Jung, Foscue finding their place in Rangers' plans
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club. Things are getting interesting deep in the heart of Texas. The Rangers have
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.
Things are getting interesting deep in the heart of Texas.
The Rangers have committed more than half a billion dollars to free agents this offseason, but also have seen a drastic improvement in their farm system. Texas brought back four ranked prospects in the July deal that sent Joey Gallo to the Yankees and saw the full potential of three of their five Top 100 prospects -- all of whom make an appearance on this list -- during the 2021 season. No. 48 prospect Josh Jung and No. 83 Justin Foscue seem poised to join what’s quickly becoming one of the best infields in baseball. On the mound, the club also selected No. 12 overall prospect Jack Leiter with the second pick in this year’s Draft.
All but one of Texas’ affiliates finished with a winning record, and those seven clubs finished with a .533 overall win percentage. Down East won 72 games and went down to the wire for the Low-A East championship, falling to Charleston in five games.
While the Rangers made moves to signal that they're ready to contend and snap a five-year streak of losing seasons, there proved to be enough depth in the system to sustain whatever success they can build in 2022.
Rangers Organization All-Stars
Catcher – Yohel Pozo, Triple-A Round Rock (77 games), Texas (21 games): Both Pozo and the Rangers waited a long time for this season. The 24-year-old not only reached the Majors in 2021 but also homered in his Texas debut.
“This is a dream come true for me and my family,” Pozo told reporters after that game. “I’m just full out trying to compete and be the best of me. I just wanted to keep doing what I was doing in the Minors.”
That was a wise plan, considering Pozo finished his first Triple-A season with a .337 average and .974 OPS with 23 homers, 17 doubles, 46 runs scored and 74 RBIs. He led all Rangers’ Minor Leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances in average and slugging percentage (.622) and ranked second in OPS and homers. He also threw out 12 of 45 would-be base stealers at Round Rock.
Pozo, who signed with Texas out of Venezuela in 2013, batted .284 with nine RBIs and eight runs scored in 74 at-bats during his Major League stint. He last hit .246 at Class A Advanced Down East in 2019 and was left off the roster after the 2020 season. Pozo signed a Minor League deal with the Padres last November and was waived and claimed by the Rangers a month later.
Pozo elected free agency again after the 2021 season but signed a new Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite with the Rangers in December.
First baseman – Dustin Harris, Down East (73 games), High-A Hickory (37 games): The Rangers' No. 17 prospect flourished in his new organization.
Harris had a very impressive season in 2019 before landing with Texas in a trade with the A's. He followed that with a monster year across two levels of the Minors in his first first full season in 2021.
Harris led all Rangers’ Minor Leaguers with 85 RBIs, 86 runs scored and 88 singles while batting .327/.401/.542 with 20 homers, 47 walks and 25 stolen bases. The 22-year-old was one of only seven Minor Leaguers to bat at least .300 with 20 doubles and 20 homers on the season. He was named the Rangers’ Offensive Player of the Year and tied for fourth in the system in steals.
The 2019 11th-rounder committed five errors in 24 games at the hot corner and four at first base in 74 games. Harris bested Blaine Crim, who led the organization with 29 homers, for a spot on this list.
2021 Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year Dustin Harris met the Rangers Hall of Famer whose name graces that award on Saturday in the TV booth. pic.twitter.com/vxuaAhvEwb— John Blake (@RangerBlake) October 3, 2021
Second baseman – Justin Foscue, Arizona Complex League (three games), Hickory (33 games), Double-A Frisco (26 games): Texas might have surprised many with its selection of Foscue in the first round in 2020. But he’s already proven to be a formidable professional hitter while moving away from his college profile.
Foscue batted .275/.371/.590 with 17 homers, 19 doubles 51 RBIs and 52 runs scored across three levels in his first full season. He also participated in the Arizona Fall League and homered five times in 70 at-bats.
“Throughout my whole life I have never been the top-ranked kind of player,” Foscue said after being drafted. “I had a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong. I believed in myself. I just went to work and put my head down and didn’t listen to the outside noise with the rankings and stuff … always believing in myself, that’s how I got to this point.”
Foscue missed around three weeks after suffering a rib contusion in June, but he proved to have the ability to drive the ball and hit for extra bases upon his return, rather than relying on a reputation around high on-base percentage that he built in college.
He’ll probably continue to lean into his power as he progresses through his professional career, but his 2021 season should signal the start of a change of game plan that should cement his place in the Texas lineup for years to come.
Third baseman – Josh Jung, Frisco (43 games), Round Rock (35 games): After suffering a stress fracture in his foot during his first big league Spring Training, there were some doubts as to whether Jung would even appear in the Minors in 2021.
Not only did the No. 48 overall prospect make it into games, he also proved why he’s the Rangers’ best hitting prospect. He led the system with a .990 OPS and 152 wRC+ while batting .326/.398/.592 with 19 homers, 61 RBIs and 54 runs scored.
“Being consistent [was the biggest thing I worked on],” Jung told reporters shortly before his season debut in June. “It's about how I can put myself in a good position, every pitch, which comes down to vision and timing. Just being able to simplify everything in the box, knowing my swing is going to play. It's all just timing to me, that's all I've been working on.”
The No. 8 overall pick in 2019 could be a homegrown piece in an infield that’s been revamped through free agency. The Rangers have slow-played their development of top prospects in years past, but they’ve done everything to indicate they’re ready to contend in 2022. And Jung should already be part of those plans.
Jung will probably open the season at Triple-A, but after batting .348 at the Minors’ highest level, he probably won’t stay there very long.
