March 2006

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 30, 2006

I got home from work yesterday and was exhausted. Sprawled onto the couch for a few minutes. Shut my eyes. Erica stood nearby, telling me about her day, and Max was chattering away (probably something about trucks or jets or "Boppis," his chosen name for our dog Pocus). It was as relaxed as I’d been all day.

And then I felt a sledgehammer crunch down just above my right eye.

It was painful. With my eyes still closed, I asked Erica what just happened, and she said Max threw a ball and it hit my head.

Kid’s got a heck of an arm.

(In retrospect, my biggest regret is that I didn’t actually see him throw it –- because I still haven’t figured out if he’s a righty or a southpaw.)

It was a minute or two before I decided to open my eyes. And next to me, on the couch, was a plastic baseball, from Max’s T-Ball set. I couldn’t believe that’s what our 19-month-old had just clobbered my forehead with.

It was the second time yesterday that a perfectly calm moment was interrupted by a kick to the gut.

About four hours earlier, I’d heard that Adam Eaton exited his final exhibition tune-up four outs in, complaining that he couldn’t grip the ball due to pain in his right middle finger, the same one in which a strained tendon cost him a third of the 2005 season.

That news came an hour or two after the Rangers had finalized their rotation plans, giving the fifth spot to R.A. Dickey, optioning both Juan Dominguez and Edinson Volquez to Oklahoma.

And now, it seems, at least to begin the season, Dickey is the number four starter. Eaton is surely headed to the disabled list.

A month ago, Josh Rupe was the frontrunner for the final spot in the rotation. Got hurt. Dominguez was probably next in line, and he was erratic. Volquez was good early, not so good late. John Wasdin was drummed, and got released. John Danks pitched well but isn’t even 21, and he shouldn’t be rushed. C.J. Wilson never got untracked, due to a series of minor ailments, and he landed on the DL yesterday as well.

Dickey’s knuckleball came on as camp progressed, and his track record of answering the call of duty with the Rangers (“posting up,” Buck Showalter likes to call it) was probably as big a factor as any in the club’s decision to entrust to him the irregular role of fifth starter.

Thankfully, for the first time in years, Texas went into camp with only one rotation spot to sort out. But now, with a few days to go before Boston comes to town, it has become two.

I still have a headache.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 29, 2006

With Monday’s release of Erubiel Durazo and waiving of John Wasdin, 40 players remain in camp for the Rangers, with three spots on the 25-man Opening Day roster primarily at issue: the last spot in the rotation, the last spot in the bullpen, and the last spot on the bench.

As far as the rotation is concerned, the disappointment is that Juan Dominguez, Edinson Volquez, and R.A. Dickey are each trending down, though Dickey’s uneven effort yesterday probably does less to emasculate the 12 consecutive scoreless innings leading up to it than Dominguez’s and Volquez’s recent work does to take them all but out of the mix for the fifth spot. At this point, it’s probably more likely that Dickey’s primary competition for the job is someone not yet in a Rangers uniform than it is that Dominguez or Volquez could get the nod.

As for the possibility of a trade, I look at it this way: Say what you want about Dickey, but the type of pitcher you’re going to be able to get with a few days to go before Opening Day is someone another team doesn’t want. I’m a John Thomson fan, but given the choice between Thomson on one hand, and Dickey plus someone like Michael Schlact and $4.75 million on the other, give me the latter. I’ll hang onto Schlact, save that $4.75 million, and go to war with Dickey. (Especially given the news that Thomson was scratched from a Grapefruit League start yesterday with elbow soreness.)

And who knows: Within a month, if Dickey is scuffling (Texas will only need three April starts from its number five man), Dominguez or Volquez or Josh Rupe or C.J. Wilson could be going well and ready to assume the job. Maybe Brian Anderson. Maybe even Roger Clemens.

Whoever is named the fifth starter for now will go for Texas in Saturday’s exhibition game against Florida in Arlington.

Bullpen spots are falling into place. Francisco Cordero, Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit, and Brian Shouse are locks. Antonio Alfonseca seems to have the inside track on a righthander’s spot that Jose Silva, Scott Feldman, and Jon Leicester are competing for. Texas must add Alfonseca to the 40-man roster today, or he can take immediate free agency.

Wilson, who has fought a barky hamstring and shoulder and a bout of the flu, appears to be in line for a southpaw role unless he has another setback, in which case Erasmo Ramirez would have a better shot than he does now.

But the long man role remains undefined, and Texas could go a number of ways to fill it.

Coming into camp, the main two candidates for long relief were probably Dickey and Wasdin, but Dickey pitched himself into consideration for the rotation while Wasdin pitched himself out of the plans. Coming into camp on a big league deal — his first in three years with Texas — Wasdin gave up 13 runs (10.64 ERA) on 23 hits (.426 opponents’ average) and three walks in 11 Cactus League innings, and Texas placed him on waivers. The Rangers owe him only $250,000 of the $600,000 contract he signed.

It’s possible that Dickey or Dominguez or Volquez could slide into long relief, but it seems more likely that the two or three of them who don’t win a rotation spot will be optioned so they can pitch in rotation. It’s also conceivable that the Rangers move Benoit into the long man’s role and award the middle relief role that Benoit was slated for to Silva or Feldman.

There’s also speculation that Texas could make Rule 5 pick Fabio Castro its long man. The club has been stretching him out lately (he threw four innings on Monday), and while no spot on a major league pitching staff is pressureless, that’s the role where the consequences are generally more mild than anywhere else.

The benefit, then, is that the Rangers could avoid using the 21-year-old Castro in too many high-intensity situations (relatively speaking) while keeping him in the big leagues all year (which they have to do in order to keep him at all). The downside is that the sporadic work patterns of the long man aren’t exactly ideal for the development of a young pitcher.

The battle for the final bench spot clarified itself somewhat on Monday when Texas released left-handed hitter Erubiel Durazo, who never got dialed in at the plate (.217/.250/.348) after returning from the World Baseball Classic. The 31-year-old, who would have been guaranteed $500,000 if the Rangers had elevated him to the 40-man roster by today, will probably get a big league shot somewhere else, but if not, Texas is leaving open the possibility of re-signing him later on.

With Gary Matthews Jr. all but a certainty to begin the year on the disabled list, all eyes will be on Brad Wilkerson as he returns to action today, having had an MRI on his right (non-throwing) shoulder that revealed no structural damage. Laynce Nix has been unleashed to play defensively, and he is heating up at the plate. David Dellucci’s name has popped up in a few trade rumors this week (Angels, Phillies), but that just doesn’t make sense on the Rangers’ end. I’d disregard the thought that Texas might trade Dellucci, given the club’s outfield health questions.

Durazo’s departure probably whittles the competition for the final roster spot down to an extra bench player to address the murky outfield picture. The player could be an extra outfielder like Adrian Brown or Adam Hyzdu, or it could be infielder D’Angelo Jimenez, who would allow Buck Showalter to play Mark DeRosa in the outfield without being a bench infielder short.

But the final spot could be devoted to the pitching staff, giving Showalter an eighth bullpen arm and limiting him to a three-man bench (DeRosa, Gerald Laird, and a fourth outfielder).

Outfielder John Mayberry Jr. finishes camp with a batting line of 1.000/1.000/2.000. After doubling in a run on Saturday (to right-center, not unpredictably), he was lifted from the game with a tightness in his hamstring.

Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo had his prostate surgery in New York yesterday, and all reports indicate that the procedure went well. He probably won’t rejoin the team until May.

The Rangers released 15 minor leaguers in the last few days: righthanders Justin Abbott, Chris Cordeiro, Arsenio Estevez, Juan Maldonado, Warren Rosebrock, Cody Smith, and Thomas Van Buskirk; lefthanders David Smith and Estelin Soto (a minor league Rule 5 pick from Seattle in December); catcher Craig Hurba; catcher-infielder-outfielder Lizahio Baez; and outfielders Brandon Cashman, Juan Senreiso, Billy Susdorf, and Andrew Wishy.

