This offseason, MiLB.com 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. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The Rangers' Minor League affiliates boasted the second-best combined winning percentage (.525) of all American League organizations in 2012. The entries in the Rookie-level Arizona and Dominican Summer leagues finished a combined 26 games above .500 and three of Texas' four full-season affiliates posted winning records.
Double-A Frisco won the Texas League's first-half South Division crown before falling to Springfield, 3-1, in the best-of-5 Championship Series. Class A Hickory missed the postseason, despite going 74-65, while Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach lost to Winston-Salem in the opening round of the Carolina League playoffs. Neither Triple-A Round Rock (69-75) nor short-season Spokane (28-48) reached the playoffs.
MiLB.com spoke with Tim Purpura, the Rangers' director of player development, about the outstanding performances in the system in 2012, including the big seasons of Topps Double-A All-Stars Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar.
Rangers Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Kellin Deglan, Hickory (92 games): Selected 22nd overall in the 2010 Draft, Deglan spent his second straight season in the South Atlantic League. He hit .234 in 92 games, leading all backstops in the system with 12 homers, 25 doubles and 46 runs scored. His 41 RBIs were a career high and tied for second in the organization behind Tomas Telis, who had 122 more at-bats.
Deglin, 20, committed seven errors in 663 chances behind the plate, good for a .989 fielding percentage. He also threw out 36 of 96 potential basestealers, one fewer than Telis, who led the organization.
"He is probably the right choice," Purpura said."There is an up-and-coming catcher on that same club, Jorge Alfaro, but he didn't catch in many games. Deglan was the regular catcher on that Hickory club and he came along defensively. We sent him to the [Arizona] Fall League and he made adjustments, offensively and defensively.
"He came a long way behind the plate and he worked hard on his craft. He became a good defender calling games back there. He's made good progress."
First base -- Chris McGuiness, Frisco (123 games): No Rangers' first baseman was more productive than McGuiness. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound left-handed slugger hit 23 homers, plated 77 runs and scored 65 times, ranking first in each category among his peers in the system. He struck out 107 times in 456 at-bats, but he also drew 69 walks, fifth-most in the system.
Among McGuiness' 2012 highlights was a three-homer game in a 13-7 loss to Corpus Christi on June 22 and getting named MVP of the prospect-rich AFL, where he drove in 27 runs in 25 games.
"I was extremely pleased," Purpura said."He did a nice job in the role he was in and he carried that into the Fall League, where he was the MVP. That is pretty amazing. He put himself on the map for us. He has a bright future. He hits the ball with power to all fields and he is a pretty patient hitter. He does swing and miss, but overall he is patient and he does have a good knowledge of the strike zone."
McGuiness was selected by the Indians in the Rule 5 Draft earlier this month.
Second base -- Yangervis Solarte, Round Rock (130 games): Solarte's progress through the system may not have been as swift as many predicted, but the Venezuela native put it all together in 2012. In his first year at Triple-A, Solarte batted .288 with a career-high 11 homers and 54 RBIs, both of which led second basemen in the organization.
While his batting average dropped 41 points from Double-A New Britain in 2011, Solarte improved his walk-to-strikeout ratio, which could point to future growth. A strong defender, Solarte also played 21 games in left field, 13 at third base and one at first.
"He was definitely a guy that we brought to Major League camp with the possibility of playing at the Major League level if we needed someone," Purpura said."He did a nice job in a number of roles and he has good defensive abilities. He swings the bat very well; I think that's one of his strengths.
"He is probably going to be a utility-type player defensively, and we'll give him work at all of the different positions. The one area that he is not really adapt at at this stage is shortstop, but we don't plan on using him much there."
Third base -- Mike Olt, Frisco (95 games), Texas (16 games): Olt built on an All-Star season in the Carolina League, reaching the Majors and ending a breakout year as a member of the AFL's All-Prospect team. The 2010 first-round pick led Rangers farmhands with 28 homers and 82 RBIs in 95 Double-A games before earning a promotion to Texas.
Olt, a Texas League mid- and postseason All-Star, also represented the United States at the Futures Game. In 16 contests with the Rangers, the 24-year-old University of Connecticut product batted .152 with a double and five RBIs. He's currently MLB.com's No. 16 prospect, second on the Rangers behind Jurickson Profar.
"He had a tremendous season, really," Purpura said."He made his way to the big leagues out of Double-A, which is quite an accomplishment. He continues to improve as a hitter and he lays off breaking balls to hit fastballs. He had some injuries at the Major League level, which hurt him a bit in September, but he is very impressive. He is one of our top prospects.
