Top Rangers and Astros Prospects Close to the Big Leagues

Let's take a look at some of the top Rangers and Astros prospects that could play a role in the AL West race this summer.

Jack Leiter of the Texas Rangers delivers a pitch during a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies at Surprise Stadium.
SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Jack Leiter #83 of the Texas Rangers delivers a pitch during a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies at Surprise Stadium on February 28, 2023 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)

There is quite the rivalry brewing between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. Not only do the two teams share a state, but they are both members of the hotly contested AL West.

The two clubs squared off last October in the ALCS, with the Rangers ultimately taking the series after a seven-game, drama-filled adventure. They will share a field for the first time this year tonight, but last Friday, their respective Triple-A affiliates opened the season against each other in Round Rock, TX.

I was in attendance for the season opener and was able to see firsthand several of the two organizations’ top prospects. Many of these players will impact the AL West battle as soon as this season.

Texas Rangers Prospects To Know

Justin Foscue, IF

Circumstances can change in an instant, and that was the case this week for the Rangers. Starting third baseman Josh Jung broke his wrist on Monday night.

Ad – content continues below

The corresponding move was calling prospect Justin Foscue up to the big leagues for the first time. Foscue is known as a hit-first player but should be able to settle in as part of a platoon at first base with Jared Walsh while taking on the occasional DH or third base assignment.

The rest of the players in this article, three Rangers and two Astros, have yet to make their major league debuts. There is no crystal ball to gaze into to determine if or when the five guys featured here will make it to the big leagues. However, one thing that is clear is that all five possess the skillset and mental makeup to contribute at a high level whenever their time comes.

Marc Church, RHP

In addition to watching players firsthand last Friday, I had the privilege of talking with Marc Church. With it being Opening Day, complete with all the festivities surrounding it, we decided a phone interview this week would be best.

Church had a fantastic spring. In 10.2 innings, he had a 2.53 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, and struck out 14. Many fans wondered why he didn’t make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster.

When asked if there was anything that he was focusing on, Church said, “So right now I’m just trying to perfect, you know getting ahead, staying ahead, and finishing. Honestly not working on anything in particular.”

He did, however, elaborate on a new challenge for this season. “Last year I never went back-to-back, and this year that is going to be expected of me from now on. I went back-to-back in spring training, so now it is just time to learn my body and how I can throw almost every day and whatever is asked of me.”

Ad – content continues below

Late to the pitching game, Church started pitching his senior year in high school. He has shown promising signs of development in each of his first three minor league seasons. The righty posted solid numbers in 2023 between Double-A and Triple-A; over 62 innings pitched, he had a 3.63 ERA, 1.484 WHIP, and struck out 79.

So far in 2024, Church has pitched in two games, both times in the ninth inning. It appears that he is being utilized in high-leverage situations in Triple-A in preparation for his future role in Arlington.

A Powerful Arsenal

Church is a plus-fastball, plus-slider, athletic pitcher. I asked him how to describe himself as a pitcher in emoji.

“I’ll put the green sick emoji because I feel like my slider is disgusting. So that one first. And then I would put the fire emoji because when I’m on, I am throwing gas. And then maybe like a smoke emoji because I like to strike guys out.”

In addition to his fastball and slider, Church is working on a changeup. He indicated that the organization is pleased with where he is and feels like he can take on the third pitch.

Currently, he isn’t using it in competition but throws it every time he touches a ball. His throwing partner this year is Jack Leiter, so Leiter is getting a first look at the new pitch. Church is hoping to have it ready to introduce into game action maybe even as early as the end of April.

Ad – content continues below

The Humble Confidence of Marc Church

One of the many things that I find impressive about Church is his humble confidence. He is an elite athlete who isn’t scared of hard work. He gives credit to his parents for instilling his work ethic in him at a young age.

To help pay for travel ball, Church worked not only at the Braves stadium (he is a native of Atlanta, GA) cleaning concession stands but also at a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

“Coming from humble beginnings and always learning hard work, I had to work for everything I got. I got drafted later, in the 18th round. So, knowing that and knowing how far I’ve come, it really gives me the confidence to know that I can do it.”

Church added, “Everything’s been a blessing to this point. I always said to myself that when this career ends, I’m going to know that I put in everything that I could and all the hard work I could.”

Hard work doesn’t guarantee a player a trip to the show. Neither does talent. But when talent meets hard work, the sky is the limit. Marc Church has both, and it will be fun to watch him in Arlington when his time comes.

Antoine Kelly, LHP

Last season was a breakout year for Antoine Kelly. The big lefty had struggled with control issues before settling in and finding his way in 2023.

Ad – content continues below

Kelly spent the bulk of last season pitching at Double-A Frisco, while his last six games came at Triple-A Round Rock.

In 57.1 innings pitched, he had a 2.04 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, and struck out 79. For his efforts, Kelly was selected as the organization’s minor league relief pitcher of the year. Not only that, but he was an honorable mention on Just Baseball’s All-MiLB Team as well.

Kelly is tall, listed at 6-foot-5. His low arm slot, left-handed delivery is tough on both left-handed and right-handed hitters. His fastball is above average, sitting in the mid to upper 90s. Kelly has a devastating slider as well.

