We'll take a break from the column next week as we provide in-depth coverage of the Rangers' draft at www.newbergreport.com.
In the meantime, this week's Top 20 Rangers prospects:
1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Double-A Frisco (number 1 last week)
After a four-day absence due to a mild oblique strain, Smoak returned to the Frisco lineup in style last Thursday, contributing a double, walk, and two runs scored in a 4-2 win over Tulsa, kicking his season numbers up to .325/.444/.503. But he hasn't played since, landing on the seven-day disabled list with an exacerbation of the same injury. He should be back in the lineup any time.
2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Class A Hickory (2)
Coming off his most overpowering effort of the season (nine strikeouts in four scoreless innings on May 25), Perez came back five days later against the same Hagerstown club and had his first poor outing of the year, giving up five runs (four earned) on 10 hits and a walk in five innings, setting four down on strikes. Current the number 11 prospect on Baseball America's "Hot Sheet," the 18-year-old maintains nearly a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, fanning 54 while issuing only 15 walks in 45.2 innings.
3. NEFTALI FELIZ, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (3)
Feliz had two outstanding games after returning from an 11-day shutdown due to minor shoulder soreness, scattering two runs on five hits and two walks in 11 innings, with 11 strikeouts, but in his two outings since, he's been ineffective, giving up four runs on seven hits and seven walks in 7.2 innings, fanning seven. After throwing just 14 pitches per inning in those two strong starts, he's needed 21 pitches per frame in the last two. As the sentiment that Feliz could help the big league bullpen soon gains steam, nothing's going to happen until he starts to show the type of command that highlighted his breakthrough 2008 season.
4. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, Class A Bakersfield (4)
In April, Main was 0-3, 11.66 in four starts, allowing a .365 batting average and yielding more flyouts than groundouts. In May, the 20-year-old was 4-1, 4.80 in six starts, the California League hit .299 off him, and he evened out the G/F split. His June debut on Tuesday: one run in 5.1 innings (1.69 ERA), four hits allowed (.222 opponents' average), and 2.67 as many groundouts as flyouts. Trending up.
5. WILMER FONT, RHP, Class A Hickory (5)
In what was likely an effort to continue managing Font's season workload after an injury-marred 2008, the 19-year-old was moved back to the Hickory bullpen after seven straight starts, throwing a hitless inning of relief on Sunday. In 32.2 innings this year, Font has allowed 26 hits (.224 opponents' average) and 24 walks while retiring 35 South Atlantic Leaguers on strikes.
6. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Class A Bakersfield (7)
Beavan is profiling as one of the poster children for the organization's pitching program, getting deep into games, pitching to contact (low strikeouts but extremely low walk totals), keeping the ball on the ground, and generally getting the job done. Toss out a bad effort on May 2, and Beavan's numbers would sit at 4-3, 3.45 for the year. After dropping his first four decisions, the 20-year-old has won his next four, and interestingly his three no-decisions (including last night) have been among his best starts of the year: a combined three earned runs on 18 hits and one walk in 19 innings, fanning 17.
7. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (6)
After failing in two straight starts to get through the fourth inning as a result of high pitch counts, Kiker got into the seventh last night, yielding three Tulsa runs on three hits and four walks in six-plus (92 pitches), fanning three. His mound opposition, Drillers right-hander Esmil Rogers, struck five RoughRider hitters out over eight innings, allowing Rogers to catch Kiker for the Texas League in strikeouts, which the two now share - though Rogers has needed 59.2 innings to rack up his 55 whiffs, while Kiker has the same number in just 52.1 frames.
8. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Class A Hickory (9)
Boscan, back now from an oblique muscle strain that cost him five weeks, has made five starts this season, three of which have been scoreless. The 19-year-old sits at 3-2, 0.99 as a Crawdad, holding South Atlantic Leaguers to a .152 average while walking only four batters in 27.1 innings (18 strikeouts).
9. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, Class A Bakersfield (8)
After a miserable April, a .298/.365/.413 month of May brought Beltre's numbers up to .242/.300/.345 for the season. The left-handed hitter is faring much better against southpaws (.296/.333/.408) than righthanders (.214/.280/.305), a complete reversal of his 2008 numbers. Not-so-fun fact: Beltre has reached base as often by hit-by-pitch (eight times) as by the walk.
10. JULIO BORBON, CF, Triple-A Oklahoma City (10)
Borbon saw a 10-game hit streak come to an end on May 22 but immediately launched a new streak of seven straight games with hits. In that 18-game stretch, the 23-year-old raised his batting average from .252 to .294, but he drew only five walks in that time. After going 13 consecutive games without striking out, Borbon has fanned eight times in his last 10 contests. The fleet center fielder hit seven home runs in 2008 but has yet to go deep in 2009.
11. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (14)
Coming off a career masterpiece, a complete-game, three-hit shutout for Frisco on May 27, a start that earned him Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors, Poveda was promoted to Oklahoma City. In his RedHawks debut on Monday, the 21-year-old gave up four runs on five hits and four walks in seven innings, fanning three. Though he's on the 40-man roster, it's unlikely we'll see Poveda in Arlington in 2009, but he stands out as one of the organization's true international success stories from the period preceding A.J. Preller's arrival.
12. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Class A Hickory (UR)
The sample size is small, as Wieland began the year in extended spring training and then missed some time due to a groin strain, but in his two Crawdads starts the sturdy right-hander has shown a glimpse of why the organization is so high on him. In a combined eight innings of work, the 2008 fourth-rounder has allowed two earned runs on nine hits while striking out nine and issuing zero walks. There's a real chance that Wieland is a comfortably in this system's top 10 within a month.
13. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (11)
A .234/.275/.328 April, a .241/.279/.329 May, and now the 24-year-old is parked on the disabled list with a wrist issue. Maybe this stretch of not picking a bat up for a week is what he needs to get untracked. By all accounts, Ramirez should be back in action soon, and a resurgence at the plate would be a great development considering his usefulness to this organization as a trade chip.
14. GUILLERMO MOSCOSO, RHP, Double-A Frisco (13)
Moscoso was summoned to Texas between games of Friday's doubleheader and chipped in with a scoreless inning of relief to close out Saturday's 14-1 win, only to be returned to the farm as expected when Vicente Padilla was activated to make Tuesday's start in New York. The Rangers didn't return Moscoso to Frisco, however, instead assigning him to Oklahoma City, where he made his AAA debut last night. The 25-year-old was sensational, holding Memphis to one run on six hits (five singles and a double) and no walks over six innings, fanning three.
15. JOSE VALLEJO, 2B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (12)
After four multihit efforts in his first eight AAA games, the second baseman hasn't had multiple hits in any of his 12 games since, hitting .200 (8 for 40) in that stretch. A sprained ankle has pushed Vallejo onto the RedHawks disabled list.
16. MITCH MORELAND, 1B-OF, Double-A Frisco (17)
Moreland has been kept off base one time in seven AA games since his promotion eight days ago. As the RoughRiders' new everyday right fielder, the left-handed hitter sits at a robust .321/.345/.464 in 28 at-bats, fanning just two times.
17. JAKE BRIGHAM, RHP, Class A Hickory (16)
Brigham followed up his best effort of the season (five scoreless innings, three singles and a walk, eight strikeouts) with one of his least effective. Facing the same Hagerstown squad that he'd dominated on May 25, the right-hander allowed the Suns to burn him on May 30 for five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks in 2.1 innings. The 21-year-old did record five of his seven outs on strikes.
18. MANUEL PINA, C, Class A Frisco (15)
After a breakthrough April at the plate, Pina's ugly May (.218/.284/.295) included an 0-for-20 stretch. The defensively advanced catcher then singled in three straight games but is now in another rut, having gone hitless in his last 10 at-bats.
19. KENNIL GOMEZ, Class A Bakersfield (19)
First-inning troubles (nine runs on 15 hits and six walks in 10 innings) have hurt Gomez a bunch, and he sits at 2-4, 4.73 despite an acceptable overall .269 opponents' batting average and 60 strikeouts in 51.1 innings of work, plus a 1.87 rate of groundouts to flyouts. The 21-year-old has been solid his last two times out, giving up two earned runs on eight hits (though seven walks) in 13.1 innings, punching out 15.
20. ZACH PHILLIPS, Class A Bakersfield (20)
Phillips was scored on the first two times he pitched out of the Blaze bullpen this season but has been spotless since, spanning 10 relief appearances (19 innings, seven hits, four walks, 21 strikeouts). Counting his one start, the 22-year-old has held the hitter-friendly California League to an anemic .150/.196/.200 slash line, keeping the ball on the ground (1.70 G/F), not to mention in the park (zero home runs). On top of all that, there has yet to be a stolen base on Phillips's watch.
Off the list this week: Michael Kirkman
Six pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Fabio Castillo, Yoon-Hee Nam, Matt Nevarez, Carlos Pimentel, Corey Young
Six hitters to watch: Mike Bianucci, Mauro Gomez, Matt Lawson, Erik Morrison, David Paisano, Tim Smith