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Farm Crop: Rangers top 20 prospects

Farm Crop: Rangers top 20 prospects

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Since this column runs four Thursdays a month, we'll take next week off. And that means the next time the Top 20 Prospects list appears on this website, the conventional trade deadline will have passed.

A number of players have dropped off the list, at least temporarily, for one of two reasons as this season has played out: either a promotion to Arlington (e.g., Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter) or a dip in performance (e.g., Jose Vallejo, Manny Pina). When this column runs again on August 6, there's a real chance a player or two featured in this Top 20 will fall off the list for a third reason: because they'll have a new employer.

The important thing to note is that, in past years, Texas might have had three or four prospects at any given time that generated enough interest to facilitate a meaningful trade. Over the last couple seasons, however, and foreseeably for at least the next few, the Rangers will be able to go deep into a list like this one and even off of it to interest other clubs in a youth-for-veteran type of trade.

This is one of the real exciting times of the year for an organization deep in legitimate minor league prospects.

This week's Top 20 Rangers prospects:

1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (number 1 last week)

Smoak has more multi-hit games than one-hit games since his early-July promotion to Oklahoma City, but not enough of either. He's still trying to find a Triple-A groove, hitting .133/.243/.233, and though his walk total is impressive (eight in 60 at-bats), he'd gone six straight games without working a base on balls until drawing one last night.

2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Low A Hickory (2)

Perez has yet to go through an opponent's lineup three times, but it's not due to ineffectiveness. Texas continues to keep tight reins on the 18-year-old's workload, permitting him to get as much as one out in the sixth just one time. Last seven outings: 1.55 ERA, 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 29 innings, opponents' batting average of .239. Any questions?

3. NEFTALI FELIZ, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (3)

Feliz passed the consecutive-day test on July 16-17, throwing scoreless eighths against Round Rock twice, but the club then gave the 21-year-old three days off before sending him back to the mound. On Tuesday he surrendered only his second home run of the season (and seventh of his five-year career) but nothing else, as he fanned four in two innings.

4. JULIO BORBON, OF, Triple-A Oklahoma City (4)

A return to Arlington for Borbon has been discussed with David Murphy (finger, flu) and Nelson Cruz (finger) in action but potentially limited. The fleet center fielder has been on fire since being optioned back to AAA following a brief big league stint, hitting .367/.407/.429 with four stolen bases in 11 games. In that span he has six multi-hit games and only one hitless effort.

5. WILMER FONT, RHP, Low A Hickory (5)

Font struggled for the first time this month when he allowed five Savannah runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in three innings on Monday, fanning just one. It was a momentary hiccup in a one of the most impressive breakthrough seasons in the system.

6. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (6)

Kiker improved to 6-5, 2.78 with a solid seven-inning effort on Saturday, holding Corpus Christi to three runs on five hits and two walks while fanning five - padding his league-leading strikeout total (88 in 97 innings). He did permit a home run in the game (only his fifth surrendered this season) but uncharacteristically got most of his outs on balls put in play on the ground (nine groundouts, six flyouts). On the down side, his 44 walks are fifth most in the circuit, and while he no longer leads the minor leagues in hit batsmen, the only pitcher with more is Boston AAA knuckleballer Charlie Zink.

7. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Double-A Frisco (7)

Two stunning numbers in Beavan's seven AA starts, spanning 41 innings: just four walks, just 15 strikeouts. Strikeout rates generally don't increase from AA going up, as hitters become more selective, and the 20-year-old's .320 opponents' batting average isn't encouraging, either. Still, we need to remember this is only the high school draftee's second pro season on the mound, and he remains a legitimate prospect. The power pitcher projection he brought with him from Irving High has given way to a pitch-to-contact, groundball, inning-eating profile, and there's nothing wrong with that, but he's not missing enough bats and the Texas League is creating a bit too much offense off him right now.

8. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Low A Hickory (8)

Wieland is coming off the worst outing of his pro career, a two-inning, nine-run (seven earned) effort on Sunday that in one night inflated his 3.83 ERA to 5.14, and his opponents' batting average from .276 to .303. It's a common theme in this space, though: for blue-chip kids like Wieland, a dose of adversity isn't a terrible thing. Watching to see how they respond, how they adjust, is as important in a way as seeing them dominate.

9. ROBBIE ROSS, LHP, Short-Season A Spokane (11)

The Rangers' recent history in the second round has been somewhat underwhelming, but Ross has a chance not only to live up to his draft position but maybe stand out as a potential steal where he was taken. The 20-year-old, in his first pro season, leads the Northwest League in strikeouts by a healthy margin (48 in 35.1 innings), issuing only eight walks in seven starts, holding opponents to a .231 batting average, and inducing seven times more groundouts than flyouts. Half of that rate is considered elite.

10. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (9)

Ramirez's current disabled list stint has now lasted three weeks, and this time it's the left wrist, after he'd missed a couple weeks in late May and early June with a right wrist issue. Coming off a .354/.450/.646 AA season, and a .298/.391/.618 winter (he led the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs and was second in slug and in RBI), he's a .238/.308/.332 AAA hitter in 2009, and there's no word on when he might get the chance to bring those numbers up.

11. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, High A Bakersfield (10)

It gives me some amount of comfort to know that Main is a tough, grounded, resilient kid.

12. MITCH MORELAND, OF, Double-A Frisco (12)

Moreland hasn't really had a cold streak in 2009, but he's in the midst of one of his better runs right now. Since going hitless in two straight games for just the second time in his two months with Frisco, he's gone 7 for 20 (.350) with three doubles and a home run (.650 slug) and a couple walks (.409 on-base).

13. GUILLERMO MOSCOSO, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (14)

Moscoso will try to keep this crazy roll of his going with a start tonight against New Orleans. In six RedHawks appearances, the wiry Venezuelan is 3-2, 1.13, scattering 22 punchless hits (.193 opponents' average, .219 slug) and five walks in 32 innings while setting 28 down on strikes. After having not registered more strikeouts than innings pitched in any of his first five AAA outings, he punched out nine Round Rock hitters in six frames on Saturday.

14. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Low A Hickory (13)

After Boscan's July 13 start was limited to one scoreless inning before a lengthy rain delay, the Rangers sent him back to the mound for a spotless inning of relief on July 16. Back in rotation on Saturday, however, he struggled (four runs [three earned] on seven hits and a walk in four innings), as he has more often than not since mid-June, when his ERA was a minuscule 1.21. The 19-year-old is now 4-5, 3.34 for the season.

15. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Double-A Frisco (16)

Poveda now has a 2.39 ERA in four July starts, punctuated by a sturdy seven-inning, one-run effort on Tuesday against San Antonio, who he was even better against in a previous matchup. With Holland and Feliz and Perez likely untouchable, a run like the one Poveda is on right now, likely in front of plenty of pro scouts, could have the effect of making him a possible trade target for teams selling veterans.

16. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, High A Bakersfield (15)

Beltre's miserable season (.227/.281/.317, 16 unintentional walks in nearly 400 plate appearances) hitting at or near the top of the Bakersfield lineup has been iced for unknown reasons. He hasn't played in eight days, presumably due to some sort of physical issue.

17. TIM SMITH, OF, Double-A Frisco (17)

Smith has also been sidelined for more than a week, slowed by a ribcage strain that has forced him to the disabled list. After hitting .376/.406/.484 in June, the outfielder managed to hit just .174/.333/.348 in July before being shut down.

18. MICHAEL KIRKMAN, LHP, Double-A Frisco (18)

Two rough starts (11 runs in nine innings) have inflated Kirkman's RoughRiders ERA to 5.05, but he's already in uncharted territory as far as his workload is concerned. The tall left-hander has now amassed 99.2 innings in 2009, a career high for the five-year pro from Florida. Between Bakersfield and Frisco, the 22-year-old is 7-5, 3.61 in 17 starts and a relief appearance, with 90 strikeouts and 42 walks.

19. ZACH PHILLIPS, LHP, Double-A Frisco (19)

Phillips has pitched just once since July 13, giving up two singles in 1.1 innings on Monday. His Frisco ERA remains at 0.00.

20. MIGUEL DE LOS SANTOS, LHP, Dominican Summer League (20)

Since his one poor outing on July 14, De Los Santos rediscovered his dominance, making two straight hitless appearances, fanning five in 3.1 innings. Overall, the 21-year-old is toying with Dominican Summer League kids, setting 55 down on strikes in 24.2 innings while permitting all of three base hits (.037 opponents' batting average) and three earned runs (1.09 ERA).

Off the list this week: None

Ten pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Fabio Castillo, Edwin Escobar, Kennil Gomez, A.J. Murray, Yoon-Hee Nam, Matt Nevarez, Carlos Pimentel, Braden Tullis, Corey Young

Ten hitters to watch: Joaquin Arias, Mike Bianucci, Craig Gentry, Greg Golson, Marcus Lemon, Erik Morrison, David Paisano, Guillermo Pimentel, Miguel Velazquez, Johnny Whittleman

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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