Myrtle Beach Pelicans part of rich Texas Rangers farm system

ablondin@thesunnews.comMarch 27, 2011 

The Texas Rangers want to win, and they aren't content with just winning at the major league level.

Like all organizations, the Rangers want to develop major league talent throughout their minor league system. But they also believe in winning during the development.

"Some teams talk about developing big leaguers," said Scott Servais, the Rangers' senior director of player development. "Our approach is a bit different. We want to teach kids how to win in the minor leagues, especially with young players.

"I think the environment you put players in is very important. It's a lot more fun to go to work every day when you're in a competitive environment and winning environment."

Having success in the minors is one of the philosophies and practices the organization values, and is among the reasons it has one of the most respected farm systems in professional baseball.

Baseball America magazine, the authority on minor league baseball and prospect rankings, ranked the Texas minor league system first in 2009 and second in 2010 among the 30 Major League Baseball teams, and it is 15th this season.

"I think we're as deep or better than anyone in the game right now," said Rangers Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg, who is in his 20th year in the organization.

In 2010, five of the six teams in the Rangers farm system had winning records, with the lone exception the Advanced-A team that played in Bakersfield, Calif., which was just six games under .500.

That Advanced-A club moved to BB&T Coastal Field after the Myrtle Beach Pelicans announced a change in parent clubs from the Atlanta Braves to the Rangers and signed a four-year player-development contract with Texas.

The Pelicans should benefit from Texas' influence in and commitment to Latin America, draft and development policies, and experience among minor league executives.

Though the Rangers changed ownership last August, the current minor league policies began taking shape with the hiring of general manager Jon Daniels in 2006 and naming of president Nolan Ryan in 2008.

"Communication is tremendous now and better than it's ever been," Fagg said. "It's a great environment for people, that's the key. They try to hire good people and they let people do their jobs. They're not micromanagers by any means. I think we're all on the same page as to what kind of player they want."

The Rangers built themselves into reigning American League champions primarily through player development and trades rather than the signing of free agents.

Twenty-six players on the Rangers' current 40-man roster played in two or more levels of the Texas minor league system. Seventeen were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents and worked their way through the system, and another nine had to move through at least two levels of the system after being acquired.

Contributing to the Rangers' fall to 15th in Baseball America's rankings is the purging of the system of some of its talent, either through trades or promotion. Last year's trade for pitcher Cliff Lee sent coveted young first baseman Justin Smoak, the University of South Carolina's all-time leader in home runs, and three minor leaguers to Seattle.

"They're a little bit more in the rebuilding mode in the farm system because they traded some prospects and had some players graduate to the big leagues," said Baseball America Editor in Chief John Manuel. "It's not easy to win in the big leagues and have a top-five farm system every year."

The good news for Pelicans supporters is the three teams below Advanced-A that will be feeding the Pelicans both this year and next were a combined 31 games over .500 and featured the bulk of the organization's top prospects.

"I know the Rangers really like their talent, and I think we really like their talent, too," Manuel said. "But I think a lot of their talent is far away [in low classes]."

The Rangers have three of Baseball America's Top 100 prospects entering the 2011 season, which is pretty much its fair share with 30 MLB teams.

The top-ranked prospects are No. 24. Martin Perez of Venezuela, a left-handed pitcher who was in Double-A last year, No. 74 Jurickson Profar of Venezuela, a teenage shortstop who could play in Myrtle Beach this year, and No. 84 Tanner Scheppers, a right-handed relief pitcher who was in Double-A and Triple-A last year.

Texas had four in Baseball America's top 42 last year, and in 2009 the Rangers had an impressive seven in the top 100.

The Rangers have found many of their top prospects in Latin America, particularly the Dominican Republic. "They are very good internationally," Manuel said. "I think they are one of the most active teams in Latin America."

In the draft, with all things being equal other than age, the Rangers would prefer to draft younger players. But age is only one consideration. They took third baseman Mike Olt, a junior at the University of Connecticut last year who could start the season in Myrtle Beach, with the 49th pick of the 2010 draft.

"Obviously in this business you'd like to get them younger, but it's about getting the right ones," Fagg said. "My experience is to take the best players. I don't care if it's high school, college or junior college. And it doesn't matter whether it's a pitcher or position player."

The Rangers are also looking for quality people, and Fagg said scouts attempt to get to know the player and some of the people around them before signing or drafting them. "We're about the best person and best player," Fagg said. "It's all about good players, and if you get good players with good makeups, you're going to have success."

Once the talent is in the system, the Rangers don't like to let players lag at one level. "Everybody does it a little differently. I think we look to push young players," Servais said. "History tells us players have to be at a certain level at a certain age to be impact players."

The Rangers have been hamstrung in the past two amateur drafts because as former owner Tom Hicks endured financial problems, Major League Baseball oversaw the Rangers finances and had the final say on all transactions beyond what had been budgeted.

It kept a potential top prospect from their farm system in 2009, when Manuel says the Rangers agreed before the draft to give touted high school pitcher Matt Purke $6 million. The Rangers drafted him 14th overall, but because the money was above the traditional slot money given to the 14th pick, MLB nixed that offer. Purke rejected the Rangers' official offer of $4 million and attended Texas Christian University. Purke may be one of the top picks in the upcoming 2011 draft in June.

Manuel said the Rangers were more conservative in the 2010 draft because of that ordeal.

"Finances have affected their last two drafts, so they haven't been able to be as adventurous in the draft as they were in 2007 and to a lesser extent 2008," Manuel said.

Trades involving minor league prospects - either being acquired or sent - have greatly contributed to the Rangers' rise to prominence.

"To me, their turnaround as an organization started in the middle of 2007, when they broke up the team they had at the big-league level, traded Mark Teixeira and made a commitment as an organization to rebuilding," Manuel said.

In the Teixeira trade with the Braves, the Rangers acquired former Pelicans shortstop Elvis Andrus, right-handed closer Neftali Feliz and left-handed pitcher Matt Harrison, who are all now on the big league club. "That trade was a real windfall for them," Manuel said.

Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in a late 2007 trade primarily for Edinson Volquez, a talented pitcher who the Rangers had developed through the system. They also traded reliever Eric Gagne to Boston in '07 for outfielder David Murphy and outfielder Engel Beltre, one of the team's top prospects who is on the 40-man roster.

"They have had some homegrown success, some success in the draft, and have really done will in the trades," Manuel said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 843-626-0284.

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