SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Rangers have one of the fastest-rising farm systems in MLB, and after a few good Drafts in a row, and some savvy Trade Deadline dealings, the future looks bright in Arlington.
The new MLB Pipeline Top 30 is here, and with less than two weeks until Minor League Opening Day, here’s a prospect-centered Inbox to kick off the 2022 season.
What is the plan for Leiter? Straight to [Double-A] for a year or two and then Majors or could he be a faster arrival if they start contending earlier than expected?
— @SethNorthcutt on Twitter
The Rangers are definitely going to find the balance between challenging Jack Leiter, but also not rushing him through the system. So starting the season with Double-A Frisco isn’t out of the question.
Texas’ top prospect has yet to throw a true professional pitch in a regular season game, but he has impressed so far in Spring Training. The coaching staff didn’t want to hinder his progression in camp, so he remained with the Minor Leaguers once the lockout ended, but Leiter did make one Cactus League outing with the club.
In two innings of work, Leiter struck out the first four batters he faced and retired the first five easily. He ran into trouble after back-to-back walks, but his day was indicative of where he currently stands as a prospect. He’s no doubt the one of the most polished pitching prospects the Rangers have seen in years, but fine-tuning his pitch repertoire and mixing in his breaking balls will be the emphasis going forward.
My guess is he starts the season with Frisco and makes his way to Triple-A Round Rock in August or September with late 2023 as the earliest possible ETA. I wouldn’t expect to see him in Arlington before that.
Could our middle infield prospects like Josh Smith start working on playing OF as well?
— @prestontorea on Twitter
I wrote during Minor League camp that those upper-tier prospects — Smith (No. 6), Justin Foscue (No. 4), Davis Wendzel (No. 11), Ezequiel Duran (No. 7) — would work on their versatility throughout Spring Training. But while those guys will likely be limited to jumping from shortstop to second to third, Smith is the most athletic of the bunch. Manager Chris Woodward said Smith could get some reps in the outfield when camp breaks.
“I’ve done some BP work out there, just like shagging balls and stuff, but not in a game yet,” Smith said, when asked about his experience in the outfield. “But we’ll see, I guess. … I’ve always believed that I was a really good shortstop, but I kind of always had in the back of my mind that I could probably play other positions, too.”
Smith’s bat so far has shown it deserves to be in the lineup, but with Corey Seager and Marcus Semien manning the middle of the infield for the foreseeable future, Smith’s best chance at the fast track to the big leagues may be in the outfield.
What is the likelihood that [Davis] Wendzel could step into the third base role this year? MLB Pipeline rates his power as below average (45). Is that accurate?
— @AngelEyesNYC on Twitter
Andy Ibáñez is almost definitely the Ranger’s Opening Day third baseman, but if he gets injured or underperforms, the club won’t hesitate to call up prospects who may be impressing at Triple-A.
As of now, it seems like Smith and Wendzel will start the season with Round Rock — manning the left side of that infield and flip-flopping who plays what position. Wendzel is a solid third baseman, but he played games at shortstop, second base and left field last season between Frisco and Round Rock.
As for Wendzel’s power, 45 is probably right, as he’s only hit eight home runs in his professional career. He has a good hit tool that was mostly hidden during his injury struggles last season, but he definitely has less power than Smith despite a bigger frame.
Wendzel and Smith both have experience at third and shortstop, and if the Rangers need to make a callup midseason, both will be under consideration.
Have any of the 2021 draft picks (non-Leiter, Zavala and Lee group) caught your eye this spring?
— @thoughtbomb on Twitter
Cameron Cauley, the 2021 third-rounder, really impressed me throughout both instructional league and early Minor League camp before the lockout ended. He’s got above-average speed that he’s not afraid to use when he gets on base and he makes consistent contact at the plate for someone so young.
The shortstop was a Texas Tech commit, but the Rangers landed him with a $1 million signing bonus. Unlike the Smiths and Wendzels of the system, Cauley is just 19 years old and has a long road to Arlington, so he very well could stick at shortstop or second base long term.
“I know we gave him some money [to sign], but Cam Cauley has really impressed me this spring,” Woodward said. “Some of these guys, we obviously evaluated in high regard, but just the way they carry themselves, the way they work, the way they train. It’s been awesome to watch.”
Is Evan Carter a potential mid-season top 100 player? Love his potential
— @kbrynsvoid on Twitter
Who would’ve thought we would be asking this question after the Draft in 2021, when the Rangers notoriously shocked MLB Draft experts when they selected Carter at No. 50 overall. But despite apprehension from the outside world, the Rangers were confident in the selection and for good reason.
At just 18 years old, Carter was one of the youngest players in all of Low-A, but he no doubt held his own. He shined with the Wood Ducks, slashing .236/.438/.387 over 32 games before his potential breakthrough season was halted by a lower back fracture in mid-June. Even so, he demonstrated good control of the zone and impressed with his approach at the plate.
“Maybe,” MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis said, when asked if Carter could make it into the Top 100.
“He hasn’t played a lot, but he’s really wowed scouts who saw him last year before he got hurt, especially considering his age. Good mix of tools and aptitude.”