Friday on the Farm: Ranking top five Texas Rangers outfield prospects is a taller task than a year ago
(Down East Wood Ducks)
For the first time in a long time, the baseball industry agrees that the Texas Rangers’ farm system is filled with talent.
They have climbed to No. 11 in the organizational rankings by Baseball America and MLB.com, and are certain to go higher to start the season and in the 2022 midseason rankings.
Jack Leiter, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, is among them.
So is second-round pick Aaron Zavala, an outfielder who hits from the left side with an advanced approach and power. He hopped right into the top 15 of Rangers prospects after making his pro debut in August in the Arizona Complex League and finishing the season at Low A Down East.
If he’s among the top 15 prospects overall, he’s definitely one of the top outfielders in the Rangers’ system. With two full seasons and a COVID season of college baseball on his resume, the former Oregon star could be a quick mover through the system.
But is he the Rangers’ best outfield prospect?
Four club officials were asked who their top five outfielders were. Three put an asterisk in their rankings, saying the Rangers’ Minor League Player of the Year either is in the top five or will be in the top five eventually.
That’s Dustin Harris, a corner infielder who played right field during the fall instructional league. The Rangers believe he is athletic enough to handle both outfield corners.
Harris is one of 14 players who were given consideration for the top five or being just on the outside. But for the purposes of this exercise, he doesn’t qualify. Nor does Leody Taveras, who, despite behind only 23, no longer has rookie status but was mentioned nonetheless.
The top five were determined by those who appeared on the most ballots, including one submitted by the Texas Rangers Newsletter. Among the players also receiving votes are Steele Walker, Josh Stowers, Marcus Smith, Kellen Strahm, JoJo Blackmon, Julio Pablo Martinez, Alejando Osuna and Daniel Mateo.
Walker just missed the top five after entering 2021 as one of the highest-ranked outfield prospects. Bayron Lora, who was a top-10 overall prospect entering last season, wasn’t on any of the five submissions.
The system is deeper and has more talented players.
Now, the top five outfielders in the Rangers system (the first three appeared on all five ballots).
Evan Carter, CF
The 2020 second-round pick played like a top-10 prospect for about six weeks in 2021 before a stress fracture in his lower back sidelined him for the rest of the season.
The Rangers’ fondness for Carter dates to the 2020 instructional league, when as an 18-year-old he walked as many times as he struck out. He upped that in 2021, walking more times than striking out.
Carter is a potential five-tool player. It will be interesting to see where he lands to start 2022 after playing no higher than Low A.
Aaron Zavala, RF
The Rangers didn’t tinker much with Zavala’s swing after he was drafted, but started to make some minor tweaks to it during instructs. The biggest one, he said, is trying to “free up” his swing.
“I got out of my legs to start my stance,” he said Thursday on the Texas Rangers Baseball Podcast. “It helped me see the ball better, and it was a lot easier to make a good move to the baseball more consistently.”
Zavala was part of a small group of hitters at instructs who knew the strike zone and how to work an at-bat. That comes with his age, 21, and the polish he has after playing three seasons at Oregon.
That’s also what could allow him to move quickly next season. He could start at High A Hickory and finish at Double A Frisco.
Bubba Thompson, CF
The 2017 first-rounder had a rebound season at Double A Frisco, going wire to wire as the RoughRiders’ leadoff hitter and one of their best players.
Thompson was not good in his last full season in 2019, failing to make enough contact and just lost at the plate. He improved during the Arizona Fall League that year, but needed a good 2021 to re-establish his status as a top prospect.
He still needs to improve at the plate, but his speed and defense make him at minimum a fourth outfielder for a good MLB team. If the bat continues to improve, he could play every day.
Yeison Morrobel, CF
Morrobel is a newcomer to the organization, as he was the prize of the Rangers’ international haul in January. They gave him $1.8 million, and liked what they saw as he played in the Dominican Summer League.
He posted a .270/.395/.411 slash line in the DSL with 18 extra-base hits in 185 at-bats. Only one of those was a home run, but keep in mind that Morrobel doesn’t turn 18 until Dec. 8 (and that he homered in an instructs game at TCU).
Be mindful of this, as well: He walked five more times (30) than he struck out. Like another teenager on this list, Carter, that stat shows an advanced understanding of the strike zone and how pitchers will attack him. Power will come from that, too.
Trevor Hauver, LF
This one might come as a surprise, either because he’s a newcomer to the organization from the Joey Gallo trade or because there is still the possibility he ends up as a second baseman.
Hauver, though, has an advanced approach from his college days at Arizona State. He posted a .445 on-base percentage at Low A before the trade, and a .357 OBP after the Rangers bumped him to High A after the trade.
He clubbed 15 homers in his first professional season. If he remains productive, he will stick in the outfield. Those polled for this story believe he will continue to hit.
Jeff Wilson, email@example.com