As is right and proper, with the various minor leagues either coming up on or having already played their All-Star games, it is time for a re-ranking of the top 15 prospects in the Rangers organization.
First, though, a look back at who occupied these spots before the season began:
6. Jorge Alfaro
8. Joey Gallo
10. Alec Asher
Alec Asher is the only repeat in this section of the top-15 list, and while Nick Williams moves down into it, everyone else either moved up or graduated. Luis Sardinas is now a Texas Ranger, far sooner than many would have predicted, and has in some ways out-performed expectations.
On to the current six-through-ten!
6. Nick Williams
Nick Williams has the highest ceiling of any prospect in this section of the list, but also the highest probability of not actually reaching that ceiling. A Rangers’ top pick in 2012, Williams started off 2014 extremely slowly, hitting .229/.278/.361 in April. When the calendar clicked over to May, though, Williams seemed to hit a switch, putting up more twos and threes in the hit column than zeros, and this trend continued until he hit the disabled list early in June.
With Williams, the biggest worry continues to be his strikeout numbers. He’s striking out at a similar rate in Myrtle Beach as he did with Hickory last season, a number too high to be considered truly viable in the future, especially when one takes his miniscule walk rate into consideration. While he’s currently hitting over .300 and has one of the more highly touted hit tools in the system, he’ll need to be able to make the adjustments necessary to hit more advanced pitching.
7. Ryan Rua
Ryan Rua was one of the enigmas of the system last season, coming out of nowhere to hit 29 homers with the low-A Hickory Crawdads before being promoted to Frisco towards the end of the year. Rua was moved from second base to third when he was promoted, where he showed some defensive struggles. The infielder has spent the beginning of this season proving his acclimation to third base, and then slid over to a DH/first base role to make room for wünderkind Joey Gallo’s arrival. Though first shouldn’t be Rua’s eventual home, adding the versatility to play two infield positions well will increase his value. Offensively, Rua’s made adjustments as well, as he’s still trying to regain his timing after a slump towards the end of May. Despite the slump, Rua’s hitting .300/.377/.486 in 67 games, and if he takes quickly to first base, he could be of interest to other teams as the trade deadline grows nearer.
Note: Rua made his second career start in left field on the date this piece was written, giving him time at four positions this season. While the organization may simply be trying to get him at-bats now that Joey Gallo is Frisco’s main third baseman, there’s also the possibility that this is also an attempt to make Rua more of a utility player.
8. Alec Asher
In his last five starts, Alec Asher has allowed either zero or one runs, while going at least six innings in four of them. He turned in a stellar start on June 6, going 7.0 innings with two hits, no runs, and four strikeouts, and his six-inning start on June 11 could have been better, despite the one run he gave up. Asher came into the season as one of the system’s less well-regarded pitchers who could still be called a prospect, but his solid numbers and matured approach have moved him up in the rankings.
Asher doesn’t have the top-shelf stuff of other pitchers in the system, but his improved command and mastery of his pitches has allowed him to attack hitters, and get deeper into games on average than he did with Myrtle Beach last season. If this recent five-game streak is the beginnings of everything coming together, Asher could move even farther up various rankings as he gets closer to being a major league pitcher. Of course, his improvements won’t go unnoticed by other teams, and he could be as sought-after as Neil Ramirez, if the Rangers are looking to make a move to push for a Wild Card spot at the trade deadline.
9. Jerad Eickhoff
Though the pure “stuff” Eickhoff throws is probably better than Asher’s overall arsenal, his results so far this season have been less successful, a trait that’s followed him since he pitched for Hickory in 2012. Eickhoff has a power fastball, touching 96 in late innings, as well as three other inconsistent offerings. He can usually throw his four pitches for strikes and induce whiffs, but sometimes struggles with not being able to recover from multiple-hit innings. On the nights when he’s on, he can turn in a performance like he did on April 30, when he allowed only two hits and no earned runs to San Antonio across 7.1 innings.
Though it’s likely the organization continues using Eickhoff as a starter, it’s been suggested that his already good fastball could play up even further in short relief, and having fewer innings to pitch at a time could reduce the pressure caused by baserunners. Eickhoff probably spends the rest of 2014 with Frisco, continuing to mature as a pitcher.
10. Travis Demeritte
Once again, a Rangers prospect leads the South Atlantic League in home runs. Though Travis Demeritte currently splits his time between second base and third base, with occasional stints at short, some think he makes his final home at third, giving the Rangers yet another power-hitting prospect at the hot corner.
Though Demeritte was predicted to have some pop, not many expected him to break out for 15 homers in the first half of the low-A season, adding another on the first night of the second half. The power may be impressive, but interestingly, he’s hit these home runs while not hitting for average, not a good sign for his future development. Demeritte is also striking out a painful 31.5 percent of the time, but will hopefully lower that rate as he develops the ability to recognize and adjust to breaking pitches. Though the power is tantalizing, he’ll need to show that he can refine his approach and increase his average and on-base percentage through the rest of this season, instead of simply resting on his ability to hit homers off fastballs.