"Like most young hitters, he is still learning the strike zone and learning which pitches he can hit and what pitches he should hit. As he evolves, he will become even better at that. As he plays more at the Major League level, he will learn what type of hitter he needs to be to be successful. ... His strikeout numbers were up, but he also walked more, too, so overall his on-base percentage was almost .400, and that's a pretty strong indicator of what he is doing. His OPS was .977, so he had a strong year."
Shortstop -- Jurickson Profar, Frisco (126 games), Texas (nine games): As with Olt, Profar went from Frisco to the Majors in 2012. Signed in 2009 as a non-drafted free agent, baseball's No. 1 prospect led all Rangers shortstops in homers (14), RBIs (62), runs scored (76), walks (66) and stolen bases (16). He also batted .281 with 26 doubles and seven triples.
Profar's 217 total bases were a career high and ranked second among infielders in the system (Brad Nelson had 245 with Round Rock). An improving defender at a premium position (he made 23 errors and turned 97 double plays, the switch-hitter doesn't turn 20 until February, by which time he could be talked about as a big league starter on Opening Day.
"I think the most impressive part of his year was how poorly he started," Purpura noted."This is a player who, for the second time, jumped a level. When we put a guy in that position, we anticipate it will be a challenge and that it will take some time to adjust. But he found his level pretty quickly in the first three weeks, then he was really consistent throughout the rest of the season.
"He did great on the basepaths, driving in runs, hitting with power and playing great defense at short and second. There is a reason why he is as highly regarded as he is. He has a lot of raw tools and he loves to play the game. Right now, he's in the running for a major League spot. We have had conversations about where Ian Kinsler plays next year or the year after. If he plays a different spot, Profar could play second base in 2012."
Joey Butler, Round Rock (137 games): Butler led all outfielders in the system with 20 homers, 78 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 233 total bases. The 26-year-old Mississippi native, in his fifth year of pro ball, saw his batting average drop 32 points to .290 in his second trip through the Pacific Coast League, but it was still the second-highest mark among Texas outfielders behind Julio Borbon's .304.
Butler's stolen base tally fell from 13 to six, but his other offensive numbers were consistent with his 2011 season. In fact, his .865 OPS was almost identical, thanks partly to a career-high 79 walks.
"Joey was another guy that put together a strong year by being consistent," Purpura said."He came out very consistently in Spring Training and he had a good end to the spring. He got into some Major league games and he impressed the Major League staff. He is a guy that is pretty patient at the plate.
"He walks a lot and he has a high on-base percentage. If you can keep your walks and strikeouts in a reasonable balance, you can avoid those long droughts where you're not getting hits and not producing and not helping your team. He was an all-Star on that Round Rock team and that was because of his consistency."
Julio Borbon, Round Rock (126 games): A 2007 supplemental first-round pick, Butler batted .304 and led all Rangers outfielders with 162 hits. The big league veteran slugged 10 homers in 533 at-bats and stole 20 bases in 28 tries. He also hit a career-high eight triples and 23 doubles while scoring 78 runs at the top of the Express' lineup.
Borbon spent all of 2012 in Round Rock after going 16-for-86 (.186) over the first three weeks. Among his big games was a two-homer, four-RBI performance against Fresno on May 17.
"Unlike Joey [Butler], what stood out with Julio was his lack of performance in the first two months of the year. He had a dreadful start to the year," Purpura said."Maybe he was disappointed over not making the Major League team. But he turned it on, and I give him a lot of credit for that. Along with [Leonys] Martin, he was one of our best players down the stretch. He ran the bases well, got on base and did a lot of good things.
"He played well in left field and he showed great range in center field. He opened a lot of eyes. He was on our playoff roster a year ago, so he's certainly a guy that can finish strong. I certainly think he can play every day in center field or left field at the Major League level.
Engel Beltre, Frisco (133 games): Beltre's plus speed made him a standout offensively and defensively this year. He hit 13 homers to go with an organization-best 17 triples and 17 doubles. He stole a career-high 36 bases in 46 tries and scored 80 runs, which ranked second among outfielders behind Butler.
Predominantly a center fielder, Beltre posted a .997 fielding percentage after committing just one error in 320 chances. And he recorded 12 assists en route to being named a PCL mid- and postseason All-Star.
"He was selected by Rawlings as a Gold Glove defender in the Minors. He has the ability to run down balls," Purpura said."Offensively, he's come around and he's started to learn himself as a hitter.
"He has been at the Double-A Level or a few years, so he has had some time there, but he is still young at 23. He did a good job adding to his on-base percentage, he showed power and he was a run-producer. His speed will be his game at the next level."