The biggest surprise in the bunch was Senreiso, the 24-year-old who spent six years in the system but never could develop the offensive consistency to go along with what was the strongest outfield arm in the organization. Senreiso played at four levels in 2004, starting at Low A and reaching AA before earning an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, but he struggled with Frisco in 2005, hitting .284/.345/.384 with five home runs and 35 RBI in 497 at-bats.

Texas reportedly approached Senreiso this spring with the idea of converting him to the mound, but that plan was scuttled and he was released on Monday. Before the day was up, he was moving his thing across the Surprise parking lot, having signed with Kansas City.

Smith, the son of former major league righthander Bryn Smith, signed with the Royals as well.

Estevez went 3-2, 1.50 in the Dominican Summer League last year, scattering just 38 hits and 12 walks in 54 innings while punching out 61.

Texas traded journeyman catcher Keith McDonald to the Yankees for a player to be named later, signaling that Jamie Burke and Nick Trzesniak will split catcher duties for Oklahoma.

Texas signed 32-year-old righthander Bryan Corey to a minor league deal. Corey pitched briefly for Showalter’s Diamondbacks in 1998 and for the Dodgers in 2002, otherwise pitching exclusively in AAA the last eight years. In 2005, he went 3-6, 7.65 in 43 relief appearances and one start for AAA Albuquerque in the Marlins system.

Kansas City picked up Tony Graffanino yesterday, further clouding the plans that the Royals have for infielder Esteban German, whom they acquired from the Rangers for Castro on the day of the Rule 5 Draft. German has had an excellent spring, hitting .317/.473/.512 with 12 walks and just two strikeouts, swiping eight bags in nine tries.

It means nothing at this point, but righthander Chris Young has an 11.40 spring ERA for the Padres, allowing the Cactus League to hit .379 off him. He’s uncharacteristically walked 11 while fanning just eight in 15 frames. San Diego is also concerned that outfielder Terrmel Sledge may not be ready for Opening Day, as he’s fighting through an assortment of minor dings. He’s hitting an outstanding .318/.400/.545 in 22 camp at-bats.

Detroit released first baseman Carlos Pena, and will owe him just a fourth of the $2.8 million he was set to earn in 2006.

St. Louis released righthander Jeff Nelson, San Diego released righthander Brian Sikorski, and Philadelphia released righthander Aaron Myette.

Non-roster invites reassigned to minor league camp: lefthander Justin Thompson (Milwaukee), first baseman Jason Hart (Minnesota), outfielder Andres Torres (Minnesota), outfielder Ryan Ludwick (Detroit), infielder Fernando Tatis (Baltimore), infielder Benji Gil (Kansas City), and righthander James Baldwin (Toronto).

Washington assigned outfielder George Lombard to minor league camp. Hopefully, Alfonso Soriano has already bought his own outfielder’s glove.

The Nationals moved Soriano from the leadoff spot to number five in the order.

Washington also placed righthander Ryan Drese on the disabled list.

Cincinnati got righthander Jason Standridge through waivers and outrighted him to AAA.

Juan Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with Boston but really didn’t, and signed a minor league deal with Oakland but really didn’t, and now he is getting closer to signing a minor league deal with Colorado that he may not really sign.

Independent league signings: catcher Jason Dewey (North Shore Spirit), shortstop Bobby Lenoir (Gateway Grizzlies), and righthander Reggie Rivard (Edmonton CrackerCats).

Connecticut General Life Insurance Company denied Houston’s claim to recoup $15.6 million of Jeff Bagwell’s $17 million contract for 2006. The Astros contend that Bagwell was totally disabled in January, while Connecticut General concluded that his condition hadn’t changed since playing in September and October. The significance is that this could affect Houston’s ability to meet whatever Clemens’s asking price will be.

Clemens will reportedly attend the Rangers’ opener against Boston on Monday, as the guest of Tom Hicks.

My latest MLB article, explaining the ramifications of the Disqualified List in the context of the Alfonso Soriano situation in Washington, is now posted on the Rangers’ official website.

Mike Hindman’s second article for MLB.com is now up on the Newberg Report MLB blogsite — in it, Mike runs down the minor league players who made the biggest impressions on him a couple weeks ago in Surprise. It’s a great read.

Eleanor Czajka has posted the latest entry in Michael Schlact’s spring training diary, as well as the transcript from last week’s chat session with Victor Rojas, on the Minor Details page.

Schlact plans to continue his diary with monthly installments during the season.

We’ll chat with Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus on Tuesday at 2:30 Central.

I’ll send updates out as the Rangers make the necessary moves to get their Opening Day roster finalized.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 26, 2006

As last week drew closer to this weekend, I grew increasingly concerned about my second campout with Erica. Concerned about how she would handle the nighttime cold, which was going to bad enough in Dallas but certainly would be sharper along the banks of Possum Kingdom Lake.

I figured she’d be OK, as resilient as she is, but I couldn’t shake that instinct that plants in a parent’s mind two things: visions of the worst-case scenario, and ideas (combined with a sense that they’re basically futile, probably) on how to prepare for it, on how I’d respond.

And then yesterday, as the morning chill melted off and I saw her hiking through the brush and cactus, and then guiding Jasmine the horse, and giving the bow and arrow and the BB gun a try, and shaking off that little scrape on Devil’s Island, and dealing with Nap Time (for the dads, not the girls), and braving the mess hall cuisine, I sort of kicked myself for ever worrying.

KinslerLate in the day, I got a voice mail message, and an email, with news that Ian Kinsler had officially won the job he was given an opportunity in camp to win. Kinsler is the Texas Rangers’ starting second baseman.

Not that there should have ever been any real doubt.

After listening to the message, I looked at Erica, who was scaling the rocky wall of our cabin with ease, a wall not really built to be climbed, and felt like asking her to climb down so I could muss her hair with an "attaway," a scene I might have read a dozen times as a kid in all those Chip Hilton novels.

But I didn’t.

It’s human nature, I guess, but it’s sorta silly to doubt what kids are capable of.

So you pack extra sweatshirts and heavy socks and still worry whether you’re prepared enough.

And you sign a guy like D’Angelo Jimenez. Just to be safe.

I’m pretty sure that this spring, Ian Kinsler never asked, "Are we there yet?"

Not even in his own mind.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 23, 2006

I’m in the small camp that says, without hesitation, that “The Shield” is the best show on
television. I feel totally invested in it even though I never watched an episode before

this season.

That makes me, I suppose, the type of fan that, in sports, I hate: The bandwagoner. I

waited through four seasons, knowing the show was around but never giving it any of my

time. Then, succumbing to the recognition that everyone who watches that show considers it

TV’s best kept secret, I decided to lock in each week for season five.

It’s not at all how I am as a baseball fan. I’ll admit to a little bandwagon action with

the Sidekicks in 1987 and the Stars in 1999. But not the Rangers. (Or the Cowboys or

Mavericks, for that matter.) I’ve been there all along with them, and always will be.

Though not in my case, it’s probably most challenging in the Metroplex to be a baseball

loyalist, at least from the standpoint that, locally, the sport hasn’t had as consistent a

history of winning as football and basketball have had. But more than 2 million Rangers

fans visit Ameriquest Field each year, and when it feels like a hair dryer at 9:15 p.m. in

July, you know it’s not because they’re looking for a comfortable place outdoors to kick

back.

I wrote this last August: “[A]s for the Rangers, those years of mediocrity probably

solidified a loyalty that Cubs fans made an art, and that Cowboy fans have never really

shown, or understood. Those of you who were with this team before the Red Years know what

I mean. It’s easy to root for a perennial winner; there’s more character, though, in

standing behind Sisyphus and helping push.”

