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.

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