In July of 2011, the Texas Rangers invested $5 million to sign 16 year-old Dominican outfielder Nomar Mazara, and another $3.45 million to procure 16 year-old outfielder Ronald Guzman. Both were believed to be prodigious hitting prospects at the time.
This was before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that imposed harsh penalties on teams for crossing their international bonus pool threshold on amateur talent.
A year later, in the MLB Draft, Texas selected OF Lewis Brinson (29th overall), 3B Joey Gallo (39th overall) and OF Nick Williams (93rd overall).
My best friend, Trey, and I went to Surprise, Arizona, for spring training in March of 2013. That’s where the Rangers share a complex with the Kansas City Royals.
We went, had a good time. During the spring training game we went to, I sent a tweet to a former Rangers blogger named Jason Parks, who was also there. This is back when Twitter was a thing I used.
At the time Parks was the lead prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus, basically my dream job. He was still pretty young, in his early thirties, which was strange because I had probably been reading his Rangers articles on the Internet since I was 12 or 13. All I did was ask where he was at the stadium, and if it would be cool to stop by and say hello. So I did that.
Parks now works as a scout for the Chicago Cubs. My other dream job.
I had a couple beers. All they carried at Surprise Stadium were Bud Light and Michelob Ultra, so I chose the lesser of two evils and stayed away from the BL. I should’ve had a flask on me, but I’m apparently not one to think too far ahead for these types of things.
From there Trey and I walked to the front gate of the stadium, got our hand’s stamped so we could step outside and come back in. There wasn’t any smoking allowed inside the park. These are supposed to be family atmospheres.
When we got back in, I noticed on the outskirts a bunch of players taking batting practice. So Trey and I walked over to see what was going on. And more importantly, to see who was taking BP.
There were five players and, since this is what I do, I recognized them all. There was Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, and Nick Williams.
I knew the scouting reports on all of them by then. None were of legal age, with Williams as the elder statesman being born in 1993. Gallo and Brinson were the first two picks in Texas’s most recent draft class, but they were also the two who projected to hit for the most power. They were my favorite prospects in the farm system, even then.
So once they were done hitting, I called Joey and Lewis over and they both signed the $2 program I bought. We chatted for a couple minutes; Trey almost got Joey Gallo to give him the gigantic pine bat he was wielding.
“You should give us your bat, I think it’s broken,” Trey said, jokingly.
Gallo unwittingly gestured lifting the bat over the fence to give it to Trey, like a flinch, but thought best against it. “The team managers would kill me,” he said, laughing.
I remember telling them “Now go kill it at Hickory,” before I left. Hickory was Texas’s full-season Single-A affiliate — the 3rd level of a six-tier minor league system. I assume until that point they had no idea that they were just talking to the biggest Rangers fan from California.
Heading into 2016 Joey Gallo was the #12 prospect in MLB according to ESPN’s Keith Law, while Lewis Brinson ranked #32 on the same list (Insider required). There are roughly 500 active minor league baseball players in the states, and I singled out two of the 35-best when they were 19 year-olds. I’m the shit, basically.
But seriously, I could have called over any two of those five hitters, and I’d still be in good shape looking back on it. They have all turned into legitimate big league prospects, to varying degrees.
Nomar Mazara ranked 9th on Law’s top-100 list, and is currently hitting .320/.365/.500 (131 wRC+) with 8 HRs in his first 167 big league plate appearances. He is going to be a star.
Nick Williams ranked 74th on Keith’s top-100, though he is no longer in the Rangers organization. He was part of the package that acquired Cole Hamels from the Phillies last July. This season he has struggled, hitting just .262/.289/.409 (98 wRC+) with 4 HRs at Triple-A. As has always been an issue, his walk rate sits at a putrid 4.4% clip.
Ronald Guzman is probably the least gifted of the five, but even he is having his best year to date. At Double-A he’s slashing .333/.399/.532 (160 wRC+), all of which are career-highs. Still only 22, there is a good chance he gets called up to Triple-A before the end of the year.
Baseball is such a crapshoot. Even the most talented high school and college players, the highest draft picks, flame out due to injury or poor performance. You would be hard-pressed at any point to find five teenagers from the same organization all turn into something. Let alone five guys sharing the same batting cage.
So whether it’s Gallo or Brinson on the diamond, or Jason Parks on the writing circuit, I trust my eye for talent. I’m not only banking on now; I’m thinking about the future.
I’m the same way with people in real life. There has to be something there to begin with, of course, but I care so much about the longterm.
I’ve probably written it a half-dozen times on here, but ambition is one of the reasons Trey and I became best friends, back when we were, like, 16. There was an understanding that our high school years weren’t very important to the big picture, but when we did have actual grownup lives, they would be something instead of nothing.
Being average was always kind of the worst-case scenario.
Surrounding myself with ambitious people, in turn, makes me more ambitious. Which is all I’ve ever really been in it for, anyway: To be successful, and see my people be successful.
And I imagine that’s part of what the Texas Rangers had in mind when they decided to put their two-biggest international signings, and first three draft picks, in the same batting cage together. And on the same minor league teams together. They didn’t just want one success story; they wanted everyone to push each other to be better, so they could all make it.
Right now that looks exactly like what happened.