I guess, in a way, so few people know about “The Shield” that I shouldn’t consider myself a

bandwagon fan of the show. I’ll still try to push it on you like I’ve pushed Jellyfish and

Michael Chabon and “Carnivale,” but that’s not the same as campaigning for you to get into

Coldplay or Stephen King or Oprah (none of which I’ll ever do).

I do have a couple good friends whose minds I’ve tried over the years to open to the Great

Game. It’s tougher, I think, at least for my generation and the next, to make a baseball

fan out of someone who’s not, than it is to make a Rangers fan out of a local baseball fan.

If you believe in baseball, there are days like September 23, 2004 in winning seasons that

lock you in and reward you, and days like September 17, 2005 in other seasons that do, too.

There will be days like that in 2006, too.

As for last night’s episode of “The Shield,” it was a lot like those Yankee series in

October 1996, October 1998, and October 1999. Exhilirating. Stressful. Upsetting. And

unforgettable.

To borrow a phrase from Bob Sturm, it was an ice cream headache.

I’m irritated that I won’t get to see a new episode of “The Shield” until January. But it

sort of fits, in a way: the show is stepping aside for six, and maybe even seven, months of

meaningful baseball games before coming back into my house. The bandwagon is on stilts

until next winter. Old Reliable is back.

It certainly didn’t have the same magnitude, but on its own scale yesterday’s Rangers

spring training game was as anticipated as last night’s mid-season finale of “The Shield.”

I won’t suggest that Edinson Volquez’s day or Juan Dominguez’s day went as badly as Curtis

Lemansky’s, but in what was basically an audition for both righthanders, neither had the

kind of effort that moved him closer to securing the fifth spot in the Rangers rotation.

Volquez went two innings-plus (he faced three Brewers in the third without retiring any of

them), getting charged with five runs on five hits (including a home run) and three walks.

After Antonio Alfonseca finished the third, Dominguez went the next 3.1 frames, permitting

five runs on six hits (two homers) and three walks. Neither registered a strikeout.

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Dominguez is no longer in the race for the fifth

spot, while Volquez remains a candidate. (The local papers aren’t as definitive on

Dominguez’s status.) R.A. Dickey could be back in the mix.

Knowing what we know about Jon Daniels, it’s probably safe to assume he’s exceeded his cell

phone minutes for March surveying the trade landscape for a possible fifth starter.

In case it’s on your mind, Dominguez can be optioned. So can Volquez.

Righthanders Johnny Lujan and Scott Feldman pitched the final inning and two-thirds without

allowing a hit. Lujan is this year’s Feldman, not in profile but in terms of their

anonymous emergence. Lujan’s surge onto the map has been as quiet as Feldman’s was in

2005; while their stuff couldn’t be more different, Lujan has a chance to reach the big

club in 2006 under certain circumstances, just as Feldman did last year.

Righthander Akinori Otsuka is expected to make his Rangers debut in today’s game.

Righthander Adam Eaton will miss his Friday start because of the bruised elbow he sustained

last time out, but his April 4 start against Boston shouldn’t be in danger.

Lefthander C.J. Wilson had trouble getting his shoulder loose for a Tuesday minor league

relief appearance in 50-degree weather, but he’s apparently fine.

Progress for Laynce Nix, who played defensively in a minor league game on Tuesday. None

for Gary Matthews Jr., whose strained side muscle continues to keep him out of action. He

tried taking batting practice on Tuesday but cut his session short when he felt a twinge in

his side.

Alfonso Soriano willingly played left field for Washington yesterday. Had he refused to do

so, as he did on Monday, the Nationals evidently planned to place him on the disqualified

list, without pay and without accrual of service time. The latter would prevent Soriano

from earning free agency rights next winter.

An ESPN story noted that Soriano had to borrow a teammate’s outfielder’s glove for the

game. He’s just now asking his agent to get him one of his own.

Juan Gonzalez had agreed in principle to a minor league deal with Boston last weekend but,

after the Red Sox obtained outfielder Wily Mo Pena from Cincinnati, Gonzalez changed his

mind, didn’t show up to sign the contract, and instead signed a minor league deal with

Oakland.

Kansas City assigned righthander David Elder and outfielder Chad Allen to AAA. The White

Sox assigned righthander Agustin Montero to minor league camp, Pittsburgh did the same with

righthander Matt Whiteside, and the Mets did so with righthander Jeremi Gonzalez (who might

have lost out on a bullpen spot to lefthander Darren Oliver). Cincinnati designated

righthander Jason Standridge for assignment.

Milwaukee optioned righthander Dennis Sarfate to AAA.

Reigning Golden Baseball League MVP Desi Wilson signed with the independent league’s Chico

Outlaws.

Local attorney and baseball historian Talmage Boston is helping organize the National

Baseball Hall of Fame Golf Classic, which benefits the National Baseball Hall of Fame and

Museum. Hall of Famers scheduled to participate in the tournament, which will take place

on May 5 at the Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas, include Wade Boggs, Steve Carlton,

Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Bill Mazeroski, Phil Niekro,

Robin Roberts, Don Sutton, and Earl Weaver. Brooks Robinson and Ryne Sandberg may

participate as well.

Each participant will receive a custom-framed, autographed Hall of Fame jersey, a personal

photo with all the attending Hall of Famers, and a bat autographed by the Hall of Famers.

The registration fee is tax-deductible.

Email me if you’re interested in more information. I have a copy of the tournament

brochure and registration form that I can send you by email.

This week’s installment of “Going Deep,” with a focus on the rules pertaining to trades

that involve players to be named later, is now posted on the Rangers official website, at

http://www.rangers.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article.jsp?ymd=20060319&content_id=1356490&vkey

=news_tex&fext=.jsp&c_id=tex.

The fifth installment of Michael Schlact’s Spring Training Diary is now posted on Eleanor

Czajka’s “Minor Details” page.

We’ll have a transcript up soon of our Wednesday chat session with Victor Rojas.

Carmelo Anthony. Carmela and Tony Soprano. Weird.

Check the message board for a special offer that the Rangers are extending the Newberg

Report community for next weekend’s arrival in town of the big league club and Saturday’s

Welcome Home Luncheon.

One of our own is going to star at the Luncheon. He’s a kid who has his biggest fan in me

– feel free to jump on the bandwagon. I’m driving.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 20, 2006

Francisco Cordero is in, supported by righthanders Akinori Otsuka (who was really dirty Saturday night against Korea) and Joaquin Benoit, and left-handed specialist Brian Shouse. Three spots remain in the bullpen that Texas will run out there on April 3, ideally one more righthander who can pitch the back third of the game, a second southpaw, and a long man who can chew up innings if the starter gets chased early.

The righty, barring a trade, stands to be Antonio Alfonseca or Jose Silva, both of whom are off the roster, or Scott Feldman, who has all three of his options remaining. Jon Leicester is out of options but probably needs to pitch lights-out over the next two weeks to win a job.

The long man was supposed to be John Wasdin, but a rough spring (eight runs on 14 hits and three walks in 6.1 innings) has opened the door for R.A. Dickey and possibly another candidate or two. More on that in a bit.

The second lefthander in the pen is where the real issue is. Outside of the fifth starter, it’s probably the most interesting roster decision facing the Rangers.

Texas brought seven contestants to camp for left-handed spots in the pen: 40-man roster pitchers Shouse, Erasmo Ramirez, and C.J. Wilson; non-roster invites Kevin Walker, Ron Mahay, and Jesse Carlson; and Rule 5 acquisition Fabio Castro.

Carlson has already been reassigned to minor league camp. Ramirez is out of options but hasn’t been at his sharpest (four runs on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings). Mahay has had control issues, issuing walks in five of his six appearances, including the March 1 intrasquad game (overall, five walks to go along with six hits in 7.1 frames).

That leaves, as contestants for the second job behind Shouse, three pitchers in different circumstances: Wilson, Walker, and Castro.

