AZL Notes - Texas Rangers

From 8/7-8/14 I sat on the AZL Rangers. The lineup has arguably the most depth of any AZL team with a number of potential role 40s or better, all of whom were signed internationally. Heriberto Hernandez has big raw power and projects to 60 game power. Keithron Moss is a switch-hitting, bat-first second baseman with excellent barrel control and an advanced approach. Osleivis Basabe is a tool shed with borderline-80 speed, plus bat speed, and a plus arm. Keyber Rodriguez has super-utility potential and sneaky pop. Yenci Pena (3B), Leuri Mejia (CF) and Randy Florentino (C) all project to be plus defenders. There was less of interest on the pitching side, but Nick Lockhart and Kelvin Bautista are intriguing. The former is a tall, projectable righty who flashed feel for three pitches, and the latter is a short lefty with electric arm speed and mid-90s velo.

Position Players.jpg

Heriberto Hernandez (RF) – The Rangers signed Hernandez to a minor league contract in December of 2017. He is a bat-first prospect with 50 hit, 60 power potential but an uncertain defensive home; he couples immense strength with easy plus bat speed. The swing stays fairly short to the ball as Hernandez lowers his hands to slot, then rips them through the zone. His lower half is thick with massive thighs and glutes that power the swing. Hernandez has big present raw that projects to 70. On 8/7 he hit a titanic blast to dead CF at Goodyear. The next day he took an outside fastball out to right/center without fully barreling up. This season Hernandez has struck out 25% of the time; he takes max-effort hacks more than he needs to, resulting in potentially-avoidable swing and miss. A more tempered approach could yield better contact rates while maintaining hard contact; I think Hernandez will eventually optimize his swing for the right balance of contact and power. Pitch ID vs spin is good, but Hernandez fears it and prefers to go after fastballs. While raw vs spin, Hernandez has shown nascent ability to stay back on it and make authoritative contact. His bat speed allows him to touch fastballs up that few other guys can get to, ripping them pull side with topspin line drives. The swing is pull-heavy, but he can go oppo when worked away. His .461 BABIP on the season is no fluke; Hernandez makes some of the most-consistent hard contact in the AZL.

Hernandez has an uncertain defensive home. This year he has played ten+ games in right field, at first base, and at catcher. The impending decision between 30-grade defense at catcher and 40-grade defense in right isn’t too appealing. While Hernandez is a solid athlete, his hands were poor behind the plate, and he is a well below average blocker/receiver. His lateral movements will probably not age well as he further fills out. I think he is destined for a corner OF spot, where his reads are ok, but his range is below average. Despite an errant throw on 8/13, the totality of his throws were good. The arm is more strong than accurate, grading to around 55. Like many power-first guys Hernandez’s value is tethered to his hit tool and the extent to which he will tap into his power. There will be growing pains, but he will get to 45 hit as he learns to let his strength play and prioritize contact. He projects as a very good bench player (or fringe every day contributor) in his prime years. 

Overall: 45 FV - Hit 30/45, Power 45/60, Defense 30/40, Arm 55/55, Speed 40/40

Keithron Moss (2B) – The Rangers signed Moss for $800k in December of 2017 with bonus pool money they had intended for Shohei Ohtani. Moss is a switch-hitting, bat-first second base prospect with advanced feel for the barrel. He uses all fields and is adept at keeping his hands in to shoot baseballs the opposite way with intent. Moss has an aesthetically pleasing swing. His head stays quiet, and he relies on excellent hands and hand-eye coordination. Having just turned 18 on 8/20, he has more than held his own vs older competition. This is not hyperbolic baseball speak; Moss has literally not faced a younger pitcher all year. As of 8/20 he sported a 154 wRC+ with a 14.9% BB% and 25.4% K% in 134 PAs.

The body is not overly imposing at around 5’11” with moderate physical projection. As he fills out, his present gap power should grow to around average raw, most of which should translate to game power due to his bat to ball skills. Moss’ offensive approach has varied greatly from extended spring training to the AZL. This spring he was very patient, working deep into counts and bordering on passive. Moss looked confident in his assessment of the strikezone and became visibly frustrated when called out on strikes (not uncommon for a 17-year-old but still notable). In the AZL, Moss has been more aggressive early in counts, going after the first pitch more often. The stark contrast in approach made me wonder if this was a team-mandated directive aimed at teaching the benefits of a more aggressive approach. Whether or not that is the case, it is clear Moss goes to the plate with a plan of attack and has an advanced approach. Moss posted a 3.84 on a bunt from the left on 8/8 and has the look of a 60 runner.

