Rangers Prospect Primer: Taveras arrives

Teen outfielder ready for full year; young arms take on upper levels

Leody Taveras, who turned 18 in September, is ranked as MLB.com's No. 55 overall prospect. (James Snook/Spokane Indians)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | March 31, 2017 10:00 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2017 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Full-season debutant: Leody Taveras, OF

Taveras, a five-tool center fielder who turned 18 on Sept. 8, played in three leagues over one short season last year -- his first as a pro. After seeing time in the Dominican Summer and Arizona leagues, the Rangers' top prospect (No. 55 overall) finished the year with a 29-game stint at Class A Short Season Spokane. According to the Rangers, the talented teen is ready to handle a South Atlantic League assignment.

"He will see a full season as of now," Texas assistant director of player development Paul Kruger said in mid-March. "More than likely he'll be headed to Hickory. He's a special talent. He's a talented switch-hitting kid who can really go get it in the outfield. That was a thing this time last year that jumped out to us. He can hit, he can run, but seeing him in a big league Spring Training game, and the way he tracks down baseballs, and his first step on contact, it was uncanny. You don't see that in a Major Leaguer.... He's doing it at 17, making it look easy."

If Taveras stumbles and is sometimes frustrated by the grind of a full season, the Rangers won't necessarily see it as a bad thing.

"I think it's going to be a great learning experience," Kruger said. "We've done this path with a couple of our guys in the past, and I'm not saying they're the same player, but Nomar Mazara kind of went this route and Jurickson Profar and so on and so forth. That first season, it's a learning thing. For us, it's a big thing of maintaining strength, maintaining his speed. It's 'Let's learn this year.' I think his talent speaks for itself, but it's a growing year like anybody's first year in full season. But we couldn't be more excited about what he's become and what he can be in the future. He's going to be a fun player to watch for many, many years."

Shining star: Yohander Mendez, LHP

Ranked directly behind Taveras in the organization and on the Top 100 list, Mendez also earned multiple promotions last year, starting the season at Class A Advanced High Desert and making each stop along the way to the big leagues, where he made two relief appearances. When he returns, the Rangers would rather see him in the rotation.

"Whether he goes to Triple-A, Double-A, we want to continue to develop him as a starter," Kruger said. "We see that in his ability to command multiple pitches, with his plus changeup, with his fastball that will be low-to-mid-90s, at times.

"What we're looking forward to is really putting him in that starting role and really developing him. The cuffs are off now. He's gotten past those innings requirements. He's gotten past 'Hey, we're just making sure he's OK' to 'Let's go. Let's go eat. Let's go compete. Let's go do what we think he can do.' He's a bulldog on the mound that wants the ball, and he wants to get right after you, so we're excited for an actual, hopefully, a full season starting."

At the crossroads: Jose Trevino, C

Anybody who missed out on Trevino's stellar defense behind the plate in Class A Advanced ball last year (among his accomplishments were helping with the development of Mendez and Ariel Jurado) likely noticed this spring, when he had the opportunity to catch in eight Cactus League games despite never having played in a Double-A game. His hitting, however, has yet to garner him much notice outside the organization, even though he hit .302/.342/.434 with 30 doubles and nine homers last year.

"Obviously, people always say the California League numbers might be inflated, especially in High Desert where we played, but I think he's a smart hitter," Kruger said. "You watch him from at-bat to at-bat, game to game, the adjustments that he makes based on what he's doing and/or how a pitcher's trying to attack him -- I think it's uncanny, his ability to do that. I think that's what you see good hitters do. Yeah, he might not have the best results -- you may go in there for a game, two or three, and it may not jump off the table to you. But he has the ability to make adjustments and adapt to how guys are pitching him, the ballpark he's playing in, the conditions and so on to make that adjustment, or if he's in a slump, find ways to get out of it, because you're going to go through that."

Kruger sees that intelligence and ability to make adjustments as huge assets while Trevino moves to the Double-A level. If he hits nearly as well there as he did in the Cal League, his already high stock will shoot higher as he's recognized as more well rounded than he's commonly given credit for. If it goes the other way -- he doesn't hit much and never locks in against advanced pitching -- his defense will have to be his ticket to ride. He was 2-for-12 (.167) in big league Spring Training, but he's not stressing what's ahead for him.

"I just try to keep things simple and not overthink things," he said. "I know it's going to be a big jump -- that's what everybody likes to say -- but I'm up for the challenge. I know I'm willing to take it on."

Breakout prospect: Ariel Jurado, RHP

Jurado might have gotten more notice last year if he wasn't in the same system as Mendez. The duo started on the High Desert rotation together, and Jurado finished with eight Double-A games -- six starts -- after a July 25 promotion. Look for him among the Texas League pitching leaders for as long as he's there. 

"Jurado, more than likely, is going to Double-A again this year," Kruger said. "He had a great month there at the end of the year and really got to learn and get out of the quote-unquote not friendly confines of High Desert and go to Frisco, where it's also tough to pitch -- the ball flies there. Windy."

The 21-year-old righty gave up seven runs -- six earned -- over two Cactus appearances of an inning apiece, and Kruger thinks Jurado can take away a lesson from those outings.

"He didn't get hit hard, but in the big leagues, when you miss, a miss gets hit," Kruger said. "The development of understanding the fastball command -- he has that power sinker that is really his calling card, but he's going to have to utilize his other pitches and continue to refine his breaking ball, refine his command, within the strike zone. The eyes that big leaguers have, it's tough.

"We're excited to continue to have him start. I think it's going to be good to go with [Trevino], more than likely up to Double-A and continue that development, because Jose's going to help this kid grow. I think the sky's the limit for him."

Back and healthy: Brett Martin, LHP

Martin missed June and July of last year with a UCL sprain and went as long as five innings only twice the rest of the regular season. Pitching in the Cal League playoffs on Sept. 16, he found his form, striking out a career-high 15 over seven no-hit innings. No doubt, the Rangers would like to see the 21-year-old pick up where he left off. 

"For us, he's always been on the map as a guy we see as a potential front-line guy for our organization," Kruger said. He went through that injury last year, but he got a chance to come down here and really gained some strength and worked on some mechanical things to improve.

"The biggest thing for him is understanding the importance of his fastball command, his ability to get ahead, go up with the fastball, change eye levels, go down, so on and so forth -- help your breaking ball and keep developing that changeup. But if you look at him, he's an impressive man. He's a roughly 6-foot-4 lefty. Good size, gets down the hill well, good-looking fastball. Like any pitcher, you've got to get ahead. His ability to command that fastball's going to be what takes him farther as a starter. We hope it's somebody in our rotation for years to come."

Others to keep an eye on: Although left-handed hitting first baseman Ronald Guzman struggled over 25 games in Triple-A last year and 20 Cactus League at-bats this spring, he should feast at the dish over the course of this Pacific Coast League season. He reportedly added 25 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame over the winter. ... As detailed in episode 101 of The Show Before the Show podcast, left-hander Joe Palumbo will look to replicate his fantastic 2016 as he transitions into a starting role full-time. ... Infielder Josh Morgan, an advanced hitter and strong defender, was put to work as a catcher during the last two instructional leagues and for a share of his innings in spring camp. He could see some games behind the plate during the 2017 regular season.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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