THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 19, 2006
King Felix is not in Cooperstown yet, and John Koronka is not Jamie Moyer.
Brad Wilkerson doesn’t strike out every time up, and neither does Laynce Nix.
There may not be a player in Rangers history as dependable as Michael Young.
Phil Nevin is contributing, and so is D’Angelo Jimenez, and for very different reasons it’s been unexpected.
Francisco Cordero is still capable of a boring ninth.
They play the games for a reason. And after 14 of them, Texas sits a game out of first.
Bullpen trends can change on a dime, but at the moment I’m as comfortable with Antonio Alfonseca and Akinori Otsuka setting up Cordero as I was with Carlos Almanzar and Frankie Francisco in 2004.
By the way: As Koronka held Seattle to one run on five hits and four walks in five frames, fanning four, Juan Dominguez (1-2, 5.84) was giving up two runs to the Mariners’ AAA club in Tacoma, permitting eight hits and two walks in 4.2 innings while striking out three.
Tuesday was a big day for two Ranger players who could have been lost this winter in the Rule 5 Draft. Drew Meyer has parlayed a solid off-season and spring and a couple strong weeks at Oklahoma into what is expected to be his first big league look, and Nick Masset has exploded back onto the Ranger radar with three outstanding starts for Frisco.
With the Rangers finally making the determination that they can’t continue to play a man short due to Mark DeRosa’s ailing ankle, it wasn’t 40-man roster member Aarom Baldiris they dipped down to grab as a reinforcement. Instead, it’s Meyer, a non-roster member who has never hit enough to match his ability to defend and his baseball IQ and the expectations heaped on a former premium pick. Though no move has been made, multiple reports indicate that one will be made before tonight’s game, and it will be the purchase of Meyer in conjunction with the deactivation of DeRosa.
Taken with the 10th pick of the 2002 draft, Meyer was the first player ever chosen by scouting director Grady Fuson and easily the most controversial pick of Fuson’s three draft classes. The debates were instant, as Texas lacked picks in the second, third, fourth, and fifth rounds that June and yet used its first-rounder not on a pitcher but a college shortstop, at a time when Alex Rodriguez was in the midst of his second of what was expected to be at least seven seasons as a Ranger. Among the players Texas curiously passed on in favor of Meyer — and this is not a hindsight call — were high school lefthander Scott Kazmir, high school outfielder Jeremy Hermida, and fellow college shortstop Khalil Greene. Scouts didn’t doubt Meyer’s athleticism or arm strength or intangibles but some questioned whether he’d be able to overcome an identifiable hitch in his swing.
Meyer’s first three seasons failed to erase those questions, and Texas left him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft in 2004 and 2005, and no team — not even Fuson’s Padres this winter — was willing to invest $50,000 to give Meyer a spring training chance to earn a bench role.
Though Meyer was drafted as a shortstop, he has turned into an ideal utility player: a guy who can play every position on the field (there was even a time when Texas considered making him a catcher), who runs well, who bunts well, who hits from the left side, and whose game intelligence and energy makes instant fans out of those who get the chance to watch him play the game.
After getting off to a .321/.372/.417 start with Frisco last year (his fourth year out of four to spend a portion of the season in AA), Meyer was given his first taste of AAA pitching and it didn’t go particularly well. In 42 games, he hit .247/.301/.354, striking out a fourth of the time.
Meyer redeemed himself in the Arizona Fall League, however, hitting .306/.354/.333 in 72 at-bats, but the Rangers still left him off the 40-man roster, just as they’d done the winter before. He went undrafted in December, and came to camp slated to play second base for Oklahoma, assuming Jimenez earned a spot in Texas.
Meyer had multiple hits in each of his first three RedHawk games and four of his first five, playing exclusively at second base before Tim Olson’s broken arm prompted manager Tim Ireland to move him to third base on Sunday. Meyer was back at second base on Monday, however, and held out of the lineup on Tuesday, as the Rangers prepared to purchase his contract. The 24-year-old was hitting .360/.373/.520 in 50 RedHawk at-bats, including a .417 clip in 36 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. A third of his hits went for extra bases.
