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No. 8 1B prospect Guzman eyeing Major role

Rangers' up-and-comer, 23, lands in Top 10 at his position for third consecutive year
MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- First baseman Ronald Guzman will be at the Dr. Pepper Texas Rangers Awards Dinner on Friday night to accept the Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year Award.

He has also been ranked as the eighth-best first-base prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline.

ARLINGTON -- First baseman Ronald Guzman will be at the Dr. Pepper Texas Rangers Awards Dinner on Friday night to accept the Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year Award.

He has also been ranked as the eighth-best first-base prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

The honors come after Guzman, 23, played in 125 games at Triple-A Round Rock last season and hit .298 with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and an .806 OPS. Guzman has been ranked among the Rangers' top prospects since receiving a $3.5 million signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, and this is his third consecutive year on the Top 10 list for first-base prospects.

Now, he has positioned himself on the verge of being a Major League player.

"I am just doing what I have always been doing," Guzman said. "I have to be consistent and put in good at-bats. Defensively, I feel good. I just have to show I can be more consistent with my at-bats."

This year, Guzman will be in Major League camp for the second consecutive spring, and he will be one of the most physically impressive players in the Rangers' clubhouse. At 6-foot-5 and somewhere around 225 pounds, Guzman exudes strength and power.

Video: Guzman named the Rangers' Pipeline hitter of the year

From that standpoint, he fits right in with Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara. But the sheer power has yet to transform itself onto the field. Over six Minor League seasons, Guzman has yet to hit more than 16 home runs or finish with higher than a .449 slugging percentage in a single season.

The Rangers are willing to be patient.

"I am a line-drive hitter," Guzman said. "The power will come, so I am staying with that."

He also only plays first base. That can be tricky on a ballclub that emphasizes versatility with young players.

Video: LAA@TEX: Guzman hits a three-run homer to left-center

"When you only play one spot, it is a bit of a challenge," general manager Jon Daniels said. "If we choose to play Joey at first base, barring an injury, it's a little bit less of a clear path for him."

Yet, Guzman had to be on the list when the Rangers talked repeatedly about giving opportunities to young players. Gallo may present a roadblock for him, but it is not insurmountable.

Gallo can also play third base and left field. If Guzman comes to Spring Training and starts drawing attention with his offensive potential, it could change the Rangers' thinking. With Gallo being able to move around, the last open spot in the Rangers' lineup could be determined by which young player has the best spring.

It could be Willie Calhoun in left field, or Drew Robinson or Ryan Rua at multiple positions, or Guzman at first. The bottom line is, there will be a spot in the Rangers' lineup for any young player who is productive at the plate, and that's where they stand with Guzman.

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.

 

Texas Rangers, Ronald Guzman

Rangers looking to boost farm system

Daniels: Texas "not interested" in dealing Minor Leaguers to fill roles
MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- There have been interesting names tossed about in trade rumors lately, including several players who would fulfill specific needs for the Rangers.

The Rangers have to be interested if the Rays are willing to talk about starters Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer and reliever Alex Colome. Texas is also among many teams monitoring the developments in Miami, and it certainly could use outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto if they are included in the Marlins' plans to trade established players for future needs.

ARLINGTON -- There have been interesting names tossed about in trade rumors lately, including several players who would fulfill specific needs for the Rangers.

The Rangers have to be interested if the Rays are willing to talk about starters Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer and reliever Alex Colome. Texas is also among many teams monitoring the developments in Miami, and it certainly could use outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto if they are included in the Marlins' plans to trade established players for future needs.

The Rangers' need for pitching is well-documented. Yelich, who is signed through 2021, is an established player who could help Texas both offensively and defensively, either in left or center. Realmuto has emerged in the past two years as one of the top young catchers in the game.

The problem for the Rangers is that trading for any of the above would require giving up significant young talent, and they are expressing a reluctance to do that this winter.

"We get asked about our players a lot," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "The last two or three trade cycles, we made a concerted effort to hold on to our best young players. We are making a concerted effort to be more disciplined and stay away from that. We are looking to add to the group."

The drain of talent from the Rangers' farm system over the past three years is also well-documented. Trades that brought pitchers Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson, plus catcher Jonathan Lucroy and designated hitter Carlos Beltran helped produce two division titles, but they also cost the Rangers no less than a dozen Minor League players.

As a result, the Rangers are thinner than usual in prospects at Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Frisco, and they probably need at least another year of development before the farm system is fully restocked.

"I would agree with that," Daniels said. "We get asked about some of those guys a good amount, but we get asked about our younger upside players a lot, and we are just not interested in cutting into that right now. Give it time and see where we are."

Video: Guzman named the Rangers' Pipeline hitter of the year

Of the Top 30 Rangers prospects currently listed by MLB Pipeline, outfielder Willie Calhoun (No. 2) and first baseman Ronald Guzman (No. 3) are the only two who have spent a full year at Triple-A. Six others -- pitchers Connor Sadzeck, Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado, catcher Jose Trevino, second baseman Andy Ibanez and outfielder Scott Heineman -- have spent a full season at Double-A.

That leaves 22 of 30 prospects who have yet to make it to Frisco.

"I think in a lot of cases -- this is both Majors and Minors -- our players will have more value later than they do right now for a variety of reasons," Daniels said. "That factors in as far as when is the right time to make a move."

The Rangers discussed trade scenarios with the D-backs at the Winter Meetings that involved All-Star pitcher Zack Greinke. But those talks seemed to be dependent upon Arizona taking outfielder Shin-Soo Choo in return to help balance the hefty financial ramifications of the potential trade.

