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Carter, infielders shine in the Lone Star State

Five-tool prodigy, versatile bats headline Rangers' All-Stars list
Evan Carter batted .295 with 43 extra-base hits and was named a Gold Glove winner in the outfield. (Ken Inness/
January 3, 2023

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Texas Rangers.

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Texas Rangers.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A Round Rock: 79-71
Double-A Frisco: 74-63 (Texas League champions)
High-A Hickory: 66-65
Single-A Down East: 65-66
ACL Rangers: 32-22 (West Division champions)
DSL TEX Blue: 40-19
DSL TEX Red: 21-39
Overall record: 377-345 (.522 winning percentage, T-9th among MLB organizations)

Rangers Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Liam Hicks

The 2021 ninth-rounder must have made the most of extended spring training. Following a difficult debut in Rookie ball last year, Hicks returned to the Arizona Complex League and did not begin his season until June. The 23-year-old dominated ACL pitching and continued to handle the bat well after a promotion to Down East, eventually earning one final bump to Hickory for the last week of the season. Hicks had a tough week with the Crawdads, but finished with impressive numbers overall. In 50 total games, he batted .327 with a higher on-base percentage (.462) than slugging (.460). He drew 36 total walks and had only 22 strikeouts. His OBP and OPS (.922) were the highest among Rangers prospects with at least 150 plate appearances this season. Defensively, he split time between catcher and first base.

First baseman: Blaine Crim

The stocky slugger has been the gift that keeps on giving since the Rangers selected him in the 19th round of the 2019 Draft. Crim made the All-Star list after flexing his power and bat-to-ball skills last year. This year, he maintained those two elite traits while lowering his strikeout rate from 21.09 percent to 16.16.

“He hits the ball extremely hard. He has really good at-bats consistently. And he's a clubhouse guy too,” said Josh Bonifay, the Rangers’ player development director. “He's what we call, 'A Ranger player.' He works extremely hard, he's dedicated to his craft, he's dedicated to hitting, and he continues to improve defensively.”

Crim led the organization in homers (24) and RBIs (96) and was promoted to Round Rock for the last two weeks of the season. Bonifay said Crim bought into the organizational game-planning philosophy and was able to eliminate pitches that weren’t in his zone. Crim is a lifetime .305 hitter with an .887 OPS in nearly 300 games since being drafted. He played all but one game at first with just six errors.

Second baseman: Justin Foscue

Foscue maintained his strong finish to 2021 over a full season in Frisco. The 2020 first-rounder batted .288/.367/.483 with 81 RBIs and 31 doubles. His home run total (15) didn’t measure up to his long ball output of a year ago, despite having 131 more at-bats. But, like Crim, he cut his strikeout rate nearly in half to 14.44 percent.

“Justin has really good professional at-bats consistently. He understands the strike zone,” Bonifay said. “His ability to make consistent contact and hit the ball hard – he just had a really productive year. He's just, he knows who he is. And he executes his plan, man. Good baseball player.”

The Rangers’ No. 5 prospect finished second to Crim for the organizational lead in RBIs and second to Ezequiel Duran for the most doubles in the system. Defensively, the 2020 first-rounder mostly stayed at second but began to get some reps at third.

Third baseman: Thomas Saggese

Texas was aggressive with Saggese’s assignments in his first two Minor League seasons, and the 20-year-old was up for every challenge so far. Saggese batted .308 with an .846 OPS and 38 extra-base hits with Hickory. He was promoted to Frisco after the Crawdads’ season ended and was an important piece of the RoughRiders’ Texas League championship victory. In nine games between the end of the season and the playoffs, Saggese went 13-for-36 at the plate with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs.

“With the game on the line and understanding what he can do, he puts the ball in play and he comes up with big hits,” Bonifay said. “He's able to drive the ball in the gaps. He's a very wiry, strong kid. He understands he can sit on pitches at certain times, but he can also take a fastball and use the other side of the field and adjust to the breaking ball.”

The club’s No. 19 prospect hit .338 with two outs and runners in scoring position, driving in 30 runs in those situations. Saggese mostly split time between second and third, but had the defensive skill set to shift to shortstop for 13 games when Luisangel Acuña hit the IL in Hickory.

Shortstop: Jonathan Ornelas

The 22-year-old was the organizational leader in total hits (157) and even began to run into some power in his fourth professional season. Ornelas clubbed a career-best 14 homers and 64 RBIs while producing a .299/.360/.425 slash line. Bonifay credited a mechanical adjustment to Ornelas’ swing that enabled him to stay level through the zone.

“What Jonathan does is he just sets the table. ... He is a grinder of an at-bat, even with two strikes,” Bonifay said. “He's just extremely, extremely smart. … He uses the entire field, he uses his speed, he understands what type of player he is. And he comes up with some really, really great hits.”

Ornelas’ uptick in power came as his ground-ball rate actually increased and is likely the result of natural maturation. Defensively, he’s an excellent defender at shortstop and has spent time at second and third. He’s had some experience in the outfield as well.