The decision on what to do with Wilson is interesting. One school of thought is to make him the Rangers’ version of White Sox lefty Neal Cotts, a power reliever who can go multiple innings and projects eventually to be a rotation fixture. Another is to option Wilson to Oklahoma and put him on the same schedule as the big club’s fifth starter, stretching him out with an eye toward bringing him up at some point to give the rotation its lone lefthander.

There remains an outside shot that Wilson could figure in at number five in Texas, too. In three weeks.

The 29-year-old Walker, an Irving native and Grand Prairie High School product, has been outstanding all spring (one run on two hits and one walk in seven innings, fanning nine), but chances are he’ll be assigned to AAA.

And that’s because the primary competition for Wilson at this point seems to be Castro, and not because the club believes he’s a better bet to get outs right now. It’s because the only way the 21-year-old can remain Ranger property into April is to make the Opening Day staff, while Wilson has options.

Jon Daniels jumped into the radio booth during yesterday afternoon’s game, noting that Castro has shown Texas a plus fastball, a plus change, and flashes (though inconsistent) of a plus curve. The club loves his makeup and poise as much as his ability to change speeds. And with the exception of one awful outing against Kansas City a week and a half ago, his results have been really good.

Daniels mentioned that there’s been a thought that Castro could be stretched out to see if he could handle the long man role himself. Moments after he said that, Adam Eaton took a second-inning Marquis Grissom line shot off his pitching forearm, and Castro entered the game. He’d go three innings, getting into a second run through an opponent’s lineup for the first time, and he was terrific, blanking the Cubs on two hits and no walks, punching out four. All five outs he got aside from the strikeouts came on the ground.

Here are the procedural alternatives as far as Castro is concerned:

1. He makes the team. Is it possible that he gets the long man spot that had been earmarked for Wasdin, or that Wilson gets that role, allowing Texas to suit both of them up for the opening series against Boston?

2. He lands on the disabled list. There’s a chance that some sort of injury pops up, but Rule 5 dictates that he must be active for at least 90 days during the 2006 season, or else open the 2007 season on the active big league roster and stay there until he’s been active for an aggregate of 90 days.

3. He gets traded. Don’t rule out the possibility that some other team will trade something to Texas in order to take Castro and assume the Rule 5 constraints.

4. He’s lost on waivers. Should the Rangers not find a way to make one of the first three alternatives work, they’ll have to run Castro through waivers. If he clears, they must offer him back to the White Sox for $25,000 but can instead try and work out a trade, by which they send Chicago something for the right to keep Castro on the farm. But forget that possibility. Castro won’t clear waivers.

One thing to keep in mind is that the decision on a Rule 5 pick is not set irreversibly as of Opening Day. Texas can open with Castro on the staff and, if it’s not working out, the club can try to run him through waivers during the season, recalling Wilson or Walker or Carlson or whomever at that point.

If he has another couple outings like he did yesterday, Castro is going to make this team. Toss out the bad Royals game on March 9 (five runs in two-thirds of an inning), and the 5’7" lefty has thrown 9.1 innings (including an intrasquad frame on February 28), allowing one run on seven hits and five walks, setting 11 down on strikes. His upside is big.

Preliminary X-rays on Eaton’s forearm were negative, and the club believes he escaped with nothing worse than a badly bruised muscle.

Righthander Frankie Francisco had a precautionary MRI on his elbow on Saturday after experiencing some soreness, and he was given a cortisone shot. He won’t throw for a couple days.

Laynce Nix is slated to make his first spring outfield appearance tomorrow, probably in a minor league game.

Texas reassigned righthander Rick Bauer to minor league camp.

Baserunners are 1 for 5 trying to steal with Rod Barajas behind the plate this spring, and 0 for 3 off of Gerald Laird.

Rudy Jaramillo left camp after yesterday’s game, flying to Dallas before he heads to New York for March 28 prostate cancer surgery.

Righthanders Shane Bazzell and Tanner McElroy are slated for Tommy John procedures.

According to Baseball America, Texas released righthander Ryan Bukvich, but I don’t think that’s right.

Daniels noted during yesterday’s radio broadcast that the Rangers will look to intensify their scouting efforts in the Pacific Rim this year.

Alfonso Soriano told reporters on Saturday that he plans to decide "in the next day or two" how he feels about playing for Washington.

According to a massively long story that appears in today’s Washington Post, when the Rangers and Nationals agreed to the parameters of the December deal that would send Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and Armando Galarraga to Texas for Soriano, Washington general manager Jim Bowden asked for permission to first talk to Soriano before signing off on the trade. Texas said no, as was its right to do since Soriano was under contract. Bowden decided to make the deal anyway, assuming the very real risk that Soriano would refuse to move to the outfield.

Amazing.

Toronto righthander A.J. Burnett was taken to a hospital for an examination and an MRI of his right elbow after removing himself from Saturday’s game, one pitch into his second inning of work. The MRI showed no damage.

Friday’s live Newberg Report chat session with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News is now posted at http://www.dickiethon.com/newberg/grant2006.htm.

The local papers are now confirming that it’s "Edinson" Volquez. He and Juan Dominguez might both pitch in Wednesday’s game, as the race for the number five spot intensifies. It seems unlikely that the runner-up in that competition will stick as the long man. Both righthanders have options and will likely begin the year pitching every fifth day, if not in Arlington then in Oklahoma City.

Juan Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with Boston. Spike Lundberg signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.

San Diego optioned first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to AAA, Oakland optioned righthander Matt Roney to AAA, and Washington optioned Tyrell Godwin to AAA.

San Francisco reassigned Michael Tejera to minor league camp, and the Mets reassigned Matt Perisho to minor league camp.

New Cincinnati general manager Wayne Krivsky, who replaced former Rangers assistant GM Dan O’Brien, has eliminated the tandem starter program at the lower levels of the Reds’ minor league system.

San Diego vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson is requiring all Padres starting pitchers at Class A and below to throw a changeup every fifth pitch.

Class A and below is where Fabio Castro has spent his entire pro career. In his four seasons he’s struck out 10 batters per nine innings. In three weeks pitching for a major league team, he’s punched out 10.8 per nine innings.

The big question may be whether the Rangers think they can live with the increased walks (3.8 per nine vs. 4.5 per nine) and hittability (.190 vs. .263), both of which you’d expect from someone making that sort of jump, not only because of his ability to miss bats right now — on both sides of the plate — but because of the potential that left-handed arm has two and three years from now.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 18, 2006

Some love for the insurance company. A day after Francisco Cordero agreed to join the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic final four, the carrier that provides coverage for WBC injuries indicated it wouldn’t insure Cordero’s arm because of his preexisting shoulder injuries.

And that was that: Cordero won’t pitch in the WBC this weekend.

Meanwhile, righthander Luis Ayala, the Nationals’ top setup man, will have reconstructive Tommy John surgery for a sprained ligament in his throwing elbow and will miss the entire 2006 season. Doctors believe Ayala sustained the injury while pitching to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game between Mexico and Team USA. It was only Ayala’s second appearance in the tournament, the same number that Cordero would have been able to make, at most. Ayala threw a total of just 12 pitches in the two outings.

Because Ayala had undergone a procedure to remove bone spurs from his elbow in October, Washington petitioned Major League Baseball — twice — to prevent him from pitching in the WBC. MLB denied the petitions.

And now the Nationals are without Ayala, who in three years with the club has never posted an ERA above 2.92.

So we’re entitled to a big sigh of relief, so to speak, as Cordero will continue to suit up in Surprise this weekend rather than in San Diego, where the Dominican Republic faces Cuba this afternoon and Korea takes on Japan tonight. The winners will play for the title on Monday.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters that the organization supported Cordero’s decision to pitch for his country and that the determination to not allow him to play was made solely by the insurance company. Daniels added that the Rangers’ medical staff believes Cordero is healthy and on track to be ready for the season.

