This week's Top 20 Rangers prospects:
1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (number 1 two weeks ago)
It was a matter of time: Smoak hit .133/.243/.233 through his first 60 Triple-A at-bats, but in his 49 at-bats since then he's hit .327/.414/.490. At our Newberg Report event at Rangers Ballpark on Sunday, guest speaker Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus departed from the routine Mark Teixeira comp, suggesting Smoak could be a "switch-hitting Justin Morneau."
2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Low A Hickory (2)
At the same event on Sunday, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels acknowledged that a promotion for the 18-year-old Perez has been discussed. In the left-hander's last nine appearances, he's 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 12 walks in 39 innings, having allowed just 33 hits, one of which left the yard.
3. JULIO BORBON, OF, Triple-A Oklahoma City (4)
Borbon will be back in Texas this season, likely auditioning for a full-time big league opportunity in 2010. Since his brief big league call-up in late June, he's hitting .347/.387/.396 as a RedHawk, with 10 multi-hit efforts in a span of 24 games. Before an 0-fer last night, he'd put together a 12-game hit streak, during which he went down on strikes only twice in 51 at-bats. The way things are going in Arlington, it's encouraging to see what Borbon and Smoak, two players who could figure in significantly next year, are doing this season at the upper levels of the farm.
4. WILMER FONT, RHP, Low A Hickory (5)
What a year it's been for the 19-year-old. In 22 appearances (17 starts), Font has allowed more than two runs only three times -- and that was in three consecutives outings in the first half of June. Since that aberration, Font has a 2.21 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance, scattering 26 hits (.168 opponents' average) and 11 walks in 36.2 innings, while fanning 36.
5. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (6)
Kiker is running away with the Texas League strikeout crown, with 104 punchouts in 107.2 innings (no other pitcher in the league has fanned as many as 90). He's third in the circuit with 54 walks, however, and his 17 hit batsmen are twice as many as anyone else has. He's coming off his worst outing of the season (five runs [three earned] in two-thirds of an inning) but is still holding opponents to a .241 batting average for the year -- including a July in which he held hitters to an anemic .138 clip in five starts.
6. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Low A Hickory (8)
Wieland's July (6.14 ERA) wasn't nearly as good as his April (3.86) or May (3.38) but he bounced back with a quality start on Wednesday, holding Greensboro to three runs over six innings in his first game against that club. The big right-hander has 43 strikeouts and 15 walks in 54 innings, inducing 1.53 as many groundouts as flyouts.
7. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Double-A Frisco (7)
In Beavan's Double-A debut on June 15, he fanned six Midland RockHounds in 5.1 innings. Since then, in 56 frames, the 20-year-old has set only 15 hitters down on strikes -- including three over 13.1 innings in his last two starts, both against that same Midland club. Beavan has issued only eight walks in 10 starts, but he's been too hittable (.308 opponents' average) and simply has to start missing more bats.
8. ROBBIE ROSS, LHP, Short-Season A Spokane (9)
Here's one reason a guy like Beavan maintains a spot as high as he does on a list like this: Everyone's justifiably in love with the numbers Ross is putting up for Spokane, but that's three levels lower than Beavan -- and he's only five months younger than Beavan. But enough of that. Ross is second in the Northwest League with 54 strikeouts (in 45.1 innings), third in ERA (2.78), and has issued only a dozen walks in nine starts. Then there's that typographical error of a G/F -- 5.15 groundouts for every flyout.
9. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (10)
Ramirez missed the entire month of July with his second wrist injury of the season but there's word that his return to action could be imminent. Sure would be nice to see the versatile offensive player put together a strong final month, and maybe even build on it with some big league at-bats in September. The need for a right-handed bat with base-reaching skills in Arlington has been evident all year. It's a shame Ramirez hasn't been well enough to make a case that the job should have been his.
10. MITCH MORELAND, OF, Double-A Frisco (12)
Moreland is coming off his one sub-.300 month of the season (in fact, his one sub-.325 month), and yet he had his best run-producing stretch, driving in 30 runs in 28 games despite hitting "just" .296. He's not quite a qualifier for Texas League statistical leadership, but he will be soon and he'll find himself in or near the circuit's top 10 in hitting, reaching base, slugging, and OPS. A left-handed hitter, he's torching AA southpaws (.391/.440/.551).
11. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, High A Bakersfield (11)
Main is reportedly feeling better, is throwing again, and is slated to return to Arizona later this month, where he'll prepare to get back on a mound in fall instructional league. His nightmare 2009 season is likely over, but at least there's a palpable explanation for his stunning ineffectiveness.
12. GUILLERMO MOSCOSO, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (13)
As Gerald Laird hits under .230 for Detroit, Moscoso has a 1.96 ERA in seven Triple-A starts and one relief appearance. He took the loss against Round Rock on Tuesday despite going a strong seven innings, giving him a 1.50 ERA in three starts (15 strikeouts and two walks in 18 innings) against the Express this season. If Moscoso had been developed by this organization rather than quietly acquired in the off-season, the buzz would be greater.
13. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Low A Hickory (14)
Boscan's April through June were so good (4-3, 2.00 in nine starts) that his ugly July (1-3, 5.33) hasn't spoiled his season numbers too badly. The 19-year-old is 5-6, 3.24 as one of the South Atlantic League's youngest pitchers.
14. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Double-A Frisco (15)
Poveda struggled last night (four runs on five hits and three walks in 2.2 innings, only 38 of 72 pitches for strikes) after a standout July in which his posted a 3.43 ERA in six Frisco starts.
15. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, High A Bakersfield (16)
When the season got underway, the two Bakersfield players I had highest hopes for in 2009 were Main and Beltre. Both struggled and ultimately had their seasons cut short, Beltre's due to a hamate fracture in his right hand. He finishes at .227/.281/.317, with only 16 unintentional walks in 389 plate appearances.
16. MICHAEL KIRKMAN, LHP, Double-A Frisco (18)
After three poor starts, Kirkman has bounced back with two very good ones (four earned runs on 12 hits and two walks in 13 innings, fanning nine). The tall lefty's ERA in the first two innings as a RoughRider is 7.27. Thereafter, it's 3.54.
17. MIGUEL DE LOS SANTOS, LHP, Dominican Summer League (20)
Twenty-nine innings. Four earned runs. Eleven inherited runners, nine stranded. Three singles, two doubles. Sixty-four strikeouts. Good grief.
18. JOHNNY WHITTLEMAN, 3B, Double-A Frisco (UR)
Not overly impressed by the .245/365/.400 slash line? Fair enough. But Whittleman is still only 22 and in Double-A (this would be his first full pro season had he gone to college), and in July he hit .293/.421/.620 with eight home runs, the second-best total in the organization. Always blessed with exquisite plate discipline, if he's figuring out how to regularly punish strikes, he once again becomes an exciting prospect.
19. BRADEN TULLIS, RHP, Short-Season A Spokane (UR)
Taken by Texas in this year's eighth round out of tiny Skagit Valley Community College in Washington, the sturdy righthander has been the star of the Rangers' 2009 draft class to date (second-rounder Tommy Mendonca's three-homer night on Wednesday notwithstanding). In 38 innings, he's recorded 39 strikeouts while issuing only 10 walks, and when Northwest League hitters have put the ball in play, they haven't done much damage, grounding out 2.36 times as often as they fly out and homering just once. Tullis has allowed more than two earned runs just one time, in Monday's start against Salem-Keizer (five runs in 4.2 frames).
20. JURICKSON PROFAR, SS, Unassigned (UR)
Can't resist. One of the highlights of Daniels's 90 minutes of Q&A on Sunday was his unbridled enthusiasm while discussing Profar, the 16-year-old from Curacao who was signed a month ago as a shortstop despite some industry sentiment that he'd be more valuable on the mound. The Rangers don't think so. Daniels was quick to say he thinks that within a year or two, Profar (who homered from both sides of the plate in a July B.P. session in Arlington) could be among the top shortstop prospects in all of baseball.
Off the list this week: Neftali Feliz (Majors), Tim Smith, Zach Phillips
Ten pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Fabio Castillo, Edwin Escobar, Kennil Gomez, Beau Jones, A.J. Murray, Yoon-Hee Nam, Matt Nevarez, Carlos Pimentel, Corey Young
Ten hitters to watch: Mike Bianucci, Joey Butler, Leury Garcia, Craig Gentry, Greg Golson, Erik Morrison, David Paisano, Guillermo Pimentel, Chad Tracy, Miguel Velazquez