Today, we'll look at the players with the top 'tools' in the Rangers organization, starting with the two hitting tools: hitting for average and hitting for power. The top power hitter in the organization is, of course, obvious, but some of the better hitters for average might surprise.
While he can also hit for a bit of power, putting 10 balls over the fence in 74 games, Nick Williams is one of the best pure hitters in the Rangers organization, if not the best. The outfielder currently sports a slash line of .323/.375/.529 with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and has the most doubles of anyone in the organization, with 23. Though he does have 86 strikeouts, when Williams gets the bat to the ball, he makes the most of it, hitting the ball to where the fielder isn't a good portion of the time. While this trend may not hold up in higher levels, and Williams will have to learn to re-think his strikeout-happy approach, the ability to hit should help him stay a top prospect.
Odubel Herrera managed to bring his best swing with him from Myrtle Beach for his second shot at Double-A. The second baseman is currently hitting .342/.383/.432 in 53 games with the RoughRiders, and though he'll never put many balls over the fence, his ability to hit almost any pitch will allow him to get on base regularly. Though he hasn't changed his strike-out rate much, Herrera's making more contact than ever, and is walking at a better rate as well, showing that the minor blip last season wasn't around to stay.
Though his name is not bandied about in prospect discussions, junior college draftee Evan Van Hoosier has a high floor on his hitting ability, while college draftee teammate Ryan Cordell (hitting around .060 better than him) has the better ceiling. Van Hoosier could be expected to hold his average in the future to around the .274 he's currently hitting, while the .336 Cordell is hitting may be his highest average in professional ball, but he has plenty of other tools to fall back on. When isolating just this one tool, it can be tempting to look at batting average only, and rank prospects from there, but someone hitting .300-plus in A-ball could easily crash out in high-A, just a level higher. Though Van Hoosier has the edge age-wise (20 years old to Cordell's 22), they both only strike out around 16 percent of the time. Myrtle Beach is where both their bats will be tested, to see if Van Hoosier can rise above his hitting floor, and if Cordell can keep hitting his ceiling.
Though not technically one of the 'Five Tools' used to evaluate baseball players, plate discipline is an extremely important part of a prospect's development. It doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with the ability to hit for average, as seen in Nick Williams' miniscule walk rates, but when it does it can be the foundation of an extremely good player.
Despite his line of .248/.338/.428, Nomar Mazara has both one of the better hit tools and some of the better plate discipline in the organization. Though he struggled at the beginning of the season, pulling down his current average, Mazara recognizes pitches he can get to, and is willing to let pitches he can't go by, a factor which influences his strikeout rate. This season, Mazara's walked 45 times, and though he's struck out twice more than Williams, those numbers are inflated by Mazara's ability to work into deep counts. As he matures, Mazara should be able to turn some of those Ks into either hits or walks, especially as he learns to adjust to left-handed pitching.
With 31 homers, Joey Gallo is a shoo-in for the top power tool in the organization, if not one of the best in all of the minor leagues. Though his ability to hit balls extraordinary distances was well documented when he was drafted, strikeout problems in 2013 caused many to wonder if he would be able to put that power into practice at higher levels.
So far this season, Gallo's addressed those issues, and showed that he could adjust enough at high-A Myrtle Beach to earn a promotion to Double-A Frisco. Though the strikeouts have gone back up in Frisco (Gallo currently has an unsavory 42.2 percent K-rate in 27 games), he's shown a similar ability to get the bat on the ball, hitting 10 homers in his brief time there. Gallo also recently impressed at the All-Star Futures game, hitting a ball clear out of Minnesota's Target Field, despite only being described as having '75 Power' (on the 20-80 scale) by MLB Network.
Though they don't have nearly the stratospheric grade and ceiling that Gallo does, both Travis Demeritte and Ronald Guzman have the ability to put a good number of balls over the fence. Demeritte's 19 homers this year have him in second place in the organization, and he leads the South Atlantic League by five. The infielder was projected to have some pop, but not the amount he's shown with the Hickory Crawdads so far this season. Whether or not this is sustainable has yet to be seen, but Demeritte will be definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Guzman has had what could be termed a 'lost season' in 2014, hitting only five homers with the Crawdads while averaging .221/.302/.347, dismal numbers for such a touted prospect. The raw power is certainly still there, and will show up in batting practice, but has yet to make much of an impact in games.
Next Week: Best Speed, Best Arms, Best Fielding.