Monday, February 3, 2020

2020 Down East Wood Ducks Prospect Preview

2020 Down East Wood Ducks Prospect Preview

The Rangers farm system has been rather average since AJ Preller left the Rangers organization in 2014 to become General Manager of the Padres.  In recent years, the Rangers have been snake bit by so many of their young pitchers needing Tommy John surgery.  The Rangers have an impressive number of talented prospects in the lower minors. In addition, they have two prospects (Sherten Apostel and Cole Winn) that should be on Down East in 2020 that could shoot up prospect rankings in 2020. 

The Woodies got off to an incredible start in 2019 (50-20 in the first half) and had the best overall record in the Carolina League.  One of the keys to their success was a very strong bullpen.  At the beginning of 2019, the Woodies bullpen included Emmanuel Clase and Peter Fairbanks (both made the majors in 2019 and were big parts of trades that the Rangers made), Joe Barlow, DeMarcus Evans and Josh Advocate (1 run in 11.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League).  Cole Uvila joined the Woodies bullpen on April 15th. 

Relief Pitcher Innings Hits  Walks  Earned Runs  Strikeouts Finished the Year
Emmanuel Clase 7 4 1 0 11 Majors
Joe Barow 23.2 10 15 1 44 AAA
DeMarcus Evans 22.1 9 17 2 40 AA
Cole Uvila  57.2 31 33 16 85 Down East
Peter Fairbanks 12.1 10 4 4 15 Majors
Josh Advocate 75 55 26 22 77 Down East

Best Guess on Prospect Assignments

Position  Prospect  Assignment
SP AJ Alexy Down East
SS Anderson Tejeda May start in Down East to get in a good groove.
CF  Bubba Thompson Down East 
SP Cody Bradford If healthy, he should get to to Down East quickly
RP Cole Uvila Frisco
SP  Cole Winn Down East 
1B Curtis Terry Frisco
3B Davis Wendzel May start with Hickory due to the third base logjam.
SP Han Crouse If health, he should be ready for Down East.
C / 1B Heriberto Hernandez Hickory.  Could move up to Down East if he continues to hit.
RP Hever Bueno Down East
SP Jake Latz May start in Down East to prove he is healthy.
SP John King Frisco is more likely if he has a good spring.
INF Jonathan Ornelas Hickory.  Could move up to Down East in the 2nd half if he performs well.
3B Josh Jung Down East
CF  Juan Pablo Martinez Frisco
SP Justin Slaten Hickory seems likely with a good chance to move up to Down East in the second half.
SS Maximo Acosta Likely to start in AZL instead of DSL.
SP Noah Bremer Frisco
SP Ricky Vanasco Hickory.  Could move up to Down East if he picks up where he left off.
SP Ryan Garcia Has a chance to open with the Woodies.
SP / RP Sal Mendez Frisco
Sam Huff Frisco seems likely but not definite.
3B Sherten Apostel Down East with the hope he is ready for Frisco in the second half.
SP Yerry Rodriguez If healthy, he should get to to Down East quickly.

Returning Wood Ducks Prospects

Sherten Apostel (6'4" 200 lbs DOB 3-11-99 RR 3B 2015 IFA) had a lot of prospect buzz coming into 2019 after Apostel was acquired from the Pirates in the Keone Kela trade.  Apostel has a great body that looks like it can easily add muscle as he matures and he has a very good batting eye given his age and power.

I have heard a few prospect gurus say that Apostel had a disappointing season in 2019.  I have some questions about his defense and whether he will stick at third base.  However, lets take a closer look at his 2019 offensive season.

Having just turned twenty, Apostel made the jump to full season ball with Hickory in the Sally League.  He struggled at first (In April .181 / .263 / .540) and was much better in May (.282 / .345 / .791).  Beginning in June, Apostel started to hit with power (11 homers in his last 31 games in Hickory).   If he stayed in Hickory for the remainder of the year, it is reasonable to assume he would have put up huge numbers the rest of the season.

