Farm crop: Rangers' top 20 prospects

Farm crop: Rangers' top 20 prospects

The priority for any player development program, as the name suggests, is to develop players, both to feed the big league roster and to set up trades for veteran talent. Winning minor league games is secondary. But it's not insignificant. Learning how to win, how to be part of a successful team, is part of the process.

The Rangers not only shot up everyone's charts in 2008 in terms of which franchises are stocked with the best minor league talent, they fielded winning teams throughout the farm system. Rangers' affiliates collectively had the fifth-highest winning percentage in baseball, and four of their six clubs made the playoffs (five of seven if you include the Dominican Summer League squad).

It's been a very good year on the farm, from every angle.

This week's Top 20:

1. NEFTALI FELIZ, RHP, AA Frisco (number 1 last week)

The 20-year-old finished the regular season with a 10-6, 2.69 mark in 17 Clinton starts and 10 Frisco starts, limiting opponents to a .201 batting average, striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings -- the best starting pitcher rate in all of the minors -- inducing more groundouts than flyouts, and surrendering only three home runs all season. He's going to be on every publication's list of the top prospects in baseball this off-season . . . .

2. DEREK HOLLAND, LHP, AA Frisco (2)

. . . As will Holland, whose explosion onto the scene may have been as stunning as that of any pitching prospect in the game. His three-level record in his first full season was 13-1, 2.27 -- not counting his two-hit, one-run victory in 7.1 innings in last night's Texas League playoff opener -- with more strikeouts than innings pitched, just over two walks per nine innings, three home runs allowed, and a .209 opponents' average. He was more dominant in Class AA than at his two Class A stops, and he's only 21. Exciting.

3. ELVIS ANDRUS, SS, AA Frisco (3)

Andrus broke a finger late in May and missed two weeks of action. At that point, he was a .268/.322/.316 hitter. After returning, he went on to hit .312/.367/.401. And he was a teenager until last week. He may not profile as a leadoff hitter, but he has terrific bat control, bunts well, and stole 54 bases in 70 tries this season. Defensively advanced, he could be ready for Arlington sometime in 2009.

4. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, Low A Clinton (4)

In 13 starts over what amounted to half a season (due to a ribcage issue that cost him the first half), Main never gave up more than three earned runs. The ceiling is high, and there's no reason the 19-year-old can't rocket to the top of this list in 2009.

5. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Clinton (7)

The 2008 first-rounder finished with a .304 average and .873 OPS in his 14-game debut and heads into the Midwest League playoffs as one of Clinton's hottest hitters. Six of his 17 hits went for extra bases.

6. MAX RAMIREZ, C, AAA Oklahoma (6)

His future in this organization is less clear than it might otherwise be because there are crowds at catcher, first base, and possibly DH over the next few years, but Ramirez (.347/.439/.628 in 285 minor league at-bats this season) is an offensive machine. Texas will either make room for him or have a tremendous trade chip in the 23-year-old.

7. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Low A Clinton (8)

The 19-year-old's strikeout rate stands to increase as he develops (he was at his best in that respect in the final month of the season), but even if it doesn't, he still sported a 3.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his debut season, issuing only 20 free passes in 121.2 innings. Great year for the big righthander, who finished the regular season with a 10-6, 2.37 record in 23 starts. Beavan took the loss in last night's playoff opener but threw a quality start, yielding three runs (two earned) over 6.1 innings.

8. JULIO BORBON, CF, AA Frisco (10)

While the decision to give Borbon a major league contract out of college has taken up a spot on the 40-man roster, options aren't going to be a problem for the 22-year-old. He used the first of four in 2008, and probably won't exhaust all three that remain. The fleet center fielder was even better in AA than he was in High A, finishing the regular season with a collective .322/.363/.427 line and nearly as many stolen bases (53) as strikeouts (62).

9. KASEY KIKER, LHP, High A Bakersfield (9)

As a result of an organizational effort to keep Kiker's workload in check, he didn't exceed five innings in any of his final eight appearances. The 5-5, 4.73 record doesn't leap off the page, but Kiker struck out three times as many Cal Leaguers as he walked, and had one eight-appearance run late in the year in which he posted a 2.39 ERA.

10. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Short-Season A Spokane (11)

The 17-year-old's final regular season start might have been his best. In a career-long six innings, he fanned a career-best seven Boise Hawks, yielding one run on six hits and a walk. In 61.2 innings, Perez struck out 53 players in a league whose average player was 22 years old.

11. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, Low A Clinton (12)

Beltre drew a third of his season's walk output in August -- but it was only five free passes -- and he also had his highest strikeout month (26). The 18-year-old, who hit .283 with 43 extra-base hits and 31 steals against much older competition, has the potential to be just about anything, but there are some clear aspects of his game to work on.

12. NEIL RAMIREZ, RHP, Short-Season A Spokane (14)

The .190 average that Ramirez held right-handed hitters to was impressive enough, but the 19-year-old righthander limited lefties to a meager .134 clip in his debut season. All told, Ramirez scattered just 25 hits in 44 innings, piling up 52 strikeouts (though he issued 29 walks) en route to a 2.66 ERA, including 1.37 over his last six appearances.

13. WILMER FONT, RHP, Rookie-Level Arizona League (13)

You shouldn't worry about the 10.38 ERA -- and shouldn't count on a repeat in 2009 of the .071 opponents' batting average, either. It was basically a lost year for the 18-year-old, who was slowed by a couple minor injuries and made only three appearances, all coming in the last two and a half weeks of the season.

14. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Short-Season A Spokane (15)

Boscan finished the regular season with a 9-1, 3.12 record, coaxing three groundouts for every two flyouts and posting a spectacular ratio of 70 strikeouts to 11 walks in 69.1 innings. If Holland came from the furthest off the map to establish himself as a legitimate pitching prospect in 2008, the 18-year-old Boscan was probably second.

15. MITCH MORELAND, 1B/RF, Low A Clinton (17)

In his first full pro season, which featured a .380/.444/.593 August, Moreland led the Midwest League in slugging (.536) and RBI (99 in 123 games), and it wasn't even close. His .324 average was second in the league, his .400 on-base percentage was third best, and only four hitters had more than his 18 home runs.

16. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, High A Bakersfield (20)

The 20-year-old fanned a season-high nine in his final start on Saturday, giving him 97 strikeouts for the year in 90.2 innings. His 4-4, 4.57 mark included a 3-1, 2.38 run in his last seven starts in the hitter-friendly California League.

17. JOSE VALLEJO, 2B, AA Frisco (16)

The kid knows how to run: in 2007, he stole 47 bases in 50 attempts; in 2008, he was successful in 42 of 46 tries. The power is coming as well for the toolsy second baseman: after hitting five career home runs in his first four pro seasons, Vallejo went deep 11 times for Bakersfield and Frisco this year.

18. MARCUS LEMON, SS, High A Bakersfield (UR)

In his second full season, the 20-year-old son of Chet Lemon made big strides in every phase of the game, increasing his average by 34 points (to .295) and home run total by five (to eight) while cutting his strikeouts down from 100 to 69 in roughly the same number of plate appearances.

19. TOMMY HUNTER, RHP, AAA Oklahoma (19)

The 22-year-old ended the regular season -- during which he pitched at four levels, from Bakersfield to Texas -- on a high note, giving up one run on 10 hits and four walks in 14.2 innings over two starts, striking out nine. His availability for the PCL playoffs is in jeopardy after he took a line drive off his face during batting practice on Wednesday.

20. REINIER BERMUDEZ, RHP, Dominican Summer League (UR)

There are plenty of candidates for the final spot on the list, and we'll revolve this spot each week. This time the honor goes to the 23-year-old Cuban, who allowed just 18 hits (.114 opponents' average) in 46 DSL innings this season, striking out a phenomenal 67 hitters (walking 24). The Rangers gave the fireballer seven starts and used him out of the bullpen seven times. He's obviously old for the level, but assuming no visa issues he'll certainly be stateside in 2009 and will be an arm to keep a close eye on.

Off the list this week: Taylor Teagarden (recalled to big leagues), John Mayberry Jr.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to 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, This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.