The Rangers signed Moss as a shortstop, but he will be limited to second base or left field long term. The infield actions are below average and the arm would not play at third or in right. Call it a cowardly hedge of bets, but Moss is a high-variance prospect with a legitimate chance to be a second-division regular (50) and an equally-likely chance to be an up and down guy (30). He offers little defense value and could end up in left field. At the same time, he may hit enough to play there. 

Overall: 40 FV – Hit 30/55, Power 30/45, Defense 20/40, Arm 35/40, Speed 60/60

Osleivis Basabe (SS) – The Rangers signed Basabe for $550k in December of 2017 out of Venezuela. Watching the AZL Rangers for six days I came away thinking he is the best pure athlete on the team. Basabe is a high-energy kid who is constantly on his feet. He oozes athleticism, is very flexible and has a loud compilation of tools: borderline-80 speed (time as low as 4.01 from the right and several from 4.00-4.10), plus bat speed, and a plus arm. The bat speed stood out immediately, but the swing itself leaves something to be desired; it features a high leg kick without much kinetic energy transfer from the lower half, functioning more as a timing mechanism. With the front foot often down early, the resulting swing becomes handsy and lacks fluidity. It made me wonder if more power would be possible with better lower half use. The swing plane is generally flat. In spite of these concerns, Basabe still scalds baseballs and has more raw power than the box score indicates.

Defensively, Basabe checks a lot of boxes you’d need for a middle infielder.  He has a quick first step and patrols the infield with joystick body control. The arm is solidly plus (both accurate and strong), and his release is viable at short. The checks end there. Basabe looks hesitant with reads off the bat and moves too upright en route to the ball. The hands are well below average for short, at times getting down late and booting balls on routine plays. The outfield feels like his long-term home. His quick first step and 70 speed should translate to big range, and his below average hands would not hurt him there. He is easily athletic enough for center and has the arm for right. Basabe profiles as a fourth outfielder, but has everyday upside should he tap into more raw power than expected. It would probably require a swing change. While not impossible, banking on something like this a losing proposition.

Overall: 40 FV – Hit 30/45, Power 20/30, Defense 30/50, Arm 60/60, Speed 70/70

Keyber Rodriguez (SS) – The Rangers signed Keyber Rodriguez for $1 million as part of their 2017 J2 class. Rodriguez has a well-rounded skill set and should contribute value on both sides. He switch hits and operates from a minor crouch in his base stance. Rodriguez gets low and leans back slightly, effectively shrinking the zone and allowing for an extra split second of reaction time; he lets the ball travel deep and reacts. Rodriguez has strong hands and swings the bat with more thump than you would anticipate from someone around 5’9”-5’10”. In two-strike counts he widens his base and shortens his load, but the swing gets slappy and totally devoid of power. I think he should scrap the two-strike swing and stick with his normal swing in all counts. Rodriguez feigned bunts several times early in counts, suggesting he has good speed. I did not get a run time on him other than a 4.35 on 4-3 groundout; he looks more like a plus runner. Rodriguez is a polished defender and showed well at third base on 8/12 with a nice play coming forward, decisively reacting to an in-between hop and gunning the ball to first. His hands – adroit. His transfers - smooth. Rodriguez has refined infield actions. The arm plays at third, and he has the body control/footwork requisite for the middle infield spots. The bat likely falls short of an everyday role, but Rodriguez profiles as a super utility type with louder tools than many guys with a similar projection. For that reason I like his odds of getting there.

Overall: 40 FV – Hit 30/40, Power 30/40, Defense 45/55, Arm 55/55, Speed 60/60

Yenci Pena (3B) – Like Moss, Yenci Pena was signed in December of 2017. The Rangers gave him a $675k bonus. Pena passes the eye test as a dude off the bus. Listed at 6’2” 193 as of signing date, he is north of 200 lbs now and is chiseled. It is an athletic, “baseball strong” frame in the sense that he has maintained flexibility while adding strength. Pena is a skilled defender at third. The game moves slowly for him, and he always looks composed. While he not as twitchy as Basabe, Pena fields the position in a well-coordinated, controlled manner. He rarely missteps and makes good reads off the bat, taking direct paths to the ball. Pena moves well in all directions. On 8/10 he made an excellent bare-handed play charging forward and throwing a rope to first. Three days later he back-handed a ball, firing cross-body and on-target across the diamond. Pena understands the speed of the game and alters his defensive actions accordingly based on the speed of opposing runners. Offensively, he has good plate coverage and barrel control. Pena can extend his hands, scooping balls low or taking outside pitches the other way. The bat speed, however, is below average and Pena swung and missed on pedestrian fastball velocity. Offensively, he is polish over projection, and his offensive skills are unlikely to play as he progresses into the upper minors.