The Rangers aggressively promoted Apostel to Down East on July 17th.  Again he struggled initially (the remainder of July he hit .186 / .222 / .435).  However, Apostel rebounded with a very strong August (.286 / .434 / .922 with 22 walks versus 28 strikeouts).  In addition, he was also outstanding in the playoffs (.375 /.444 / 1.194).

Apostel was added to the Rangers forty man roster over the winter.  He is a big time offensive prospect.    I would to see the Rangers try Aposel in rightfield.

Bubba Thompson (6'1" 180 lbs DOB 6-9-98 RR CF 2017 1st round) lost a lot of time to injury in 2019 and struggled when he did play.  Thompson was a highly recruited football player so he did not focus solely of baseball until after signing with the Rangers.  He is an exceptional athlete with all around skills that needs to get more game action.  

Thompson's strikeout percentage of 31.8% in 2019 was too high but he had some bad luck when he did put put the ball in play. His BABIP decreased from .396 in 2018 to .246 in 2019.   Thompson played twenty one games in the Arizona Fall League and had a productive time with three homers and five steals.  However, the 25 strikeouts in 71 at bats are a concern.

This is a big season for Thompson who will look to stay healthy and progress to point that he is ready for AA Fresno by the end of the year.

AJ Alexy (6'4" 195 lbs DOB 4-21-98 RHP 2016 11th round)  was a cold weather high school pitcher that the Dodgers drafted and signed as a $600,000 overslot pick.  Alexy was traded to the Rangers as part of the Yu Darvich trade at the 2017 trade deadline.

Alexy had a pretty good year in 2018 at Hickory in the Sally League although his walks were high (108 innings allowing 89 hits and 52 walks while striking out 138).  Alexy missed most of 2019 with a lat injury.  He did return for fall instructs and pitched eight innings in the Arizona Fall League.  Given his experience level and the fact that he missed so much time with the injury, the AFL was a big challenge for Alexy.

Alexy did pitch in the Don Welke On Desk Classic, an exhibition game on October 3rd against Padres prospects and was impressive.   Jamie Newburg of The Athletic wrote the following on Alexy,

Alexy turned in a dominant three innings himself, blanking a Padres lineup comprised entirely of top 20 team prospects and needing just over 30 pitches to do so. He scattered one hit and one walk with a fastball that sat 94-97 and his signature hammer curve, punching out three.

Either Down East or Frisco

Anderson Tejeda (5'11" 160 lbs DOB 5-10-98 SR SS 2014 IFA signing) it was a surprise that Tejeda was not promoted to Frisco after a strong 2018 season as a 20 year old (19 homers, .259 / .331 / .770). Tejeda started the season very strong in 2019 for the first few weeks and then went into a bad slump( 20 hits in his final 114 at bats). Tejeda injured his non-throwing shoulder and did not play after May 29th.  It is unknown if the injury contributed to his slump.

Tejeda was added to the Rangers forty man roster this off season.  He is strong defensively with a plus arm and is still young.  If Tejeda is fully recovered, it is likely that he starts off in Down East but could be promoted quickly.      

The next two can be grouped together.  They are under the radar college pitchers that are getting older.  They have a hard time staying healthy, but are impressive when they pitch.  

Jake Latz (6'2" 185" DOB 4-8-96 LHP 5th round 2017) started his college career at LSU where he was a top recruit but because of injuries, he only pitched 8.1 innings in 2016 for LSU.  Latz transferred to Kent State but never pitched for them.  

The Rangers made Latz the 164th overall pick and signed him for a overslot deal.  Latz was pretty good in a hitter friendly environment for Spokane in the Northwest League in 2018 (71 innings allowing 63 hits and 24 walks while striking out 67).

In 2019, Latz was dominant in two starts for Hickory and was quickly promoted to Down East.  He made thirteen starts for the Woodies and was outstanding (51 innings only 28 hits with 22 walks while striking out 60).  Latz last pitched on June 22.  There was a note in the Fort Worth Telegram on July 13th, that he had a sprained elbow that they did not think would need Tommy John surgery.

Based on this video, Latz was undergoing stem cell therapy in Columbia in November in a effort to avoid surgery.

John King (6'2" 215 lbs DOB 9-14-94 LHP 10th round 2017) the Rangers drafted King as a Senior out of University of Houston and signed him for only $10,000 knowing that he would need Tommy John surgery.

