Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Texas Rangers.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers debuted several high-upside position players in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2012. Three years later, third baseman Joey Gallo and outfielders Nomar Mazara and Nick Williams are on the verge of reaching Texas. Outfielder Lewis Brinson is a little further behind, but he has the best five-tool ceiling of them all.
Signed for a combined $9.375 million, they led the AZL Rangers to the league championship in their pro debuts. They teamed up again in 2013 at low Class A Hickory, where they barely missed the South Atlantic League playoffs but powered the Crawdads to the second-highest home run total (178) in the Minors. They diverged a bit last season, though Gallo, Mazara and Williams ended it together at Double-A Frisco.
"They've shown a lot of progress," Texas senior director of Minor League operations Mike Daly said. "It's a big credit to the scouting staff to ID their talent and makeup, and they've had a lot of good coaches. These kids have bought in and done it somewhat together. We could see them in the big leagues soon."
Right-hander Keone Kela is making an unexpected push to jump from Double-A to the Opening Day roster after showcasing electric stuff while recording six straight scoreless outings in big league camp. A 12th-round pick out of Everett (Wash.) CC in 2012, he has seen his fastball jump from 91-95 mph to 94-98 with a peak of 100 since turning pro.
"In an intrasquad game, he threw one of the best innings I've ever seen," Rangers senior director of professional scouting Josh Boyd said. "All three of his pitches were 70s [on the 20-80 scouting scale]. He was 96 mph downhill, pulled out the best changeup I've seen him throw and had an 84-mph curve. He looked great and he has pitched well in big league games."
Another late-round choice making a name for himself is Ryan Rua, the favorite to win Texas' left-field job. A 17th-rounder from NCAA Division II Lake Erie (Ohio) in 2011, he ranked fifth in the Minors with 32 homers in his full-season debut two years later. Rua matured as a hitter and earned his first Major League callup last season, and he's hitting .300 with team highs in extra-base hits (six) and RBIs (eight) in 14 games this spring.
"He's a good athlete who can play all four corners, and he's a good second baseman, too," Boyd said. "He has 65 raw power and it's easy. He has one of the best swings in our camp, with loose, strong hands."
The 29th overall choice in the 2012 Draft, Brinson recorded a 20-20 season in his full year as a pro, but he also finished one short of the Minor League strikeout lead with 191. After making improvements to his swing and pitch recognition, he reduced his whiff rate from 38 percent in 2013 to 25 percent last year. Brinson will probably start 2015 at high Class A High Desert, and he could post huge numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
"He has premium tools and high aptitude," Daly said. "He's using the opposite field more and controlling the strike zone more, and he's got such easy power. We hope he can make the same jump that he did last year."
If right-hander Luis Ortiz hadn't missed three weeks with forearm tightness last spring, he likely wouldn't have been available to the Rangers with the 30th selection in the Draft. He has had no physical issues since and could be a steal.
"He looks great," Daly said. "He's been a solid 90-94 mph this spring, he can spin it and it's easy strikes. He could have the most upside of any of our pitching prospects."
Three questions with Ryan Cordell
After ranking as the top prospect in the summer collegiate Great Lakes League in 2012, Cordell slumped as a junior at Liberty the next spring and slid to the 11th round of the 2013 Draft. He had a lackluster pro debut and spent the first month of the 2014 season in extended spring camp before breaking out with a .318/.385/.530 performance between two Class A stops.
MLBPipeline.com: What sparked your turnaround in 2014?
Cordell: A lot of things went into me having success last year. I started the year in extended [spring camp], and I wasn't happy about it, but I was able to work with [Minor League hitting coach] Donzell [McDonald] and get into a routine. I made some adjustments, opening up my shoulders, freeing up my hands and staying compact with my swing. It worked out really well.
MLBPipeline.com: How surprised were you when the Rangers had you change positions in instructional league?
Cordell: It caught me off guard a little. I came to instructs and they told me, "You're not going to be playing any outfield, just infield." They told me to enjoy it, have fun and let your athleticism take over.
MLBPipeline.com: Now the plan is for you to play shortstop in 2015. When was the last time you played shortstop? And how comfortable are you there?
Cordell: I hadn't played shortstop since I was a junior and senior in high school. It's been a big adjustment, but I've been learning a lot. I've been working with [Minor League coaches and former big league infielders] Spike Owen and Casey Candaele, and that's been awesome for me. The more I play, I realize I have more to clean up. I'm trying to keep my hands soft, take correct angles to balls, see the ball off the bat. It's just going to take reps.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.