The Rangers have made one trade, acquiring pitcher Matt Moore from the Giants. But the two Minor League pitchers given up -- Sam Wolff and Israel Cruz -- were not among their Top 30 prospects.

There were rumors at the Winter Meetings about the Rangers possibly being interested in Mets pitcher Matt Harvey. But he is a free agent after this season, and Texas isn't interested in exchanging prospects for a one-year "rental."

"Are there scenarios in which we would make an exception? Of course," Daniels said. "But not for a short-term guy, we wouldn't. There is no line in the sand, but we are not looking to make that kind of trade."

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.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers swing Rule 5 deal for outfielder Tocci

MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rangers found a defensive center fielder in the Rule 5 Draft and a power reliever in the free-agent market as the Winter Meetings ended on Thursday.

The Rangers acquired outfielder Carlos Tocci from the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft and signed reliever Kevin Jepsen to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Tocci, who played in the Phillies' organization last season, was taken in the Rule 5 Draft by the White Sox and then traded to the Rangers for cash considerations.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rangers found a defensive center fielder in the Rule 5 Draft and a power reliever in the free-agent market as the Winter Meetings ended on Thursday.

The Rangers acquired outfielder Carlos Tocci from the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft and signed reliever Kevin Jepsen to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Tocci, who played in the Phillies' organization last season, was taken in the Rule 5 Draft by the White Sox and then traded to the Rangers for cash considerations.

"He is a center fielder and plus defender," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He has really good baseball instincts, a good swing, good bat to ball skills, not a lot of power. He is a good baseball player."

:: Rule 5 Draft coverage ::

Tocci combined to play in 130 games for Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, hitting .294 with 19 doubles, seven triples, two home runs, 52 RBIs, a .346 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage.

His defensive skills are the primary attraction. The Rangers tried to sign him as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela before he signed with the Phillies six years ago.

He has a chance to make the team out of Spring Training as an extra outfielder. Tocci must be on the Rangers' active roster for the entire 2018 season or be offered back to the Phillies.

"In the Rule 5 Draft, you look for guys who have a chance to play a role right away with a chance to be something more later on," Daniels said.

Jepsen is a hard thrower and former late-inning setup reliever who has fallen off over the past two years. His last year in the big leagues was 2016, when he was a combined 2-6 with a 5.98 ERA in 58 games with the Twins and Rays.

He signed a Minor League contract with the D-backs last season but was released in Spring Training. He was signed by the Nationals on June 26 and spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Syracuse, where he was 0-1 with a 5.32 ERA in 19 appearances. Opponents hit .237 off him. He had a 2.19 ERA in his last 10 appearances.

"Our scouts saw him late last year and he was throwing the ball well," Daniels said. "We've liked him in the past, so we are going to bring him in and take a look."

Jepsen spent his first seven years in the big leagues pitching out of the Angels' bullpen from 2008-14. He appeared in 315 games in that stretch, going 13-18 with five saves, a 3.92 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He had 15 saves a 2.33 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP after being traded to the Rays and then the Twins in '15. The Twins released him midway through the '16 season and he hooked back up with the Rays for the rest of the year.

Rangers lose Gose
The Rangers lost outfielder/pitcher Anthony Gose to the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft. The Rangers signed Gose to a Minor League contract on Nov. 30 with the intention of giving him a chance to both pitch and play the outfield.

Gose played in 372 games as an outfielder for the Blue Jays and Tigers from 2012-16 before being switched to pitching last year. Gose is left-hander who can throw 99-100 mph. The Astros expect to use him as a pitcher.

"If you sign a player to a Minor League contract before the Rule 5 Draft, there is a chance this will happen," Daniels said. "We like the guy; he obviously has some talent. The Astros are giving him an opportunity. We'll see what happens."

Rangers beat
• The Rangers have re-signed infielder Hanser Alberto to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.

• The Rangers expect to announce the signing of free-agent reliever Chris Martin on Friday. The deal has been pending a physical.

• The Rangers lost four players in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft: outfielder Luke Tendler, shortstop Tyler Smith and pitchers Matt Ball and Daniel Duarte. They added left-hander reliever Locke St. John from the Tigers organization and assigned him to Triple-A. He had a 2.94 ERA in Class A Advanced last year.

 

Texas Rangers, Carlos Tocci

Rangers quietly confident in Ohtani pursuit

MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- Top Rangers officials officially met with pitcher Shohei Ohtani and his representatives on Tuesday in Los Angeles. They are also expressing quiet confidence inside the industry that they have a "good chance" of signing the Japanese pitching/hitting superstar.

The Rangers are also telling other clubs and agents they are likely holding off on pursuing any major acquisitions until Ohtani's situation is resolved. They are not commenting publicly and instead are totally focused on getting something done with Ohtani, possibly before the Winter Meetings begin on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

ARLINGTON -- Top Rangers officials officially met with pitcher Shohei Ohtani and his representatives on Tuesday in Los Angeles. They are also expressing quiet confidence inside the industry that they have a "good chance" of signing the Japanese pitching/hitting superstar.

The Rangers are also telling other clubs and agents they are likely holding off on pursuing any major acquisitions until Ohtani's situation is resolved. They are not commenting publicly and instead are totally focused on getting something done with Ohtani, possibly before the Winter Meetings begin on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Hot Stove Tracker

:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

The Rangers are one of seven teams who are expected to meet with Ohtani and his representatives this week, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first reported. The other teams are the Mariners, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, Angels and Cubs. Of those seven teams, Texas currently has $3.535 million of international bonus-money room, but the competition is still stiff.