King rehabbed for most of 2018, making a couple appearances in late in the season.  He did impress Jason Panini of Prospects Live in the fall instructs.

In 2019 King started in Hickory where he pitched well (26. innings, 31 hits but only 2 walks while striking out 29) before getting promoted to Down East on May 10th.  King was strong for the Woodies where he again showed excellent control (71 innings, 59 hits, 11 walks while striking out 62).  He was not quite as sharp his last few appearances and was placed on the injured list on August 13th and did not pitch again.  He may have just reached an innings limit.

King can throw in the mid nineties and given his age, his future may be in the bullpen. 

Likely To Be Promoted From Down East to Frisco

Sam Huff (C)- On the surface, Huff had a great year with 28 homers and the MVP in the Futures Game.  Huff began the year at Hickory, where he played the entire year in 2018 and in 30 games in 2019 had 15 homers, which was leading all of the minors when he got promoted to Down East on May 9th.  In 97 games with the Woodies, Huff had 13 homers and a .751 OPS with 117 strikeouts.

Huff just turned 22 and is extremely big (listed at 6'4" 230 lbs) for a catcher.  He caught 51 games for the Woodies, sharing catching duties with Yohel Pozo.  Huff is somewhat stiff behind the plate and is questionable if he can stick at catcher. The outlook is significantly less exciting if he is limited to first base or DH.

Julio Pablo Martinez (CF) - He was a high profile signing by the Rangers in March of 2018 after Martinez defected from Cuba.  It was thought that Martinez would move quickly up the Rangers system. However, he struggled in 2018, never made it out of short season and the prospect community quickly lost interest.

Martinez made progress in 2019, quickly getting promoted from Hickory and spending most of the year with the Woodies.  Martinez has an intriguing power (14 homers) and speed (28 steals) combination, but a questionable hit tool (144 strikeouts).  He will turn 24 before the start of the 2020 season.

Curtis Terry (1B) -  At 6'3" 264 lbs, Terry is limited to first base which does not help his odds of making the majors.  However, the 2015 13th round draft choice has a big year in 2018 with Spokane in the Northwest League (.337 / .434 / 1.040 with 15 homers in 67 games) and kept on hitting in 2019 while splitting the year between Hickory and Down East (.293 / .362 / .899 with 25 homers for the year).

In limited looks, Terry moved surprisingly well at first base.  He will be 23 for all of 2020.

Cole Uvila (RH RP) -  had a long journey to get draft as a 40th round pick in 2018 and is an easy player to root for.  Uvila is already 26 years old but was dominant in 2019 beginning in Hickory and spending most of the year with the Woodies.  In 64.2 innings, Uvila held hits to a .160 batting average while striking out 95.  He also impressed in the Arizona Fall League displaying an exceptional spin rate on his curveball.

Uvila has been training for several years at Driveline in Washington where they use cutting edge pitching technology.  He is the subject of a highly recommended podcast series called Razed Sports.

Noah Bremer (RH SP) - a big 2017 6th round draft choice from University of Washington.  Bremer was out with an unknown injury from May 3rd to July 2nd.  He was mostly solid in 2019 when he pitched (75.2 innings pitched allowing only 53 hits and 24 walks while striking out 68).  

Bremer will be 24 in May and can be considered a fringe prospect.  He struggled in the Arizona Fall League.

Sal Mendez (RH P) - is a fringe prospect that had a really good year for the Woodies in 2019.  Mendez will be twenty five before the start of the 2020 season.  He had a 2.37 ERA in 117.2 innings in 2019 as a swingman for the Woodies.

New 2020 Wood Ducks Prospects

Cole Winn (6'2" 190 lbs DOB 11-25-99 RHP 1st round 2018) was my favorite high school pitcher from the 2018 draft and was the fifteenth overall pick.  The Rangers have had a number of young pitchers get injured and decided not to pitch their three high school pitchers from the first four rounds of the 2018 draft in real games until 2019.  Unfortunately, Owen White (2nd round) and Morgan Englert (4th round) still got injured and both had Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2019.  Leaving Winn as the only Rangers early round draft pick from the 2018 draft to stay healthy.

