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.
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.