ARLINGTON -- MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 international prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them.
ARLINGTON -- MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 international prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.
The Rangers understand that as well as anybody. Some of the best players in franchise history came from Latin America. Here are the Rangers' all-time top five international prospects.
1) Juan Gonzalez
When Tom Grieve took over as Rangers general manager in 1984, he knew he had to rebuild the farm system. It was a mess. Grieve turned to Sandy Johnson, who was the Padres' scouting director.
Grieve gave Johnson total control over scouting and the farm system. The dual role was almost unprecedented in baseball, but the Rangers' system under Johnson became one of the best.
Latin America was Johnson’s specialty. While with the Padres, he was responsible for Sandy and Roberto Alomar, and Benito Santiago. Johnson’s motto was simple, “I am not going to get beat in Latin America.”
Gonzalez was the first big prize. He was 16 years old, tall and gangly but with athleticism and serious bat speed. Scout Luis Rosa signed him for $75,000 and then told a TV station he had just signed the top home run hitter who would ever come out of Latin America.
2) Ivan Rodriguez
Rosa and fellow scout Manny Bautista discovered Rodriguez in high school and brought him to a Rangers tryout camp in July 1988. Johnson was in attendance and put a radar gun on Rodriguez’s throwing arm. It showed 93 miles per hour.
Johnson wanted him, but Rosa was eager to sign infielder Luis Benitez and outfielder Pablo Delgado.
Johnson was adamant. He told Rosa that the Rangers weren’t going to sign anybody until the scout signed Rodriguez. Rosa complied. He also signed Delgado and Benitez, who weren’t very good, except ...
Rosa left the Rangers shortly afterward and went to work for the Cubs. Then, in December 1989, the Rangers were working on a blockbuster trade at the Winter Meetings. The deal involved the Cubs sending Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer and pitcher Drew Hall to Texas for infielder Curtis Wilkerson and pitchers Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus and Steve Wilson.
The deal was done until Cubs general manager Jim Frey decided he wanted a couple of young prospects to balance the deal. Top scout Hugh Alexander went to Grieve and Johnson to make the request.
They offered Delgado and Benitez.
“Are they any good?’ Alexander asked.
Said Johnson, “Go ask Luis Rosa.”
3) Ruben Mateo
Mateo was 21 when he made his Major League debut for the Rangers in 1999, and he was going to be the next big Latin star. Everybody felt that way.
At one point that summer, Rockies manager Jim Leyland took Rangers counterpart Johnny Oates aside during batting practice and asked what it would take to get Mateo. There were rumors the Rangers -- on their way to a division title -- would use Mateo to land Curt Schilling from the Phillies.
It didn’t happen. Mateo was the Rangers' future, especially after Gonzalez was traded to the Tigers that offseason. Mateo was Texas' Opening Day center fielder in 2000 and was on his way, hitting .291 with seven home runs, 32 runs scored and 19 RBIs through 52 games.
Then he suffered a devastating injury. Mateo broke his right femur in a first-base mishap and missed the rest of the season. The next year, he just wasn’t the same player and was traded to the Reds for pitcher Rob Bell in a deal for two players once considered top prospects.
There was an impact player involved in the deal, but nobody paid much attention when the Rangers threw in Class A third baseman Edwin Encarnación. He wouldn’t get to the Major Leagues until 2005. He is still there and has 414 career home runs.
4) Jurickson Profar
Profar signed in 2009 at age 16 but scouts had known about him for five years. He was 11 when he led Curacao to the 2004 Little League World Series title as a pitcher. They finished second in 2005.
A couple years later, Profar was 18 and watching a Rangers intrasquad game on the back fields. The intrasquad games were for pitchers to get their innings. The Major League position players took one or two at-bats and called it a day, leaving Minor Leaguers to finish the game.
Profar wasn’t included, so he watched from behind the backstop with a forlorn look on his face. He was especially dismayed when some hapless hitter botched a sacrifice bunt attempt.
Profar turned around and saw general manager Jon Daniels standing a few feet away.
“I would have gotten the bunt down,” Profar muttered.
5) Nomar Mazara
Mazara set a record when he agreed to a $4.95 million signing bonus with the Rangers in July 2011. At the time, it was the highest bonus ever given to an international amateur player.
At the same time, the Rangers gave first baseman Ronald Guzmán a $3.45 million bonus. If not for Mazara, that would have been the highest bonus ever for a position player.
Some scouts thought Guzmán was the better player. Others liked Elier Hernandez, an outfielder who signed for the Royals for $3 million but has yet to make it to the Major Leagues.
Mazara had incredible power, scouts said, but there was also some concern about swing-and-miss. Mazara could hit balls into trees but also strike out three times in a game.
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.