Jim Callis

Rangers dynamic outfielders impressing at instructs

Rangers dynamic outfielders impressing at instructs

The Rangers appear to have their center fielder of the future in Leody Taveras, who also happens to be their top-rated prospect. He's a switch-hitter with five-tool potential who held his own as one of the youngest regulars (age 18) in the Class A South Atlantic League this season.

But if the talent on hand in Texas' instructional league program in Surprise, Ariz., is any indication, there will be a number of worthy challengers. Taveras stood out in the four-week camp, which ended Friday, but so did a number of center-field prospects, most notably Bubba Thompson and Pedro Gonzalez.

"We're really excited with that outfield group," Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said. "When we first took the field in the first week of spring training to where we are at this point, through development and trade acquisitions and the Draft, we've gotten more athletic. We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things."

Thompson, 19, joined the organization in June as the 26th overall choice (first round) in the Draft. A star quarterback who accounted for 3,860 yards and 43 touchdowns as an Alabama high school senior, he had football scholarship offers from Southeastern Conference programs and two-sport opportunities at several schools. He decided instead to turn pro for $2.1 million and batted .257/.317/.434 in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Top Prospects: Thompson, TEX

Unlike many athletes who divide their attention between multiple sports, Thompson isn't raw on the diamond. He impressed scouts with his hitting prowess and developing power during the spring and has continued to do so in pro ball. He too has five-tool potential and could start to take off next year after he fully recovers from tendinitis in his knees that plagued him during his debut.

"Because of his knees, I don't think we saw him run and have the explosion in his lower half that he will," Tingler said. "That's in there. It's going to be exciting to get him back to 100 percent. The thing that stands out about Bubba is that ability to hit. His ability to get the barrel to the ball and his strike-zone awareness is advanced for a young player."

Gonzalez, 19, became a Ranger two months after Thompson, coming over from the Rockies in late August as the player to be named later in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. Signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, he oozes projection with a still-growing 6-foot-5 frame and five-tool upside. He batted .321/.388/.519 in the Rookie-level Pioneer League before changing organizations.

Top Prospects: Gonzalez, COL

Originally signed as a shortstop, Gonzalez was going to outgrow the position and thus moved to center field. It's possible that he could lose a step off his presently solid speed once he matures physically, precipitating a shift to an outfield corner. But Tingler says it's way too early to rule him out in center.

"Pedro was as impressive as anyone in our instructional league," Tingler said. "He was able to showcase everything he can do. He's a big, athletic guy and he and Leody absolutely put on a show, whether it was batting practice or power shagging or defensive drills. He can go toe to toe with Leody in any of that, and Leody is one of the finest center fielders I've seen in the Minors."

Miguel Aparicio, Eric Jenkins and Leuri Mejia are three more center fielders from Texas' instructional league program who bear watching. Aparicio was part of the same 2015 international signing class as Taveras and could be a left-handed version of the Cubs' Albert Almora.

Jenkins has struggled offensively since signing for $2.1 million a second-rounder in 2015, yet he still has well above-average speed that could make him a dynamic basestealer and defender. Mejia has similar tools that earned him an $850,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, and he should make his U.S. debut next year.

Jim Callis is a reporter for Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.