On the big league level, the Rangers' 2019 season qualified as a disappointment. They looked like a playoff team in the first three months but collapsed after the All-Star break, finishing with their third straight losing record and worst three-year stretch since 2001-03.
At the same time, however, Texas added a significant amount of position-player talent to a farm system that hasn't had many recent success stories beyond Joey Gallo. It landed two of the better college hitters available in the Draft, corralled some of the loudest tools on the international market and traded for a pair of potential regulars.
Before last June, the Rangers had used 10 of their previous 12 first-round picks on high schoolers and hadn't spent one on a college bat since Justin Smoak in 2008. Then they selected third basemen Josh Jung (Texas Tech) in the first round and Davis Wendzel (Baylor) in the supplemental first.
Jung and Wendzel have lofty floors, which makes them stand out in comparison to the high-risk, high-reward prospects Texas is known for taking. That doesn't mean that the club has changed its Draft philosophy, assistant GM Josh Boyd said. Jung and Wendzel have impressive ceilings too, as gifted hitters with underrated power and deceptive athleticism.
"They're so skilled and their makeup is so good," Boyd said. "They have the character and traits we want to build a team around. You can label them as having high floors but they're good players. They're so skilled and they have the potential to get better."
Long one of the more aggressive teams internationally, the Rangers assembled a potentially special international class last summer. Corner outfielder Bayron Lora (signed for $3.9 million out of the Dominican Republic) had as much raw power as any player available, while center fielder Zion Bannister ($836,000, Bahamas) was one of the fastest players on the market. But the biggest prize looks like shortstop Maximo Acosta ($1.65 million, Venezuela), who draws repeated Gleyber Torres comparisons and could develop at least solid tools across the board.
"Acosta has dynamic impact potential," Boyd said. "That's what generates that level of excitement inside and outside of the organization. And his makeup is special on top of it."
Texas also swung a pair of deals that could produce potential everyday players. In July, it sent Peter Fairbanks to the Rays for infielder/outfielder Nick Solak, who long has displayed solid to plus hitting ability and speed and smacked 32 homers last year. Five months later, it swapped Nomar Mazara to the White Sox for outfielder Steele Walker, one of the best college bats in the 2018 Draft.
Solak, 25, batted .293/.393/.491 with five homers in 33 games for the Rangers late last season, mostly playing third base. He spent Spring Training playing the outfield and had a chance to win a starting job in left or center field before the coronavirus pandemic put the season on hold.
"Solak fits the whole profile of the guys with a good approach and good makeup, that skillset that plays," Boyd said. "He looked pretty good in the outfield and has taken to it this spring. His defensive home is still a question, but guys who hit 30 bombs with close to a .400 on-base percentage play."
Jonathan Hernandez developed a reputation as one of the more polished pitchers in the system after signing for $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. Since he reached full-season ball in 2016, his stuff has leaped past his pitchability. The son of brief big leaguer Fernando Hernandez is still figuring out his identity on the mound, and whether he's a long-term starter or reliever has yet to be determined.
Hernandez made his big league debut last August and looked more comfortable this spring, striking out 13 in nine innings of work.
"Hernandez was electric in Spring Training," Boyd said. "He was in the upper 90s working two to three innings at a time, his slider was nasty and his changeup was there. He can start and relieve, and he's potentially such a weapon in the bullpen right now."
Among the hitters, shortstop Anderson Tejeda looked fully healthy after missing most of 2019 with a dislocated non-throwing shoulder. A $100,000 signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, he hit .500/.611/.786 with more walks (three) and extra-base hits (two) than strikeouts (one) in 18 plate appearances.
Prospect we'll be talking about in 2021
Some scouts believe right-hander Ricky Vanasco could emerge as the Rangers' best pitching prospect by the end of this season. An over-slot $200,000 signing as a 15th-rounder from a Florida high school in 2017, he barely pitched in his first two pro seasons because of a concussion and elbow inflammation. Finally healthy last year, the 21-year-old boosted his fastball into the mid-90s with a peak of 99 mph and flashed a hammer curveball.
"Vanasco is a potential starter prospect with top-of-the-line stuff," Boyd said. "That's a really good job on the scouting side with a 15th-round projection guy. They loved his arm speed and ability to spin it. With maturity and work with our coaches, he has become one of our most talked-about starting pitchers. He continued to improve this swing as well."
Also keep an eye on third baseman Sherten Apostel, who has two of the biggest tools in the system with well above-average raw power and arm strength. He has a lot of strength and leverage in his 6-foot-4 frame, which translated into 19 homers between two Class A levels at age 20.
Something to prove
One of the best athletes in the 2017 Draft, Bubba Thompson was a quarterback who received overtures from Southeastern Conference football programs but decided to focus on baseball. Signed for $2.1 million as the 26th overall pick, he has had difficulty staying in the lineup, costing him the repetitions he needs to polish his game. He's a center fielder with 25-25 upside, but he battled hamate and ankle injuries last year while batting just .178/.261/.312 as a 21-year-old at the Class A Advanced level.
"Bubba has shown some ability, so he's not just totally raw," Boyd said. "He has a decent approach. It's just a matter of staying healthy and getting at-bats. He's really, really focused and working hard to get there."