The Frisco roster typifies the emphasis that the Texas organization has placed on pitching. All four of the highly ranked prospects and all three of the first round draft picks on the club are pitchers. The club has used those first rounders (on Kasey Kiker, Blake Beavan and Tanner Scheppers), one of its top international signing bonuses (on Martin Perez), a Rule 5 draft pick last November and another top signee in trade to keep the player (Ben Snyder), and five years of politics, effort and coaching to aid one (Alexi Ogando) in stepping foot in the U.S.A. once again.
Conversely, though the Rangers may bristle at this suggestion, this is one of the softest Double-A squads positionally that the organization has fielded, particularly since the affiliation moved to Frisco. The catchers are all organizational soldiers, a rarity in a Jon Daniels organization. The infield boasts Marcus Lemon and Johnny Whittleman, two highly drafted players who are still young and still have real chances of becoming major league players at some point, and Renny Osuna, who has seen professional success at times. Joey Butler is another player worth watching, as he has enjoyed a quiet rise through the organization reminiscent of Brandon Boggs and Craig Gentry. Local native Wes Bankston, a former major leaguer with Oakland, gives Riders fans a good corner bat to cheer for.
Five players to watch:
Martin Perez: The perfect example of a pitching prodigy, Perez combines top notch physical talent with a Type A personality and excellent pitching acumen. He just turned 19 and already has a Double-A cameo under his belt. Martin is simply too young and important for the Rangers to allow themselves to overextend him into a major league role this year, but he is one of the most important players in the organization, including major leaguers, and his year will be one of the most talked about in baseball among minor league observers.
Johnny Whittleman: He did not show up on any top prospect lists this winter after his worst season since his first full year in pro ball. After that disappointing Low A performance, he repeated the level in 2007 and put himself back on the radar. If he can duplicate that feat in his second Double-A season, at 23 he is still age appropriate and could return to relevance again. Whittleman arrived at spring training wowing observers with added strength, but we will have to wait and see how that translates in terms of performance.
Alexi Ogando: He is the most mysterious top prospect in an organization with several. The Rangers selected him from Oakland in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and converted him from an angular outfielder to a relief pitcher. He has not pitched an official inning in the U.S., nor has he played any level of full season ball even as a position player, but he begins this season two levels - and maybe only a few months - away from the majors. Ogando has mid-upper 90s velocity, solid movement on his fastball, and much better secondary offerings than most realized. His offspeed pitches and command have been inconsistent this spring, but his promise as a high octane reliever is obvious. Texas will apparently start him in the rotation, using him in shorts stints, but allowing him extra innings to make up for some lost time against quality competition. I may be overreaching by calling him a potential impact option for the back end of the pen, but indications are that time and consistency are all that hold him back.
Tanner Scheppers: He had not pitched for long as an amateur and he has yet to throw a pitch in a regular-season game, so while there is injury risk attached, Scheppers is a fresh, explosive arm. Texas has not made a secret of hopes that he could be a player in the bullpen later this season. To that end, they will use Scheppers sparingly early to conserve innings. Though the club sees him as a starter beyond this season, he apparently will be used in regular intervals out of the pen early on. To summarize, Ogando: long term reliever, short term starter; Scheppers: long term starter, short term reliever - both with the goal of preparing them for use in the pen as quickly as possible. Scheppers’ stuff is absolutely electric; he and Perez are two terrific reasons to make the trek to Frisco early this season.
Marcus Lemon: Possibly the most divisive talent in the system, Lemon began 2009 on fire but then struggled to a .262/.327/.333 final line as a 20/21 year old in Double-A. He has an advanced approach at the plate, but he hasn’t been strong enough to take advantage of that. He is filling out his frame, so there is hope for an offensive jump that could vault him to the top of the heap among full season middle infield prospects in the organization. Scouts don’t love Lemon’s defense, as he is limited by less than top end physical attributes. Still just 21, he will still be young for this level, but he is only two steps away from the majors and could give Texas a viable offensively oriented utility type, an area in which the Angels have specialized and the Rangers have struggled.