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The Texas Rangers' surprisingly productive 2011 draft

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Quietly, the Texas Rangers' 2011 draft class, largely dismissed as a bust not long ago, has generated quite a few legitimate prospects

There was a fair amount of anticipation surrounding the 2011 draft for Texas Rangers fans.  While the Rangers lost their own first round pick by virtue of signing Adrian Beltre, they did have compensatory picks at #33 and #37 overall due to the loss of Cliff Lee.  Moreover, this was the first draft class with new ownership on board...unlike the 2009 draft, where the Rangers lost Matt Purke because MLB had taken control of team finances and prohibited them from giving him the bonus that had been agreed to, and the 2010 draft, when the Rangers were in bankruptcy court and had limits on their spending, the 2011 draft class held the promise of the Rangers being able to splurge on highly regarded talent that slipped because of signability concerns.

There were intriguing names that looked to be available when the Rangers made their first two picks, and we even ran a contest on LSB to see who could correctly predict who the Rangers would select at #33 and #37.  And the Rangers took...high school lefty pitcher Kevin Matthews and #33, and University of Georgia outfielder Zach Cone at #37.  Neither player had been on anyone's radar, and both looked to be extreme reaches at those spots.

The rest of the draft was also unremarkable, something that made more sense after the Rangers spent records amounts in Latin America on a J-2 class that included Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman and Yohander Mendez...the Rangers had decided to devote their budget to signing J-2 guys, rather than draft picks.

But by early in the 2013 season, the 2011 draft class was looking like a complete bust.  Matthews and Cone suffered injuries early on in 2013 that would cost them the year, and had done little before that to suggest they had a major league future.

2nd rounder Will Lamb, an outfielder at Clemson who pitched a little for the Tigers, was converted to pitching full time, with mixed results.

3rd rounder Kyle Castro, a high school pitcher out of California, pitched poorly in 2011, not at all in 2012, and poorly against in 2013.

4th rounder Desmond Henry was unproductive, had off-field issues, and was traded in spring training of 2013 to the Royals as the PTBNL in the trade that brought Texas Tommy Hottovy.

And the Rangers' 5th-7th round picks -- Brandon Woodruff, Derek Fisher, and Max Pentecost -- all went unsigned.  To rub salt in the wound, Fisher and Pentecost ended up going in the first round of the 2014 draft.

So less than two years after the Rangers made their 2011 selections, we were writing the draft class off as a bust.

But a funny thing happened in the interim...over the past year and a half, a number of 2011 draftees have turned themselves into legitimate prospects.

Two of those draftees, 8th rounder Kyle Hendricks and 47th rounder C.J. Edwards, are now with the Cubs.  Hendricks was sent to Chicago with Christian Villanueva in the Ryan Dempster trade, and made it to the majors this year, putting up a 1.48 ERA in 7 starts.  He's not a future ace or anything, but Hendricks looks like he could carve out a role as a back-end starter in the majors.  Edwards, meanwhile, had a meteoric rise up the charts that saw him establish himself as a top 50 prospect, though shoulder issues have sidelined him this year.

But wait, there's more!  Lamb, after putting up a 5.17 ERA in relief for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2013, has seemingly turned a corner in 2014, putting up a 1.53 ERA in 47 IP between Myrtle Beach and Frisco.  He has to improve his command -- he has 52 Ks against 31 walks -- but he looks like someone who could be a potential bullpen piece at some point.

The Rangers' 11th round pick in 2011, Connor Sadzeck, was nabbed out of Howard College in Big Spring, Texas.  He put himself on the prospect map with a quality 2013 season, and seemed poised for a breakout year in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the year.  Nevertheless, if he bounces back from the TJ surgery, he's a nice pitching prospect for the system.

The Rangers' 14th rounder was high school lefty Andrew Faulkner.  Faulkner has had a breakout year in 2014, putting up a 2.07 ERA in 104.1 IP for Myrtle Beach this year, allowing just a single home run while striking out 100 batters and walking just 31.  He earned a promotion to Frisco, where he has a 5.24 ERA in 22.1 IP over 5 games thusfar.  There are questions about whether he can stick in the rotation, but his fastball/splitter combination could make him a late-inning weapon out of the pen.

The 15th round saw the Rangers snag Olney Central College righthander Jerad Eickhoff.  Eickhoff has had a solid season for Frisco, putting up a 4.09 ERA in 143 IP, striking out 133 and walking 45.  Eickhoff is big and throws hard, and is another guy who could be either a back-end starter or a potential reliever.

The Rangers' 17th round pick was Lake Erie College infielder Ryan Rua, who had a huge 2013 season at low-A Hickory, and who has put up a .298/.373/.483 line in 2014 while splitting the season between Frisco and Round Rock and playing 1B, 2B, 3B and LF.  Rua will probably get a cup of coffee in September, and could be in the mix for a part-time role with the major league club in 2015.

18th rounder Nick Martinez has spent most of the 2014 in the majors, pressed into duty because of the wave of injuries that has cripped the Ranger rotation.  He's managed to keep his head above water, an impressive feat for a guy who barely pitched in college, and who was slated to start the year in AA.

30th rounder Phil Klein has also made the majors this season, pitching out of the bullpen for the Rangers.  Klein put up a remarkable 0.52 ERA in 51.2 IP combined between Frisco and Round Rock this year before earning the call to the majors, and despite a rough first couple of outings, is now sporting a 2.35 ERA in limited action with the big club.

That's an impressive collection of players from the later rounds of the draft.  None of these players, other than C.J. Edwards (if you think he can stick in the rotation, and if he bounces back from his shoulder problems) profiles as a high-ceiling player, of course.  But you do have a bunch of guys who look like they can be useful pieces in the big leagues, and a draft that produces three or four useful major league pieces is a successful draft, especially when you aren't picking in the top ten picks or so.

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