February 2006

The Newberg Report: February 26

Piecing things together, and barring injury or a Roger Clemens acquisition or something unforeseen, here’s the way the first week shapes up for the Rangers, who open the season with a weeklong homestand for the first time since 2000:

April 3: Kevin Millwood vs. Curt Schilling

April 4: Adam Eaton vs. Tim Wakefield

April 5: Vicente Padilla vs. Josh Beckett

April 6: Kameron Loe vs. Mike Maroth

April 7: Undetermined vs. Nate Robertson

April 8: Kevin Millwood vs. Justin Verlander or Joel Zumaya or Roman Colon

April 9: Adam Eaton vs. Kenny Rogers

Much has been made of Millwood’s remarks about his mindset pitching at home, about how his job is to outpitch his mound opponent, not to overcome Ameriquest Field. Millwood has six lifetime innings in his new ballpark; Schilling and Verlander and Zumaya and Colon have a combined total of zero.

Eaton and Wakefield have never teed it up.

Padilla and Beckett faced off on September 23, 2004, each getting roughed up en route to a no-decision (six runs on six hits and a walk in four innings for Padilla, five runs on five hits and six walks in five frames for Beckett).

May 31, 2005 doesn’t count as a Loe-Maroth match-up, because by time Loe came on to pitch the ninth, the Rangers had long disposed of Maroth, who allowed six runs in four and two-thirds.

Robertson’s ERA in two Ameriquest Field starts is 14.00. More on that April 7 game momentarily.

Much will be made of the Sunday afternoon tilt on the 9th, with Kenny Rogers pitching to Pudge Rodriguez in the road grays as the home fans are treated to Eaton’s second start and 20,000 Michael Young bobbleheads.

Back to Friday the 7th.

The way Juan Dominguez finished the 2005 season, he surely went into the winter with an inside track on keeping a spot in the rotation, but ever since instructs, you couldn’t read a story about the back end of the Rangers’ starting five without seeing Josh Rupe’s name and some Texas official offering a glowing comment.

We now know, based on remarks made by pitching coach Mark Connor, that there are three other candidates for the fifth spot, at least at the moment.

C.J. Wilson, whom the organization envisions ultimately as a starter, is one of them, though there is the thought that he and the club might better be served by returning him to the bullpen, where he was so good in 2005, giving him the job of facing a key stretch of left-handed hitters in the middle-to-late innings. Or maybe even resisting that temptation and sending him to AAA to pitch every fifth day to reestablish his effectiveness as a starter.

R.A. Dickey, whose transformation into knuckleballer continues, is another candidate. Connor says his knuckler has improved "immensely" since the season ended.

Those two were certainly on anyone’s list of five-deep candidates for the fifth spot. The final contestant might surprise you.

It’s not John Wasdin, who’s been a spot starter for the club the last two years and came into camp with a guaranteed deal for the first time as a Ranger.

It’s not Brian Anderson, who isn’t expected to be ready to go at the starting gun.

It’s not Edison Volquez, who finished the season in Texas (three starts and three relief appearances) while Thomas Diamond and John Danks stayed behind in Frisco.

It’s not Rick Bauer, though the former Oriole is drawing some attention from people who matter.

It’s Diamond.

Make no mistake: it’s probably more likely that we’ll see Clemens introduced as a Ranger on Opening Day than the 22-year-old Diamond. That’s not an indictment of Diamond (or an overly optimistic reassessment on the Clemens front). It’s more a recognition that this February is different from almost every Rangers February in memory. There’s generally a reach, maybe two, in the Opening Day rotation for this club; this year, there might be three guys starting games in Oklahoma in April who have the right to believe they should be in the big leagues right now. And Diamond, one would think, slots behind each of them in terms of who can help Texas instantly.

So why anoint him publicly as a candidate for the big league rotation?

Maybe there’s some psychology at work. The club wants Diamond to learn from the veterans, both on the mound and off the field. The Rangers have included Diamond in workout group that includes Millwood, Eaton, Padilla, and Loe, and they’ve positioned Diamond’s locker next to Eaton’s. Connor noted that he wants Diamond simply "to be around Millwood." As much Diamond appears to be a Clemens send-up on the mound, the New Orleans native is probably a lot closer to the North Carolina-born Millwood off of it. The Rangers would be happy for Diamond, or any pitcher, to adopt Clemens’s or Millwood’s work ethic and attitude.