The final list of seven teams suggests Ohtani has a strong affinity for playing on the West Coast. The Rangers and the Cubs don't have that geographical advantage.

Texas has other selling points, including a history with Ohtani that dates back to when it tried to sign him out of high school. Assistant general manager Josh Boyd has led the charge along with Japanese scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe. The club's Far East ties run deep.

The Rangers are in the American League, which would allow them to possibly use the designated hitter to indulge Ohtani's desire to bat as well as pitch. Clubs want Ohtani mainly because of his tremendous pitching ability, and there is still some doubt if he can do both in the big leagues. But Ohtani's desire to do so will likely be a main topic of discussion in any negotiation.

Video: MLB Tonight on how an AL or NL club should use Ohtani

Texas has a new ballpark coming in 2020 and has shown the ability with Yu Darvish to help Japanese players assimilate easily into the Major Leagues. The Rangers, despite a 78-84 record in 2017, have won four division titles in the past eight years and share a state-of-the-art Spring Training complex in Arizona with the Royals.

Texas also has an immediate opening for a starting pitcher. The Rangers are still looking for at least two starters in their rotation to join Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and Doug Fister. They can also leave the light on in case Ohtani signs with Texas and Darvish wants to return.

Video: Raymond on whether the Rangers are in on Ohtani

The other six finalists have plenty of selling points as well. Padres general manager A.J. Preller, who used to work for the Rangers, has his own history with Ohtani and Japanese ex-pitchers Hideo Nomo and Takishi Saito working in the front office. The Cubs call the newest Spring Training complex in Arizona home, and the Dodgers and Mariners both have their own history of positive experiences with Japanese players. The Padres, Dodgers and Mariners play in ballparks that are perceived to be favorable to pitchers.

The reality is nobody really knows what will be the final tipping points to get something done with Ohtani. All seven clubs -- with the possible exception of Seattle -- are likely to play this out as secretively as possible during the 21-day negotiating period.

The Rangers have certainly dug as far underground as possible while the process plays out. But it is still out there in the industry that they feel they have as good of chance -- maybe better -- as anybody in signing Ohtani. They have much riding on this.

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.

 

Texas Rangers

8 reasons why Ohtani fits on Rangers

MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- The field for Japanese pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani has narrowed, and the Rangers are in the thick of it.

In fact, the Rangers are hoping to win the race, pay the $20 million posting fee and sign a 23-year-old phenom, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who can hit 100-102 mph with his fastball and a left-handed-hitting prodigy with serious power. He is known as the Japanese Babe Ruth and has created much speculation about being a two-way player in the United States.

ARLINGTON -- The field for Japanese pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani has narrowed, and the Rangers are in the thick of it.

In fact, the Rangers are hoping to win the race, pay the $20 million posting fee and sign a 23-year-old phenom, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who can hit 100-102 mph with his fastball and a left-handed-hitting prodigy with serious power. He is known as the Japanese Babe Ruth and has created much speculation about being a two-way player in the United States.

Hot Stove Tracker

Signing Ohtani under the parameters set forth in the recent working agreement between Major League Baseball and Japan would give the Rangers a serious boost in building a contender.

Video: Evaluating Ohtani's readiness to play in MLB

Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, sent a memo to all 30 clubs seeking information on why his client will best fit in their respective markets. Here are eight reasons why the Rangers would be a great fit.

1. Prize money
The Rangers have $3.535 million to spend in international bonus money. The Mariners, always a factor with Japanese players, have $1.57 million to spend, while the Dodgers are limited to $300,000. Money is not likely to be the deciding factor, but the Rangers do have a slight advantage.

2. Winning situation
The Rangers aren't going to be anybody's favorites to win the World Series next year, and they have a monumental task in competing with the Astros in the American League West. But this is a franchise that, despite this past season, has a strong identity of success, is always willing to be aggressive in trading Minor League prospects for pennant-race reinforcements and has a potentially talented offense that could rise quickly with the right pitching acquisitions.

3. Powerful ground force
This may be the Rangers' best asset. The Rangers have a strong presence in Japan led by top scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe. Pro scouting director Josh Boyd also has well-established credentials in Japan, general manager Jon Daniels has made multiple visits to the country and the Rangers made a serious run at Ohtani when he was in high school. High-profile players and former players like Ivan Rodriguez, Michael Young, Darren Oliver, Colby Lewis, Cole Hamels and Adrian Beltre can also be enlisted in the sales force. The Rangers, having established their deep appreciation for players from Japan, are well-positioned for a full-court recruiting press.

Video: 11/26/17 MLB.com FastCast: Ohtani contacts every team

4. Two-pitcher parlay
The Rangers seem to have the ability to sign both Ohtani and Yu Darvish, who is also a free agent. They have the financial flexibility, and they have two immediate openings in the rotation. The question is if the two Japanese superstars truly do want to play together and share the spotlight, and if Darvish does want to return to Texas after the myriad mixed signals he sent at the end of last season.

5. New ballpark coming
No free-agent discussion is complete without mentioning the Texas summer heat, but the Rangers will be moving into a new ballpark in 2020, including a retractable roof and climate control. Ohtani also might figure out that the Texas weather means a warm, comfortable April and May, rather than cold and wet conditions elsewhere.

6. Favorable DH situation
The Rangers have a designated hitter in Shin-Soo Choo, but he is not interested in the role on a full-time basis. The answer could be a shared arrangement with Ohtani being the designated hitter 1-2 times between starts and Choo in the outfield on those occasions. The Rangers need the pitcher, but have said they are willing to explore ways to use Ohtani's hitting talents.

