Part of the self-imposed challenge of doing a weekly column for MLB.com annually is coming up with a new theme each season, to keep the content from getting stale.
In 2006, I wrote each week about baseball's procedural rules, using Texas Rangers player moves to help illustrate them. In 2007, I looked back at a noteworthy trade from the franchise's history each week, around the anniversary of the deal. In 2008, the focus was on the 25 players I'd take from 36 years of Rangers baseball to put together an all-time roster for the franchise.
Shifting to more of a minor league theme in 2009, I ran an adjusting Top 20 Prospects list each week, and in 2010, a weekly Top 10 list featured anything from the best tools in the Texas farm system, to the organization's best July trades, to the top secondary pitches among the Rangers' mound prospects.
In 2011, rather than looking back at franchise history or focusing analytically on the present, this year's columns will peer into the future, asking and taking a stab at answering this question: If you were starting up an expansion team, looking to build a long-term contender from scratch, and had nothing but the Rangers' farm system to stock it, which 25 players would you choose?
Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
This won't be a straight ranking of the club's top 25 prospects. There will be five starting pitchers, a seven-man bullpen, a starting lineup, and a four-man bench. And the premise being what it is, you won't see Josh Hamilton or Elvis Andrus or Neftali Feliz showing up. The pool is strictly the players currently in the Rangers' deep Minor League system.
We start this week with the No. 1 starter, and it may be the most obvious projection on the whole roster. Martin Perez is set to kick off his third season in a Frisco RoughRiders uniform, but hopes are still as high for the young left-hander as they've ever been.
The 2010 season was a disappointment for the young Venezuelan, compared often to his countryman Johan Santana based on his physical stature and delivery and repertoire on the mound. After breezing through short-season ball and Low Class A in his first two pro seasons, with his first adversity coming at the end of that second season in a five-start look with Double-A Frisco (having skipped High A altogether at age 18), Perez returned to the Texas League last year -- still the circuit's youngest pitcher -- and was brutally inconsistent.
Battling for part of the season with a strained back muscle, Perez was still brilliant more often than not, yielding two earned runs or fewer in 14 of 24 appearances, but was so bad in the other 10 starts (49 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings) that he finished the season with an unsightly 5.96 ERA. Still, he struck out 101 batters in 99 2/3 innings, coaxed more groundouts than flyouts, and flashed an exquisite fastball-change-curve arsenal that makes him the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game for some, despite the 2010 results. Perez went into last season as baseball's No. 18 prospect, according to MLB.com expert Jonathan Mayo's rankings; even after his erratic year, he remained Mayo's No. 23 prospect going into 2011.
Perez came to camp this year without any back issues and with an uptick in velocity, sitting in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and adding a new two-seamer to the mix. But it's the plus change and plus curve offsetting the fastball that have scouts projecting the southpaw as a potential number one starter, if it all comes together. He'll make Frisco's second-game start tomorrow night, and while a third season with the same farm club may come across as a red flag, it's important to remember that this is a player who just turned 20 this week.
The makings are all there. For Perez, the objective is to sharpen his command and consistency, and to use the adversity he encountered in 2010 -- the type that Feliz and Derek Holland, for instance, never really experienced on the farm -- as something to learn from. How he responds in the spring will likely determine how soon he leaves the Texas League behind once and for all, moving onto Triple-A finishing school with his arrival in the big leagues in clear view.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.