Consider this comment from Eaton, made to reporters about Diamond, with Diamond in earshot: "You know you’re talking to the savior here?" Diamond laughed.

It’s almost inconceivable that Adam Eaton knew Thomas Diamond from Neil Diamond before 2006. (Think Francisco Cordero knows who Philip Hughes is?) It’s pretty obvious that Eaton’s comment had a hint of sarcasm in it, and Diamond’s response to it suggests, at least in print, that he gets it.

This is a pitcher who never experienced any baseball adversity until the last couple months of the 2005 season, and the Rangers, like any organization would, probably want to be sure Diamond gets used to a situation where he’s low man on the totem pole. He needs to be prepared to deal with more adversity, to develop a tenacity that defines who he is as a pitcher, not one that he draws upon only when he finds his back against a wall.

Being around veterans for a few weeks should help. On the mound, in the clubhouse, and during beat reporter interviews with the number two starter eavesdropping.

The arrow is pointing in the right direction again with regard to Dominguez. He arrived in camp weighing too much and having to limit his conditioning program due to high blood pressure, but the remarks coming out of Surprise have been positive. He’s brought his wife to Arizona and will bring her to Texas as well. That can’t be a bad thing, nor evidently is the fact that his uncle Armando Bonilla, a minister in the Dominican Republic, will visit Dominguez this summer to help keep the 25-year-old focused, which has been somewhat of an issue since his mother died in June of 2004.

Cordero, who has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic, threw off a mound on Wednesday and didn’t feel the twinge in his right shoulder that he experienced earlier in the week.

With Cordero (Dominican Republic) and David Dellucci (Italy) withdrawing from the WBC, four Rangers will compete in the March tournament: Michael Young and Mark Teixeira (USA), Akinori Otsuka (Japan), and Erubiel Durazo (Mexico).

Meanwhile, Washington’s Alfonso Soriano, not backing off his insistence that he’s not an outfielder, is about to leave for the WBC himself, meaning he probably won’t be back in Nationals camp until there’s about two weeks before Opening Day. If the Nationals stick to their guns, their $10 million man with one foot already out the door is going to have about two weeks to get into some semblance of a rhythm playing the outfield.

Washington general manager Jim Bowden has reportedly made "preliminary trade inquiries" with other clubs in an effort to see if he can move Soriano before the season begins.

This isn’t good: Righthander Nick Regilio was headed for an MRI after feeling discomfort in his elbow, where a torn flexor tendon was operated on last season. Everyone’s hoping it’s merely scar tissue.

Catcher Taylor Teagarden, coming off November Tommy John surgery that was likely going to limit him to hitting in 2006, has a stress fracture in his back that could keep him off the field altogether this season.

Rudy Jaramillo’s prostate cancer surgery is set to take place late in March in New York, and the recovery could cost him the first month of the regular season.

Infielder Aarom Baldiris and righthander Armando Galarraga have arrived in camp from Venezuela, after clearing up visa problems.

Texas signed Laynce Nix, Frankie Francisco, and Jon Leicester on Friday, leaving no players on the 40-man roster unsigned. While pre-arbitration players aren’t paid at a lockstep rate, teams have the right to unilaterally set compensation if the two sides can’t agree to terms. With Nix in particular, negotiations failed in 2004 and 2005 to produce a mutually agreed salary, and so the Rangers renewed him both years at the league minimum ($300,000 and $316,000, respectively). Nix and the Rangers agreed on a $345,260 contract for 2006, comfortably above the $327,000 minimum.

Lefthander Jesse Carlson is another fringe candidate earning rave reviews early in camp. Of the 13 non-roster invites given to newcomers to the organization, Carlson is the one I was most excited about (along with infielder D’Angelo Jimenez); I went so far as to call Carlson, in the 2006 Bound Edition, my number three candidate for a breakout season among all pitchers in the Rangers system, behind Michael Schlact and Omar Poveda.

I was mildly surprised Carlson got no pre-draft play in the usual publications before December’s Rule 5 Draft.