Can you imagine what the outlook for this team would be if Cordero threw just six pitches against Cuba today, nailing down a save, and then on his sixth pitch to Ichiro on Monday, dialing it up to try and bring a world title home to the Dominican Republic, felt a twinge and pulled himself from the game, only to learn that, blinded by adrenaline, he’d done some structural damage to his arm and would miss the 2006 season?

Here’s hoping Akinori Otsuka arrives in camp early next week safe and sound.

Facing a White Sox lineup that included eight starters, Juan Dominguez had his best outing of the spring yesterday, permitting two runs on three hits (including solo homers by A.J. Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye) and no walks in four frames, fanning Rob Mackowiak and Jim Thome.

Still, Buck Showalter and Mark Connor noted after the game that they wanted to see more consistency than Dominguez showed, and that his fastball sat at around 90 most of the day (down about four miles per hour from his peak velocity) and his changeup command wasn’t as sharp as it was last year.

Notably, Edison Volquez threw an inning in a minor league game yesterday afternoon. He hasn’t been optioned, though — this was clearly a decision made to put Volquez on the same pitching schedule as Dominguez, three weeks before the Rangers’ fifth game of the regular season.

I can’t remember the last time the Rangers’ rotation issues boiled down to the fifth spot in the rotation. As for the longshot possibility that the winner of the assignment will merely be keeping it warm until Roger Clemens arrives, the 43-year-old issued a statement after Team USA’s loss on Thursday that simply read: “For me, right now, it’s goodbye.” But his agents explained yesterday that Clemens hasn’t decided to retire, but instead plans to evaluate things and decide whether he wants to pitch again and for whom. Regardless of what he decides, he doesn’t plan to be in uniform before June.

Texas defeated the White Sox on Friday, 10-9, after the bullpen trio of John Wasdin, Erasmo Ramirez, and Rick Bauer squandered the lead that Dominguez had entrusted to the pen. But Laynce Nix hit a three-run bomb off former Ranger farmhand Agustin Montero in the top of the ninth, and Texas went on to win. Among the two hits each for Hank Blalock and Gerald Laird were home runs off White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle.

Texas optioned Joaquin Arias (.240/.259/.400 in camp) to Oklahoma yesterday and reassigned third baseman Travis Metcalf (.188/.278/.250) and catcher Nick Trzesniak (.182/.182/.364) to minor league camp.

Outfielder Rashad Eldridge is getting into a lot of games lately, and he’s capitalizing. In seven official at-bats, he has six hits (half of which have been doubles), and he’s drawn two walks without striking out. Originally a fifth-round pick of John Hart’s Indians in 2000, Eldridge (who came to Texas in a 2002 trade for 4-A outfielder Chris Magruder) had his best season in 2005, hitting .342/.519/.526 in 38 Frisco at-bats and .294/.400/.459 in 303 Oklahoma at-bats. It was the first AAA action of Eldridge’s six-year pro career.

If Eldridge is not on the Rangers’ 40-man roster when the 2006 season ends, he’ll have the right to take minor league free agency.

Tim Olson has made the most of his occasional looks in big league camp as well. The 27-year-old infielder, chosen by Showalter’s Diamondbacks in the seventh round of the 2000 draft, has six hits (including a home run, a double, and a walkoff single) in 10 trips, adding two walks. In 99 big league at-bats with Arizona and Colorado, Olson is a .182/.302/.313 hitter.

Very quietly, non-roster lefthander Kevin Walker is having an outstanding spring. The Metroplex native has allowed one run (1.29 ERA) on two hits (.091 opponents’ average) and one walk in seven innings, punching out a sturdy nine Cactus Leaguers.

In a sim game this morning, Brian Shouse faced left-handed hitters (David Dellucci, Erubiel Durazo, Nix, and Brad Wilkerson) nine times, racking up six strikeouts, all swinging.

I think the decision on what to do with Rule 5 pick Fabio Castro is going to be very difficult. There’s no chance that he’ll clear waivers (to set up a possible trade), so he’ll have to make the Rangers’ Opening Day staff or else he’ll be with another organization in two weeks. In six exhibition innings, Castro has fanned eight hitters, but he’s permitted six runs on eight hits and six walks.

The stuff is unquestionably there. It’s a question of command, not to mention how comfortable the Rangers would be using one of their bullpen spots on a pitcher they probably wouldn’t trust yet to get important outs.

Detroit reassigned righthanders Colby Lewis and Tim Crabtree to minor league camp. Lewis has had an outstanding Grapefruit League run, scattering two runs (2.25 ERA) on five hits (.172 opponents’ average) and two walks in eight innings, fanning five.

The Rangers and Adam Eaton have tabled discussions regarding a multi-year contract extension, though leaving open the possibility that they could resume talks during the season. Eaton and Vicente Padilla are entering their final season before eligibility for free agency.

Righthander Dexter Carter, taken in June in the 12th round out of Greenbrier Christian Academy in Virginia, fired a no-hitter a week ago today for Louisburg College, the alma mater of his good friend Josh Rupe.

In the back end of a doubleheader, Carter blanked the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie in a game that lasted seven innings, walking two and punching out eight Indians. The Rangers can sign Carter, who improved to 4-0, 2.25 with the win (32 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 innings), up until one week before this June’s draft, as his enrollment at Louisburg, a two-year school, gives Texas draft-and-follow rights.

I’m reading a really cool book called “The Last Nine Innings,” by Charles Euchner. Using Game Seven of the emotional 2001 World Series, the book gets into the heads of the managers and players, explaining why certain strategic decisions were made, and also delves into subjects like sports psychology, the use of statistical analysis, pitching and hitting mechanics, and the globalization of the game. Good stuff.

Back in Dallas, hoping Texas and Arizona get today’s afternoon game in so I can tune into Eric and Victor, here are the images from my week in camp that will stick with me . . . .

Seeing Kevin Millwood walk over to Frankie Francisco to tell him how much the team needs him, and hearing about the time Millwood spent with Michael Schlact and C.J. Wilson and Johnny Whittleman, all of which made a bigger impression on me than the four innings I saw Millwood throw. And he was good in those four innings.

Barry Bonds’s statue bunt.

The increasingly familiar look on Alex Rodriguez’s face as cameras trained on him seconds after Mexico eliminated Team USA.

Travis Metcalf on defense.

Jose Vallejo on defense.

John Mayberry Jr. on offense.

Seeing Whittleman rifle a single to center field . . . and not believing my eyes seven or eight seconds later when I saw him slide headfirst into second, beating the center fielder’s throw.

Believing everything else about Whittleman. He’s got it.

Charley Pride’s unique workout regimen.

Craig Hurba working up a sweat in the batting cage before anyone else had even emerged from the clubhouse. Two mornings in a row.

Alex Gordon. Wow.

A.J.’s shoes, on loan from J.D.

German Duran, getting the call.

The schlubby prophet at Kona Grill. Sad.

How much bigger Nix and Jason Botts look, somehow, and how good it is to see both of them healthy.

How clear it is that Volquez and John Danks have taken the next step.

Schlact, too.

Watching Juan Senreiso throw in drills. Still takes your breath away.

Grandpa the Umpire.

Trying to remember a Rangers pitcher as physically imposing as Jose Silva.

Micah Furtado, creating havoc on the field like I remember from a couple years ago.

A conversation with John Hudgins, which is always time well spent. So smart.

Jon Wilson’s velocity.

Phillip Hawke looking more like Bob Hamelin than I imagined he would, and Ian Gac looking less like Hamelin than he did a year ago.

Kea Kometani and Chris Baker throwing in the bullpen . . . in Scottsdale . . . in front of Showalter and Connor and Andy Hawkins.

That moment walking by Clint Brannon and saying hello, not learning until a couple minutes later it might have been more appropriate to say goodbye.

Having to remind myself that Ian Kinsler has never played a big league inning. There are six-year veterans who have less of a look in their eyes that they belong.

Jack Gordon Teixeira.

