Three Up in 2021
On our podcast two Fridays ago, Sean Bass, Michael Tepid and I picked three players who improved their standing during 2021 and three who fell. My "up" picks:
1. IF Dustin Harris -- What I wrote after the August 2020 trade: "Like [Marcus] Smith, he’s contact-oriented. The differences are better power potential and a lack of defensive prowess. Third base is possible, first is probable, so the bat will determine his future. Given his age and the presumed demise of short-season ball potentially pushing some prospects upward quickly, Harris has a chance to skip low-A in 2021... Harris will need to keep hitting and display some power against age-appropriate competition to move up." He did not skip low-A, but he kept hitting, he displayed more than just "some" power, and he moved up. We'll find out in 2022 to what extent the Rangers believe he can play somewhere other than first on a regular basis.
2. IF Josh Jung -- Bold choice, huh? I originally had IF Luisangel Acuna as my #2, but since Michael Tepid also had Acuna, I chose another player to broaden the discussion. Even though Jung's a too-obvious choice, I do think he deserves mention. Jung drew raves during the 2020 workouts, but he still entered 2021 with no experience above low-A and questions about his spray chart and power. He exited 2021 as someone ready to play in the Majors on a regular basis. Right now. In my opinion.
3. RHP Owen White -- White missed his first three seasons to an elbow injury and the pandemic. In the third inning of his extremely belated pro debut, he failed to convert a defensive chance, and instead of redirecting his anger with deep breathing or a lotus pose, he punched the ground. Three months later, White and his healed hand finally showed why the Rangers picked him 55th overall in 2018. With four pitches topped by a mid-90s fastball, White struck out a whopping 40% of his opponents, and in his final regular season start he he carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning. (Fellow Down East hurlers Tekoah Roby and Marc Church were equally impressive and could have occupied this spot if not for elbow injuries, neither of which required surgery. Roby pitched last Thursday at instructionals.)
Michael Tepid's Three Up: RHP Zak Kent, IF Luisangel Acuna, C David Garcia
Sean Bass's Three Up: RHP Cole Winn, RHP Ronny Henriquez, OF Bubba Thompson Three Down
1. IF Anderson Tejeda -- On the podcast, I mentioned his name and immediately moved on to the second pick because I'd talked him to death. I'm inclined to do the same here. You know the story. That said, I think his 40 spot is safe. Put another way, I think he's claimed if designated for assignment because he's a 23-year-old with electric tools and another option.
2. IF Sherten Apostel -- Apostel didn't floor the pedal in reverse like Tejeda, but neither did he hasten his return to MLB. Apostel has always adapted slowly to new levels, and three leg injuries limited him to 68 games, so in a sense his entire season was the adaption phase. Apostel needs to take a very long step forward before we can discuss that he's blocked by Lowe and Jung (presumably).
3. OF Bayron Lora -- Tepid also had Lora on his "down" list, but in this case I'd performed some independent research that I didn't want to waste, so I kept him on. Texas's top 2019 international signing batted a bizarre .213/.413/.401 in the Dominican Summer League, leading the league with 48 walks but ranking sixth with 73 strikeouts. Stat-scouting the DSL is the among the most dubious of undertakings, but I still think his output warrants discussion. Lora struck out in 37% of his plate appearances, an exceptionally high rate for a prospect in this league that raises concerns going forward. In the past dozen years, the only player I could find who reached the Majors with similar K rate in the DSL was Rymer Liriano, who played briefly for the Padres. (Another with an elevated rate is Sherten Apostel, 30% in 2016.) The vast majority of prospects who reach MLB from the DSL have rates below 20%, not infrequently below 10%. Lora's extreme power profile sets him apart from most prospects and perhaps invalidates these strikeout comparisons, but still, I worry. Ideally, in 2022 he makes me look dumb for writing this.
Michael Tepid's Three Down: OF Bayron Lora, C/1B Sam Huff, IF Maximo Acosta
Sean Bass's Three Down: IF Anderson Tejeda, IF Chris Seise, LHP Brock Burke + LHP Joe Palumbo Arizona Fall League
The Rangers announced their participants:
RHP Tim Brennan
RHP Eudrys Manon
RHP Spencer Mraz
RHP Owen White
IF Ezequiel Duran
IF Justin Foscue
1B Sam Huff
Brennan, White, Foscue and Huff had injury-shortened seasons. Duran is Rule 5-eligible if unprotected this fall; I fully expect him to be added to the 40, but this affords the Rangers another look. Manon, 23, was Down East's most trusted reliever down the stretch. Mraz began 2021 in a late-inning role for Down East before heading to Hickory. Opening Day is Wednesday. Transactions
Texas claimed RHP Edwar Colina off waivers from the Twins. The 24-year-old has one poor 2020 outing to his credit in MLB and spent all of 2021 on the 60-day IL after a debridement procedure on his elbow. He throws a steady mid-to-upper 90s fastball plus a mid-80s slider. Perhaps the Rangers themselves will try to run Colina through waivers at the opportune moment.
LHP Hyeon-jong Yang elected free agency. LHP Wes Benjamin went unclaimed through waivers and was outrighted to AAA Round Rock. He can become a free agent.
On Saturday, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Hunter Wood and OF Jason Martin became free agents. The Rangers have 46 players on the 40-man roster: 38 active and eight on the 60-day Injured List. They have to reduce to a hard 40 immediately after the playoffs and then down to, say, the low-30s within a few weeks after that to accommodate 40-man additions and potential free agents. That means about one-third of the end-of-season roster won't be offered a 2021 MLB contract. Sounds like a daunting task, but to be blunt, I've played around with the roster and didn't have much trouble downsizing it.