains to baseball can’t be questioned. His hit tool will allow him to hit for average, his approach will put him in favorable hitting conditions and allow for secondary on-base ability, his strength and bat speed will generate some pop, his speed and quickness will add another element to his game, and he will make all the necessary plays at 2B. That’s one hell of a prospect, and in the end, one hell of a major leaguer.”

Lewis Brinson, 18, CF – The Rangers 1st pick in the 2012 draft is perhaps the furthest from being a finished product on this list. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote this about Brinson: “…arguably has the highest ceiling of any high school position player in the draft, but there is fatty tuna in the finest sushi restaurants that isn’t as raw.” Brinson is long, lanky, and toolsy. It will be up to the Rangers development system, and ultimately up to Brinson to achieve the kind of ceiling that his tools afford him.

There isn’t a name on this list that will contribute in the major leagues prior to 2015. Each of these teenagers are still very, very far away. Anything could happen between now and the time they should be ready to contribute at the big league level. A major factor in whether or not they ever get that opportunity will be how they respond to the development system and process. Each one of these players has the raw talent and tools to make it, but the reality is that there may be only one or two that actually fulfill their potential. Even if that is the case, it will still be worth it to the Rangers to have made the investment in each of these prospects. For now, they are nothing more than teenagers to dream on and envision in Rangers home whites. Until that picture is no longer clear, it is an illusion worth holding on to.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom uttered by Don Welke at the Baseball Prospectus event at the Rangers’ Ballpark in June: “I like all-or-nothing players, and think we should take all-or-nothing players at every chance we get. If even just two of them pan out, it’ll be worth it. We don’t need just bodies anymore, we need premium talent. We need high-level guys that can be stars, not just normal.” 

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM 
Peter Ellwood

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