Rangers' Brinson, Mazara bring star power

Toolsy outfielders, slugging Gallo knocking down door to big leagues

Nomar Mazara has a career .789 OPS over four seasons in the Minor Leagues. (Shane Roper/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 17, 2015 10:00 AM

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.

One year after going 67-95 in 2014, the Texas Rangers proved to be one of the pleasant surprises of baseball in 2015. They took the American League West Division title, beating out the jump-started Houston Astros and the favored Los Angeles Angels. If the organization's Minor League system is any indication, that might be the last time for a while that we consider success a surprise when it comes to the Rangers.

Texas affiliates finished with a combined 441-396 record (.527), ninth-best among the 30 Major League organizations. Three of the team's four full-season affiliates finished with winning records and made their respective league's playoffs with Class A Hickory sweeping its way to a South Atlantic League title. 

But beyond team success, the organization boasts five Top-100 prospects in Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, 2015 No. 3 overall pick Dillon Tate, Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz, and that's even after they shipped three players of such standing (Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro) to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal. 

Based on young talent alone, the Rangers seem primed to build on the successes of 2015 and sustain them heading into 2016 and beyond. These are the standouts from the Texas system during the 2015 season:

Rangers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Jose Trevino, Hickory (112 games): A sixth-round pick out of Oral Roberts in 2014, Trevino became the Rangers' No. 27 prospect during his first full season in the Texas system by showing some nice pop with 14 homers. He hit .262/.291/.415 with 63 RBIs in his 112 games with the Class A Crawdads and threw out 31 of 61 (34 percent) of attempted base stealers from behind the plate. After spending time at second base, third and shortstop in 2014, the Rangers would like to keep the 23-year-old at backstop, even if he did play primarily at first in the Arizona Fall League because he was on the same team as standout catcher Gary Sanchez.

"Jose was really happy with his year," said Rangers director of player development Mike Daly. "He was the leader of that Hickory team that won the South Atlantic League championship. He was a guy we scouted a lot and got to see as a catcher with Chi Chi Rodriguez at Oral Roberts. ... When he came into the organization, we really wanted to put him at catcher, and he has the right mentality and makeup for it. He's got soft hands, a good arm, a good bat. His future is really bright."

First baseman -- Ronald Guzman, Hickory (24 games), High Desert (107 games): Guzman started out his third straight season in the South Atlantic League, but was promoted in early May after hitting .309/.346/.433 with three homers, three doubles and 14 RBIs in 24 games. He held his own in the Class A Advanced California League the rest of the way (.277/.319/.434, nine homers, seven triples, 25 doubles in 107 games) and ended up leading the system with 87 RBIs.

Second baseman -- Drew Robinson, Frisco (126 games), Round Rock (seven games): After a rough 2014 that saw him hit .198 at Double-A, Robinson broke through in a big way this past season. He earned his first midseason All-Star honors in the Texas League and finished with a .235/.363/.451 line with career highs in homers (21) and walks (87). A patient hitter, the 23-year-old finished among the Texas League's top five in walk rate (16 percent, fourth), strikeout rate (26.8, fifth) and ISO (.222, second). Robinson went 9-for-23 (.304) in his late-season cameo with Triple-A Round Rock and was particularly useful in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, going 7-for-24 (.292) with three homers and five RBIs in seven games.

Honorable mention: Dylan Moore

Third baseman -- Joey Gallo, Frisco (34 games), Round Rock (53 games), Texas (36 games): MLB.com's No. 6 overall prospect tore through the Texas League to start the season, producing a .314/.425/.636 line with nine homers and 31 RBIs in 34 games, before an injury to third baseman Adrian Beltre resulted in his first Major League promotion on June 2. Later that month, he was sent back to Round Rock for his Triple-A debut and had his issues against PCL arms, resulting in a .195 average and 39.5 percent strikeout rate. Still, the power was very much there with 14 long balls in 53 games -- in fact, MiLB.com's look at ISO revealed Gallo had the most power among Top-100 prospects last season with a .280 ISO -- and he returned to the Majors in September upon roster expansion.

The Rangers tried to give him shots in the outfield at all three levels to keep him from being blocked by Beltre, but the organization continues to see his future at the hot corner.

"The way his year started off, we were really happy with how things were going through June 1, and then there were obviously some challenges that he needed to face," Daly said. "But overall, we're really happy with where he's at. He'll compete for a job in the spring, but even if he needs to go back, he's still only going to be 22 at Triple-A. He's got that experience already, and we think he'll continue to make the adjustments he needs to continue his development."

Shortstop -- Hanser Alberto, Round Rock (81 games), Texas (41 games): Now a two-time Organization All-Star, Alberto was up with the Rangers for two extended stints from May-July and August through the end of the season. But when he was in the PCL, he was impressive, producing a .310/.331/.435 line with four homers, four triples, 19 doubles and five steals in 81 games. It marked the first time since 2012 at Hickory that he hit over .300 at any level. Alberto, who batted just .222 in the Majors, isn't about to knock Elvis Andrus off his spot at shortstop, but with stints at second and third on his resume, he could start Opening Day on the Major League bench as a fifth infielder.

