Farm Crop: Rangers top 20 prospects

Farm Crop: Rangers top 20 prospects

The short-season leagues have gotten under way, and though there have been exciting early results from prospects like Robbie Ross, Matt Thompson, Geuris Grullon, Juan Grullon, Ezequiel Rijo and Miguel Velazquez, it's too soon to start considering any of those players on the top 20 list.

But keep an eye on Ross.

For now, because we have an extra couple farm clubs to consider the rest of the season, the "Pitchers to Watch" and "Hitters to Watch" lists at the end of this column now grow from six players each to eight.

The flip side is there are a couple players on the top 20 list threatening to graduate to Arlington soon, which will open up a couple spots for more prospects to rank.

This week's top 20 Rangers prospects:

1. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Double-A Frisco (No. 1 two weeks ago)

Smoak is back. Returning from an oblique strain that cost him nearly a month, the switch-hitter rehabbed twice in Surprise, Ariz. -- with the big club in town for the D-backs series and some key front office officials along for the trip -- going 4-for-6 with two home runs and a triple, and upon his return to Frisco he's gone 3-for-6. As Chris Davis' struggles continue, the Smoak clock is starting to tick more loudly.

2. MARTIN PEREZ, LHP, Class A Hickory (2)

Texas limited Perez's last start to two innings (no runs on a single and no walks, two strikeouts -- before West Virginia proceeded to hand both Jake Brigham and Yoon-Hee Nam their worst outings of the season) so that he could appear in Tuesday's South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Pitching the fourth inning, the left-hander struck out the first two hitters he faced and coaxed a groundout to short to complete his night.

3. NEFTALI FELIZ, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (3)

A decision on Wednesday to move Feliz to the RedHawks bullpen is the likely prelude to a big league purchase before long. The 21-year-old has rediscovered his command. In April, he walked a batter per inning. In May, he cut the rate to about one every two innings. In June, he's at one every 11 innings, issuing two walks while fanning 16 in 22 1/3 frames. It will be interesting to see how Feliz responds to shorter bursts and a less predictable routine. Presumably he'll be worked in at the big league level much as Derek Holland was at first, asked not to pitch on back-to-back days but instead in lengthier middle relief stints.

4. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, AA Frisco (4)

Beavan has fired quality starts eight of his last nine times to take the hill between Bakersfield and Frisco. The lone exception was his Double-A debut, which he followed with a brilliant effort on Saturday. Making his home debut at Dr Pepper Ballpark, the 20-year-old allowed one run on six hits and one walk in seven innings, fanning four. One of the most aggressive strike-throwers in the system, Beavan found the strike zone 73 times in his 99 pitches that night.

5. JULIO BORBON, CF, Triple-A Oklahoma City (7)

Borbon now has 87 hits in 67 games (a 210-hit pace over a 162-game season) and only 27 strikeouts. In the midst of a .341/.398/.424 June, he's making a strong push to shrink the timetable for his promotion to Texas. This is the man most likely to allow Texas to eventually transition Ian Kinsler to a run-producing slot in the order.

6. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, Class A Bakersfield (5)

Unconfirmed Internet reports that Main is sidelined with mononucleosis come as somewhat of a relief, as strange as that may sound. If Main has been fighting for some length of time through the fatigue that that condition typically involves, it may help explain his surprising ineffectiveness this spring. At least it's not an arm issue. The 20-year-old hasn't pitched since June 7, and there's no word on when he may return.

7. KASEY KIKER, LHP, Double-A Frisco (8)

Kiker has allowed more than two earned runs only three times in 13 starts this year, holding the Texas League to a .235 batting average and setting 66 hitters down on strikes in 72 innings. He'll represent the RoughRiders in the Texas League All-Star Game on July 1.

8. WILFREDO BOSCAN, RHP, Class A Hickory (9)

After allowing a total of five earned runs in his first seven starts, Boscan surrendered five in just 2 2/3 innings on June 18, causing his ERA to rise from 1.21 to 2.25. The 19-year-old has allowed only 30 hits and seven walks in 40 innings this season, fanning 26.

