Texas League preview: Five prospects to watch

Mendez, Urias among those hoping to dominate Double-A circuit

Yohander Mendez compiled a 2.19 ERA in 111 innings across three different levels in 2016. (Matt York/AP)

By MiLB.com Staff | April 4, 2017 10:00 AM ET

The Double-A Texas League opens Thursday, April 6, with a full four-game slate. The action gets underway on MiLB.TV at 7:25 p.m. ET as the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) host the San Antonio Missions (Padres).

Below are some of the biggest and brightest prospects expected to open the season in the Texas League: 

Yohander Mendez, LHP, Frisco RoughRiders (Texas Rangers)

Ranked directly behind top prospect Leody Taveras in the organization and on the Top 100 list, Mendez 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," Texas assistant director of player development Paul 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."

Ariel Jurado, RHP, Frisco RoughRiders (Texas Rangers)

Staying with the Rangers, 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."

Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals)

One of the biggest goals for Zimmer in 2017 will be to prove his health over the course of a full season. This might not be Zimmer's last chance, but Kansas City would like to see a tangible step forward. Thankfully for both Zimmer and the Royals, all parties believe this is the year the 2012 first-round pick comes back.

"We teach our players to control what they can control," said Royals director of Minor League operations Ronnie Richardson. "Unfortunately, Zim has had some injuries that have not allowed him to perform at the level he would like to. When healthy, he's been very special. When healthy, he's gone out and competed. He gets after it every day. He's a very tough young man who understands that he's had a few injuries here and there, but he's never lacked the effort. To see him go through the rehab, that's a very trying process for any player because he knows what he can do."

The righty has pitched just 74 1/3 innings since 2014 and had his labrum cleaned up in 2015. Last year Zimmer underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome -- a condition that leads to numbness and weakness in the arm -- after pitching just 5 2/3 innings, and the Royals are hopeful that will be the last piece in a healthy puzzle. When he's right, Zimmer boasts an above-average fastball that can reach triple-digits as well as a powerful curve.

"He's looked great here early in camp," Richardson said. "He's going out there and competing every day. He's sticking with his maintenance programs, and he still has the same upside. But for us to script anything out right now, we've just got to respond and allow Zimmer to continue to get better. He's a tough young man because a lot of guys might not have been able to overcome the injuries and kind of lose sight of what the goal is. For him, he's never lost sight of that."

Max Schrock, 2B, Midland RockHounds (Oakland A's)

Over the years Oakland has developed a reputation for making shrewd, under-the-radar moves. That's exactly what they were going for when they acquired the unheralded but productive Schrock from Washington in August in exchange for reliever Marc Rzepczynski.

Ever since he was taken in the 13th round of the 2015 Draft, Schrock has shown an ability to hit well at every level. He began 2016 with Class A Hagerstown, where he batted .326 in 67 games. He made the jump to Class A Advanced in June and posted a .341/.373/.453 slash line in 54 games before being dealt to Oakland. He made it to Midland after just two games with Stockton.

"He's just a solid hitter that brings it everyday. He never lacks for putting together professional at-bats," Lieppman said. "He's worked hard on his defense and is in a good place right now. He's not a real big guy, but when you have a hit tool like he does size doesn't matter."

Luis Urias, IF, San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres)

A versatile sparkplug who introduced himself to a global baseball audience while playing for Mexico in this month's World Baseball Classic, Urias is set to take the next step to the upper Minors in 2017. At just 19 for the bulk of last season, the infielder batted .330/.397/.440 in 120 games with Lake Elsinore on the way to capturing California League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors.

Urias developed some pop in his first full season, tallying 26 doubles, five triples and six homers and saw action defensively at second, third and shortstop.

"Every year to this point, there have been challenges, and he's obviously met them to continue to have the success he's had," San Diego director of player development Sam Geaney said. "He's continued to make adjustments on a year-to-year basis, and I think if you looked at him physically a year ago, you'd be like, 'This is a guy who's getting beat in [on pitches],' but he made the adjustment. He's learned how to drive the baseball."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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