Key note: while Carlson is here on a non-guaranteed deal and has never pitched in the major leagues, he can become a free agent if Texas doesn’t bring him up to the big club by June 15.

Righthander Jose Silva, a longshot to earn a spot on the big club, may be nearly as big a longshot to remain in the organization at all. While he’s set to earn $400,000 if he makes the team, his split contract calls for $10,000 a month if he’s assigned to Oklahoma. He apparently has an opportunity to make $25,000 monthly pitching in Mexico, and he’s said he won’t report to AAA unless the Rangers were to indicate that his chances of getting to Texas during the season were good.

The Rangers will scrimmage Tuesday and Wednesday.

Today, the Rangers and Royals will stage a home-run hitting contest, pitting Kevin Mench, Adam Hyzdu, and Ian Gac against Kansas City uberprospect Alex Gordon, former Ranger Chad Allen, and former RedHawk Chris Richard.

Maddox Joseph McDougall was born February 10.

There were no Ranger prospects in Baseball America’s top 50 rankings.

Outfielder Jason Romano signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee.

Ramon Nivar, who signed a minor league deal with St. Louis in November, arrived in camp with a torn knee ligament that he suffered during winter ball.

Can you name anybody in team sports, active or not, who has or had a more consistent impact in a smaller role than the Mavericks’ Darrell Armstrong? Even Steve Tasker had more cred.

Back On September 17, I made this comment about the band Live, which in their heyday was among my favorites: "By the way, I believe the percentage of Live songs that contain the word ‘river’ or ‘water’ is roughly equal to the percentage of Newberg Reports that contain the word ‘baseball.’"

This is no joke: the first single off the band’s upcoming release is called "The River."

It’s not the purest of sports, but short track speedskating is really cool, and Apolo Anton Ohno has to be a top 10 Olympic athlete to watch.

Seeing Ohno shred the track reminded me of a hypothesis I advanced several Bound Editions ago, about Deion Sanders being a more effective punt returner to his right than to his left, because of the counterclockwise motion running the bases all those years. (Try running to second base by rounding third instead of first; see which gets you there faster.)

Bet Ohno would return punts to his right, too.

R.J. Anderson, too, come to think of it.

I’ll be in Surprise in a couple weeks, spending most of my time on the minor league side of the complex to get a firsthand look at Anderson and over 100 other players that Mike Hindman and I will write about all year.

I sort of figured that, by time I got to camp, Thomas Diamond’s non-roster invite would have concluded and he’d be back on the minor league side. Not so sure now.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

The Newberg Report: February 22

There are days when you can use a bit of a lift, and so when baseball offers you a message from your team’s manager, delivered not only to his troops but also to the press, that he expects to be playing eight months from now when 22 other teams have gone home, you accept it as a small gift.

And maybe it was that momentary boost you got, but that vision of mid-October baseball might have included a new player that wasn’t on the Ranger radar a couple weeks ago, let alone anyone else’s.

Don’t get me wrong: Erubiel Durazo is not going to be the difference between Texas making the playoffs and not, but it’s easy to imagine that if this team does fulfill the expectations of its manager, its owner, and every player who laces ’em up in 2006, Durazo could be a factor.

The Rangers signed Durazo to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp on Tuesday, and he was in uniform for the club’s first full-squad workout. The 31-year-old DH-first baseman may have health questions, and doesn’t have a clear role here even if he’s ready to go, but it’s an interesting addition.

Two immediate reactions:

First, the litmus test. Any time Texas loses a player or adds one, my gut instinct is generally informed by the following question: Would I be upset if the player ended up with Oakland or the Angels? If Durazo had reupped with the A’s or signed with LAAA, yeah, that would bother me.

Second, the lumbering left-handed hitter made me think of athletic, right-handed pitcher Chris Carpenter.

After Carpenter fought through a miserable 2002 season, during which he spent three stints on the disabled list and had shoulder surgery, Toronto released him. St. Louis signed the 27-year-old to a league-minimum contract three months after his torn labrum was repaired, knowing it wouldn’t get a thing out of him in 2003. He would rehabilitate all year, making eight minor league appearances, and the Cardinals declined a $2 million option — before signing him to another league-minimum deal for 2004, with another $2 million option.