7. Low-pressure system
Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States. But when it comes to intense media spotlight, it pales in comparison to much larger Los Angeles and Chicago. That might end up being a good thing for the Rangers. The Rangers had special rules for Darvish in dealing with the media to ease his burden. They have expertise in that regard and could help make Ohtani comfortable if he wants to pitch without excessive pressure and scrutiny.

8. Economic conditions
Texas has no state income tax and is among the top 10 states in the country as far as cost of living. That may not be a big deal for a young player who is willing to give up a larger payday two years down the road to jump to the Major Leagues now. But it is there.

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.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers get Minors OF to finish Dyson trade

Cole batted .249 with 7 homers for Giants' Double-A affiliate
MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have acquired Minor League outfielder Hunter Cole from the Giants as the player to be named in the June 6 trade for reliever Sam Dyson.

The loss should not impact the Giants significantly. Cole, who has spent the past three years at Double-A Richmond, was not ranked among the club's Top 30 prospects by MLBPipeline.com.

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have acquired Minor League outfielder Hunter Cole from the Giants as the player to be named in the June 6 trade for reliever Sam Dyson.

The loss should not impact the Giants significantly. Cole, who has spent the past three years at Double-A Richmond, was not ranked among the club's Top 30 prospects by MLBPipeline.com.

Cole, 25, played in 83 games for Richmond this past season and batted .249 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs to go along with a a .323 on-base percentage and a .431 slugging percentage. He hit .307 with an .892 OPS in his final 33 games.

"He's a big, physical corner outfielder with strength in his bat," Rangers assistant general manager Josh Boyd said. "He's a solid defender with an above average arm. He finished the year really strong with close to a .900 OPS in the second half, and we're looking forward to getting our arms around him here."

Cole has been assigned to Triple-A Round Rock and will have to be added to the 40-man roster by Monday or he will be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft.

Cole was originally selected as a third baseman by the Giants in the 26th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of the University of Georgia. He was switched to the outfield, where he has played right field the past three seasons in Richmond because of a plus throwing arm. In three years at Richmond, Cole had a .269 batting average, a .324 on-base percentage and a .432 slugging percentage.

Dyson led the Rangers with 38 saves in 2016, but he was traded after going 1-6 with a 10.80 ERA in 17 games to begin the 2017 season. Dyson appeared in 38 games with the Giants, and he had 14 saves in 17 chances, a 4.03 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP.

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.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers' Ledbetter fires four perfect frames in AFL

MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was hard for David Ledbetter to find fault with his start as he was perfect in Surprise's 4-3 win over Salt River on Tuesday.

The Rangers' right-hander fired four perfect frames, striking out four and retiring all 12 batters he faced in his third and best start of the Arizona Fall League thus far.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was hard for David Ledbetter to find fault with his start as he was perfect in Surprise's 4-3 win over Salt River on Tuesday.

The Rangers' right-hander fired four perfect frames, striking out four and retiring all 12 batters he faced in his third and best start of the Arizona Fall League thus far.

"It was good," Ledbetter said. "I just let my defense play and tried to throw a lot of strikes and it worked out."

Box score

Ledbetter struggled a bit with command during the regular season -- walking 4.12 batters per nine innings with Double-A Frisco and 4.56 per nine innings with Triple-A Round Rock -- but was able to command all of his pitches against the Rafters.

"I was able to put the fastball on both sides of the plate and really work it inside on these guys, which is good to set up the relievers, too," Ledbetter said. "It's just good to go both sides of the plate because it makes that plate look a little bit bigger."

Not only was Ledbetter perfect on Tuesday, but he also had plenty of opportunities to throw his secondary pitches, something he is focusing on during his stint in Arizona.

"Just my fastball command and my off-speed command," Ledbetter said when asked what he'd like to improve upon. "Today, I got to throw a lot of curveballs, a lot of sliders. It was good."

The 25-year-old began the 2017 campaign pitching out of the bullpen, but without a role, for Frisco. Ledbetter said he was used sporadically, which often made it hard to execute.

However, after throwing 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball in a spot start with Round Rock, Ledbetter remained with the Triple-A club and saw his numbers improve.

In 13 starts, Ledbetter went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA after posting a 5.72 ERA in 16 games with Frisco.

"It doesn't matter who you ask," Ledbetter said. "If you have a role, it's so much easier to be prepared."

After Ledbetter left the game Tuesday, Minnesota's Ryan Eades struck out the side in the fifth, maintaining the perfect-game bid. Tyler Jay (Twins' No. 8) gave up a double to Peter Mooney (Marlins) with one out in the sixth, putting thoughts of a perfect game to rest. However, a potential shutout was still in play.

The Rafters ruined that plan when they struck for three runs in the ninth, but the comeback attempt fell short and Surprise came away with the win.

Surprise did the bulk of its damage in the fifth as it struck for three runs on four hits.

Twins' No. 17 prospect LaMonte Wade led off the frame with a base hit and after stealing second, he scored on John Nogowski's (Cardinals) RBI double. Two batters later Sean Miller (Twins) drove in a run with a base hit and Michael O'Neill (Rangers) capped the frame with an RBI single of his own.

Rays' Brett Sullivan added to the lead and provided what turned out to be the game-winning run with an RBI double off the right-field wall in the ninth.

William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers' Perez belts first Fall League homer

MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Surprise Saguaros defeated the Salt River Rafters, 4-3, on Monday behind a strong game from Rangers No. 11 prospect Yanio Perez.

Perez had his best performance thus far in the Arizona Fall League, going 2-for-3 with his first home run and two RBIs, matching his season total up to that point.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Surprise Saguaros defeated the Salt River Rafters, 4-3, on Monday behind a strong game from Rangers No. 11 prospect Yanio Perez.

