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Potential meets performance for Rangers

Potential meets performance for Rangers

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The feeling always was that the Rangers were a little uncomfortable getting all this attention about their farm system.


NL East
ATL | FLA | NYM | PHI | WAS

AL East
BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR

NL Central
CHC | CIN | HOU | MIL | PIT | STL

AL Central
CHW | CLE | DET | KC | MIN

NL West
ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF

AL West
LAA | OAK | SEA | TEX

It was always this publication or another Web site proclaiming that Texas had the top Minor League organization in all of baseball. It was nice to have the scouting staffs, both domestic and internatinal, as well as the player development department so recognized, but it didn't mean a whole lot to anyone unless it directly resulted in a turnaround at the big league level. All the prospects in the world didn't mean a thing when the parent club was finishing under .500 year after year.

In 2009, it seems like the embarassment of riches down on the farm can lead to the end of the organization's embarassment for having the top farm system in baseball. Spurred on by many contributions from its young players, Texas finished over .500 for the first time since the 2004 season. Potential, meet performance.

The scary thing is the performance at the big league level wasn't always optimal. Derek Holland spent most of the year in the bigs and had the kind of up-and-down rookie season one would expect from a 22-year-old. He was joined in the rotation by fellow rookie Tommy Hunter for a chunk of 2009. Phenom Neftali Feliz came up and was quite a sensation out of the bullpen late in the year.

On the other side of the ball, shortstop Elvis Andrus (yes, he was acquired via trade, but still put the finishing touches on in the Rangers system) finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting, playing most of the year at age 20. Taylor Teagarden and Julio Borbon got a good amount of big league time in as well.

It was, for all of them, just a taste. They're young and still scratching the surface of their potential. Assuming they continue to develop and stick in Texas, that 10-game gap between the Rangers and first place in the AL West could be narrowed in a hurry.

It would be one thing if this influx of talent was it, but it's far from over. Coming up right behind is a premium bat like Justin Smoak, who should be ready for first-base duty in the very near future. And the pitching depth continues, with exciting arms at just about every level. They may not have signed first-round pick Matthew Purke, but it doesn't hurt as much when there are pitchers like Martin Perez, Wilmer Font, Michael Main, Blake Beavan and even 2009 draftee Tanner Scheppers already in the fold.

The Rangers surely would say that it still doesn't mean much, not until they're lofting a division banner or getting fitted for a World Series ring. But after getting a glimpse of what all the efforts down on the farm can produce at the highest level, it's not too hard to envision that happening. And perhaps the organization is blushing just a little less as a result.

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Justin Smoak, 1B: Injuries can't be predicted, and that's exactly what kept Smoak from fulfilling the prediction of an organizational triple crown. OK, so maybe he wouldn't have done quite that much, but even with missing a month with an oblique injury, he managed to climb to Triple-A in his first full year and finish with a respectable .290/410/.433 combined showing before heading to Europe with Team USA and absolutely bashing international pitching in the World Cup.

Neftali Feliz, RHP: The pick was Feliz over Holland due to the belief that Holland would spend too much time in the big leagues. Turned out they both did. After a 3.49 ERA in 77 1/3 Triple-A innings, the Rangers called the hard-throwing righty up to help in the bullpen (the switch to relief started in earnest in July). The 21-year-old responded with 31 scintillating innings, allowing just 13 hits (.124 batting average against) and six earned runs (1.74 ERA) while striking out 39 vs. eight walks.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Mitch Moreland, 1B/OF: It's time to take this guy seriously. Moreland proved his strong 2008 season was no fluke by leading the organization with his .331 average across two levels while finishing with a .391 OBP and .527 SLG. he had 38 doubles and 16 homers while driving in 85 runs.

There were two players MLB.com felt were equally deserving of being named pitcher of the year, so the decision was made to hand out co-recipients of the honor.

Martin Perez, LHP: That's right, another top-notch pitching prospect in the system. At age 18, Perez fairly dominated the South Atlantic League, with a 2.31 ERA and 105 strikeouts across 93 2/3 IP. He got double-jumped up to Double-A where his overall numbers weren't as pretty, though most of that came in an awful debut start. Take out the six earned runs over 2 2/3 IP from that outing, and he allowed seven earned runs on 21 hits over 18 1/3 innings for a much more palatable 2.95 ERA.

Zachary Phillips, LHP: A 2004 draft-and-follow, Phillips stalled out as a starter in 2008 and made the switch to a relief role this past year. To say it worked would be an understatement. Pitching at two levels, he combined for a 1.39 ERA, nearly a strikeout per inning (75 in 77 2/3 IP) and a .163 batting average against. The performance earned him a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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