Carpenter then went 15-5, 3.46 in 2004, and St. Louis picked the option up for 2005. Once the 2005 season was underway, Carpenter signed a two-year extension for $13 million, and he’d go on to win the Cy Young with a 21-5, 2.83 campaign.

This isn’t to suggest that Durazo is going to win an MVP award in the next couple years — or that Texas is going to have to nurse him back to health for a full season — but I wonder if the Rangers didn’t make this move with 2007 in mind, rather than 2006.

I say that not so much because of Durazo’s health — he had Tommy John surgery in July but insists that he’s 100 percent — but because he doesn’t appear at the moment to fit. Can the Rangers, likely going with only a four-man bench, afford to keep a guy like Durazo, who is a subpar first baseman? (On this team, it wouldn’t matter if he was a brilliant defender, of course.) Considering three of its infielders never rest and a guy as versatile as Mark DeRosa is around, maybe so. But surely not if David Dellucci and Phil Nevin are both on the roster.

But that’s the thing: Dellucci and Nevin are free agents after this season. Durazo is probably here only as a low-cost insurance policy against a spring injury to one of them. But if Durazo sticks, somehow, he could be part of the 2007 picture when Nevin will almost certainly be gone and Dellucci (if he repeats his 2005) could test free agency.

The deal Durazo signed allows him to leave if Texas hasn’t put him on the big league roster by March 29. If he does make the club, he’ll earn between $500,000 and slightly more than $1 million, but barring injury, it’s hard to imagine there being room for him — unless Nevin capitalizes on Mark Teixeira’s WBC sabbatical and plays himself into a trade, or plays so poorly that the Rangers decide to release him and eat his massive contract.

If circumstances put Durazo on the team, you can expect him to be productive. The former Diamondback and Athletic is a lifetime .281/.381/.487 hitter in his seven big league seasons and a .338/.432/.513 hitter in 80 Ameriquest Field at-bats. Should Ian Kinsler struggle at the plate early in the season, Durazo would be a heck of a weapon to bring off the bench in the late innings, hitting once for Kinsler with DeRosa moving in to play defense. He could also DH from time to time with Dellucci getting some time in the outfield.

The signing of Durazo isn’t great news for Jason Botts, but chances are that Botts wasn’t going to begin the year in Arlington regardless of the circumstances.

Durazo will play for his native Mexico in the WBC, but before and after he’ll get a chance to audition for a job with Texas and, frankly, for the other 29 teams. I just don’t want to see him wearing an Angels uniform in April.

Tom Hicks, who addressed the team yesterday, told reporters that he personally met with Roger Clemens at the pitcher’s home outside Houston two weeks ago.

Dellucci (Italy) and Francisco Cordero (Dominican Republic) are considering withdrawing from WBC competition. Hopefully, Cordero will make that decision final soon. The righthander felt a twinge in his shoulder a few days ago, and is throwing off flat ground rather than the mound.

Righthander Adam Eaton sat out Sunday’s workouts with back spasms but was back on the field Monday.

With non-roster catchers Nick Trzesniak (back) and Keith McDonald (knee) dealing with barks, Kevin Richardson has come over from minor league camp.

Mike Hindman’s sensational Prospect Previews series continued Monday with his analysis of the top five catchers in the Rangers system. Next: relief pitchers.

Jack Gordon Teixeira was born on Monday. D’Angelo Jimenez Jr. was born last Wednesday.

Infielder Marshall McDougall will report to camp after his wife gives birth later this month. He’s expected to begin the year on the disabled list, following off-season left wrist surgery.

A local columnist made a mistake a couple days ago, suggesting that Texas can keep Rule 5 lefthander Fabio Castro by either keeping him on the major league roster all season or working out a trade with the White Sox. Not so. It’s true that teams often attempt to make a trade with a Rule 5 pick’s original club in order to keep him on the farm (Mitch Williams, Marshall McDougall), but to do so the drafting team has to get the player through league-wide waivers first. There’s zero chance that the Rangers will be able to get Castro, the December draft’s top overall pick, through waivers. He’ll either break camp on the Rangers’ Opening Day staff or be with another organization in April — unless he lands on the disabled list.