Shortstop – Luisangel Acuña, Down East (111 games): The 19-year-old naturally invites an unfair comparison as the younger brother of Ronald Acuña Jr. But he lives up to the family reputation as a natural professional hitter.
“Luisangel will play in the big leagues,” Down East manager Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July. “He’s a championship-type player that the organization values and believes will be a successful Major Leaguer for a long time.”
The Rangers' No. 8 prospect batted .266/.345/.404 with 30 extra-base hits, including 12 homers, and 44 stolen bases. He was one of only six players in the Minors with at least 10 longballs and 40 steals and one of only 15 Minor Leaguers with at least 40 stolen bases.
The organization named Acuña as its Defender of the Year in 2021. He split time almost evenly between second base and shortstop this season, committing 11 total errors.
Bubba Thompson, Frisco (104 games): The 2017 first-rounder bounced back from a difficult year that had many questioning his status as a prospect.
Thompson was one of 22 Minor Leaguers with at least 15 homers and 25 stolen bases in 2021. He batted .275 -- a near-100-point improvement from his 2019 campaign -- and led the system with nine triples. He tallied 16 homers and 23 doubles while driving in 52 runs and scoring 73 times.
The 23-year-old received the True Ranger Award, described as the “player who represents the core values of the organization in a positive light both on and off the field.” Although he made his full-season debut in 2018, this was the first year that Thompson was fully healthy. And the difference reflected in his numbers.
“The main thing after those two years was staying consistent and knowing I can play,” Thompson told MLB.com in October. “That was a long time without really seeing success in baseball. At the end of the day, I was just trusting in myself that I'm gonna get the work done, I'm gonna stay consistent and everything else is gonna work out for the best.”
The club’s No. 26 prospect saw time at all three outfield sports for Frisco but mostly played center field, committing six errors in 141 total chances.
Daniel Mateo, ACL (15 games), Down East (36 games): The 20-year-old opened the season in Rookie ball but quickly proved he had outgrown the complex leagues.
Over his first 17 plate appearances in the ACL, Mateo batted .563 with a 1.713 OPS to open the season. He held a .327 average with a .942 OPS, seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs before being promoted to Down East in August. He settled in with the Wood Ducks and batted .272/.315/.368 with a pair of homers, seven doubles and 20 RBIs.
Mateo led all Rangers outfield prospects with a .288 overall average. He also stole 19 bases and scored 40 runs in 51 total games.
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound outfielder signed with the Rangers for a reported $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic during the 2018-19 signing period. He mostly played center field but spent some time at right and left, committing three total errors.
Jayce Easley swiped 70 bases in 80 attempts to lead the Minors! pic.twitter.com/smlGJ5KnC8— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) January 4, 2022
Jayce Easley, Down East (98 games): The 22-year-old was drafted as an infielder in 2018 but shifted to the grass full time this year. But it really doesn’t matter where Easley, the son of former Major Leaguer Damion Easley, plays on the field. It’s his speed that will elevate him to the next level.
Easley led the Minors with 70 stolen bases in 80 tries this season. The Phoenix native took full advantage of the new rules in Low-A that limited pitchers to two step-offs or pickoff attempts per plate appearance.
He obviously reached base at an impressive clip in 2021, recording a .403 on-base percentage while batting .244 with a .712 OPS. Easley also compiled 15 extra-base hits with 28 RBIs and 74 runs scored -- the most in the Rangers’ system.
Right-handed starting pitcher – Cole Winn, Frisco (19 starts), Round Rock (two starts): The Rangers’ third-ranked prospect reached the Minors’ highest level after dominating at Frisco.
Winn compiled a 2.31 ERA with 97 punchouts in 78 innings for the RoughRiders before being promoted at the end of the season. He yielded one run or fewer in 15 appearances, including 11 scoreless outings, over the course of the season.
“He's kind of got the it-factor for me -- the ability to challenge in the zone and the bravery to throw whatever pitch he believes in most in that moment,” Rangers pitching coach Brendan Sagara told MLB.com in June. “I think when you have that kind of self-confidence and belief, and that kind of physical ability and the ability to execute his pitches, that's what makes Cole like the most special arm in our system.”
Winn, the No. 60 overall prospect, competed at the Rangers’ alternate site last summer and boasts a four-pitch mix that could give him a chance at a Major League rotation spot in 2022.
Left-handed starting pitcher – Cody Bradford, Hickory (13 starts), Frisco (seven starts): The Rangers’ No. 25 prospect stole the spotlight in 2021.
Bradford led the system with 128 strikeouts and compiled a 4.11 ERA in 96 1/3 total innings. He only reached double-digit strikeouts in one start but did so in emphatic fashion, tallying a career-best 14 punchouts against Asheville on July 22.
Bradford walked just 1.96 batters per nine innings, which was the lowest among all Rangers’ pitchers to complete at least 50 frames this season.
The Texas native and Baylor product did not pitch after being drafted in the sixth round in 2019 and was limited in his final college season after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery. The 6-foot-4 southpaw leads a four-pitch mix with a plus changeup and a deceptive delivery.
Relief pitcher – Jacob Lemoine, Round Rock (45 games, one start): The 28-year-old Houston native led the organization with 45 appearances and still had the seventh-best ERA (2.86) among all Rangers pitchers to complete at least 40 innings.
Lemoine held opposing batters to a .203 average and compiled a 1.24 WHIP in 56 2/3 innings for the Express this season. He converted three of nine save opportunities and was credited with nine holds.
The 2015 fourth-rounder elected free agency at the end of the season.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.