The Rangers weren't afraid to buck the consensus in the 2020 Draft, selecting each of their five picks higher than the majority of clubs would have. Mississippi State second baseman Justin Foscue still would have gone in the first round if they hadn't taken him 14th overall, but high schoolers Evan Carter, Tekoah Roby, Dylan MacLean and Thomas Saggese raised more eyebrows.
Texas liked what it saw from those prep products when they got their first taste of pro ball during instructional league and continues to be enthused after watching them in Minor League Spring Training. Carter and Roby proved advanced enough to make their pro debuts at Low-A Down East next week, while MacLean and Saggese could join them early in the summer.
A center fielder who took a $1.25 million bonus in the second round to give up a commitment to Duke, Carter was one of the youngest (17 years, nine months at the time) and most projectable players in last year's Draft. He not only features a loose, left-handed swing with bat speed and leverage, but he also has a precocious understanding for the strike zone.
"We're really excited by Evan," Rangers assistant GM Mike Daly said. "He's got a very good eye at the plate. He's going to bat in the top three in the lineup and play center field in Down East. He's already emerging as one of the leaders of that group."
Roby, who signed for $775,000 in the third round, is a right-hander with the makings of three potential plus offerings. He worked at 93-94 mph and hit 96 with his fastball during instructional league, and he also owns a curveball with power and depth and a changeup with fade. Though he's just 6-foot-1, his long arms create extension and angle on his pitches that makes them tough to barrel.
"Tekoah has followed up on his instructional league look," Daly said. "The fastball, breaking ball and changeup are all there and he throws a lot of strikes. With his moxie and weapons, he's ready to handle Down East. He's able to slow the game down out there."
Best known for his pitchability and projectability as an amateur, MacLean signed for $1.2 million in the fourth round. The left-hander is starting to add some strength and velocity, and he has operated with a low-90s fastball in short stints this spring.
A throwback type who hits without batting gloves, Saggese stands out most for his ability to barrel balls to all fields. Signed for $800,000 in the fifth round, he's primarily a shortstop, but will also see action at second and third base this season.
After signing for $1.6 million as the 41st overall pick in the 2019 Draft, shortstop Davis Wendzel played just seven games in his pro debut because of a thumb injury. His polished bat and deceptive athleticism stood out at Texas' alternate training site and in instructional league last year, and again in Minor League camp this spring, so the Rangers have no qualms about having him make his full-season debut at Double-A Frisco.
"He's made some swing changes and he's a little more upright with a little more leg kick, a little bit more of a Justin Turner look," Daly said. "With the changes he made, he's unlocked some power and still has a good eye at the plate and the feel to get the barrel to the ball. We're fired up to see how this goes."
Right-hander Dane Acker, corner infielder Dustin Harris and outfielder Marcus Smith -- all acquired in recent trades with the Athletics -- are making good impressions with their new organization and will head to Down East. Acker, part of the prospect package in the Elvis Andrus/Khris Davis deal in February, throws strikes with a three-pitch mix. The players to be named in exchange for Mike Minor last August, Harris has a knack for hard contact and Smith offers intriguing speed and athleticism.
Alternate training site
After a strong summer with the U.S. collegiate national team, right-hander Jake Lemoine entered 2015 as a projected first-rounder, but a shoulder impingement limited him to just five starts as a Houston junior and dropped him to the fourth round. He wound up having rotator cuff surgery in 2016 and didn't make his pro debut until the following year.
Lemoine advanced to Triple-A at age 25 in 2019, but he logged a 9.82 ERA in 18 relief appearances there and didn't get an invite to Summer Camp, the alternate site or instructional league last year. Largely left on his own during the pandemic downtime, he has returned this year with an extra 4-5 mph on his pitches.
"He was an interesting guy with some pedigree, so we sent him to the alternate [training] site this year and he has opened up a lot of eyes," Daly said. "I wish I could say it's a great development story, but it's mostly him. He's throwing 96-98 mph sinkers with 17 inches of horizontal break and 89-90 mph sliders."
Prospects we’ll be talking about in 2022
Since the Rangers signed Chris Seise for $2 million as the 29th overall pick in the 2017 Draft, he has played in just 72 pro games. He missed all of 2018 after rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder and most of 2019 following labrum surgery on his left shoulder, then saw the 2020 season wiped out by the pandemic.
Fully healthy and ticketed for High-A Hickory, Seise is a potential 20-20 shortstop with the versatility to play all over the diamond if needed. After seeing his tools and ripped physique during instructional league last fall, Rangers players nicknamed him "The Animal."
"He just stares at weights and gets bigger," Daly said. "He's 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and super impressive. He has power with a sweet spot to right-center, feel to hit, he can run plus and he can make plays in the hole."