In 2009, Max Ramirez, Engel Beltre, and Michael Main all grossly under-performed the expectations that many of us had for them. The year before, Kasey Kiker, Eric Hurley, and Taylor Teagarden had disappointing seasons after ranking among the Rangers' top 10 prospects prior to spring training.
In 2010, more highly regarded Rangers prospects will produce numbers that are inconsistent with what we (and they) expect. So, who are most likely to take a tumble in the coming season? My guesses are provided below.
No. 1: RHP Wilmer Font | DoB: 05/24/90 | 6' 4", 235 lb.
Acquired via: Undrafted international free agency (2006)
Stuff: Mid-90s fastball, developing curveball and change-up
● Font is the man-child with the fastball that some scouts grade as an 80-caliber pitch (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale) and a change-up that has apparently developed into an above-average pitch. He will likely be included in most, if not all, of the Rangers' top 10 prospect lists that will come out this off-season. Based on first-hand reports and the 4.9 BB/9 and 0.73 GB/FB rates that he posted in 2009, Font's command needs to improve significantly for him to take advantage of his raw stuff.
● Although Matt Forman of Baseball America suggested that Font would have likely ranked between No. 21-30 among players who played in the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2009, he indicated that managers in the SAL were lukewarm: "Font certainly did get consideration for the top 20. Managers around the league weren't as high on him as I expected them to be, though."
● Michael Newman at Scouting the Sally was not impressed by Font: "Now healthy, the 19-year-old struggled mightily versus the Savannah Sand Gnats during my lone opportunity to watch him pitch. Font's performance was underwhelming, but how much of it was due to simply catching him on an off night? While I can not be certain, his performance threw up a few red flags which leaves me questioning his future ceiling."
● Font figures to begin 2010 at High-A Bakersfield, where hitters tend to be more selective and fly balls tend to land on the wrong side of the outfield fence. For a pitcher like Font, who has struggled with control and who gives up more than his fair share of fly balls, the California League could prove to be a nightmare.
● Below are a few of the most recent pitching prospects who pitched in Bakersfield after outstanding seasons in low A-ball. Given this precedent, I expect Font to post an ERA north of the 5.00 mark if he spends the year in the California League:
Kasey Kiker: 2.90 ERA in MWL vs 4.73 ERA in CAL
Michael Main: 2.58 ERA in MWL vs 6.83 ERA in CAL
Tim Murphy: 2.83 ERA in NWL/MWL vs 6.80 ERA in CAL
Omar Poveda: 2.79 ERA in MWL vs 4.47 ERA in CAL
Kennil Gomez: 2.97 ERA in MWL vs 5.27 ERA in CAL
No. 2: LHP Kasey Kiker | DoB: 11/19/87 | 5' 10", 170 lb.
Acquired via: 2006 MLB Draft, 1st Round (12th overall)
Stuff: 87-94 mph fastball, average curveball, above average change-up
● Ranked as the 11th-best prospect in the Texas League in 2009, Kiker showed moxie and a plus change-up in racking up 8.6 K/9 and a 3.86 ERA. But he struggled with his control (4.7 BB/9) and a fastball that sat in the upper-80s for much of the season -- and then the wheels came off down the stretch (9.47 ERA in August).
● Kiker figures to be among the youngest pitchers in AAA-ball in 2010. If the more mature hitters in the Pacific Coast League take advantage of Kiker's control problems and fly ball tendencies (0.77 GB/FB), then 2010 could be a long one for the Rangers' lefty. A mid-season switch to the Triple-A Oklahoma City bullpen would not be a surprise if the Rangers decide that they need to upgrade their major league bullpen for the stretch drive.
No. 3: RHP Wilfredo Boscan | DoB: 10/26/89 | 6' 2", 187 lb.
Acquired via: International free agency (2006)
Stuff: 88-92 mph fastball, above-average curveball and change-up
● In 2008, Boscan looked like the real deal as he combined high strikeout (9.1 K/9) and ground ball (1.50 GB/FB) rates with outstanding control (1.9 BB/9) as an 18-year-old in the Northwest League. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus gushed: "Boscan is the total package who shows a rare amount of refinement for such an inexperienced hurler. He sets up hitters with an 88-91 mph sinker that he can dial up to 93 [mph]when he needs a little extra. His slow curveball is a solid offering, and his change-up is quite advanced, while he has the ability, the feel, and the savvy to use all of his pitches effectively."
