Jon Daniels’ tenure as Texas Rangers President and General Manager has been an unprecedented success. He took a franchise in developmental hell and made them back-to-back American League Champions. Obviously the World Series matchups especially round two— didn’t go as planned (to historical proportions), but Daniels and his highly coveted staff (see: A.J. Preller, Thad Levine) have turned Arlington into a baseball powerhouse.
The past few years saw the Rangers on the buyer’s market, acquiring Cole Hamels and Jonathan Lucroy for gargantuan packages. Both were the right moves, but paying a high price for a catcher is always a risk, especially after the crippling blow the farm system took to acquire Hamels.
The Hamels deal has mostly held up fine. Despite a recent injury, Cole Hamel has been the “2” in the “1-2” punch with staff ace Yu Darvish, something the team desperately needed. As expected, it took a lot to bring in the former World Series MVP. Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams and Jake Thompson were all top 100 prospects and starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff has actually become the biggest early return for Philadelphia.
To acquire the All-Star Lucroy, Texas sent a similar package. Cutting the head off what remained of their formerly league-best farm system, they sent fellow top 100 prospects and former first-round picks Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz to Milwaukee. Versatile Ryan Cordell was later identified as a player to be named.
The Rangers won the AL West in 2016 with both Hamels and Lucroy in tow. This past off-season they lost a lot on the open market and replaced part of their core with a pair of post-hype prospects. The results haven’t been positive and the team collectively has had one of the worst starts in baseball to begin 2017.
Lucroy’s .214 average is commonplace on Jeff Bannister’s underachieving club. He also went 1-for-12 in the team’s very quick ALDS in 2016. Adversely, all three prospects the Rangers sent for what’s looking to be a year and a half of Jonathan Lucroy are looking like sure Major Leaguers.
The prize of the package the rebuilding Brewers received was outfielder Lewis Brinson. The highest regarded prospect in both of the Rangers’ recent blockbusters and their top prospect since Joey Gallo, Brinson’s glove ensures him a spot in centerfield one day. If his bat comes along, then he could be a power-speed star in the likeness of Mike Trout or prime (dang, already?) Andrew McCutchen.
Ranked as highly as 12th overall by Baseball Prospectus, Brinson turned 23 on Monday. Milwaukee aggressively assigned him to Triple-A Colorado Springs when they acquired him, a level he never reached as a Ranger, and he’s rewarded their faith with a blistering start, hitting .326 with a .910 OPS, four home runs and four stolen bases.
The other blue chipper headed north was Luis Ortiz. Due to a minor forearm injury that nevertheless scared away 29 teams, the Rangers happily plucked him up with the 30th overall pick of the 2014 MLB Draft. After being traded, the California-born Ortiz was dominant at Double-A Biloxi. He started six games for the affiliate and recorded a 1.93 ERA.
Ranked by MLB.com as baseball’s number 62 prospect going into 2017 (since ascending to 54th), he’s a future rotation member with a deadly fastball-slider combo that will soon venture to the Springs and be ready for Miller Park in 2018.
The player to be named later was Ryan Cordell, a fringe top-20 Rangers prospect (peaking as the club’s sixth ranked prospect by MLB.com prior to 2015 before falling out of the top 30 in 2016) whose tools far exceed his perceived value. A 2013 11th rounder, Cordell played three years at Liberty and entered pro ball without much fanfare. Then he started hitting...and hitting...and hitting.
Infatuated with the blossoming bat, the Rangers moved him around the diamond, trying to expedite his potential path to the bigs. In 2015, the now-25-year old played every position save for catcher and second base. A shortstop experiment didn’t go as planned and Cordell became a third baseman/outfielder.
His tantalizing fleet of foot skills have made him a permanent outfielder, though he has made a lone appearance at third base in 2017 for the Triple-A Sky Sox. With Brinson in center and Brett Phillips also around, Cordell has manned each corner 11 (left field) and 10 (right field) times. MLB.com has him back on their scopes, slotting him at spot 16 in the team’s top 30 prospects.
Along with his perfect fielding percentage, he’s begun hot at the plate (he began last year in Double-A Frisco with a 37 game on-base streak, hits coming in 34). Entering May 9, he flaunts a .308 average, .381 OBP and .929 OPS. Like Brinson, he’s flashing the power-speed combo to the tune of five home runs and three stolen bases. He’s also walked 10 times to 21 strikeouts.
Brinson is the star of the group, Ortiz no slouch as a potential number two starter and Cordell’s flexibility and underrated tools make him somewhat of a beta Brinson. Jonathan Lucroy has been a great addition to the Rangers, but this was a steep price that looks to come back and bite them a lot sooner than they ever could have anticipated.