Zach Phillips facing Laird in a sim game, and imagining they could be playing catch in about three years.

Mike Kirkman’s efficiency.

An illuminating talk with Howard Kinsler.

Wishing I saw more of Johnny Lujan and Edwin Vera, Fabio Castillo and Jose Marte, Steve Murphy and R.J. Anderson.

Imagining what had to be going through Ronnie Anderson’s mind as he settled in, a good 2,200 miles from home, to watch R.J. go through morning drills in his first spring training . . . only to see R.J. rolling his bat over his left hamstring between batting practice reps.

John Hart, looking happy.

The Air Force flight drills every morning while driving toward Surprise.

My argument with T.R. and Jan and Hate and Josh, making a case for Ben.

Nick Regilio and his Taylor Teagarden send-up.

Schlact and Kometani and their Kyle Rogers send-up.

How little time it took for teenaged catchers Cristian Santana and Billy Killian to make an impression.

Drew Meyer taking reps in center field and at third base in the same round of defensive drills. His technique and arm strength are amazing.

Hearing the Whittleman’s describe Draft Day.

Trying to imagine C.J. Wilson not making it. He will succeed, and probably excel. First at baseball, and then at something else.

Watching with envy yesterday as Nadel and Grieve deplaned.

I’ve got my eye on Weather.com right now, hoping it’s wrong about those afternoon showers in Surprise. KRLD is on, ready to go.

I’m already in baseball withdrawal.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 17, 2006

It wasn’t my intent going in, but Thursday turned out to be less about seeing a pitcher show me something new or a hitter put on a jaw-dropping display, and more about the quality of the time I got to spend with a handful of people.

Among them were about half a dozen players — some just now embarking on their lifelong dream, some fighting to keep that dream alive, and one who wondered aloud if his dream is about to come to an end. It’s a riveting thing to try to understand, especially as someone who, in my childhood, was guided (foolishly) by the same aspiration that pushes the nearly 200 baseball players in Rangers uniforms to do this, most of them for a wage that they could never support themselves on, let alone a family.

Those of us who dreamed about becoming baseball players dreamed about being Robin Yount or David Cone or Kal Daniels . . . not about earning $1,250 a month and wondering if the three or four years you have under your belt in short-season and Class A are all you’re going to get.

It’s common to make an issue out of the work ethic and commitment and focus that a big league baseball player needs in order to get the most out of what he has and to give his team the best chance to win. We less frequently think about those same things that a minor league ballplayer needs in order to survive long enough to reach The Show, if he even has the talent to get there.

As much as you pull for the players on your team, I can assure you of this: if you get to know them when they are in the minor leagues, whether they got there by way of the first round or the independent leagues, you’ll pull for them in a different, more sincere way. These guys are chasing a dream, and it’s not easy.

Aside from the players, there were several Ranger mothers and fathers I spent time with yesterday, some whom I met for the first time and others whom I’ve known for months, or years. It’s really indescribable, and in some ways unimaginable, even as a parent myself: seeing your kid realize his dream, or at least put himself in a position to do so after so many years of effort, has to be overwhelming, and you can see it and hear it, in their eyes and their words. They celebrate the successes more than their sons, and they take the setbacks harder. But as parents, they get to do that. They’re proud, they’re humbled, they’re scared. You root for them, too.

And there were a few Ranger officials I spent some time with yesterday, too. You see the same drive, the same focus, the same will to win that the players who will make it necessarily have. They are like you and me, watching the Texas Rangers play baseball with a vested interest in seeing them win baseball games. Only their emotional investment is greater, and obviously their accountability is on a level that even the most loyal fan probably can’t fully appreciate.

(Incidentally, those super-turbo-groovy running shoes that A.J. Preller was sporting on Tuesday? They were given to him by Jon Daniels, who accordingly gets thrown under the bus from under which A.J. now gets pulled out.)

There aren’t a lot of anecdotes from my last full day of watching baseball on this trip, at least not that I’ll share. It was more a day about people, and not so much about the stories they told as about the stories they’re living.

OK, one anecdote, which almost generated a Newberg Report News Flash: I saw Ian Kinsler hit a ball the other way.

All right, all right, it was just batting practice.

Yeah, yeah, it was one pitch out of about 30.

And fine: some might say that a ball rifled about four strides to the right of the center fielder isn’t really going the other way.

But I stand by my initial statement: On Thursday, I saw Ian Kinsler hit a ball the other way.

The only person who might have more confidence in Kinsler than I do right now is Kinsler. I don’t even think of him as a rookie.

Francisco Cordero will join the Dominican Republic for the WBC semifinals, as Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, and Erubiel Durazo return to camp. Mexico eliminated the U.S. team last night with a 3-2 win, allowing Akinori Otsuka’s Japan squad to advance to the next round, where it will play Korea for the right to face the winner of the Dominican Republic and Cuba in Monday night’s title game.

I’m holding my breath as far as Cordero is concerned.

Was last night it for Roger Clemens? My guess is no.

After Kameron Loe allowed the game’s first three hitters to reach base yesterday as the Rangers hosted San Francisco, he retired 12 Giants in a row, not allowing the ball out of the infield. Eight groundouts, three strikeouts, one lineout.

The non-roster invites given to John Danks, Thomas Diamond, and Jayson Durocher concluded on Thursday, as the Rangers reassigned all three pitchers to minor league camp. Diamond, nevertheless, will still pitch for the big club in Tucson today.

Diamond will relieve Juan Dominguez, who is battling Edinson Volquez and probably C.J. Wilson for the fifth spot in the rotation.

According to the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal, Texas and Arizona were the only two teams with scouts at David Wells’s outing yesterday in a minor league sim game.

Chris Young has given up nine runs (9.72 ERA) on 11 hits (.333) and six walks in 8.1 camp innings for San Diego, fanning five. Ricardo Rodriguez, out of options and competing for a Phillies rotation spot, has permitted three runs (3.38 ERA) on 11 hits (.324) and two walks in eight frames, striking out three.

Washington shortstop Cristian Guzman has a torn labrum and could miss the year. Think the Nationals might ask Alfonso Soriano to move to shortstop instead of left field? Think the response would be any different?

Milwaukee reassigned Wilfredo Rodriguez to minor league camp, and the Mets did so with Mike Venafro.

This year’s Kinsler (2004) or Kevin Mahar (2005)? The guy who I come away from camp realizing I underestimated, who I now think of in a completely different way? No-doubter: It’s John Mayberry Jr.

One final morning at 15850 N. Bullard, hoping to catch one more story or two.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 16, 2006

Last year at this time I wrote how, in my trips to Port Charlotte and Surprise over the years, the ball looked and sounded different coming off the bats of Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Travis Hafner, Frank Catalanotto, Jason Botts, and Shawn Gallagher.

Add John Mayberry Jr.

His rookie season was far from perfect. A first-round pick out of college doesn’t set the baseball world on fire by hitting .253/.341/.438 in the Northwest League. But it’s easy to see, if you devote about five minutes to watching Mayberry hit baseballs, that there is no limit on what this guy can be.

First there was the Wednesday morning batting practice session, which I missed while watching the big league "B" game but which was impressive enough that Mike Hindman called me to describe it, using words like "launch" and "tee shot" and a couple others I can’t repeat.

Then there was the High A game against a Royals squad, which I did catch. In his two final at-bats, Mayberry dropped the jaws of every player and coach wearing the Kansas City uniform that his father once wore in Major League All-Star Games.

In the first of those two, he just crushed a pitch, putting it halfway up (and seemingly almost through) the 30-foot fence erected 400 feet away from home plate.

In his next at-bat, Mayberry destroyed the ball, lifting it over the fence about 20 feet left of dead center.

Standing 6’6", 230, Mayberry looks like he could easily put on another 15 pounds without losing a step. Right now he looks a little like Juan Gonzalez did when he was a year or two into his big league career — imposing but not yet as big as he will be.

Scary.