● Baseball America's Nathan Rode was also very enthusiastic about Boscan following his 2008 performance: "For an 18-year-old, he showed uncanny fastball command and mound presence. He was fearless, working the inside corner and throwing any pitch in any count. Boscan's fastball ranges from 88-92 mph and it tends to sink down and away from righ-handers. He changes speeds on his over-the-top curveball, and he gets good late movement on his plus changeup."
● Boscan's 2009 season was an up-and-down affair. He started up (0.51 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, .100 BAA in 17.2 innings). An injury caused him to miss approximately four weeks and his season was down from there (4.46 ERA, 4.8 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, .292 BAA in 83 innings).
● Like Font, Boscan's appearance on this list has more to do with where he will be pitching in 2010 than upon how I feel about him as a prospect. Boscan's sinker should help him survive his time in the California League, but Bakersfield has not been kind to recent Rangers prospects who feature curveballs (see Kiker, Michael Main, Zach Phillips and Tim Murphy). Even if Boscan had maintained a 7.6 K/9 strikeout rate for the entire 2009 season, I would be concerned about his 2010 season based on his pitching repertoire. The fact that he was a very hittable pitcher for most of 2009, I think it likely that he will have a disappointing season pitching out of the Bakersfield rotation.
No. 4: RHP Pedro Strop | DoB: 06/13/85 | 6' 0", 160 lb.
Acquired via: Minor league free agency (September 2008)
Stuff: Low-to-mid-90s fastball, average slider and change-up
● According to Dan Szymborski, the biggest jump in baseball is from AAA-ball to the major leagues. If you need proof, just check out Warner Madrigal's AAA and MLB stats from 2009.
● Pedro Strop has the stuff of a dominant major league reliever. Unfortunately, he lacks the game-to-game consistency that defines the upper echelon of major league relievers. During 2009, Strop gave up multiple runs in 10 of his 47 minor league appearances, accounting for 32 of the 36 earned runs that scored against him. He was unscored upon in 33 of his other 37 appearances. His major league effort was more of the same, with four of his seven appearances being of the three-up/three-down variety while one of his outings resulted in for earned runs on his ledger.
● Given his track record, it seems likely that Strop will have stunningly good games interlaced with stunningly bad ones. If he has enough of the latter in his first few weeks in the big leagues, it is likely that Strop will get the 2009 Madrigal treatment and that he will spend a significant portion of 2010 in AAA working on his consistency.
No. 5: RHP Guillermo Moscoso | DoB: 11/14/83 | 6' 1", 165 lb.
Acquired via: Trade with Detroit for Gerald Laird (2006)
Stuff: Deceptive 90-92 mph fastball, curveball, change-up
● In 2009, Moscoso was very effective in AAA-ball (2.31 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 in 70 IP) and fairly average in AA-ball (4.46 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 in 42.1 IP). The difference between the two? He had a .324 BABIP and a strand rate of just 60 percent in AA-ball vs a .282 BABIP and a strand rate of 76 percent in AAA-ball. Moscoso is better than he showed in AA-ball, but not as good as his AAA-ball ERA would suggest.
● Moscoso was solid in 14 innings as a major league pitcher, with a 3.21 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, and .275 BAA, but his fastball velocity was slightly below average (90.7 mph). Using very limited pitch data, Moscoso's curveball was surprisingly good (1.35 wins per 100 pitches) and his change-up was disappointingly bad (minus-4.78 wins per 100 pitches). Moscoso's stuff is not overpowering, which means that he will have to rely on outstanding command and an ability to keep hitters off balance.
● According to most studies (including this one), Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is among the most homer-prone parks in baseball. In 2009, Moscoso was among the most fly ball-prone pitchers in the Rangers' system. That is not a good combination. If he spends significant time in the majors in 2010, he will undoubtedly sport a home run rate that is much higher than the 0.2 HR/9 that he enjoyed in 2009. Assuming Moscoso's major league peripherals are on the order of 7.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, and 1.0 HR/9, then he will likely produce an ERA in the 4.50-5.50 range. That wouldn't be bad for a rookie, but it will hopefully rank Moscoso among the least effective (and least used) of the Rangers' relievers.