Throughout the minor league season, we'll take a look on the farm at Rangers prospects that are drawing attention for one reason or another. This week we have an update on one prospect from three different ranks: Hickory, Myrtle Beach, and Frisco.
Luke Jackson (RHP, Frisco RoughRiders)
Today, we’ll look at one of the hardest and one of the softest throwers in the Rangers’ system, starting with Luke Jackson, known for hitting and holding 97 mph through seven innings. Jackson was the compensatory pick for not signing Marlon Byrd in 2010, picked by the Rangers out of Cavalry Christian HS in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and began his professional career with the Hickory Crawdads in 2011.
So far this season in Frisco, Jackson has 53 strikeouts in 55.0 innings pitched, and only 14 walks, giving out free passes to just 6.4 percent of hitters, nearly half of his 2013 rate. While Jackson will still struggle with control at times (pitching himself into full counts), he’s shown the ability to get out of the situations he creates. Jackson technically has four pitches - fastball, curveball, changeup, and slider - but he’s thrown the slider almost never this season, and relies on his other three for outs. His fastball usually sits 93-96, touching 97 and he’s hit 98 mph before. His curveball is his second best pitch, and he’ll vary speeds on it, throwing it anywhere from 75-83 with differing amounts of break, which offsets the disappearance of the slider. His changeup has continued to improve since his professional debut, and is now a legitimately decent pitch, something that was needed if Jackson is to stay in a starting role.
Though Jackson has yet to miss a lengthy stretch of time, his slightly complicated mechanics could put him at risk of injury later on, and some evaluators think he would be better served by pitching out of the bullpen in a late-innings role. The Rangers seem quite fine with letting Jackson start for now, though a late-season MLB appearance out of the ‘pen (similar to Nick Martinez before circumstances dictated a return to the rotation) is not out of the question.
In order to be the solid starting pitcher Jackson has the capability to be, he’ll need to work on refining his control enough to keep his pitch counts in a reasonable range. Though the right-hander hasn’t cracked 100 pitches yet this season, he also hasn’t pitched into the 8th inning in a start, going 7.0 innings in 98 pitches against Tulsa on May 23rd.
Alex Claudio (LHP, Myrtle Beach Pelicans)
Now, to the other end of the velocity spectrum. Alex Claudio, a side-arming lefty with one of the best changeups in all of baseball, is seemingly stuck in high-A Myrtle Beach despite a 1.26 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched this season. In that time, Claudio’s also struck out 39 batters, while only allowing five walks, a ridiculously paltry rate demonstrating his dominance of the league’s batters. Claudio’s five walks are the fewest amongst pitchers with at least 30 innings in the Carolina League, and two of those came in his last appearance, where he pitched 5.0 innings, enough to earn a decision if he had started. On top of that, Claudio spent the second half of last season in Frisco, putting up a 2.84 ERA in 31.2 innings with a 29:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, numbers that he most likely would have improved upon by starting there this season.
“Well, with those numbers, why doesn’t he start?” you may be saying. Well, Alex Claudio’s fastball reportedly reaches 88 MPH, though last year in Frisco he more reliably sat 84-86, with the occasional 87 thrown in there for relief. He has a mid-70s slider that he usually throws to lefties, and the aforementioned changeup, a pitch of such wickedness that it makes AA hitters look like Josh Hamilton on a bad night. Though he’s recently pitched four to five innings in relief, Claudio’s isn’t a starting prospect by any means.
The fact that Claudio’s not in Frisco right now must have something non-pitching behind it, because by the numbers he should be facing more advanced batters right now. He could move up with the Gallo promotion, or a Chi-Chi promotion, or there could be no telling when the organization will decide to re-promote him.
Ryan Cordell (OF, Hickory Crawdads)
Ryan Cordell isn’t exactly a well-known name on the Rangers’ farm, but last week’s South Atlantic League Player of the Week is making an argument for more people to pay attention to him. Cordell earned the honor as part of a week that saw him go 16-for-27, including a 4-for-4 night with a triple and a double.
The Rangers took Cordell in the 11th round of last season’s draft out of Liberty University in Virginia, and sent him to Spokane, where he hit in line with the rest of the offensively anemic Indians, slugging .358 even with five homers. Cordell started 2014 with full-season Hickory, where he’s currently hitting .355/.398/.632 in 19 games, numbers outstripping his Spokane production by miles. Cordell has three homers already, along with five doubles and three triples. Defensively, Cordell has played every outfield position this season, though historically he’s spent the most time in right field, and can hold his own on routine and highlight plays.
While time and a larger sample size will have to tell if Cordell can produce enough to be considered a prospect in the outfield corners, the hitting he’s already shown is enough to put a pin by his name for this season. Prospects can come out of nowhere, as Ryan Rua showed last season, and a college pick leading his team in average and slugging is a good way to be noticed.