Overall: 30 FV – Hit 30/35, Power 30/40, Defense 55/60, Arm 60/60, Speed 40/40

Leuri Mejia (CF) – Mejia is a defense-first center fielder with 70 speed and a comfortably plus arm. Mejia made several standout plays putting big range and an absolute cannon arm on display. Mejia tracks well in center and has excellent closing speed. He clocked as fast as 4.00 flat from the right, which is 80 speed. Several other times were in the 4.00-4.10 range. The arm is both accurate and strong. At the plate Mejia works from a wide base stance with a short load and stride. He has above average bat speed, but the swing is fairly linear, prioritizing contact over power. This sort of swing makes sense considering Mejia’s speed and physique. He is not a big guy and the body does not project for much power going forward. He will get challenged at higher levels because pitchers will have little reason to fear him. It is unlikely he will hit enough, but he could be a fourth outfielder if he gets to 40 hit/30 power because his defense is that good.

Overall: 30 FV – Hit 30/35, Power 20/30, Defense 55/65, Arm 65/65, Speed 70/70

Randy Florentino (C) – Florentino is a defense-first catcher with excellent lateral movements and soft hands. He may be the best blocker and receiver in the AZL. Watching a rehabbing Sean Murphy at Fitch Field only emboldened my assessment on Florentino. He has cat-like quickness and excellent anticipation. Spiked breaking balls in the dirt were nary an issue, and he bailed pitchers out with side-to-side movements on several occasions, displaying quickness out of the crouch and agility. Florentino strikes me as a cerebral player with good feel for the game. He slows the game for his pitchers when they are struggling; on 8/7 he pantomimed “take a deep breath” in the direction of his battery-mate. Florentino’s framing was subtle and generally effective. The arm was around average with a couple of pops around 2.00. His best was 1.94, but the pitch was up and away (similar to pitchout location) and Florentino was already out of the crouch as he received the ball. The arm grades to 50 present, 55 future. It should get a little stronger as Florentino fills out. For a catcher he is a thinner guy with moderate body projection. The bat is well behind his glove. Florentino has a good idea of the strike zone and decent hand-eye coordination, but his bat speed is below average, which limits his ceiling.

Overall: 30 FV – Hit 20/30, Power 20/30, Defense 55/65, Arm 50/55, Speed 40/40

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Nick Lockhart (RHP) – The Rangers took Lockhart in the 11th round of the 2019 draft out of a Virginia high school. Lockhart is a tall, projectable pitcher with low 90s velocity. He is listed at 6’6” 210 lbs and was a two-sport athlete in high school where he played defensive end and wide receiver. Lockhart is athletic but a little raw as a pitcher. The landing on his front leg is stiff, with a sub-optimal lead leg block. He could add a couple of ticks to his fastball as he takes to pro instruction and fills out. Lockhart is well-coordinated for his size and has shown feel for three pitches. The curve flashed 55 but had inconsistent shape. The changeup was firm, but Lockhart had decent feel for the pitch and showed confidence in it, using it right on right. He has role 40 potential but projects as a middle reliever.

Overall: 35 FV – FB 45/55, CB 40/55, CHG 40/50

Kelvin Bautista (LHP), Dylan Bice (RHP), and Glen Richardson (RHP) all have pen potential. Bautista is a short lefty with special arm speed. The arm is loose, and he deals mid-90s heat from the left. He just turned 20 in July. The frame is thin and does not look conducive to much physical projection. He flashed a breaking ball and change that have a chance to get to average. Dylan Bice is a massive human listed at 6’4” 220. He worked downhill with his mid-90s fastball and overpowered hitters. The pitch mix was fastball heavy and Bice spotted it on the corners reasonably well. He was in AZ on rehab. Glen Richardson has a Carter Capps-esq delivery which looks illegal but also gets an insane amount of extension. The fastball sat 92-94 with a sizeable perceived velocity bump. Richardson also flashed an above average breaker with late 12-6 break. The delivery is a double-edged sword; it is deceptive but also difficult to repeat. Richardson was constantly off balance with an awkward landing. It is going to be hard to consistently throw strikes, but he could make a pen if he does.

Here are some relevant spray charts courtesy of Smada and Minors Graphs:

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