Utility -- Brad Nelson, Round Rock (132 games): Nelson, who turns 30 later this month, gave the Rangers a veteran presence at Triple-A. The former Major Leaguer, who last played in Texas in 2009, hit .279 in his third full year in the PCL. He tied a career high and ranked second in the system with 24 homers while finishing one behind Olt with 81 RBIs.
Nelson ranked second in the system with 31 doubles and third with 85 runs scored. He was the Express' designated hitter in 77 games and played first base in 54 in his sixth consecutive 15-homer PCL season.
"Brad is another guy that just performs every year. He is a great guy to have on the team," Purpura said."He will do anything for the organization or his team and he is the guy with the big bat that comes through in big situations. I can't say enough about just how good he is. He's a professional and he goes about the game the right way. He just goes out and performs. He's a leader on this team and, especially at the Triple-A level, that's enormously important.
"You want a couple guys that are leaders in the clubhouse. We have a lot of young players at the upper levels, so to have veterans like Brad is a big deal. You have managers and coaches, but it's always good to have veterans who can show you how to be a pro."
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Barret Loux, Frisco (25 games): Traded to the Cubs in November for Jake Brigham, the 23-year-old led the organization with 14 wins in the Texas League. He posted a 3.47 ERA in 25 starts, striking out 100 batters over 127 innings in his second Minor League season.
Selected sixth overall in the 2010 Draft, the Rangers picked up Loux as a free agent after the D-backs opted not to sign him due to injury concerns. He held opponents to a .251 average and issued 41 walked, earning Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors.
"He is a guy that was very consistent from Day 1," Purpura said."He is a strike-thrower and he just went about his business to put together a solid year. It was uncanny how good he was. He ran into a bit of trouble and a soft spot, but he bounced right back. You talk about a consistent pitcher, well, that was Barret. He gave us pretty consistent performances every time he took the ball."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Chad Bell, Round Rock (14 games), Frisco (13 games), Myrtle Beach (four games):
A year ago, Bell moved up to the Carolina League for the first time. By the end of 2012, he was one step away from the Majors. The 23-year-old Tennessee native saw time at three levels this year, splitting most of the season between Frisco and Round Rock. A reliever and spot starter for much of his first two seasons in the Minors, Bell moved into the RoughRiders rotation in mid-May and never looked back. He earned a promotion to the PCL at the end of June and made 14 starts with the Express to complete his season.
Overall, Bell went 8-7 with a 3.78 ERA, striking out 110 batters over 142 1/3 innings while issuing 54 walks. He was named a Texas League midseason All-Star after going 2-2 with two saves and a 2.84 ERA in 13 games, including seven starts.
"The fact that he did what he did indicates what his capabilities are," said Purpura."We're not afraid to move players up levels quickly here if they show they have the aptitude and ability. Chad put himself in a great spot this year, going up the rungs of the ladder. He gives you good starts and he competes very well. His stuff is not overpowering, but it is certainly enough to get good Major League hitters out, no doubt about it.
"He hits the corners well and hides the ball well. He can be very deceptive. He has good movement on his fastball, which goes between 88-90 mph, and he has a good slider and a good changeup. I certainly think he has a chance to start at Triple-A next year, but a lot will depend on what he brings to camp. His role [in the Majors] will probably be that long guy who can pitch out of the bullpen and give us a spot start."
Reliever -- Ben Rowen, Myrtle Beach (38 games): Employing pinpoint control and a deceptive delivery, Rowen was one of the Minors' best relievers in 2012. A Carolina League postseason All-Star with the Pelicans, he went 5-0 with an organization-best 19 saves in 20 chances. The 24-year-old right-hander was used in long and middle relief early in the season, pitcihng more than one inning in nine of his first 14 appearances. After moving into the closer's role in mid-June, Rowen became Myrtle Beach's ninth-inning guy.
The Virginia Tech product finished with a 1.57 ERA while limiting opponents to a .201 average. He recorded 52 strikeouts over 57 1/3 innings and issued only three walks in 38 appearances. In three years with the Rangers, Rowen is 12-4 with 22 saves and a 1.63 ERA across three levels.
"Ben is a submariner, so our attitude with him was just to let him pitch and see what he can do," Purpura said."It is pretty unique to have this guy who can get guys out from down under. He did a fantastic job at Myrtle Beach and I can't tell you how many ground balls I saw him get.
"I'd watch him have a nine- or 10-pitch inning, and almost every ball put in play was a ground ball to the shortstop. It was just amazing. He had a pretty good Fall League, so we're just going to let him play at the highest level he can. He's a great kid, he works hard and he loves the game. I thought a lot of him."