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Gallo, Mendez lead charge toward Texas

Trades have thinned Rangers system, but top-level talent remains
December 16, 2016

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

The Rangers posted 95 wins during the regular season and made the playoffs for the second straight year after watching from home in 2013 and 2014. Unfortunately for Texas fans, the team's 2016 run ended the same way it did the year before, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in the divisional round.

Top prospect Nomar Mazara graduated from last year's Organization All-Star list to hit 20 homers with the big club this season, while top 100 prospects Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz went to Milwaukee in exchange for catcher Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline. (It was the second consecutive season Texas made a big move at the deadline after shipping Nick Williams, Jake Thompson and Jorge Alfaro to Philadelphia last year for left-hander Cole Hamels.)

While the top-end talent in this system may have been thinned out, there were still many notable performances from players who may soon be knocking on the door to the Majors.

Rangers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Brett Nicholas, Round Rock (101 games), Texas (15 games): After spitting time between catcher and first base nearly equally in 2015, Nicholas made 70 starts behind the plate and 19 at first in 2016 and enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons of his career. The 28-year-old batted .288/.351/.458 with 13 homers, 58 RBIs and an 88-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his best since 2012. He also impressed in a pair of stints with the Rangers, hitting .275/.356/.550 with two homers in 40 at-bats.

"Nicholas had a tremendous year," Rangers assistant GM of player development Jayce Tingler said. "When he first came to us, he caught a little, spent a year or two at first base and later on got back to catching. We're seeing that start to come full circle. He swung the bat well -- he's competing for the No. 2 or No. 3 position at the big league level as we sit today."

Honorable mention: While his numbers at the plate were solid (.303/.342/.434), Jose Trevino made his biggest impact behind it. After throwing out 31 of 92 baserunners in 2015, the 24-year-old nailed 47 of 98 would-be basestealers this season.

First baseman -- Ronald Guzman, Frisco (102 games), Round Rock (25 games): After a solid 2015 for Class A Hickory and Class A Advanced High Desert, Guzman continued to hit in 102 games for Double-A Frisco this season, batting .288/.348/.477 with 15 homers before a promotion to Round Rock. The 22-year-old struggled to a .216/.266/.330 line in 25 games for the Triple-A Express, but his .825 OPS with the RoughRiders was the first time he posted an OPS over .780 since 2012 with the Rookie-level AZL Rangers.

"He certainly took a step this year -- jumped a couple levels, had a ton of success at Double-A and got challenged at Triple-A," Tingler said. "He's probably our best defensive first baseman right now in the system and we always projected him to be a hitter first, gap to gap, but as big and strong as he's gotten, he's starting to run into his power which is nice to see.... Hopefully he's knocking on the big league door soon."

Honorable mention: Juremi Profar, the 20-year-old brother of Rangers utility man Jurickson, took a leap at High Desert in 2016, hitting .300/.355/.473 with 13 home runs in 103 games after posting a .697 OPS across two levels in 2015.

Second baseman -- Andy Ibanez, Frisco (81 games), Hickory (49 games): Signed as a free agent in July 2015, Ibanez made his Minor League debut this year and put up impressive numbers. After a hot start in 49 games with Hickory, where he hit .324/.413/.546 with seven homers, 35 RBIs and 10 stolen bases, the 23-year-old took a step back at Double-A, posting a .704 OPS and walking four fewer times (25) in 32 more games.

His defense improved at the higher level, however, as the Cuba native improved his fielding percentage from .958 to .964, making only one more error in 23 extra games.

Third baseman -- Joey Gallo, Round Rock (102 games), Texas (17 games): While Gallo's struggles at the Major League level continued (one hit, 19 strikeouts in 25 at-bats), his .529 slugging percentage and .896 OPS ranked sixth in the Pacific Coast League while his 25 home runs were tied for third. It was a step in the right direction for the 23-year-old slugger, who hit .195 with a .739 OPS in 53 games for the Express in 2015, although his strikeout rate remained well over 30 percent.

"Like the last two years, [he was] a bit up and down [in the Minors] and at the big league level," Tingler said. "He's still a work in progress -- has all the ability and talent and is just finding a way to get a little more consistency with the at-bats. We have very high expectations for Joey; there's not a thing on the field he can't do -- run, throw, defend, hit for power -- he can do a lot of different stuff."

Shortstop -- Anderson Tejeda, AZL Rangers (32 games), Spokane (23 games), DSL Rangers1 (11 games): Tejeda followed up an impressive 2015 debut with a solid season across three levels, finishing at Class A Short Season Spokane in August and September. He batted .277/.313/.553 with the Indians, mashing eight home runs and 19 RBIs in 94 at-bats, though he did strike out 33 times.