With the lack of left-handed arms in the Rangers organization, along with the fact that Kelly is just flat-out nasty, look for him to be in Arlington sometime soon. He has the back end of the bullpen-type stuff that Bruce Bochy will love to be able to call upon.

Jack Leiter, RHP

When Jack Leiter was selected with the No. 2 pick in the first round of the 2021 MLB draft, his path to the major leagues seemed like it would be short. He was the Rangers’ No. 1 prospect entering 2022 and was inside the top 25 in all of baseball on most lists.

Flash forward not quite three years later, and the journey for Leiter has been anything but easy. He is no longer inside the top 100 on any lists. On some rankings, he even finds himself outside the Rangers’ organizational top 10.

Ad – content continues below

Limiting Walks and Homers Will Be Key for Leiter

There are a ton of minute details that go into pitching, but to have a chance at MLB success, a pitcher needs to limit walks and keep the ball in the yard. In his first two professional seasons, Leiter struggled with both.

Command has been the biggest issue facing the young fireballer early in his career. Many times, after falling behind and not wanting to yield yet another free pass, he would groove one, only to see it deposited in the outfield bleachers.

But, things started to change for Leiter at the end of last year. He has taken that positive momentum into 2024. In fact, his spring numbers were strong enough that there was an outside chance he would break camp with the big league club.

In the small sample size of spring, he had a 4.26 ERA, 1.263 WHIP, and lowered his BB/9 to 3.6 in 12.2 innings pitched. For comparison, Leiter’s BB/9 was north of 5.0 in his first two professional seasons.

2024 Is Looking Bright for Jack Leiter

In Leiter’s first outing of the season for Triple-A Round Rock, he was spectacular. In five innings pitched, he only allowed two hits and two earned runs. He walked none, struck out nine, and earned the win. One of the two hits he gave up was a big fly to Joey Loperfido on a fastball that caught too much of the plate.

What does the future hold for Leiter? With more consistent, solid outings like his first one this season, and he will find himself in Arlington before we know it.

Ad – content continues below

Historically a starter, it is conceivable that Leiter will make a spot start or two for the Rangers during the first half of the season. Texas is low on starting pitching depth, and if there are some injuries or poor performances, look for Leiter to get a much-anticipated call-up.

He could also end up being a piggyback partner for some of the veteran starters coming back from injuries this season. Max Scherzer, Tyler Mahle, and Jacob deGrom will all have limited pitch counts when they return from the IL.

Perhaps having a combo of Leiter plus a more proven arm would be a prudent way for the youngster to get his feet wet with the Rangers without having all of the spotlight shining directly on him.

Houston Astros Prospects To Know

Joey Loperfido, OF/1B

There were a large number of baseball enthusiasts, Astros fans in particular, who felt like Joey Loperfido was going to make the Opening Day roster. He had a strong spring. In 41 plate appearances, Loperfido slashed .382/.488/.588 with five doubles and a triple. One of his most impressive stats was that he worked seven walks and only struck out 13 times.

When the Sugar Land Space Cowboys went to take batting practice last Friday, there was no doubt who Loperfido was when he started taking his cuts. I could have closed my eyes and been able to know when he was hitting. The crack of the bat sounded different, and thus the ball was jumping out of the yard. He put on quite the show.

Loperfido Blasting Homers

Not to be outdone by his own home run derby in BP, Loperfido launched a first-inning offering 428 feet to center field for a two-run home run. It was a no-doubter with nothing wind-aided about it.

Ad – content continues below

He would go on to hit not one, but two more bombs on Saturday, putting him at three through his first three games. The homer that Aram referenced above demonstrated not only quality hitting but also the raw strength and power that the 24-year-old (25 next month) exudes.

Loperfido had a solid year in 2023 across three levels, spending the bulk of his time with the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. His final line across all of his stops was .278/.370/.510 with 25 home runs.

While Loperfido has size, he also has athleticism and speed. He swiped 27 bags in 2023 and had one this spring as well. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds while hitting from the left side, Loperfido is a force to be reckoned with.

Spencer Arrighetti – Astros RHP

I had the good fortune to be able to see Spencer Arrighetti‘s Opening Day outing as part of my trip to Round Rock. Video is fantastic, but there is nothing quite like laying your eyes on prospects.

Arrighetti is an ultra-competitive guy, that is very apparent. There is a bulldog mentality to him that will serve him well whenever he does get the call to the show.

His outing was on the verge of dominance with the only hiccup being his five walks. Control issues have been something of a concern for him, but his control has been getting better.

Ad – content continues below

Not all bases on balls are equal, and on most of his walks the other night, Arrighetti was not missing by much, if at all. He was not happy with the strike zone and used his frustrations to get back into the moment and eliminate any potential scoring threat.

Obviously, Arrighetti is currently a starter, but with his mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider, he could easily be a weapon out of the bullpen for Houston. He throws a nice curve and changeup as well.

In 2023, Arrighetti was the minor league pitcher of the year for Houston. He recorded 141 strikeouts in 124.1 innings of work. As a professional, he is averaging 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Arrighetti grew up in Katy, TX, so it will be exciting for many locals when he makes his debut for the Astros. Whether that is for some spot starts or to fill a role in the bullpen, there is little doubt that Arrighetti will be up for the challenge.