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Newberg Report: Guzman has potential with bat

Newberg Report: Guzman has potential with bat

Newberg Report: Guzman has potential with bat
Part 19 in a season-long series projecting a hypothetical 25-man roster made up solely of prospects from the Texas Rangers' Minor League system.

When I started the exercise for this year's columns, there were spots on the hypothetical long-term 25-man roster that I had trouble settling on, not wanting to slight any key prospects in the Rangers system. There were players left off the roster who will start in the big leagues.

The one position that I didn't have a good feel for was first base. I went with Chris Davis, sort of a cheap solution since he already had 850 big league at-bats, but I justified the pick since he was on the farm when I featured the position in early June. I'd considered Chad Tracy and Jose Ruiz, but at age 26 each is a year older than Davis. Chris McGuiness is having a disappointing season. Andrew Clark is having a fantastic year, but at the time of the first-base column his OPS was 150 points lower than it is now.

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If Ronald Guzman had been in the organization when I ran the first-base feature, he would have been the pick -- even though most reports when he signed in July suggested the 16-year-old profiles as a left fielder.

But I can't undo what's done, and even with Davis now in Baltimore he was my pick at first base, and Leonys Martin, Nomar Mazara, and Engel Beltre were the starting outfielders. Guzman's potential with the bat belongs somewhere, however, and so he's my designated hitter.

Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
No. 1 starter: Martin Perez
No. 2 starter: David Perez
No. 3 starter: Neil Ramirez
No. 4 starter: Cody Buckel
No.5 starter: Luke Jackson
Long reliever: Barret Loux
Right-on-right: Johan Yan
Left-on-left: Joseph Ortiz
7th-inn. reliever: Justin Grimm
RH setup: Roman Mendez
LH setup: Robbie Ross
Closer: Tanner Scheppers
Catcher: Jorge Alfaro
First baseman: Chris Davis
Second baseman: Luis Sardinas
Shortstop: Jurickson Profar
Third baseman: Mike Olt
Left fielder: Engel Beltre
Center fielder: Leonys Martin
Right fielder: Nomar Mazara
Designated hitter: Ronald Guzman
Backup catcher: Kellin Deglan
Utility IFer: Leury Garcia
Corner IFer: Christian Villanueva
Fourth outfielder: Jordan Akins

It's rare, though not unprecedented, for a young hitter to break into the big leagues as a DH. Though the Royals didn't think Billy Butler was ready to play everyday third base or first base or left field at age 21, they wanted his bat in the lineup, and he spent his first two seasons in Kansas City DH-ing before starting at first base the next two years. Travis Hafner was a first baseman and third baseman on the farm, but primarily a designated hitter on arrival in Texas and then Cleveland. Josh Phelps was Toronto's catcher of the future 10 years ago but broke in as a platoon DH for the Jays.

You don't develop a hitter with designs on him being a DH any more than you'd groom a high-end arm to be a setup reliever. But when the bat is ready and either the glove is not or the big league roster sets up in a certain way, it wouldn't be out of the question to get a young hitter's Major League career started in that role.

The bat is what Texas expects will get Guzman to the big leagues, and the reason the organization committed a reported signing bonus of $3.5 million to the Dominican teenager in July. There are some who believe the left-hander, who starred last summer in the RBI World Series in Florida and the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field, has the best hit tool of any player in this year's international signing class.

Does he project to fit in left field? At first base? At DH, even?

"The plan will be for him to gain experience at all those spots in the future," says Rangers director of international scouting Mike Daly. "We definitely feel his bat is capable at those positions. I could see him fitting in at any of the three that helps the team."

Guzman has been assigned to the Rangers' Dominican complex in Boca Chica, where he has been playing in unofficial "July 2nd League" games against squads from the Red Sox, Mets, Cardinals, Indians, and Marlins organizations and getting work at all three positions. He'll report to Fall Instructional League in Surprise, Ariz., next month and then Minor League Spring Training in March.

Although Guzman won't turn 17 until after Instructional League concludes, he already stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 205 pounds. But the Rangers aren't concerned about him outgrowing his athleticism. His brother Edward pitched and played outfield in the Mets system from 2007-09 with a similar physique. Texas, led by Daly, senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller and area scout Willy Espinal, got to know Guzman's parents and other relatives and are comfortable with Guzman's physical stature and where it might be headed.

The effort is under way not only to get Guzman at-bats and defensive reps but also to get him into the type of condition needed to handle the professional grind that awaits. Strength and conditioning coach Eduardo Thomas and trainer Chris Olson are stationed in Boca Chica, implementing the same regimen that the Rangers have in place throughout their Minor League system.

"The strength and conditioning program is a critical aspect of our Dominican program," says Daly. "In Ronald's case, he is incredibly flexible now, and we feel he will naturally get stronger and put on weight. Eduardo and Chris really get after it with our guys, and Ronald jumped right into the program."

The Rangers are already raving about Guzman's makeup and work ethic, which they believe will be instrumental in helping him to actualize his considerable tools into production, to turn potential into results.

As excited as the organization was to add Guzman to the system in July, Daly says the Rangers are even more encouraged now. "Before we signed Ronald, we really liked him as a person and felt confident in his bat," he said. "Seeing how he prepares for every game and watching over 100 at-bats in the past month has done nothing to change that."

Where the Rangers groom Guzman defensively may change from year to year, as he progresses through the system. There's less question about the bat, which they believe will play on a corner -- or, if the situation calls for it when he's believed to be ready, maybe even at designated hitter.

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.

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