Outfielders

Lewis Brinson, High Desert (64 games), Frisco (28 games), Round Rock (eight games): Brinson was one of the biggest breakout prospects in the Minors in 2015 as he played at three levels and hit, ran and played defense impressively at each stop. Baseball's No. 65 overall prospect finished with a .332/.403/.601 line with 20 homers, eight triples, 31 doubles and 18 steals in 100 games combined at his three stops. At 1.004, the 21-year-old finished as one of only three full-season Minor Leaguers with an OPS above 1.000. A.J. Reed (1.044) and Jose Martinez (1.024) were the others. Perhaps the biggest development in Brinson's game hs been his ability to make contact. Two years removed from striking out in 38 percent of his plate appearances at Hickory in 2013, he cut that strikeout rate down to 21.5 in 2015, despite playing at the Minors' three highest levels.

"Lewis deserves a lot of credit because he's one of the hardest workers we have in the organization," Daly said. "He continued to take steps with his approach. He got tons of at-bats this season and showed his quality by using the whole field. ... It was our goal to challenge Lewis all year, and he was up for every one those challenges and really put himself on the radar."

Nomar Mazara, Frisco (111 games), Round Rock (20 games): At age 20, Mazara didn't quite have the gawdy numbers Brinson put together, but did plenty to jump into the upper echelon of Top-100 prospects and is currently slated at No. 14 overall. The 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter produced a .296/.366/.443 line with 14 homers, two triples, 26 doubles and 69 RBIs in 131 games at the two highest levels of the Rangers system and was a standout in both corner outfield spots, where he had a career-high 16 assists. Texas added Mazara to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and he seems poised to make his Major League debut in early 2016.

"The thing with Nomar is he is so consistent," Daly said. "His at-bats are so consistent day in and day out. He can just do so many things at the plate. He's got good power, a good eye and put himself on the right track. We couldn't be happier with where he's at."

Nick Williams, Frisco (97 games), Reading (22 games): There was a time in 2015 when it looked like the future of the Rangers outfield could climb the ladder together as Mazara and Williams ascended with Brinson only one spot behind. Williams was very much Mazara's equal with Frisco as he slashed .299/.357/.479 with 13 homers, four triples, 21 doubles and 10 steals in 97 games en route to spots on the Texas League midseason All-Star team and the Futures Game U.S. roster. Then on July 31, he went to the Phillies with five other players in the deal that brought Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to the Rangers. Still, the move wasn't enough to keep the left-handed slugger with great bat speed from making his third straight Rangers Organization All-Star team.

Honorable mentions: LeDarious Clark, Joe Jackson

Utility player/designated hitter: Ryan Cordell, High Desert (68 games), Frisco (56 games): Cordell took full advantage of his time in the California League, hitting .311/.376/.528 with 13 homers, 57 RBIs and 10 steals in 68 games, before falling off plenty with Frisco (.217/.263/.335). Still, he earned his spot for a good mix of power (18 steals) and speed (20 steals), not to mention his defensive versatility. The 23-year-old got extended looks at third base and shortstop and played a little bit of first along with all three outfield spots in 2015.

"We had a hole in our infields at the lower levels, so it was an opportunity to get more time on the field for him and see where his development was at different positions," Daly said. "He put in a lot of work in the infield in High Desert, but he can play all the outfield spots and maybe he'll end up playing some corners of the infield too. He can obviously hit, and managers love guys like him because he gives guys lots of options."

Right-handed starter -- Collin Wiles, Hickory (22 games): Wiles was the 53rd overall pick in the 2012 Draft out of a Kansas high school -- the Rangers only took Brinson (29th) and Gallo (39th) higher that year and selected Williams 40 picks later -- and was on a relatively slow track before playing full-season ball for the first time this season. He made the most of his opportunity by leading the organization's full-season hurlers with a 2.96 ERA over 130 2/3 innings and finishing with an 11-3 record and 1.05 WHIP. His 1.6 BB/9 ranked fourth-lowest among his fellow Sally League pitchers. His 5.0 K/9 is nowhere near anything to write about, but the Rangers appreciate the way he throws in the lower half of the zone and pitches well to contact.

"He had a really good year in Hickory," Daly said. "He can mix all of his pitches well, throw over the plate, keep the ball down, all that stuff. He has a good changeup that really helps him. It's a changeup that he can use as a fastball, and then he has a curveball and slider/cutter. He can mix all of that together and throw strikes, and when he's out there, he's very prepared."

Left-handed starter -- Yohander Mendez, Hickory (21 games): The Rangers' No. 10 prospect made 13 of his 21 appearances out of the bullpen, but was plenty good in his eight starts, during which he posted a 2.94 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 32 strikeouts and five walks in 33 2/3 innings. Overall, the 20-year-old left-hander finished with a 2.44 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings. Add in 10 frames from the playoffs and a dozen more from the Venezuelan Winter League, and Mendez, who has been limited by elbow concerns in the past, seems primed to take on a much bigger load next season.

"We view him as a starter with a couple of above-average weapons," Daly said. "He works with a curveball and changeup, and his fastball is plenty good at 89-92. We see him as a Major League starter down the road, and after he was added to the 40-man roster, we're going to try to get him over 20 starts next year in the hopes of jumping his innings."

More Organization All-Stars

Reliever -- Jon Edwards, Round Rock (32 games), El Paso (five games), Texas (11 games), San Diego (11 games): Edwards was in a similar situation to Alberto in that he was the Rangers' emergency callup option before an August trade to the Padres ended that. The 6-foot-5 right-hander earned 20 saves in 21 opportunities for the Express and posted a 1.42 ERA, a 0.82 WHIP and a .165 average-against with 44 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings at Round Rock before the deal. He struggled with control with the Rangers, however, and served up eight walks while giving up four earned runs in six innings for the big club.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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