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:
1. Rougned Odor
2. Luke Jackson
5. Nomar Mazara
Both Rougned Odor and Michael Choice have graduated from the ranks of the minor leagues, and both have alternately impressed and frustrated Rangers fans. Luke Jackson impressed in his time with Double-A Frisco, and earned himself a very recent promotion to Triple-A Round Rock. Nick Williams' struggles at the beginning of the season caused him to fall down the list a bit, but his ceiling is still up among the top.
1. Joey Gallo
27 homers total. A .323/.463/.735 line in 58 games with high-A Myrtle Beach. A massive walk-off homer in his first game at the AA level. Gallo is fun to write about in exaggerated terms, and his performance this year so far is enough to vault him up the ranks from eighth pre-season to first now. The improvement in all facets of the game that he demonstrated across the first part of the season was one of the best surprises of this first half.
Of course, he's striking out at an unpleasant 41.1 percent rate through 13 games in Double A, though that sample size is still small enough that a 3-for-3, BB game could drastically affect that number. In this second half of the season, he'll need to prove that the numbers in Myrtle Beach weren't an illusion, and that he can handle pitchers with more experience and more advanced stuff, pitchers who aren't just going to give him walks. It should be fascinating to watch his continued development through 2014, and see what 2015 brings.
2. Luke Jackson
Speaking of statistical leaders, Luke Jackson leads the Texas League in strikeouts with 83, seven more than the next pitcher, despite his recent promotion to Triple A. Even more importantly, Jackson's cut his walk rate to its lowest number in his professional career, only walking 7.2 percent of batters he faces, as opposed to his 11-plus percent in every year since 2012. Though his ERA currently sits just above 3, he has often looked like a dominant pitcher, causing ineffective swings and weak contact.
Though some think he would be better suited to a bullpen role, and he could still see his first major league time as such, Jackson is still among the Rangers' starting pitching prospects, and could challenge for a major league rotation spot as early as next season. Jackson was just promoted to Round Rock, and will make his first start with the Express on Sunday.
3. Alex Gonzalez
Though Gonzalez was well-thought of after his drafting last year, he didn't really get to show off his potential until this season, where he started the season with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Though he only struck out 49 batters through 65.1 innings, the right-hander showed why the Rangers drafted him with their first round pick last season, putting up a 2.60 ERA and only allowing three homers in his 11 starts. Since coming to Frisco, Gonzalez has been pitching limited innings, and his ERA seems inflated, but eyewitness reports say that the majority of the hits against him have been cheap, bouncing balls snuck through the infield or bad luck drops. That kind of thing should even out across the rest of the season, and the current ERA isn't a reason to panic.
Gonzalez should stay in Frisco for the rest of the season, working through Double-A hitters and improving all his pitches. If things go as they should, he could possibly challenge for a rotation spot in 2015, an impressively quick development from a 2013 draft pick.
4. Jorge Alfaro
Possibly the most divisive prospect in the Rangers system, Jorge Alfaro has one of the highest ceilings of any of the minor leaguers. The question still remains as to whether or not he can put everything together to become the top-line offensive catcher he could be.
Currently in Myrtle Beach, the C/DH/1B is hitting .262/.322/.438 through 68 games, numbers similar to his last season in Hickory, though against advanced competition. The offense has always been assumed to come around, though, and the nine homers so far (as opposed to 16 through a full season) suggest that Alfaro might be finally able to access the power that has been projected for him. The main worrying point remains the defense, and Alfaro's reported inability to use his hands to allow him to make the best of his incredible arm.
5. Nomar Mazara
Despite a glacially slow start to the season, recent adjustments and improvements have kept Nomar Mazara near the top of prospect lists. The teenager is spending his second season with the Hickory Crawdads, and according to local writer Mark Parker, 'Strikeouts aside, Mazara has never seemed overmatched at the plate.' A victim of the strikeout plague that struck the Crawdads in 2013, Mazara's Ks came more on full counts that he let get a little too full, rather than giant whiffs at breaking pitches. Defensively, Mazara has taken to the outfield more comfortably than some thought he could, though he'll probably never be more than an average defender with a good arm out there. He can show off out there again, from Mark Parker, 'He made a throw in RF to 3B a couple of weeks ago that was one of the best I've seen here-- a bullet of about 200 feet right on the money to the 3B who simply had to stand at the bag and drop a tag on the runner going 2nd to 3rd.'
Mazara could possibly move up to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans later this season if the organization decides he needs the challenge.