Rangers Prospects

Still a work in progress

Martin "Baby Santana" Perez (Photo courtesy of James Garner)

If you head to Dell Diamond for a Round Rock Express game this year, you might be wondering what happened to all of the players from last year. There's no Jordan Lyles, no Josh Banks, no Brian Bogusevic. They're all gone. The Round Rock Express is no longer the team we remember them as … but that's probably a good thing.

As was mentioned last year, the Round Rock Express are now affiliated with the Texas Rangers; no longer affiliated with the Houston Astros.

After Nolan Ryan gained partial ownership of the Texas Rangers, it only made sense for his AAA team, the Express (a team named after Ryan), to be affiliated with his major league team.

As a result, the Rangers' former AAA affiliate – the Oklahoma City Redhawks – and their new AAA affiliate essentially swapped rosters. Jordan Lyles didn't get promoted, he just got shipped up north to the Sooner State.* And while it's a shame that we won't get to see Lyles grow up in the minors, the good news is we Express fans are receiving a lot more talent than we're giving up.

*To any Austinite, we could argue that Lyles actually got demoted from beautiful Round Rock to Oklahoma City. After all, take a look at their downtown.

As of now, the Rangers are known for their hitting: outfielders Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, new editions Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, to name a few. But when you look at their farm system, all you see is an expansive field of promising pitching prospects that will soon make the Rangers a dual threat in the coming years.

When the MLB Network released their Top 50 prospects for 2011, two Rangers' pitchers made the list, both of whom look to see some time in Round Rock before getting called up to the majors.

Martin Perez, the 19 year old lefty from Venezuela, figures to play a prominent role in the Rangers pitching revival process. But first he's got to work out a few mechanics in the minors before he can help out his major league club.

As MLB Network's No. 23 2011 prospect, Perez continually gets compared to Johan Santana, which seems like a cop-out, just because they're both lefties from Venezuela. But when Perez is on his game, it's clear to see why he's compared to the Mets flamethrower. His fastball can get up to the mid 90s and he's working on developing a lethal curve ball similar to Johan's deadly slider.

His stats aren't too important to dissect just yet; he is only 19, after all. His main problem right now is control, which is exactly what players work on in the minors. Likely to be pitching in the majors in 2012, Perez should be with the Express most of the 2011 season, which means we get to see Baby Santana in more than just a couple of outings.

The other new Round Rock Express player in the MLB Network's Top 50 list is No. 43 RHP Tanner Scheppers. While he's ranked lower than Perez, Scheppers is more likely to head to the majors first. Almost brought up last season as a reliever, Scheppers was kept in Oklahoma City so that he could continue to work on his mechanics as a starter.

As a reliever last year he was unhittable. In his first 27 innings, he only gave up three earned runs on 12 hits, walking only 10 batters while striking out 42. When he transitioned into a starter, however, things got a little rougher and it was clear that Scheppers would need to develop a better change up and work on his control before he could be as equally good of a starter as he was a reliever.

With a fastball that was regarded as second best in the 2009 draft (just behind a guy you might have heard of: Stephen Strasburg), he's got the arm to make it in the majors. But before he starts pitching in the majors, he's got to work on the rest of his pitches in the minors. Expect to see him in Round Rock at the beginning of the season, but savor his starts as I don't think he'll be in town for very long.

The Express' first official game is April 7 vs. the Iowa Cubs, but you can catch them in exhibition games against the Rangers' AA affiliate, the Frisco Roughriders, on April 5th, as well as an exciting matchup against the Rangers on March 30 at Dell Diamond. Tickets for both games can be purchased on the Express' website here.

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