Friday on the Farm: Ranking the five best shortstops in the Texas Rangers’ farm system
(Hickory Crawdads/Ashley Salinas)
Though their officials would never publicly acknowledge it, the Texas Rangers are attempting to sign one of the big-name free-agent shortstops this offseason.
Corey Seager has ties to manager Chris Woodward and hitting coach Tim Hyers from their time with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Trevor Story is the local kid (Irving) who has hit well at Globe Life Field as a visiting player.
Carlos Correa might be the best of them, though Javier Baez is no slouch himself. Marcus Semien? He could play second base, where he won a Gold Glove this year, but wants to move back to shortstop.
Just as it’s possible the Rangers land one of the five, it’s entirely possible they get shut out and have Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop for the second consecutive season.
That wouldn’t be the end of the world, though it might feel that way. Kiner-Falefa can hang with the Big Five defensively, but he will likely never produce at the plate the way they do.
The Rangers believe they have shortstops in the farm system who could be more productive than Kiner-Falefa, but not to start the 2022 season and maybe not to end it.
But, as has been the theme so far in a position-by-position look at the minors, the Rangers are sitting on a deep group who could either help the Rangers on the field or be dangled in a trade to help acquire missing pieces.
They get deeper at the position if Ezequiel Duran ends up at shortstop.
Let’s take a look at the five best shortstops.
The least-known of the Rangers’ top prospects is Smith, who came to them in the Joey Gallo trade and finished his season at Double A Frisco. He will make a push for the Rangers’ roster this season, even if they sign a free-agent shortstop.
Smith is a left-handed hitter who makes a ton of contact, like Kiner-Falefa, but swings mostly at pitches in the strike zone. That translates into a higher on-base percentage, more hard contact and more power than Kiner-Falefa.
Smith played for four teams in 2021, batting no lower than .294 at any stop. He finished with 13 homers, 20 doubles and 26 steals. He’s just a solid player who will become more versatile.
Known mostly as the little brother of Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr., Luisangel is on the verge of making a name for himself after a solid 2021 campaign at Low A Down East.
The Rangers entered the season unsure if he was a second baseman or shortstop, but he showed he can handle shortstop with aplomb. The Rangers selected him as their Minor League Defender of the Year.
The offensive potential is what excites the Rangers. Acuna hit 12 homers and finished with a .749 OPS, not bad for a player’s first full season. After hitting .165 in May, he hit .290 the rest of the way. He also swiped 44 bases.
There’s more in the bat to come.
He made his professional debut in July in the Arizona Complex League, but his season was cut short after only 61 at-bats because of thoracic outlet syndrome. Throw in the COVID non-season, and he’s behind on his development.
The Rangers see a player who hits to all fields and could develop 20-homer power. He’s a natural at shortstop and comes with a plus arm. He’s just 19, so he has time. But it feels like he’s lost a lot of time already.
Cauley’s profile should sound awfully familiar: gap-to-gap hitter, should develop more power, speedy, natural shortstop with a plus arm. His next test is a full-season affiliate, as Acuna just finished.
Cauley will turn 19 in February. Acuna will turn 20 in March. Cauley and Acosta, though, are on the same path, and Cauley may have pulled ahead this year.
Wendzel played shortstop for the first time in 2021, but his biggest strength is his versatility. He can also play second base and third base, and played outfield at Baylor. The Rangers love, love, love versatile players.
Wendzel altered his swing to add more lift to turn the doubles he was hitting into home runs. He just needs to stay on the field to see it translate.