Make no mistake: Mayberry is not on a track as fast as Blalock and Teixeira’s were. His development may be more along the lines of Hafner, though Mayberry surely won’t be left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft in 2007 like Hafner once was (as were Catalanotto, who was drafted, and Botts, who wasn’t). There remains some work to be done on Mayberry’s swing and his approach, but by all accounts there will never be a question about his baseball aptitude or work ethic, and I have confidence that he’s going to put it all together eventually. In a big, loud way.

When Baseball America ranked the 2005 draft’s best power hitters, Mayberry was third among college players. Second was Alex Gordon, whom Kansas City would take with the number two pick in the first round (17 spots ahead of Mayberry). Gordon is a monster in his own right — at this moment. In yesterday’s "B" game, the third baseman who has yet to play a minor league game looked like he’ll never need to. He doubled off Francisco Cordero (putting a charge into the right field wall), doubled off Vicente Padilla (going the opposite way), and homered off Jon Leicester.

Often compared to Teixeira, Gordon may turn out to be a similar player, but he’s actually built more like Michael Young.

Cordero unleashed a couple wicked sliders in his seven-batter appearance, touching 93 with his fastball. Good to see.

Damaso Marte has reportedly dropped out of the WBC with inflammation in his shoulder, and Cordero says he’ll consider joining the Dominican Republic squad if asked — and you can bet he will be asked. He did say he’d talk to Jon Daniels and Buck Showalter before making any decision.

C.J. Wilson followed Cordero and was sharp, working quickly as he blanked the Royals on two hits in two innings. The one loud hit he surrendered was a sharp Reggie Sanders single to center. Wilson fanned Sanders the next time up.

Wilson appears to be squarely back in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation, which Daniels said yesterday will likely be filled internally. R.A. Dickey struggled against the Angels yesterday, and with Josh Rupe sidelined for a week, it may come down to Wilson, Juan Dominguez, or Edison Volquez, though you can’t rule out the possibility of a trade late in camp.

Ian Kinsler homered again yesterday, and is now hitting a stupid .353/.522/.941 with just one strikeout in 17 at-bats.

Joselo Diaz was reassigned to minor league camp. In five frames, the fireballer allowed four runs on five hits (two homers) and three walks, fanning three.

You know that hunched-shoulder, head-down, hands-fisted, sideways knee-high shuffle that James Brown used to do on stage? Imagine him doing so while weaving (very slowly) through orange pylons, wearing a Rangers uniform — and you’ll know what Charley Pride looked like getting in his morning workout regimen in Surprise yesterday.

R.J. Anderson didn’t play in the Low A squad’s opener, evidently due to a tight left hamstring, but beforehand he did take batting practice from both sides of the plate. For a guy who took up switch-hitting less than a year ago, he showed plenty of bat control from the new left side. A premier athlete — he not only had football scholarship offers from a number of powerhouse programs but also played in soccer tournaments in Europe — he also looks like he can support another 15 or 20 pounds, easily.

Batting in front of Mayberry in the High A game, Johnny Whittleman singled, doubled, and walked twice. K.C. Herren hit two doubles and a single, each with authority. On the mound, Michael Kirkman was sharper than Shane Funk.

Matt Nevarez? Rrrrrrraaaaawww.

There was a couple at the game with their son, a year-and-a-half-old who wore an Eric Gagne Dodgers T-shirt. I couldn’t figure out why they’d be at a game featuring Rangers kids and Royals kids likely destined for Clinton and Burlington. Turns out they were there to see Grandpa, who was umpiring at second base, watching him get his own spring training work in.

I thought it was pretty cool.

Dallas Morning News writer Evan Grant joins us for a live chat session at 3:00 Central tomorrow.

Michael Schlact’s fourth spring training diary installment is now posted on Eleanor Czajka’s "Minor Details" page at http://www.NewbergReport.com.

I can’t exactly define the "good face," but I know two new additions to the Rangers system who definitely have it: 19-year-old Billy Killian (acquired in the Adam Eaton trade) and 16-year-old Cristian Santana. Both have the obvious presence you want out of a catcher, despite their youth and their relative unfamiliarity with teammates.

Killian is physically mature, and looks at least five years older than he is. Santana’s quickness behind the plate and out of the box makes it easy to imagine why there were teams willing to pay the Dominican product a lot of money to play center field.

Off to catch morning workouts on the minor league side, and the AA and AAA games this afternoon. Should be an excellent day.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 15, 2006

Barry Bonds almost decapitated me.

And then Barry Bonds took me deep.

It wouldn’t surprise me that John Danks has those two indelibly etched moments tucked away, packaged and stored so that he can tell his kids and their kids about it when his playing days are over. For now, his playing days on the biggest stage are imminent — and the Big Stage involves, one day, facing the Cleveland lineup a third time through in a late May day game, or getting in his side work in between important September starts against Oakland and LAAA.

It doesn’t involve facing Barry Bonds in Scottsdale.

No doubt, yesterday was a bullet point day — enough of one that Mike Hindman and I got ourselves to Scottsdale, an hour away from Surprise, something we wouldn’t have done without the allure of Danks vs. Bonds. But it was just an exhibition, and judging from Danks’s comments after his day was done, he treated it that way. The screaming single through the box and the home run to right seemed not to faze the 20-year-old — which is another indication that this guy, for so many reasons, is very close to being Ready.

Danks showed Bonds and the rest of the Giants lineup a solid fastball-curve-change array, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks in four innings, fanning a pair. It wasn’t a dazzling line, but he looked like a big leaguer. In what would otherwise be his junior year in college, he looked like he belonged, pitching to Bonds and Steve Finley and Mike Matheny and Lance Niekro, with Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson and Phil Nevin behind him.

Rick Bauer and Jose Silva (rescued by a terrific catch by Adrian Brown just short of the wall in right center) looked pretty good. Scott Feldman and Brian Shouse were effective.

Hank Blalock, who had already singled twice with hard shots through the infield, drew a walk right as news was breaking that the Cowboys had cut Keyshawn Johnson loose. I didn’t like the Johnson news. I do like what we’re seeing out of Blalock. Two singles and a walk is more encouraging, to me, than a home run, a strikeout, and a warning track fly. The approach looks good.

Jason Botts crushed a Matt Morris pitch 425 feet to dead center — in a park that goes 430.

Rashad Eldridge continues to do something good every day.

Buck Showalter put a hold on his postgame briefing so he could go watch Kea Kometani throw in the bullpen. The 6’4" righthander has some life to his stuff. So does 28-year-old righty Chris Baker, who threw alongside Kometani.

There’s no structural damage in Josh Rupe’s elbow, fortunately. But he’ll be sidelined for a week or two, and his candidacy for the number five spot is likely finished, at least as far as the Opening Day staff is concerned.

Don’t look now, but C.J. Wilson might be right back in that mix. He pitches in a "B" game this morning.

By the way, don’t think that 94 miles an hour is where Wilson tops out. Or at least don’t tell him that that’s what you’re thinking.

Lefthander Jesse Carlson was reassigned to minor league camp.

The Dominican Republic squad is after Francisco Cordero to join them for Round Two of the WBC.

Brian Anderson is built like a shortstop.

Vicente Padilla looks older than 28, and shorter than 6’2".

Kevin Millwood walked over to Frankie Francisco during the morning stretch and toss session yesterday, shook his hand, and asked how he was feeling. The scene looked like something you would have expected from John Wetteland (if he were still here), or someone else who had been here and seen the ups and downs Francisco has gone through, who understood how important it could be to get him back. You had to see it: Millwood is a leader.

Adam Eaton looked good in the morning sim game, facing a lineup of prospects and, for the most part, commanding everything. Second baseman Jose Vallejo made a spectacular play up the middle on an Ian Gac screamer with two men on. One of the baserunners was Micah Furtado, who had singled sharply off Eaton. Great to see Furtado back in action.