Winn never pitched in short season ball and made his pro debut with Hickory in the Sally League, which is very unusual for a high school pick. Going straight from high school to full season ball is a big jump and Winn's stats did not standout (68.2 innings allowing 59 hits and 39 walks while striking out 65).  However, in his five starts he was sharp (23 innings allowing 16 hits on 6 walks while striking out 24).

Winn has all the tools in his four pitch mix. The fastball and curve are plus pitches and the slider and change up are works in progress.  As long as Winn stays healthy, I look him to emerge as an elite pitching prospect.

Hans Crouse (6'4 180 lbs DOB 9-15-98 RHP  2nd round 2017) had off season elbow surgery, but should be healthy in 2020.  Crouse was out from May 26th to June 23rd with the elbow injury.  His stuff may not have been sharp upon his return, but doctors advised there was no problems with continuing to pitch and have the surgery in the offseason.

When Crouse is fully healthy, he can pitch in the mid to upper nineties with a plus curveball and good command.  Crouse can be high strung on the mound and there is some concern that his violent delivery could lead to additional arm injuries.  However, when fully healthy, Crouse is an exciting pitcher to watch.

Ricky Vanasco (6'3" 180 lbs DOB 10-13-98 15th round in 2017) a pop up prospect that added velocity and turned heads in 2019.  Vanosco was terrific with Spokane in the Northwest League (39 innings, allowing 23 hits and 22 walks while striking out 59.  Vanasco was promoted to Hickory on August 21st and made four starts for the Crawdads including two in the playoffs (20.1 innings, allowing 12 hits on 9 walks while striking out 29).  The walks are a concern but Vanasco put himself on the prospect map in 2019.

Yerry Rodriguez (6'2" 198 lbs DOB 10-15-97 RHP 2015 IFA signing) another interesting under the radar Rangers pitching prospect.  Rodriguez was a small signing after the 2015 season and did not pitch stateside until 2018.  He was impressive in 2018 in the both AZL and Spokane combining to only walk eight in 63 innings.

Rodriguez got off to a great start for Hickory in 2019 but did not pitch after July 4th due a UCL sprain.  In thirteen starts, Rodriguez pitched 73.2 innings allowing 45 hits and 21 walks while striking out 85.  He was shut down for the rest of the season and then was to be reevaluated.  Since there has been no news about Rodriguez needing surgery,  no news can be considered good news and hopefully he will be at full strength for 2020.

Rodriguez throws from a three quarter angle that can be tough to pick.  He throws a slider and change up that are works in progress.

Heriberto Hernandez (6'1" 180 lbs DOB 12-16-99 C / 1B 2017 IFA signing) was signed for $10,000 in December 2017 and has been hitting ever since (in a 113 games he has 23 homers and a .320 / .450 / 1.085 slash line).

It is very unlikely that Hernandez will stick at catcher, but the bat may be good enough to play at first base or DH.  Hernandez only started nine games at catcher in 2019 and if the Rangers give up on him as a catcher, he could move quick.  I would expect Hernandez to begin the year in Hickory and could be promoted to Down East for the second half.

Jonathan Ornelas (6'1" 178 lbs DOB 5-26-2000 INF RR 3rd round in 2018) held his own but did not excel as a teenager in the Sally League at Hickory.  Played more games at shortstop (66), but played all over the diamond (2nd base (32), 3rd base (4), and leftfield (10)). Reminds me of Jonathan Arauz, who played most of 2019 with Fayetteville in the Carolina League and was then selected in the rule five draft by the Red Sox.  Ornelas is very young and athletic and could get much better if he is able to add muscle. 


Hever Bueno (6'2' 179 lbs DOB 11-23-1994 RHP 9th round in 2016) came back from Tommy John surgery in 2019 and moved to the bullpen. Bueno was throwing in the upper nineties with a respectable off speed pitch.  The Rangers had great success in 2019 developing relief pitchers and Bueno could be the next one who moves quickly.