Speaking of Castro, when Kansas City used the draft’s first pick to take him from Chicago before trading him to Texas in a prearranged trade for Esteban German, it was thought that the Royals made the deal because they envisioned German as a potential leadoff-hitting second baseman. Then they signed Mark Grudzielanek. And now, word out of Kansas City’s camp is that German will have to fight Joe McEwing off to even make the club in a bench role.

Baseball Prospectus names Kinsler the number 39 prospect in baseball, and Thomas Diamond one of 15 honorable mentions beyond the top 50.

Baseball America has yet to publish its full Top 100 Prospects list, but in the back half, Edison Volquez (56), John Danks (59), and Thomas Diamond (72) show up. Executive editor Jim Callis notes that Joaquin Arias was number 101.

Arias has reportedly put on eight pounds over the winter, reporting at 163. That’s right — he gained eight pounds.

A.J. Preller, who has helped revitalize the Rangers’ presence in Latin America, has been promoted from manager of pro and international scouting to director of pro and international scouting. Jake Krug, who works with amateur scouting director Ron Hopkins on the June draft, was promoted from assistant in baseball operations to manager of baseball operations. Bobby Crook moves from the Rangers’ media relations department into baseball operations.

Philadelphia has hired Scott Franzke to join its radio broadcast team. The Dallas native, who for the last four years handled Rangers pregame and postgame duties on KRLD 1080, will do play-by-play for the fifth and sixth innings of all Phillies games and also handle the club’s pregame and postgame shows.

Former Rangers Carlos Almanzar (Atlanta), Kevin Gryboski (Washington), Chad Allen (Kansas City), Benji Gil (Kansas City), and Scott Erickson (Yankees) signed minor league contracts with invites to big league spring training.

Pedro Astacio is said to be nearing a decision on whether to sign with San Diego or Washington.

The Cubs gave Juan Gonzalez a workout but evidently decided against offering him a non-roster invite.

Now that all compensation-classified free agents have signed, the 2006 draft has been set. The second-round pick that Texas forfeits to Cleveland for the signing of Kevin Millwood will be the 56th pick overall.

For grins: recent number 56 picks have included second baseman Jason Bourgeois (Texas, 2000); shortstop J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee, 2001); first baseman Brian Dopirak (Cubs, 2002); shortstop Jeff Flaig (Seattle, 2003); outfielder Jon Zeringue (Arizona, 2004); and righthander Chris Mason (Tampa Bay, 2005). It’s a $600,000-$700,000 pick, and doesn’t always pay off.

Did you catch Jimmy Johnson’s cameo on "The Shield" last night — trying to convince the strike team that the perp they were looking for was "Terry"? Johnson’s scruffy wino character’s name: "J.J."

Sorry if today’s effort seems a little disjointed; my head’s just not right with ball at the moment.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

The Newberg Report: February 19

You never expect a professional ballclub to take lightly the job it has to do.  The stakes aren’t as high in training camp as they are in the post-season, but the mission is just as important.  On a team like the Rangers, led by the resolve of Michael Young and Mark Teixeira and the intensity of Buck Showalter, you don’t worry about how hard they will work or how prepared they will be or how equipped they will be to deal with adversity.

As a fan, when you hear the news, after pitchers and catchers have reported but before the full squad’s first workout, that Angela Showalter just had a mass removed from her breast and that Rudy Jaramillo has prostate cancer, you don’t even give a moment’s thought to what sort of impact it could have on the ballclub.  It’s a credit to the team that this is about Rudy and Angela, and only about Rudy and Angela.

If anything, it might make the club even more focused.

Angela’s biopsy, happily, was negative.  Rudy will have surgery in a month and plans to be back in uniform by time Texas takes the field on April 3 against Boston.  Nobody doubts that he’ll do it.

Like Jim Reeves wrote in Saturday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "When Rudy, one of the most respected hitting instructors in the game, told me Friday that he has prostate cancer, naturally I felt bad.

"For the cancer."

Rudy and Angela are both tough, and smart.  There’s no honor in letting a feeling of invincibility stand in the way of getting checked.  Fear is no excuse, either.

Angela and Buck don’t need my thoughts and prayers, and neither do Rudy and Shelley. But they’ve got them.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to texasrangers.com.  This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.