Perez had his best performance thus far in the Arizona Fall League, going 2-for-3 with his first home run and two RBIs, matching his season total up to that point.

Gameday

"I focused on just getting the barrel out to the ball," Perez said through a translator. "I just let my strength do the work. I just tried to focus and not get out of whack, stay in control and stay within my game."

Perez is a native of Cuba, where he represented the country on the junior national team before signing with the Rangers in the fall of 2016. He showcased his versatility by playing four different positions, although many think he will most likely stick to left field and first base at the professional level.

The Rafters struck first when Orioles No. 3 prospect Ryan Mountcastle sent a shot over the left-center-field wall off starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara, the Cardinals' No. 9 prospect, in the top of the second, but Perez tied the game in the home half.

Video: Ryan Mountcastle excited to play in the Fall League

Early on, the game looked as if it was going to be a high-scoring affair, with both teams scoring two runs in the first four innings and going to their bullpens early.

The Saguaros loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth on three straight singles to begin the inning, giving themselves an opportunity to blow the game open and take control. Instead, they scored only one run on a fielder's choice followed by a shallow pop fly before Twins No. 17 prospect LaMonte Wade was thrown out trying to steal home for the third out, changing the narrative of the game.

The Rafters bullpen held the Saguaros to just one run in the final three innings, giving their offense a shot to come back, but Surprise contained them to just one run despite giving up seven hits in the last four innings and holding on for the victory.

The win was the Saguaros' fifth of the season, bringing both teams to a 5-6 record. They will face off again Tuesday, this time at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Joshua Clark is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers' Arizona Fall League overview

Morgan showing promise in new role behind plate
MLB.com

Josh Morgan has been one of the best pure hitters in the Rangers system since signing for an above-slot $800,000 as a third-rounder in 2014. But there has been some question as to where he fits best on the diamond.

The Rangers' No. 15 prospect lacks the quickness typical at shortstop or the power desired at third base, the two positions he has played the most. He spent much of his pro debut at second base, and this year Texas decided to add another option to the mix.

Josh Morgan has been one of the best pure hitters in the Rangers system since signing for an above-slot $800,000 as a third-rounder in 2014. But there has been some question as to where he fits best on the diamond.

The Rangers' No. 15 prospect lacks the quickness typical at shortstop or the power desired at third base, the two positions he has played the most. He spent much of his pro debut at second base, and this year Texas decided to add another option to the mix.

Morgan caught as a freshman at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High in 2011 -- the same program that produced big leaguers Gerrit Cole and Brandon Maurer -- and went behind the plate during instructional league in 2015 and 2016. He didn't see his first Minor League game action there until this year, when he played 36 games at catcher, 62 at shortstop and two at third base in high Class A.

The Rangers had the 21-year-old Morgan concentrate on catching again during instructional league and have sent him to the Arizona Fall League to do the same. He's on the taxi squad for the Surprise Saguaros, meaning that he's only on the active roster for two games a week, but he still will have plenty of opportunity to improve.

Morgan never has handled pitchers of the consistent quality that he's working with in the AFL. Though he won't get a lot of game action, he's soaking up everything he can from bullpen workouts.

"It's awesome just to see what their balls are doing -- the sink, the run, the cut, the really good curveballs and sliders, things like that," said Morgan, who went 2-for-6 with three walks while throwing out two of five basestealers in his first two games for the Saguaros. "A lot of my development comes just from catching their bullpens.

"It might not look like it, but I feel I'm working a lot in the bullpen, framing pitches, blocking pitches, just getting better out there. It's a lot different than playing every day but I am learning a lot just from being on the bench and being in the bullpen."

Video: Top Prospects: Josh Morgan, INF, Rangers

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said the plan going for 2018 is to use Morgan more behind the plate while continuing to give him some time around the infield. It's still early to say Morgan can be a regular catcher in the Majors, but he shows promise.

"He looks really good for doing it for his first year," Tingler said. "He receives well, his stance has improved, his throwing has improved. There are so many things that go into developing a frontline starting catcher. We're certainly encouraged by what he's done and his progress."

Morgan says he has an increased respect for catchers now that he understands how difficult it is to balance the offensive and defensive responsibilities while handling the physical demands of the position. A contact-oriented hitter with a simple approach and an easy right-handed swing, he batted .270/.318/.380 with six homers in 2017.

"Whether I'm having a good day at the plate or not, it can't affect your defense," Morgan said. "You've got to separate the two. Obviously, I'm trying to be the best hitter I can be and we'll see where it goes."

Rangers hitters in the Fall League

Luis La O, 2B/3B
Michael O'Neill, OF
Yanio Perez (No. 11), 1B/OF/3B

A member of Cuba's national team when he defected in July 2015, La O signed for $110,000 in January. Known for his line drive-hitting ability and his speed, he batted .292/.336/.399 with 11 steals in 124 Class A Advanced games in his U.S. debut this summer.

The nephew of five-time All-Star Paul O'Neill, Michael signed with the Yankees as a third-rounder out of Michigan in 2013 and hooked up with the Rangers after getting released last offseason. He offers speed, power and arm strength and is coming off his best Minor League season, hitting .266/.336/.445 with 15 homers and 28 steals in 119 games between high Class A and Double-A.

Video: Michael O'Neill's first day at Arizona Fall League

Another Cuban who made his U.S. debut in 2017, Perez signed for $1.1 million in September 2016 and combines plus raw power with solid speed. He batted .280/.343/.434 with 14 homers in 123 games between two Class A stops.