9. WILMER FONT, RHP, Class A Hickory (6)

Despite a solid start (two runs on five hits and one walk in five innings, four strikeouts) on Saturday, Font has had a miserable June, surrendering 14 runs on 16 hits and seven walks in 11 2/3 innings. He has fanned more than a batter per inning every month this season, but his poor results this month have caused his ERA to jump from 1.93 to 4.26.

10. MAX RAMIREZ, C, Triple-A Oklahoma City (12)

Ramirez's batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have each gone up every month, but nowhere near the territory he's accustomed to. The 24-year-old is a .245/.310/.340 hitter in June, but the good news is that, since returning from a wrist injury on June 9, he's cut his strikeout rate in half.

11. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, Class A Bakersfield (10)

Despite hits in his past six games, and eight of nine, Beltre is still hitting just .183/.202/.232 for the month. It's been a very disappointing first half for the 19-year-old, whose rate of strikeouts to unintentional walks is 7:1.

12. JOE WIELAND, RHP, Class A Hickory (11)

Wieland still has yet to go three times through an opponent's lineup, but the results have been good even as Texas continues to carefully manage his workload. In five starts, the 19-year-old has a 2.49 ERA, and has been particularly tough on left-handed hitters (.206/.270/.206).

13. MITCH MORELAND, OF, Double-A Frisco (14)

Moreland has been nearly as productive against Double-A pitching (.310/.341/.440) as he had been against High A pitching (.341/.421/.594), striking out only 15 times in 116 Frisco at-bats. Interestingly, after playing only right field over his first three weeks as a RoughRider -- even in Justin Smoak's absence -- Moreland has played first base four times in the last week. Is he being showcased? Or evaluated at first with the thought that Smoak won't be in Double-A much longer?

14. OMAR POVEDA, RHP, Double-A Frisco (13)

Sidelined since June 7 with a hand injury. Still no word on a timetable for his return.

15. TIM SMITH, OF, Double-A Frisco (16)

Smith has already had four games with at least three hits in his first 21 Frisco contests. The left fielder is feasting on Texas League pitching, hitting .350/.379/.425 after a .333/.413/.475 spring run with Bakersfield.

16. MIKE BIANUCCI, OF, Class A Hickory (17)

Bianucci (.338/.398/.622) is still among the South Atlantic League leaders in all kinds of hitting categories. He drove in a run in Tuesday's South Atlantic League All-Star Game, before which he participated in the league's Home Run Derby. A promotion to Bakersfield has to be imminent, doesn't it?

17. ZACH PHILLIPS, Class A Bakersfield (19)

As much as Bianucci appears to need a promotion to Bakersfield, Phillips needs one out of Bakersfield. Since a transition to the Blaze rotation, in two starts the 22-year-old has allowed no earned runs on three hits and five walks in 13 1/3 innings, punching out a dozen. Overall, he has an ERA of 1.23, scattering 19 hits and 11 walks in 44 frames, striking out 46 Cal Leaguers.

18. JOSE VALLEJO, 2B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (15)

Vallejo's struggles at the plate continue. After a .296/.351/.380 May with the RedHawks, the switch-hitter is at .210/.290/.339 in June.

19. FABIO CASTILLO, RHP, Class A Hickory (18)

Castillo came into the season walking a batter every other inning in his three pro seasons. In 2009, he's issued only 15 free passes (14 unintentional) in 45 1/3 innings. And his strikeout numbers haven't suffered - coming into the season with a career rate of 8.2 strikeouts every nine innings, he's at 7.5 this year. In 18 relief appearances and one start, the 20-year-old has a 1.79 ERA and is holding opponents to a .246 batting average with just one home run.

20. MICHAEL KIRKMAN, LHP, Double-A Frisco (UR)

In 14 appearances between Bakersfield and Frisco, Kirkman has a record of 5-5, 3.15, with 76 strikeouts and 32 walks in 80 innings. In a RoughRiders start on June 17, the 22-year-old held Midland to two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in seven innings, fanning six.

Off the list this week: Manny Pina

Eight pitchers to watch: Richard Bleier, Miguel De Los Santos, Yoon-Hee Nam, Tim Murphy, Matt Nevarez, Carlos Pimentel, Robbie Ross, Corey Young

Eight hitters to watch: Joaquin Arias, Craig Gentry, Greg Golson, Mauro Gomez, Matt Lawson, Marcus Lemon, Erik Morrison, David Paisano

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.