Rangers boast powerful farm system

Gallo, Odor, Rua among prospects on the road to Arlington

A common view of Joey Gallo, who led the Minors with 40 homers. (Tracy Proffitt/Hickory Crawdads)

By John Parker / MiLB.com | December 16, 2013 5:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Homegrown talent has played a big role in the Rangers' recent success, but their farm system still has a lot to offer in the years to come. Not only does Texas boast five MLB.com Top 100 Prospects (only four clubs have more), but the organization also has enviable depth. Unique among the 30 franchises, all seven Rangers affiliates finished .500 or better.

Of the six domestic teams, only Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and the Arizona League Rangers reached the playoffs, but the overall quality of the system is notable: Baseball America ranks it fourth-best in baseball.

Rangers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Jorge Alfaro, AZL Rangers (six games), Hickory (104 games), Myrtle Beach (three games): Such was the power display in Hickory this season that Alfaro, who turned 20 in June, finished fifth in the system in homers and fifth on his own club.

The Rangers' top prospect (No. 55 overall) spent the bulk of the season in the South Atlantic League for the second year in a row, posting a similar batting average but improved power, going deep 18 times after hitting just five homers in 2012. Alfaro was even more impressive in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .386/.438/.500 in 19 games against baseball's top prospects.

"He has a lot of tools, and the Texas Rangers are very lucky to have him," his AFL manager, Gary Kendall, said in November. "He's a very talented guy that has great arm strength, good blocking skills. He's smart, he's alert, he has agility -- and that's just talking defensively. Offensively, the guy moves well around the bases, he's got power to all fields and he's got baseball sense."

First base -- Brett Nicholas, Frisco (136 games): A 2010 sixth-round pick out of the University of Missouri, Nicholas stepped up to Double-A this year and had the strongest campaign of his pro career, batting .289/.357/.474 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs.

The 25-year-old was among the organizational leaders in a host of offensive categories: he tied for the RBI lead, tied for third in long balls and ranked sixth among full-season players in batting average. Like Alfaro, Nicholas also made a mark in the AFL. The Phoenix native was named MVP of the Fall Stars Game after becoming the first slugger to homer twice in the showcase's eight-year history.

Second base -- Rougned Odor, Myrtle Beach (100 games), Frisco (30 games): A perennial Moniker Madness candidate, Odor made huge strides as a 19-year-old this season, posting the top batting average in the system and transitioning smoothly to Double-A late in the year. Another Top 100 prospect, Odor's .474 slugging percentage ranked fourth among Rangers farmhands who played at least 60 games, thanks in part to 41 doubles that placed him third in the Minor Leagues.

Odor shared the system lead with 32 stolen bases, ranked fifth with 78 RBIs and impresses scouts with his physical skills. But for Frisco manager Steve Buechele, it's his baseball mind that is most striking.

"He's a blast to watch. The kid, he can hit. He knows the game, so he'll do whatever it takes to get the job done," Buechele told MiLB.com after Odor made his Double-A debut on Aug. 1.

"Tonight's game is a perfect example ... He broke up a double play in the first inning, and because he did, we scored three runs. No one is going to see that in the box score. He does the little things; he'll do the big things, obviously. He's got a little power for not a big guy, he runs the bases well, he plays solid defense -- he's just a good baseball player."

Third base -- Joey Gallo, AZL Rangers (five games), Hickory (106 games): No one in the Minors this year delivered three true outcomes quite like Gallo, who turned 20 in November. The Las Vegas native homered six times in his final four games to capture the Joe Bauman Award as the Minor Leagues' top slugger. He ranked third in the Minors with a .623 slugging percentage, drew 50 walks and struck out 172 times (sixth-most in the Minors) in 467 plate appearances -- a remarkable 37 percent rate.

Such prodigious power can't be taught, however -- the last teenager to hit 40 homers in the Minors was Dick Simpson in 1962 -- and the 2012 first-round pick told MiLB.com last week at the Baseball Winter Meetings that he hopes to improve his contact rate in 2014. A year after he was tabbed AZL MVP, Gallo blew past the former Hickory record of 32 homers in a season, despite missing time with a groin injury. He helped the Crawdads set a Sally League mark with 178 roundtrippers and was named a Topps Class A All-Star.

"Joey is a kind of competitive, wants-to-be-good kind of a player," Rangers director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg said. "It's showing up kind of what we thought it would be. He has power."

Shortstop -- Luis Sardinas, Myrtle Beach (97 games), Frisco (29 games): The Rangers' No. 2 prospect (No. 70 overall), Sardinas is a 20-year-old switch-hitter who put up solid numbers with Myrtle Beach but experienced a drop in production after a late-season promotion to Frisco. At 6-foot-1 and only 150 pounds, the Venezuela native has little power -- he hit two homers on the season -- but good speed (32 steals in 42 attempts) and terrific defensive skills.

"He's got good hand-eye coordination, can use the whole field, and that is something that is really hard to see at that age," Myrtle Beach hitting coach Josue Perez said. "As long as he keeps the ball out of the air and continues to get line drives, he can be a .300 hitter."

Perez was similarly impressed with Sardinas' glove: "No doubt, he's a pure shortstop. He has the ability to slow the game down, good range side to side, good at anticipating plays. He's so loose he makes it look easy."