Video: Top Prospects: Yanio Perez, OF/3B, Rangers

Rangers pitchers in the Fall League

Steven Bruce, RHP
Adam Choplick, LHP
Tyler Ferguson, RHP
David Ledbetter, RHP

Bruce, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Keiser (Fla.) in 2016, induces groundballs with his low-90s sinker. He went 3-5 with a 4.70 ERA and a 50/13 K/BB ratio in 59 1/3 innings over 19 games (seven starts), mostly at the Class A Advanced level.

Choplick had Tommy John surgery as a high school junior before attending Oklahoma and signing as a 14th-rounder in 2015. Using a 92-96 mph fastball and a hard curveball, he had nine saves, a 2.93 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 55 1/3 Class A Advanced innings.

A Vanderbilt product, Ferguson has a lively 93-97 mph fastball and flashes a plus slider, but control woes dropped him to the sixth round of the 2015 Draft. He continues to battle the strike zone, recording a 6.61 ERA and a 57/26 K/BB ratio in 47 2/3 innings between two Class A affiliates.

Texas drafted both Ledbetter (third round) and his twin brother Ryan (19th) out of Cedarville (Ohio) in 2013. Armed with a low-90s sinker and a curveball, David went 4-8 with a 4.81 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings over 29 games (17 starts) in Double-A and Triple-A.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers' O'Neill stuffs box score in Fall League action

MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Michael O'Neill put up the best season of his professional career in 2017 and carried that momentum over to the Arizona Fall League, where he led Surprise to a 3-1 win over Salt River on Wednesday night.

The Rangers' prospect stuffed the box score, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a stolen base out of the leadoff spot in his first action of the fall.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Michael O'Neill put up the best season of his professional career in 2017 and carried that momentum over to the Arizona Fall League, where he led Surprise to a 3-1 win over Salt River on Wednesday night.

The Rangers' prospect stuffed the box score, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a stolen base out of the leadoff spot in his first action of the fall.

"First couple of AB's, just trying to get some timing in," O'Neill, the nephew of former Yankee Paul O'Neill, said. "Those were the first live at-bats I've had since our season ended three or four weeks ago. The first couple AB's were good, just to see a couple pitches and I felt pretty good after I got that first one, felt like my timing was where it needed to be."

O'Neill, 25, was a third-round Draft pick of the Yankees in 2013. However, after spending a few seasons in the Yankees system, he was released following the 2016 campaign.

Gameday

The outfielder signed with the Rangers prior to 2017 and posted a career-best .266/.336/.445 slash line, including 15 homers (also a career best) in 119 games with Class A Advanced Down East and Double-A Frisco.

"I owe it all to the Rangers," O'Neill said. "I was in a weird place in my career after leaving the Yankees and the Rangers just accepted me. … I've made a couple big-time swing changes, which have allowed me to hit for more power and be more consistent at the plate. It's just trusting them and them trusting me. It came together this year."

In addition to the increased offensive numbers, O'Neill also had a strong season on the bases, doubling his career high with 28 stolen bases in 33 attempts.

O'Neill showcased that ability as well on Wednesday as he swiped second base after reaching on a fielder's choice in the third.

"I've always had decent speed and I just try to use it as much as I can," O'Neill said. "I like stealing bases, I like running the bases hard and just helping the team get runs."

Cardinals' No. 12 prospect Edmundo Sosa got the scoring started as he plated a run with a fielder's choice before O'Neill drove him in with a single to cap a two-run fifth.

Video: Top Prospects: Edmundo Sosa, SS, Cardinals

Salt River scratched across a run of its own in the bottom half of the frame, and the 2-1 score held until O'Neill's second hit provided the Saguaros with an insurance run in the seventh.

O'Neill wasn't the only Rangers prospect to thrive in the win as David Ledbetter, a 25-year-old right-hander, put together a strong performance on the mound.

Ledbetter threw 17 of his 25 pitches for strikes and gave up two hits over three scoreless frames.

"He looked great," O'Neill said. "It's nice being in center field because you can see the way his pitches are moving. I thought his breaking ball looked really good, he had great command of his fastball."

William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers' Beras, Jones use instructs to continue pitching transition

MLB.com

The stress-free environment of instructional league makes it the perfect place to experiment with players at different positions. During the Rangers' four-week camp in Surprise, Ariz., former outfielders Jairo Beras and James Jones continued their transition to the mound.

Beras, 22, controversially signed for $4.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in February 2012 after submitting an older birthdate than he had previously. Some teams believed he did so to circumvent upcoming bonus restrictions in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and when MLB couldn't pinpoint a true birthdate, it allowed his contract to stand but suspended him until July 2013.

The stress-free environment of instructional league makes it the perfect place to experiment with players at different positions. During the Rangers' four-week camp in Surprise, Ariz., former outfielders Jairo Beras and James Jones continued their transition to the mound.

Beras, 22, controversially signed for $4.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in February 2012 after submitting an older birthdate than he had previously. Some teams believed he did so to circumvent upcoming bonus restrictions in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and when MLB couldn't pinpoint a true birthdate, it allowed his contract to stand but suspended him until July 2013.

His raw power and arm strength earned Beras that hefty bonus, but his long swing and overly aggressive approach prevented him from showing consistent success at the plate. He did hit a career-high 22 homers in high Class A in 2016, but he also batted just .262 and had a 27 percent strikeout rate in the hitter-friendly California League. When he batted .227/.278/.376 with 52 strikeouts in 42 games in high Class A this year, both he and the Rangers decided he should pursue pitching full-time.

