This week's Top 20 Rangers prospects:
1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Double-A Frisco (number 1 two weeks ago)
Since returning to Frisco from his month-long disabled list stint (oblique strain), Smoak is 11 for 29 (.379) with six walks and five strikeouts. The 22-year-old stepped in against rehabbing Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse three times last night and drew a walk each time. Lohse issued one other walk to the entire RoughRiders lineup in his 3.2 innings of work. A scout said to Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein this week, regarding Smoak: "The ball comes off his bat so hard . . . . He's going to make Rangers fans not miss Mark Teixeira all that much."
2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Low A Hickory (2)
The 18-year-old has been remarkably consistent all year despite being the youngest pitcher in the South Atlantic League. Two things stand out as we reach mid-season: the organization continues to closely manage Perez's innings, as he has pitched into the sixth inning just once, and his groundball rate keeps getting better: 1.60 groundouts for every flyout in April, 1.79 in May, and 2.10 in June. The plus fastball-plus curve repertoire he came into the season with is now a plus fastball-plus curve-plus change assortment, turning right-handed hitters into a .234/.298/.335 bunch, after they hit .306/.370/.435 against him last year.
3. NEFTALI FELIZ, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (3)
Since his move to the RedHawks bullpen, Feliz has a 1.93 ERA in three appearances, permitting one run on three hits and one walk in 4.2 innings, fanning four. He's throwing strikes at virtually an identical rate to the one he posted as a starter, and though his walk rate is far better (it was four per nine innings as a starter), that trend began even before the transition to relief - in his final four starts before moving to the pen, he issued just two free passes in 22.1 innings. It's important to note that the 21-year-old has yet to pitch on consecutive days, or even on one day of rest. Expect him to be tested on back-to-back days before a big league promotion is planned.
4. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Double-A Frisco (4)
Two of Beavan's three starts since his promotion to Frisco have been ineffective, but we need to remember that this is a 20-year-old pitching in AA, in just his second pro season. One scout told Goldstein: "He's not afraid to challenge hitters, and he has enough stuff to make it work. . . . The Rangers have done a nice job backing him off the power game and turning him into a guy with a good mix of pitches."
5. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, High A Bakersfield (6)
A Wednesday story out of the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that doctors are no longer certain that it's mononucleosis that has caused Main's constant fatigue and other symptoms, but he is still in Surprise and, though he's beginning to feel better, remains limited as far as baseball activities are concerned.
6. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (7)
Kiker hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 14 innings, which doesn't count the scoreless first in Wednesday's Texas League All-Star Game. Interestingly, the left-hander has a 5.79 ERA in his 14 first innings this season, and a 2.39 ERA in all other frames.
7. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (10)
Ramirez's wrist injury may be acting up again, as he sat out the last two nights, which is the only thing holding me back from expecting an imminent breakout. After uncharacteristically drawing only 11 free passes in his first 49 games this year, he now has walks in seven straight contests. His combination of plate discipline and the ability to hit and hit for power is what makes him such an intriguing asset. None of those three tools have shown up consistently this season, surely a side effect of the wrist issues, but it appears at least that he's beginning to command the strike zone again.
8. WILMER FONT, RHP, Low A Hickory (9)
Font's game of the year came on Thursday, as he fired five scoreless innings to improve to 4-1, 3.96 for the season. The key feature of the start was not the three hits allowed (all singles) or the four strikeouts but the zero walks, considering the fireballing right-hander had issued free passes at an unacceptable rate of six per nine innings coming into the game.
9. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Low A Hickory (8)
Making his first relief appearance of the year last night (in what seems to have been designed as a tandem start with Font), Boscan struggled, allowing four runs on five hits and a walk in 3.2 innings and fanning nobody. In his last three outings, his ERA has risen from 1.21 to 2.59, his opponents' batting average from .169 to .213. Nothing to be concerned about; it will be worth watching to see how he adjusts to this small dose of adversity.
10. MITCH MORELAND, OF, Double-A Frisco (13)
I'm done wondering if this is just a matter of Moreland beating up on younger pitchers. Can you discount the .341/.421/.594 line he put up in 170 at-bats against pitchers in the hitter-friendly Cal League? Maybe. But the 23-year-old has gotten hot again in Frisco, where he's no longer old for his league, and is now up to .329/.371/.486 in 140 RoughRiders at-bats, with only 17 strikeouts. I'm starting to think that if you were to draw a line in the organization's prospect depth chart, denoting which players have established themselves as legitimate trade pieces (if not players to hang onto), Moreland's name would show up above the line.
11. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, High A Bakersfield (11)
Beltre drew unintentional walks in consecutive games for just the second time all season this week. He's had only four streaks of at least two games in which he didn't strike out. He's young for the California League, but there's no way to call his .223/.271/.311 season (70 strikeouts, 11 unintentional walks) anything but a disappointment to this point.
12. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Low A Hickory (12)
Wieland had his first objectively poor outing of the season -- really, his first as a pro -- when he gave up five runs (four earned) on 10 hits in 4.1 innings on Saturday. He had a particularly rough time against left-handed hitters, who went from .206/.270/.206 in Wieland's first five starts to .295/.340/.318 overall after Saturday's effort. Same as with Boscan: Let's see how he responds the next time out.
13. GUILLERMO MOSCOSO, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (UR)
The 25-year-old has been dominant since returning to the farm after his latest 11-day stint in Arlington. In two RedHawks outings, one a start and one a three-inning relief appearance, Moscoso has scattered three singles and two walks in eight scoreless frames, fanning five. Pacific Coast League left-handers are just 2 for 20 with one walk against the right-hander, fanning five times.
14. TIM SMITH, OF, Double-A Frisco (15)
Stinkin' hitting machine. After a .333/.413/.475 run with Bakersfield, Smith is up to .365/.406/.469 as a RoughRider, with only 13 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. Worth monitoring: last season, the left-handed hitter went deep just six times through July, before hitting seven home runs in August. Smith has only five homers this season, including one with Frisco. Will the power stroke come on late like it did in 2008?
15. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Double-A Frisco (14)
After a three-week layoff due to a hand injury, Poveda pitched on rehab against rookie league hitters in Surprise on Saturday, striking out two Arizona League Padres in three scoreless innings. He scattered two singles and walked nobody.
16. ZACH PHILLIPS, LHP, Double-A Frisco (17)
The 22-year-old's AA debut went reasonably well, as he gave up one unearned Corpus Christi run on five hits and three walks in 4.2 innings, fanning two, though he did allow all three runners he inherited from Beavan to score. Phillips departed Bakersfield, which plays in a notorious hitters' league, with an ERA of 1.23, a .123 opponents' batting average, and 46 strikeouts and 11 walks in 44 innings.
17. MIKE BIANUCCI, OF, Low A Hickory (16)
The fact that Bianucci's numbers have dropped slightly each month (1.019 OPS in April, .978 in May, .922 in June) doesn't change the fact that he sits at .323/.389/.578 overall and needs a new challenge.
18. MICHAEL KIRKMAN, LHP, Double-A Frisco (20)
Back from a brief DL stint, the lanky southpaw allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks in 4.2 innings last night, fanning three. Featuring command of a low-90s fastball and two solid secondary offerings, he's had difficulty with left-handed hitters in what has otherwise been his breakout season. Lefties hit .294/.367/.397 against Kirkman during his run with Bakersfield and are hitting .367/.456/.469 off of him in AA.
19. TIM MURPHY, LHP, High A Bakersfield (UR)
A terrible May (0-3, 15.63) gave way to what has been a return to the form that Murphy flashed last summer after signing as the Rangers' third-round pick. In five June starts, four of which qualified as quality starts, the 22-year-old went 3-1, 2.18, walking only eight Cal Leaguers in 33 innings after issuing 30 free passes in the 36.1 innings that preceded the month.
20. FABIO CASTILLO, RHP, Low A Hickory (19)
A couple ineffective outings (five runs [four earned] in 5.1 innings) haven't noticeably spoiled Castillo's season numbers. The former July 2 bonus baby maintains a 2.31 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 15 unintentional walks in 50.2 innings, and is holding opponents to a .250 batting average. He's allowed only one home run all season and 1.79 as many groundouts as flyouts.
Off the list this week: Julio Borbon (big leagues), Jose Vallejo
Nine pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Miguel De Los Santos, A.J. Murray, Yoon-Hee Nam, Matt Nevarez, Carlos Pimentel, Robbie Ross, Ryan Tatusko, Corey Young
Eight hitters to watch: Joaquin Arias, Craig Gentry, Greg Golson, Matt Lawson, Marcus Lemon, Erik Morrison, David Paisano, Miguel Velazquez