This week's Top 20 Rangers prospects:
1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (number 1 last week)
Smoak, who had only 14 professional games under his belt coming into 2009, finishes the season with a .290/.410/.443 slash line at three levels as he heads off to the 2009 Baseball World Cup as a member of Team USA. In 106 minor league games, the rough equivalent of two-thirds of a season, the switch-hitter drew 75 walks, a great sign for a middle-of-the-order hitter who projects to do everything offensively other than run.
2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Double-A Frisco (2)
After a brilliant effort in Midland in what was his third AA start, Perez struggled at home on Monday, scattering six base hits and two walks in 3.1 innings though he did manage to hold the RockHounds to one earned run. Between Hickory and Frisco this season, the 18-year-old is 6-7, 2.82, with 117 strikeouts and 38 walks in 108.2 innings.
3. WILMER FONT, RHP, Low A Hickory (3)
Font has managed to log only 12.1 innings over his last three starts, giving up 14 runs (11 earned) in that stretch. After issuing 48 walks in his first 91 innings, not a great number in itself, he walked 11 South Atlantic Leaguers in those 12.1 innings over the last two weeks. The 19-year-old has now eclipsed the 100-inning mark for the year, after logging only 50 frames in his first two pro seasons combined.
4. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (4)
It was a terrific season in many respects for Kiker, who won't need to be placed on the 40-man roster until November 2010 unless he reaches the big leagues first. Still, he averaged just five innings per start in 2009 and, combined with his sensational work against left-handed hitters (.178/.341/.244, as opposed to .252/.346/.366 against righthanders), I continue to wonder if the role he's destined for is as a late-inning weapon called on to face Ichiro, Kendry Morales, Brett Wallace, and the like in key spots.
5. ROBBIE ROSS, LHP, Short-Season A Spokane (5)
Ross has faced Boise three times in his last four appearances, getting better each time out. The Hawks scored five runs (four earned) in four innings against the 20-year-old on August 22, reached him for just two runs (one earned) over six innings on August 27, and last night had no chance. Ross (4-4, 2.66) spun five shutout frames, yielding three singles and no walks while fanning three. He nears the finish of his first pro season with a selection to the Northwest League's Post-Season All-Star team.
6. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Low A Hickory (6)
Wieland is finishing strong, having allowed just three earned runs in his last 10 innings of work. In his last start he held West Virginia to two unearned runs on three hits and one walk over five innings, fanning six, notable in that three weeks earlier that same club reached him for five runs, chasing him after 4.1 frames. After logging 43.2 innings in his debut 2008 season, the big right-hander is up to 78.1 innings of work this year.
7. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (8)
Ramirez had an edge on RedHawks teammate Kevin Richardson from a procedural standpoint when rosters expanded on September 1 and the club needed to add a third catcher to the active roster, but the Rangers preferred what Richardson offers and elected to designate Thomas Diamond for assignment as a result rather than simply recall Ramirez. It caps what has been a frustrating year for the 24-year-old, who I suspect will go back to the Venezuelan Winter League - where he dominated last off-season - in hopes of getting a chunk of the at-bats he missed in 2009 and reestablishing himself as a premium hitting prospect.
8. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Double-A Frisco (7)
Each season there's a pitcher or two who gets on a roll this time of year, making you wonder how disappointed he'll be when the season comes to an end. This year Beavan is one of those guys. After firing his game of the year on August 22 (shutting Northwest Arkansas out on four singles, a double, and a walk in seven innings, fanning two), he put up a nearly identical performance his next time out, blanking San Antonio on five singles and one walk in seven frames, fanning four. After starting the year going 5-4, 4.30 in Bakersfield, the 20-year-old is now 4-4, 4.07 in Frisco.
9. MITCH MORELAND, OF, Double-A Frisco (9)
The thought that Moreland's path to the big leagues might be as a situational left-hander out of the bullpen is a distant memory, at least for now.
10. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Low A Hickory (10)
The 19-year-old Boscan was 4-3, 2.25 in the first half but is just 2-5, 4.70 in the second half. Still, most pitchers his age aren't anywhere near a full-season league, and the Venezuelan has more than held his own this year in the South Atlantic League.
11. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, High A Bakersfield (11)
Back in action, Main toyed with rookie leaguers in two scoreless Arizona League rehab appearances (three singles, no walks, five strikeouts, three groundouts, and one flyout in three innings) and has returned to Bakersfield, where he's rejoined the Blaze for their California League playoff drive. He pitched two hitless, scoreless innings in relief of Kennil Gomez last night, walking one and setting one down on strikes.
12. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, Double-A Frisco (13)
When Texas made the eye-opening decision to purchase Gentry's contract on September 1, the organization made an equally fascinating move by replacing Gentry on the Frisco roster with Beltre, who struggled for most of the season with Bakersfield before he broke a bone in his right hand late in July. The 19-year-old is 1 for 7 as a RoughRider, nearly giving his new club a walkoff win last night as he doubled with a man on first in the bottom of the 10th inning of a scoreless game. (To see how the game ultimately ended, scroll down to entry number 19.)
13. MICHAEL KIRKMAN, LHP, Double-A Frisco (15)
See Beavan. Kirkman is another Frisco pitcher who's not going to want to see the 2009 schedule end. After firing five quality starts out of six, the 22-year-old was at his best last night, holding Corpus Christi to two singles and two walks in seven scoreless innings, fanning six (matching his RoughRiders strikeout high).
14. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Double-A Frisco (16)
After a rough five-start stretch (9.25 ERA), Poveda has rebounded nicely, giving up two runs apiece in two straight starts as Frisco battles to stay in contention for a Texas League playoff berth. The 21-year-old is 10-5, 4.38 in 21 RoughRider starts.
15. CARLOS PIMENTEL, RHP, Low A Hickory (19)
Pimentel has had an unconscious August, posting an ERA of 0.91 in seven Hickory relief appearances (three earned runs on 24 hits and eight walks in 29.2 innings, 27 strikeouts). His ERA is 2.99 for the season.
16. TIM SMITH, OF, Double-A Frisco (UR)
A rib injury cost Smith six weeks in July and August but, healthy again, he's headed for the 2009 Baseball World Cup, where he'll represent Team Canada. In what amounted to half a season of work, the 23-year-old hit .321/.392/.465 at three levels, with 15 doubles, eight home runs, 53 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and only 45 strikeouts.
17. MIGUEL DE LOS SANTOS, LHP, Dominican Summer League (18)
De Los Santos was wild but overpowering in his one inning of post-season relief work on Friday, issuing two walks and a wild pitch but striking out the side in a 5-3 loss to the DSL Twins that ended the Rangers' second DSL squad's season. The lefthander finished the regular season with a 32-inning run that looks like it's full of typos: five earned runs (1.41 ERA), eight hits (.074 opponents' average), zero home runs, 22 walks, 70 strikeouts, and more groundouts than flyouts.
18. TOMAS TELIS, C, Short-Season A Spokane (20)
Promoted to Spokane when the Arizona League season ended, Telis is 3 for his first 7 as an Indian. He finished at .322/.333/.470 in 183 rookie league at-bats, with 18 extra-base hits and only 15 strikeouts.
19. CHAD TRACY, 1B, Double-A Frisco (17)
Tracy is up to 106 RBI for the season, extending his Frisco franchise record, and his 106th run driven in was a memorable one, coming on a walkoff solo home run in the 11th inning last night that gave the RoughRiders a 1-0 win. The 24-year-old finished August with an impressive 1.004 OPS.
20. BRADEN TULLIS, RHP, Short-Season A Spokane (UR)
Tullis, the Rangers' eighth-round pick this summer, sits at 3-3, 3.29 for Spokane, but his record would be 3-2, 2.10 if not for one miserable start on August 8. In 63 innings of work, the righthander from Boise has fanned 59 and issued only 19 walks, sporting an impressive 2.56 G/F rate and yielding only one home run all year.
Off the list this week: Pedro Strop (majors), Guillermo Moscoso (majors)
Ten pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Robbie Erlin, Edwin Escobar, Kennil Gomez, Beau Jones, Yoon-Hee Nam, Neil Ramirez, Randol Rojas, Matt Thompson, Corey Young
Ten hitters to watch: Mike Bianucci, Leury Garcia, Jonathan Greene, Tommy Mendonca, Erik Morrison, David Paisano, Jurickson Profar, Cristian Santana, Luis Sardinas, Miguel Velazquez