Texas had discussed making the move last offseason and was going to have him begin doing some bullpen workouts by the end of May. Before that could happen, he wound up taking the mound in a blowout loss on May 16. The right-hander pitched a perfect eighth inning, throwing nine of 14 pitches for strikes and hitting 99 mph with his fastball.

"He loved being a position player and we didn't force him to do anything," Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said. "Ultimately, it was his career and his decision."

Beras spent the last two months of the season pitching in low Class A, where he posted a 5.40 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. He worked from 95-99 mph with his fastball and started adding a slider in late August.

"His instructional league focus has been on his slider, and he's picked it up quickly," Tingler said. "His fastball plays. He's a back-end-of-the-bullpen type."

Rangers dynamic outfielders impressing at instructs

Jones, 29, was a two-way player in college at Long Island. Though most clubs preferred him as a pitcher because he was a lefty who could reach 95 mph, he had more success as a hitter and the Mariners drafted him in 2009's fourth round as an outfielder. He spent most of 2014 and part of 2015 in Seattle but batted just .238/.268/.296 in the big leagues.

Acquired from the Mariners in a five-player trade that sent Leonys Martin to Seattle in November 2015, Jones batted .232/.297/.330 in Triple-A during the first three months of the 2016 season before shifting to the mound. He made three pitching appearances that August before injuring his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery.

Jones returned to game action this August in the Rookie-level Arizona League and added more much-needed innings during Texas' instructional league program, which ended last Friday. Interestingly, the Rangers may use him in a dual role as needed

"We're shutting him down after instructs so he can have a full offseason and be ready to go in Spring Training," Tingler said. "We've seen 92-94 mph pretty consistently, pretty good strikes, pretty good secondary pitches. We're open-minded about a lot of things. We don't rule out that he can pitch and come in and play the outfield late in the game, pinch-run, pinch-hit, things like that."

Texas had another interesting conversion project in instructional league. Former Virginia and Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert, who hadn't played baseball since he was a high school freshman in 2009, signed with the Rangers as a right-handed pitcher in July but didn't appear in a Minor League game.

Lambert, 23, set an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record for single-game completion percentage by going 24-for-25 (96 percent) in 2015. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder shows an 89-92 mph fastball and the makings of a curveball and changeup.

"He spent instructional league working on his mechanics and delivery," Tingler said. "He's incredibly raw but he has a lot of aptitude, intelligence and competitiveness."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Texas Rangers

Rangers dynamic outfielders impressing at instructs

MLB.com

The Rangers appear to have their center fielder of the future in Leody Taveras, who also happens to be their top-rated prospect. He's a switch-hitter with five-tool potential who held his own as one of the youngest regulars (age 18) in the Class A South Atlantic League this season.

But if the talent on hand in Texas' instructional league program in Surprise, Ariz., is any indication, there will be a number of worthy challengers. Taveras stood out in the four-week camp, which ended Friday, but so did a number of center-field prospects, most notably Bubba Thompson and Pedro Gonzalez.

The Rangers appear to have their center fielder of the future in Leody Taveras, who also happens to be their top-rated prospect. He's a switch-hitter with five-tool potential who held his own as one of the youngest regulars (age 18) in the Class A South Atlantic League this season.

But if the talent on hand in Texas' instructional league program in Surprise, Ariz., is any indication, there will be a number of worthy challengers. Taveras stood out in the four-week camp, which ended Friday, but so did a number of center-field prospects, most notably Bubba Thompson and Pedro Gonzalez.

"We're really excited with that outfield group," Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said. "When we first took the field in the first week of spring training to where we are at this point, through development and trade acquisitions and the Draft, we've gotten more athletic. We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things."

Thompson, 19, joined the organization in June as the 26th overall choice (first round) in the Draft. A star quarterback who accounted for 3,860 yards and 43 touchdowns as an Alabama high school senior, he had football scholarship offers from Southeastern Conference programs and two-sport opportunities at several schools. He decided instead to turn pro for $2.1 million and batted .257/.317/.434 in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Video: Top Prospects: Bubba Thompson, OF, Rangers

Unlike many athletes who divide their attention between multiple sports, Thompson isn't raw on the diamond. He impressed scouts with his hitting prowess and developing power during the spring and has continued to do so in pro ball. He too has five-tool potential and could start to take off next year after he fully recovers from tendinitis in his knees that plagued him during his debut.

"Because of his knees, I don't think we saw him run and have the explosion in his lower half that he will," Tingler said. "That's in there. It's going to be exciting to get him back to 100 percent. The thing that stands out about Bubba is that ability to hit. His ability to get the barrel to the ball and his strike-zone awareness is advanced for a young player."

Gonzalez, 19, became a Ranger two months after Thompson, coming over from the Rockies in late August as the player to be named later in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. Signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, he oozes projection with a still-growing 6-foot-5 frame and five-tool upside. He batted .321/.388/.519 in the Rookie-level Pioneer League before changing organizations.

Video: Top Prospects: Pedro Gonzalez, OF, Rockies

Originally signed as a shortstop, Gonzalez was going to outgrow the position and thus moved to center field. It's possible that he could lose a step off his presently solid speed once he matures physically, precipitating a shift to an outfield corner. But Tingler says it's way too early to rule him out in center.

"Pedro was as impressive as anyone in our instructional league," Tingler said. "He was able to showcase everything he can do. He's a big, athletic guy and he and Leody absolutely put on a show, whether it was batting practice or power shagging or defensive drills. He can go toe to toe with Leody in any of that, and Leody is one of the finest center fielders I've seen in the Minors."

Miguel Aparicio, Eric Jenkins and Leuri Mejia are three more center fielders from Texas' instructional league program who bear watching. Aparicio was part of the same 2015 international signing class as Taveras and could be a left-handed version of the Cubs' Albert Almora.