Brian Valichka took Eaton deep to left.

Michael Schlact — who was interviewed last night on MLB’s XM Radio show — had a solid inning in the sim game, yielding a Gerald Laird single, and then retiring three straight, inducing two groundouts and a Vallejo strikeout.

Zach Phillips followed Schlact and faced John Mayberry Jr., punching him out on a fastball that Mayberry probably would have hit 2,000 feet if he’d connected (there’s some serious torque in that swing), a pitch Mayberry fouled off to right for strike two, and a sweeping curve that the big outfielder fanned on.

Laird, who drew a walk off Phillips after singling off Schlact, hit an impressive opposite-field blast off Jake Rasner, only to see it die on the track.

It appears that the official uniform of the Rangers’ baseball operations department is a black shirt and tan khakis. No dress code on the footwear, though, if A.J. Preller’s super-turbo-groovy kicks are any indication.

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about Ian Kinsler that’s so different. Everything about him, between the lines and off the field, is impressive. Yesterday, watching him prepare for another day’s work, I think I figured it out.

There may not be another ballplayer I’ve been around who has such a pronounced combination of absolute confidence in himself plus a complete absence of arrogance. He believes he can do anything, but he doesn’t so much care that you know that about him.

For all the talk that there’s been over the last two years that Kinsler is a Michael Young starter kit, that’s exhibit number one. There are plenty of reasons to compare the two, lots of them valid and a couple that are a little off base (for one, Kinsler is an extreme pull hitter and Young may be the best in baseball at going with the pitch), but there’s no doubt about one similarity that they share, to the exclusion of 95 percent of the guys they play with and against: The way that they are wired.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 14

If there’s been another Ranger starting pitcher like him since the early-’90s days of Nolan Ryan and Kevin Brown, I can’t think of who it might be. Kevin Millwood carries himself like an ace.

He doesn’t breathe fire like Randy Johnson or bring the big energy like Dontrelle Willis. But he owns the mound when he’s on it, despite the quiet exterior.

(And it’s not a Kenny Rogers quiet. It’s more of a commanding quiet.)

Millwood’s velocity is still ramping up. The Seattle lineup he faced in Monday morning’s "B" game was full of minor leaguers. And the 39 strikes he threw in 58 deliveries was unremarkable. But he was clearly in charge yesterday.

He’s going to impact a lot of young Rangers pitchers while he’s here.

Once Millwood’s morning was done, I shuttled back and forth between that game and the minor league fields. Among the things I saw:

Ruddy Yan muscling up and crushing a rope off of Kellan McConnell, a shot so hard that it never got 30 feet off the ground but cleared the center fielder’s head. You know the rest of the story: stand-up triple.

Back to the "B" game: Phil Nevin hit another majestic blast. I saw one of Ian Kinsler’s two hits, and again I saw Kinsler remind me a little of Robin Yount the way he seems to power up out of his right-handed stance and smoke the ball right on the screws.

Back to the minor leaguers: I see a coach in a golf cart come over from the "B" game and pull up alongside the field where the Low A squad is taking B.P. I don’t hear what the coach in the cart says to the coach on the field, but I do hear the latter say to Fort Worth Paschal High and Weatherford College product German Duran, "Jump on the cart. You’re headed to the ‘B’ game."

Duran looked a little unsure of the lingo.

"You’re going over to the big league ‘B’ game."

Duran’s face blanched, and the lump in his throat was visible. Without a word, he scooted to the cart and jumped in.

The Low A coach: "Hey, German."

Just as the cart was pulling away, Duran looked back.

"Have fun."

I followed the cart back to the "B" game, where I saw Duran get in for an inning or two of defense and one uneventful at-bat.

Vincent Sinisi was playing first base, not an insignificant assignment. The Rangers had converted the college first baseman to the outfield after drafting him in the second round in 2003, but suddenly he’s working at first, just like Jason Botts, whose year-plus as nothing but an outfielder has taken a shift recently. Botts has played strictly first base for the big club for about a week.

With Botts, it could be a showcase, but it could also be a concession that he’s a better first baseman than outfielder, and with Adrian Gonzalez gone, there’s really no other first base prospect in the system who is ready to come up and help in case of injury.

Heading back to the minor league side, I passed lefty Clint Brannon on the sidewalk. Exchanged "How’s it goin’s" with the Arkansas product, who I met in camp a year ago.

Two minutes later, I learned that two minutes earlier, Brannon had been told he’d been traded to the Cubs. I thought of the day four years ago in Port Charlotte when, undistracted by 21-month-old Erica blowing bubbles next to the row of pitching prospects getting in their bullpen work, I overhead a coach walk up to Justin Duchscherer and tell him he’d just been traded to Oakland. There’s a momentary surrealness to watching a player learn he’s been dealt, which has to involve a handful of conflicting emotions.

Brannon, who posted a Northwest League-leading (and all-time Spokane record) ERA of 0.59 in 2004, the summer when Texas used its 34th-round pick on him, went 9-7, 4.45 for Bakersfield in 2005, splitting his 29 games almost evenly between the Blaze rotation and its bullpen. He goes to Chicago to complete the November trade for righthander Jon Leicester, who still has to make the Rangers’ Opening Day staff or be exposed to league-wide waivers.

The gripers will say Texas gave up a lefthander who dominated his league right out of college and then held his own with a two-level jump . . . for a pitcher who might not even be with the club in three weeks.

The optimists will say Texas just converted a 34th-round draft pick (who stands about 5’9") into a power reliever who has had success in the major leagues. (Nice work, Jay Eddings.)

Either way, this is a trade you make every time if you’re the Rangers, and it’s a good opportunity for Brannon.

On to the "A" game.

Edison Volquez has been sharper, but he did a good job of getting out of trouble. He worked at 91, had a pretty sharp breaking ball, and a strong change during his four-inning stint. Most impressive, perhaps, is the aptitude that Volquez shows for making adjustments, in this case an unidentified mechanical tweak that Mark Connor told reporters the 22-year-old has been working on.

Third baseman Travis Metcalf made a couple really tough plays look really easy. He’s an amazing defender.

The most memorable performance of the day was Fabio Castro’s. The diminutive lefty, facing most big leaguers, got four of his six outs on strikes — and the other two on the ground — allowing no hits (though he did issue consecutive walks in his second inning of work). His stuff was live.

Joaquin Arias made one sensational play on a skimmer that Volquez got a glove on, made a bad throw later in the game, and swung through at least one pitch that seemed to be headed for the Durham Bull.

Had Texas been able to plate a second run in the bottom of the ninth, Eric Hurley would have pitched the 10th inning. But former Ranger David Elder sealed a 3-2 Royals win, and Hurley never made it in.

Josh Rupe, whose velocity was down in his Sunday effort, has pain and stiffness in his right elbow and has headed back to the Metroplex for an MRI. Stay tuned.

This headline scared me this morning: "Padilla will have Tommy John surgery."

It’s Mets pitcher Juan Padilla.

The Rangers are evidently talking casually to Boston about David Wells.

Texas optioned Wes Littleton and Armando Galarraga to the minor leagues, and reassigned Ryan Bukvich to minor league camp.

The Reds reassigned Ben Kozlowski to minor league camp, and the Padres did the same with Erick Burke.

Make sure to check out Mike Hindman’s excellent MLB.com feature on five young Rangers who are "substantially better player(s) today than (their) overall core stats from 2005 would suggest." You can read it at http://newberg.mlblogs.com/newberg_report_/.

Michael Schlact, Zach Phillips, and Jake Rasner are going to pitch in a sim game with Adam Eaton this morning.

And later today, John Danks, the ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft, pitches against San Francisco, whose best player was the sixth overall pick in the 1985 draft — two months after Danks was born. Wonder how many times Danks watched Barry Bonds as a kid and thought about what it would be like to pitch to him.

Betcha Danks shows more Kevin Millwood than German Duran in his face today.

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

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