The club’s No. 21 prospect was added to the Rangers’ 40-man roster at the end of the season. With so many excellent infield prospects approaching the highest levels of the Minors and All-Star infielders under lengthy contracts at the Major League level, players like Ornelas, Foscue and Saggese need defensive versatility to stick in Texas.

Outfield: Bubba Thompson

The 24-year-old reached the big leagues in his fifth pro season after a tremendous offensive year at Round Rock. Thompson’s headlining characteristic is his blazing speed and stolen-base prowess. This season, he led the system with 49 steals in the Minors before swiping another 18 bases in 55 games with Texas. He credited the uptick in steals – which, combining his Minor and Major League totals, was nearly twice as many as his previous career high – to his experience in the pro game. The 2017 first-rounder also performed well at the plate, batting .303 with an .829 OPS and 29 extra-base hits in the Minors. He continued to swing the bat well at Texas but was a bit overanxious at times and struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances. For the third consecutive season, Thompson played all three outfield positions, with most of his time in center.

Evan Carter

One of the fastest-rising prospects in the Minors, Carter advanced from Hickory to Frisco in his first full season. MLB Pipeline’s No. 56 overall prospect was a true five-tool star in his age-19 season. He led the organization with 10 triples while batting .295/.397/.489 with 43 extra-base hits, including 12 homers, 73 RBIs, 86 runs and 28 stolen bases while playing Gold Glove defense in the outfield.

“He can really play the outfield, he can really go get it in the gap. But it's impressive just to watch how he takes an at-bat,” Bonifay said. “He executes his plan. He takes what is given to him. And he's impressive. … I can't say enough about his approach. And what he does night in and night out, and it was a really, really solid year for him.”

Carter spent almost all season with Hickory but joined Frisco for the final week of the regular season and the Texas League playoffs. The 2020 second-rounder had nine hits in his first 21 Double-A at-bats (.429) and collected three knocks in the RoughRiders' championship clincher against Wichita. Probably the greatest area of need for the lefty-swinging Carter was his approach against southpaws. He did not fare well in limited opportunities against left-handers, hitting .205 in 88 at-bats.

Ezequiel Duran

The 23-year-old has moved quickly through the system since being acquired from the Yankees in the Joey Gallo trade last year. Duran was the third prospect from that deal to reach Texas following a strong year with Frisco and Round Rock. Duran finished with a .555 slugging percentage and 33 doubles, both of which ranked at the top of the organizational charts. He also batted .302 with an .899 OPS and 16 homers across the two highest levels of the Minors. Duran added 10 doubles with 25 runs scored and 25 RBIs in two stints totaling 58 games in the Majors. The natural infielder had the same defensive experiences as Ornelas. Although Duran mostly played at shortstop and the hot corner, he also saw time in left and center.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Mason Englert

The 23-year-old showed enough with Hickory and Frisco for a Major League organization to believe that he could be a viable big league option next season. That organization, however, was the Tigers, who selected Englert with the No. 6 pick in the Rule 5 Draft.

Across 24 starts, the 6-foot-4, 206-pound righty maintained a 3.64 ERA with an organization-leading 136 strikeouts in 118⅔ innings. The highlight of his year came on Aug. 11, when he spun the first seven innings of Hickory's no-hitter against Greenville. He was also one of 11 pitchers in the Minors to complete at least 110 innings and hold opposing batters below the Mendoza line.

“He throws four pitches for strikes, he dominates the zone, he gets ahead of hitters, he uses his arsenal to his advantage,” Bonifay said. “He can speed up a hitter, he can slow down the hitter. And then he's able to put them away. But his delivery is is very clean. His arm action is very good. And he's just able to execute his arsenal, he does not walk anybody. And he's suffocates the hitter is what I would call it. He just filled it up so fast, that the hitter doesn't have time to realize what's next.”

The 2018 fourth-rounder is a curious Rule 5 pick considering he’s only pitched 15⅓ innings above High-A. He didn’t make his pro debut until last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. Englert has a starter’s arsenal – led by a mid-90s fastball and sinking changeup – and has pitched exclusively as a starter in the Minors but will likely have multiple roles with the Tigers should he stick with Detroit for a full season.

Left-handed starting pitcher: Mitch Bratt

The 19-year-old took an interesting path to pro ball, leaving his native Canada to go to a Georgia prep school, as pandemic restrictions allowed. He was dominant in a short stint in the ACL after being drafted last season and put together an excellent first full season at Down East this year. Bratt’s 2.45 ERA was the lowest among all Rangers pitchers who completed at least 60 innings. The club’s No. 17 prospect racked up 99 punchouts in 80⅔ innings and held opposing batters to a .218 average. Bratt has good ride on a mid-90s fastball, which sets up his power curveball. He completed six innings in just one outing this season but surrendered fewer than three runs in all but four appearances for the Wood Ducks.

Reliever: Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa

A 30th-round selection in the 2019 Draft, Hoopii-Tuionetoa racked up 67 strikeouts in 43⅔ innings over 36 appearances for Down East, finishing with a 3.09 ERA. He was one of only 52 Minor Leaguers to complete at least 40 frames and maintain a K/9 of at least 13.8. The 22-year-old native of Wailuku, Hawaii, converted eight of nine save opportunities.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for