Jenkins has struggled offensively since signing for $2.1 million a second-rounder in 2015, yet he still has well above-average speed that could make him a dynamic basestealer and defender. Mejia has similar tools that earned him an $850,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, and he should make his U.S. debut next year.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Texas Rangers

Cody, Guzman named Rangers Prospects of the Year

MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers believe they are close to seeing a group of highly-talented young pitchers emerge from the lower depths of their farm system. Kyle Cody could lead the way.

The 6-foot-7 right-hander may have been the best pitching news in the Rangers' farm system this year as he went from relative obscurity to their No. 18 prospect.

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers believe they are close to seeing a group of highly-talented young pitchers emerge from the lower depths of their farm system. Kyle Cody could lead the way.

The 6-foot-7 right-hander may have been the best pitching news in the Rangers' farm system this year as he went from relative obscurity to their No. 18 prospect.

Rangers' Prospects of the Year

"Among our starting pitchers, you could make the case that he was our most improved pitcher from the start of Spring Training to where he finished up," Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said.

That improvement is why Cody joins Triple-A Round Rock first baseman Ronald Guzman as the Rangers Prospects of the Year by MLBPipeline.com. Bigger things are ahead for him if the improvement continues.

Cody was taken by the Twins with the 73rd overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, but did not sign. Instead he went back to the University of Kentucky and was taken in the sixth round by the Rangers in 2016. He pitched at Class A Spokane, going 2-5 with a 5.13 ERA in 12 games, including nine starts.

This year, the Rangers made Cody focus on his fastball command, a philosophy instituted throughout much of the system. It seemed to work well.

"He had some early struggles and then he started to figure out he could get outs with his fastball," Tinger said. "Once we did that, we added other weapons."

He was 6-6 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 18 starts at Class A Hickory and that merited a promotion to Class A Advanced Down East. He made five starts for the Wood Ducks and was 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA, striking out 35 in 30 2/3 innings with a sharp slider and a changeup that improved through the summer.

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLBPipeline.com staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors, appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list and played the entire year in the organization.

Guzman, 22, holds a distinction in the Rangers' organization. He was signed on the same day -- July 2, 2011 -- out of the Dominican Republic as Nomar Mazara and was considered at least Mazara's equal as a prospect.

Mazara moved more quickly through the system, but Guzman is gaining ground. He spent this past season at Round Rock and batted .298 with 22 doubles, 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 125 games. He had .375 on-base percentage and a .434 slugging percentage.

"I saw a lot of consistency on offense and it carried over to defense," Round Rock manager Jason Wood said. "He was able to maintain a .300-plus average for most of the year, hitting the ball all over the field. He had a great attitude, he really matured a lot this year. It's just a matter of getting a few more at-bats. Time will tell on his offense, whether he is a power threat or a guy who hits the ball all over the field."

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.

 

Texas Rangers

Calhoun starting to find his way with Rangers

Rookie outfielder collects three hits against Oakland
MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- The first few weeks of Willie Calhoun's time in the Major Leagues were, understandably, a bit of a whirlwind. He logged a hit in his first career at-bat, but after that came a stretch of 16 consecutive plate appearances in which he went hitless.

He rebounded with his first career multi-hit game on Wednesday against the Astros -- including the first homer of his career, a solo shot off of Justin Verlander -- and he topped that two days later.

Full Game Coverage

ARLINGTON -- The first few weeks of Willie Calhoun's time in the Major Leagues were, understandably, a bit of a whirlwind. He logged a hit in his first career at-bat, but after that came a stretch of 16 consecutive plate appearances in which he went hitless.

He rebounded with his first career multi-hit game on Wednesday against the Astros -- including the first homer of his career, a solo shot off of Justin Verlander -- and he topped that two days later.

Full Game Coverage

On Friday, Calhoun tallied a career-best three hits in the Rangers' 5-3 victory over the A's. He's also reached safely in seven of his last 11 plate appearances, collecting six hits.

The difference, Calhoun noted, was retraining his mind to view the game as he did while in Triple-A earlier this season.

"For me, it was just slowing the game down," he said. "For the last week, I told myself I would just slow the game down and make it the same game as it was in Round Rock and [Oklahoma City], so that's what I tried to do."

That meant relaxing.

Video: OAK@TEX: Calhoun on his three hits, taste of Majors

"I just tried to really relax and just think to myself that it's just a game. I'm supposed to be having fun with it and not stressing about it. Obviously, I take it very seriously, but I just try to have fun with everything and slowing it down," Calhoun said.

What these last few games can do for Calhoun is serve as an early audition for a job in next year's starting lineup, as he'll certainly be in the mix in the outfield.

"The things we heard about Willie, it took him a little while to get it going, but he seems to be in a nice groove," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Everything he's doing now has got to give him a great confidence to finish out the year, and go into the offseason feeling good about himself, ready to come to Spring Training ready to compete for a job."

Calhoun obviously doesn't want to make any bold proclamations about where he'll be come April. He's a rookie, and rookies don't do that.

However, the tools are there, and they're evident of the talent he has. The Rangers view him as the jewel of the haul from the Dodgers they got for Yu Darvish, and they're confident he's going to blossom into a good player.

"He got traded over here for a reason," said outfielder Delino DeShields, who will also be vying for a starting outfield spot next season. "Whether it's next year or sometime next year, I don't know. But he's a scrappy player, hits the ball hard, and that's what you want."

Sam Butler is a reporter for MLB.com based in Dallas.

 

Texas Rangers, Willie Calhoun