Utility -- Ryan Rua, Hickory (104 games), Frisco (23 games): The 23-year-old spent the bulk of his time at second base with Hickory but shifted to third after a late-season promotion to Frisco. He was neck-and-neck with Gallo in the race for the Minor League home run crown for much of the season -- Rua actually led the chase with 29 at the end of July.

Rua was a bit better than Gallo at putting the ball in play; he fanned 115 times in 127 overall games and posted a .356 OBP at Hickory, although his numbers (.233/.305/.384) took a hit in his first taste of Double-A.

Nearly four years older than Gallo, Rua is not considered a top prospect, but he's making a habit of defying the odds. He's a 17th-round pick who tied for fifth in the Minors with 32 homers after hitting only seven in 74 games with short-season Spokane in 2012. He'll be given every opportunity to see how far that big bat can take him.


Jim Adduci, Round Rock (127 games), Texas (17 games): Adduci's first season in the Rangers organization -- after six with the Cubs -- was his finest in 10 years as a pro. The 28-year-old, whose father spent parts of four seasons in the Majors in the 1980s, hit .298/.381/.463 with a career-high 16 homers and 65 RBIs for Round Rock. And he made his big league debut on Sept. 1, going 1-for-2 with a walk in a 4-2 loss to the visiting Twins.

Adduci's 32 Minor League steals (in 41 attempts) tied him with Odor and Sardinas for tops in the system and his .298 batting average ranked second among Texas' full-season farmhands. He was particularly scorching in the second half, hitting .365/.436/.526 after the All-Star break, and provided great versatility for the Express: Adduci played all three outfield positions plus first base and hit in every spot in the order save cleanup.

Joey Butler, Round Rock (119 games), Texas (eight games): This season was the 27-year-old Butler's third with the Express and his third straight as a Rangers Organization All-Star. He's been consistent and consistently good: his line in 369 career Triple-A games is .300/.392/.468, and he was right around those numbers this season, although his home run output dipped to 12 from a career-high 20 in 2012.

A 2008 15th-round pick, Butler got his first taste of the big leagues this summer, appearing in eight games in August and September. Even in limited action, he did what he always seems to do: four hits, two for extra bases, and three walks in 15 plate appearances for a .333/.467/.500 line.

Nick Williams, Hickory (95 games): Though overshadowed somewhat by the homerfest going on around him in Hickory, Williams had a splendid first full season, hitting .293/.337/.543 with 17 long balls and a system-best 12 triples. The left-handed hitter, who turned 20 in September, was a second-round pick in 2012. Though he has good speed, Williams may be limited to left field by his defense, but it is his bat that is most intriguing.

Williams has tremendously fast hands and likely will develop even more power as his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame fills out. The fact that he posted the third-best batting average among full-season Rangers prospects, despite apparently swinging at everything -- he drew just 15 walks in 95 games -- makes one wonder what he'll be capable of should he develop better plate discipline.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Luke Jackson, Myrtle Beach (19 games), Frisco (six games): C.J. Edwards had all but locked up this spot -- he was our choice for Minor League Pitcher of the Year -- before being traded to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal in July. Jackson, a 2010 first-round pick, is a worthy successor. The Florida native made a huge leap this season, cutting his ERA from 4.65 in 2012 to a 2.04 mark that led the system. He ranked second with 134 strikeouts (in 128 innings).

Jackson, who turned 22 in August, was dominant in 19 starts for the Pelicans, going 9-4 and holding Carolina League foes to a .216 average; he was even better after joining Frisco in August. Jackson tossed six scoreless frames in his Double-A debut and closed out the campaign with a 0.64 ERA in six appearances (four starts) for the RoughRiders. Over 27 Texas League innings, he yielded two runs on 13 hits while fanning 30. MLB.com ranks Jackson as the Rangers' No. 3 pitching prospect behind reliever Wilmer Font and right-hander Cody Buckel, the latter of whom suffered a dreadful bout of wildness in 2013, walking 35 batters in 10 2/3 innings.

Honorable mention: Nick Martinez

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ryan Feierabend, Frisco (five games), Round Rock (24 games): Feierabend made his Major League debut in 2006, three weeks after his 21st birthday, but underwent elbow surgery in 2009 and bounced around between the Mariners, Phillies, Reds and independent leagues before signing with the Rangers last winter.

The 28-year-old responded with his best campaign in years, going 7-7 with a 3.70 ERA over 148 1/3 innings. While Feierabend did not overwhelm hitters -- he had a .282 batting average against and his 101 strikeouts were just eighth-most in the system -- he kept his mistakes to a minimum, issuing only 38 walks.

Relief pitcher -- Ben Rowen, Frisco (31 games), Round Rock (20 games): Rowen was pretty good in 2012 when he went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 19 saves in 38 outings with Myrtle Beach and won the MiLBY as the Minors' top reliever. But he was all but untouchable in 2013 on his way to a second consecutive Rangers All-Star appearance.

Splitting the season between Frisco and Round Rock, the Virginia Tech product held opponents to a .177 average while posting a 0.69 ERA. While Rowen's 58 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings were more than adequate, it was a propensity for inducing ground balls that set him apart -- only two qualifying pitchers in the Minor Leagues had a higher groundout-to-flyout ratio than Rowen's 3.40 mark. The submariner's technique is unusual, but it continues to produce outstanding results.

Honorable mention: Alex Claudio, Wilmer Font

John Parker is an editor for MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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