Nolan Ryan has certainly done a lot right in his short time at the helm of the Texas Rangers. Along with back-to-back World Series appearances, Ryan has developed the Texas farm system into arguably the top organization in baseball. Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Neftali Feliz and Nelson Cruz have already blossomed into stars at the highest level. Meanwhile, the Rangers still have players like Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Martin Perez coming through the pipeline, along with underrated pitchers Neil Ramirez and Cody Buckel. Add to the mix Japanese import Yu Darvish, technically a rookie, and the Rangers could see a staggering run of success for years to come due to their focus on developing talent.
Let's look at the rest of the minor league scene as we head into the beginning of the 2012 season.
Yasmani Grandal, C, SD - Like teammate Yonder Alonso, Grandal is a University of Miami product who will benefit from the change of scenery. Once Devin Mesoraco tapped his potential for the Reds, Grandal became expendable. This was good news for the Padres, who picked up a switch-hitting backstop with star potential. Grandal slashed .305/.401/.500 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI between three levels last season. Although San Diego recently locked up Nick Hundley, Grandal's bat is major-league ready; the progress of his glovework behind the dish will determine whether he will challenge Hundley this season or next season for the big-league job.
Brandon Jacobs, OF, BOS - Don't confuse Jacobs with the former New York Giant and current San Francisco 49er running back, though the Red Sox prospect did commit to Auburn as a running back before deciding to focus on baseball. Jacobs rewarded Boston with a line of .303/.376/.505 with 17 home runs, 80 RBI and 30 stolen bases for Low-A Greenville last season. The 21-year-old outfielder possesses an intriguing blend of power and speed and isn't afraid to take a walk either. As with many young phenoms, he needs to work on his strikeouts. Jacobs fanned 123 times in 115 games last year. Still, there's a lot to be excited about with Jacobs, who could get a cup of coffee in the majors as early as 2013 depending on his maturity.
Tyrell Jenkins, P, STL - A superior athlete, the 19-year-old righty already has four pitches in his arsenal, though his fastball and curveball are further along than the slider and change. Jenkins posted a 1.83 GO:AO ratio in the Appalachian League in 2011. At 6-foot-4, 180, he still has room to fill out as well. Although he is a few years away from making an impact, Jenkins is certainly worth watching as he ascends through the Cardinals system.
Daniel Norris, P, TOR - Remember this name, as Norris could become a hot commodity once he gets some innings in the minors under his belt. Norris has a dazzling upper-90s heater along with an impressive curveball, all at the tender age of 18. The left-hander will need to develop another offering at the very least, but he has untapped potential that could lead to more publicity for the 6-2, 180-pounder.
Wilin Rosario, C, COL - Normally, young prospects with low walk totals have difficulty hitting for average at the higher levels. Rosario is no exception, but the fact that he is a catcher who will play 81 games per year at Coors Field in Colorado makes him a much more intriguing specimen. He has a catcher's build with decent receiving skills, but his power is his greatest asset. The 23-year-old bashed 21 home runs for Double-A Tulsa, as well as three more dingers in just 16 games in the majors last September. Again, the only concern is that Rosario walked just 21 times in 459 at-bats last season. His power and position could make him a worthy add, and he may end up as the starter in Colorado before the year is through, but be wary of a sub-standard average and on-base percentage.
Jarrod Parker, P, OAK - No one questions that Parker has the raw stuff to succeed. Coming from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill deal, Parker should get to the bigs as a starter shortly, particularly if Tommy Milone, Tyson Ross or Graham Godfrey struggle. However, Parker's control has not been great since Tommy John surgery caused him to miss the 2010 season. Although many pitchers come back stronger following the surgery, Parker's frail build and subpar control since that time is certainly something to keep an eye on. At Double-A last season, Parker posted a 112:55 K:BB ratio in 130.2 innings. He could be an ace, but could also moonlight as a reliever.
Martin Perez, P, TEX - Perez has remained in the top-prospect conversation despite struggles the last couple of seasons. In 2010, he posted a bloated 5.96 ERA at Double-A Frisco. In 2011, he mastered Frisco, but then got dismantled in Triple-A with a 6.43 ERA in 10 starts. Perez gets cut some slack, though, because this week he will turn 21. Consistently among the youngest players at every level, Perez has still been able to get outs and garner his share of strikeouts (120 in 137.1 innings last year). The one concern here will be how aggressively he has been handled, but the aforementioned Nolan Ryan has shown to be quite the developer of talent in recent years. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to call Perez MLB-ready at this time, and he still needs more consistency.
Jarred Cosart, P, HOU - Cosart's star dimmed a bit in 2011 after an impeccable 2010 campaign. After compiling a 3.79 ERA and 77:16 K:BB ratio in 71.1 innings at Low-A for the Phillies, Cosart came back down to earth a bit in 2011. Cosart was traded as a key piece in the Hunter Pence deal midseason in 2011 and posted a 4.12 ERA and 101:56 K:BB ratio in 144.1 innings combined. The lack of control was particularly disturbing, along with the reduced strikeout rate. Still, Cosart gets a plethora of ground balls, meaning he can certainly be a serviceable hurler one day. It seems doubtful he will be a future frontline anchor as once thought.
Matt Dominguez, 3B, MIA - Dominguez went from first-round draft pick in 2007 to Marlins 2011 Opening Day starter to a mere afterthought in 2012. When the Marlins went on a spending spree that included Jose Reyes to play shortstop, Hanley Ramirez moved to third and virtually assured the sure-handed Dominguez of starting this year in the minors. The 22-year-old's bat has not come along as expected, as he hit .249/.309/.405 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI in 95 minor-league games in 2011. As he's blocked by a star at the big-league level, it could take a change of scenery for Dominguez to get his chance. Even then, it's questionable whether he has the hitting skills to get it done.
Chris Withrow, P, LAD - For scouts and minor-league enthusiasts, strikeouts often get the glitz, glamour and attention. However, the ability to locate can be just as, if not more important than raw stuff. Take Withrow, for example. A strikeout machine, the fireballer has accumulated at least 100 Ks in every minor-league season since 2009. However, he has also walked at least 57 batters over each of those seasons as well, including a career-high 75 walks in 128.2 innings last season for Double-A Chattanooga. Although he did punch out 130 batters, Withrow posted a 4.20 ERA last year. Withrow is still just 23 years of age, but he clearly has to do more than just strikeout some batters to be successful.
Josh Vitters, 3B, CHC - Vitters was in the same draft class as the aforementioned Matt Dominguez and has also failed to live up to expectations. The 22-year-old actually had a decent season in 2011, batting .283/.322/.448 with 14 home runs and 81 RBI for Double-A Tennessee. Still, Vitters doesn't draw any walks, and his career high for a single season in home runs is 18. One of the few things in Vitters' favor is that his path is not blocked with the departure of Aramis Ramirez. Still, Vitters needs to prove he has the plate discipline to succeed at the highest level.
Christian Bethancourt, C, ATL - Bethancourt is considered a toolsy backstop with tons of raw talent. Although Bethancourt is still young, his failure to take walks is still worth monitoring. The 20-year-old drew just 11 free passes in 99 games last season between two levels and could be aggressively promoted to Double-A to begin the 2012 campaign. Likewise, his season high in home runs is five. It's not that Bethancourt can't eventually reach his potential, and it is certainly worthy noting that learning to catch is difficult and practically an art. Nevertheless, it'd be nice to see some actual results from the Braves phenom before anointing him an elite prospect.
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