No. 17 South Grand Prairie’s Josh Stephan is UDFA success

The Texas Rangers were Baseball America’s Organization of the Year in 2023, and not just because they won their first World Series.

They fully integrated Josh Jung into the everyday lineup, graduated Evan Carter from minor leaguer to full-on savior, drafted a seemingly major league-ready outfielder and used some capital from the minor league system to land key pitchers at the trade deadline. They enter 2024 as BA’s No. 3 ranked system in terms of talent.

As we head into March, it’s time to count down the best talent in the system, because why should BA, MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus have all the fun? We can count, too. Backwards, even. So, here is our Top 30, one guy at a time:

No. 17 RHP Josh Stephan

Age: 22

Height/weight: 6-2, 210

B-T: R-R

Who he is: Stephan, who graduated from South grand prairie High School, was a baseball victim of the pandemic. Stephan went 3-0 with 20 strikeouts in 14 innings before the pandemic canceled the season. The draft was reduced to five rounds and he went undrafted. The Rangers signed him for $20,000, buying him out of a commitment to Stephen F. Austin, and an enhanced future tuition package. It was the maximum amount allowed to an undrafted free agent.

Why he is here: Per MLB Pipeline, there were a total of 17 undrafted free agents to sign in 2020, the Rangers got five of them, perhaps the two best in Stephan and RHP Aidan Curry. In 15 starts over parts of two seasons at advanced Class A Hickory, he went 8-4 with a 2.07 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and just 2.3 walks.

He earned a promotion to Double-A Frisco in July, allowed a pair of runs in 4.1 innings in one start and then landed on the IL with a stress fracture in his back that ended his season. He’s healthy and pitching now.

In some ways, Stephan might be a right-handed version of Cody Bradford: Local kid, doesn’t overpower hitters but doesn’t beat himself with walks. For his professional career he’s got a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate and averages only 2.5 walks per nine innings.

His fastball sits in the 91-92 mph range and he backs it up with a slider and what MLB Pipeline says is an “advanced” feel for the changeup.

What’s his future: Like Bradford, he could project towards the back end of a rotation if his fastball stays where it is. If he can add a bit of velocity, maybe he could push even higher. He’s ultra-competitive, which could be a separator that allows him to optimize his talent.

“He features an easy delivery that he repeats well, giving him plus control and the makings of solid command,” wrote Pipeline, which ranks him 18th among Rangers prospects. “His low arm slot and release height create life and deception without costing him strikes.”

Where he will start: He will get a re-start at Double-A Frisco.

The dallas Morning News’ Top 30 Rangers prospects:

No. 30: RHP Cole Winn

No. 29: RHP Winston Santos

No. 28: C Jesus Lopez

No. 27: OF Alejandro Osuna

No. 26: LHP Antoine Kelly

No. 25: RHP Marc Church

No. 24: RHP Zak Kent

No. 23: OF Yeison Morrobel

No. 22 Aaron Zavala

No. 21: 3B Gleider Figuereo

No. 20: RHP Emiliano Teodo

No. 19: RHP Jose Corniell

No. 18: RHP Izack Tiger

No. 17 RHP Josh Stephan

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