Notable Rangers 2019 Draft Picks

The Rangers first three picks in the draft were advanced college players that could be ready for the Carolina League immediately.  However, the Rangers will have decisions to make since Jung, Wendzel and top prospect, Sherten Apostel all play third base.

The Rangers 4th round pick, Cody Freeman is unlikely to make to Down East in 2020, but he has good bloodlines. Freeman's brother, Tyler was on the Lynchburg Hillcats in 2019 and was one of the better prospects in the Carolina League in the second half of 2019.

Round  Pick Player Age Position School Bonus
1 8 Josh Jung 21 3B Texas Tech $4,400,000
1 41 (CB) Davis Wendzel 22 3B Baylor $1,600,000
2 50 Ryan Garcia 21 P California-Los Angeles $1,469,900
3 86 Justin Slaten 21 P New Mexico $575,000
4 115 Cody Freeman 18 SS Etiwanda HS $900,000
5 145 Kellen Strahm 22 CF San Jose State $205,000
6 175 Cody Bradford 21 P Baylor $700,000
8 235 John Matthews 21 P Kent State $177,400
9 265 Zak Kent 21 P Virginia Military $140,000
12 355 Gavin Collyer 18 P Mountain View HS $585,000
13 385 Ben Anderson 21 P Binghamton $125,000
18 535 Marc Church 18 P North Atlanta HS $300,000
24 715 Luke Schiltz 18 P Stoneman Douglas HS $125,000
26 775 Corey Stone 20 P Walters State CC $125,000
30 895 Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa 18 P Pierce College $125,000

Josh Jung (6'2" 215 lbs DOB 2-12-98 RR 3B) Jung seems to be a safe bet to be a solid major league regular.  Played 40 games in Hickory in 2019 and was mostly good except for a lack of power.  Here is a link to a scout report from John Calvagno

Jung hit with plenty of power in college, but may need to make some swing adjustments with the wooden bat as a pro.  Jung's calling card is his bat, but should be solid enough defensively to stick at 3rd.

Davis Wendzel (6'0" 205 lbs DOB 5-23-97 RR 3B)  With the Rangers Competitive balance pick that they acquired from the Brewers for Alex Claudio, the Rangers went for another mature college hitting 3rd basemen from the Big 12.

Wendzel is often compared to the Dodgers, Justin Turner both because of his baseball skills and his long hair.

Ryan Garcia (6'0" 180 lbs DOB 10-24-98 RHP) Garcia was one of the best college pitchers in 2019.  While slightly undersized, Garcia is very polished with four pitches and should be able to advance quickly.

Cody Bradford (6'3" 190 lbs DOB 2-22-98 LHP) Bradford was a college teammate of Davis Wendzel at Baylor where he was the Big 12 Pitcher of the year in 2018.  Bradford missed most of 2019 with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.  He was projected to go in the 2nd round prior to the injury and the Rangers still gave him an overslot deal equal to a 3rd round pick. Bradford could be a steal if healthy.

Justin Slaten (6'4" 197 lbs DOB 0-15-97 RHP) put together a solid Junior season at New Mexico after pitching out of the bullpen as a Freshman and struggling badly as a Sophomore. Slaten throws in the low to mid nineties with a decent slider and change up. He will need to continue to improve his command.  Slaten was inconsistent in ten shorts starts with Spokane in the hitter friendly Northwest League after turning pro.

One Down the Road Prospect to Monitor

Between a strong AZL team, young pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery and several good looking international signings the last couple of years,The Rangers have no shortage of prospects in the lower minors to keep an eye on.

Ronald Acuna's little brother, Luisangel had an impressive year in the Dominican Summer League and will be playing stateside in 2020.  Bayron Lora is a 6'4" 200 lb manchild that the Rangers signed for 3.9 million.  However, another 2019 international signing has gotten a lot of buzz recently.

Maximo Acosta (6'1" 190 lbs DOB 10-29-02 SS RR 2019 IFA signing) rarely do you see such consensus with players comparisons, but Acosta always seems to be always be compared to Gleybar Torres.  Acosta was signed for 1.65 million  and has reportedly gotten bigger since signing.  While Acosta has yet to play a professional game, reports have been very impressive from the instructs.  

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