"He's a guy who has certainly stood out with our young positional players," Tingler said. "The one thing guys talk about is his at-bats -- how the ball jumps off his bat, his ability to hold his hitting position with a small leg kick. His balance is tremendous and he has good hand-eye. He's a guy we expect to hit as he continues to move up different classes and different levels."


Luke Tendler, High Desert (132 games): Tendler's 2015 season at Hickory didn't go as well as his 2014 debut with Spokane, but a solid .262/.327/.445 slash line earned him a promotion to High Desert for his third year. The 25-year-old, who played most of the season at 24, boosted his numbers in every category -- .297/.384/.524 with 23 home runs and a California League-high 97 RBIs.

"Tendler has been with us a couple years; he's hit at every level, he's a guy who likes to play -- he's playing winter ball now," Tingler said. "He's gonna go as far as his bat will take him."

Scott Heineman, High Desert (134 games): An 11th-round pick in 2015, Heineman made his full-season debut this year with High Desert and didn't disappoint. The 24-year-old led the league with 96 runs scored out of the Mavericks' leadoff spot and finished second behind teammate Tendler in total bases (265), fourth in batting average (.303), fifth in OPS (.891) and fifth in stolen bases (30). His .992 fielding percentage was tops on the circuit among outfielders with 200 or more chances.

"This was the first year he's been healthy, and he showed he can produce and what he can do in a full season," Tingler said. "He's a guy who plays with max effort all the time -- huge energy, can run, can certainly defend and battles at the plate. Those are his strengths."

Ryan Cordell, Frisco (107 games): Before he became the player to be named later in the Rangers' deadline deal for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress, Cordell was tied for third in the Texas League with a .484 slugging percentage. He was solid on defense as well and played at least 22 games at all three outfield positions.

"He's a physical guy, can certainly play center, any of the three spots," Tingler said. "He's athletic, big, strong, fast [and] can beat you a lot of different ways -- defensively, driving the ball, stealing a base. He's a guy we loved Day 1 since he stepped foot with us; that's a good player."

Utility player -- Drew Robinson, Round Rock (125 games): Playing at least 14 games at five different positions (1B, 2B, 3B, CF, RF) and maintaining a solid .257/.350/.480 line with 20 home runs and 17 steals, the 24-year-old proved he can do a little bit of everything on the diamond. After hitting.198 and .235 the last two seasons, Robinson batted at least .293 in two of the four months (May, August) in which he played at least 25 games.

"He came to us as a shortstop; he's played third, second, first, both corner outfield [spots] and this year at the end of the year in Triple-A he played center," Tingler said. "Left-handed bat, [he's] going to be competing at the big league level in Spring Training for a job. He's been a step-by-step, year-by-year guy coming into some confidence. He's starting to realize he can play with the big boys, so we're excited about him."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Yohander Mendez, High Desert (seven games), Frisco (10 games), Round Rock (seven games), Texas (two games): The 21-year-old Mendez flew up the organizational ranks in 2016, eventually reaching the Majors after starting the season with High Desert. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound left-hander certainly earned his promotions, posting an ERA under 3.10 at all three Minor League stops before allowing six runs over three innings in the Majors. He yielded 72 hits in 111 innings with a 113-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

"He went through a couple levels this year, got up to the big leagues in September and logged a couple innings," Tingler said. "Fastball command [is] still a work in progress -- [that's] what he's focused on. He's a guy who can spin his breaking ball for a strike, and he's always had a pretty good changeup. He's certainly got the body and weapons to be a solid big league starter."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Pedro Payano, Hickory (15 games): After an impressive full-season debut with Class A Hickory in 2015, Payano was once again outstanding. He struck out 82 batters and posted a 2.08 ERA in 73 2/3 innings, allowing more than two earned runs twice all season. While he didn't last more than six innings in any start after taking a no-hitter into the eighth and going the distance on 99 pitches against Class A Greensboro on April 27, he held the opposition scoreless in six of his 13 starts.

More Organization All-Stars

Reliever -- Joe Filomeno, Frisco (30 games), High Desert (11 games): Filomeno didn't lead the organization's relievers in saves, ERA or strikeouts, but he proved to be an excellent option all season across two levels. After dominating Class A Advanced with 20 strikeout and a 0.57 ERA in 15 2/3 innings, he moved up to Double-A and posted a 2.20 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 41 innings. Control was an issue for the 23-year-old lefty as he walked 38 batters in 56 2/3 innings.

Chris Tripodi is an editor for Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.