It’s conceivable that Meyer won’t even play while he’s up in DeRosa’s absence. But considering that he might have come into the season as a longshot to ever suit up in a big league game for the Rangers, this is an accomplishment.
As for Masset, he breezed through seven shutout innings last night, limiting San Antonio (Seattle’s AA squad) to three singles and three walks while setting four Missions down on strikes and forcing 13 others to ground out (against just four flyouts). With the effort, he improved to 2-0, 0.47 in three starts.
Masset, an eighth-round draft-and-follow taken in the 2000, months after he’d had high school Tommy John surgery, rushed onto the scene two years ago, earning November addition to the 40-man roster and a 2005 rotation spot with Frisco, but he struggled early and was run through waivers two months into the season. No team put in a claim — needing only to devote a spot on the 40-man roster to Masset, not an active roster spot — and Texas outrighted him.
Masset didn’t fold, however, bouncing back to earn the organization’s pitcher of the month honors in July, as he went 2-1, 2.03 in six starts, holding Texas League hitters to a .189 average. But he then struggled in August, and was inconsistent in the AFL, going 3-2, 5.27 in 10 relief appearances, though he did strike out 13 and walked just four in 13.2 innings. But like Meyer, Texas left him off the roster, and he went unchosen in the Rule 5 Draft.
Returned to Frisco to start the 2006 season, Masset got less publicity than rotation-mates John Danks, Thomas Diamond, and Armando Galarraga, but he’s unquestionably been the most dominant pitcher on the club and perhaps in the Texas League. In his three starts, the 23-year-old has scattered 10 hits (.154 opponents’ average) and six walks in 19.1 innings, punching out 16. Consistent with his history, he’s inducing ground balls at a rate (3.3 groundouts for every flyout) as high as anyone in the system, featuring a heavy two-seam fastball built for Ameriquest Field.
If Masset sustains his effectiveness all season, and maybe even if he doesn’t, he’s a good bet to join Danks and Diamond as additions to the 40-man roster in November. But if he keeps pitching this brilliantly, he just might see the 40 before the season is over, just as Meyer has done.
The expected promotion of Meyer to Texas follows a wave of moves made on the RedHawks roster on Tuesday. Righthanders Jon Leicester (left knee inflammation) and Jayson Durocher (right shoulder tendinitis) and infielders Marshall McDougall (left hamstring strain) and Tim Olson (left forearm fracture) were placed on the disabled list. Lefthander Derek Lee was activated off the DL, infielder Jace Brewer was promoted from Frisco, and catcher Justin Hatcher was promoted from Bakersfield.
In addition, righthander Ryan Bukvich was activated from the Oklahoma DL and assigned to Bakersfield.
Clinton outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was activated off the DL, and to make room on the LumberKings roster, infielder Joey Hooft was reassigned to extended.
Righthanders Josh Rupe and Frankie Francisco threw bullpen sessions on Monday. Francisco will throw batting practice tomorrow or Friday.
Correction: Lefthander Erasmo Ramirez did have a prior outright (in May 2003), meaning he had the right to decline his assignment to Oklahoma when Texas designated him for assignment and got him through waivers last week. He accepted the assignment, however, and is pitching out of the Redhawks bullpen.
After a white-hot start, San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has gone 4 for his last 22, bringing his numbers back down to .300/.364/.460. Outfielder Terrmel Sledge (.160/.276/.200) was optioned to AAA. Righthander Chris Young is 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts, with an impressive ratio of 17 strikeouts to six walks in 18.2 innings.
Washington general manager Jim Bowden was arrested shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday morning in Miami and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. About 10 minutes before he was pulled over for running a stop sign, he was allegedly involved in a physical altercation with his fiancee, Joy Browning, who was arrested on charges of domestic violence as well as resisting arrest. She apparently refused to get out of the car when Bowden was pulled over and then struck an officer twice.
Nationals righthander Ryan Drese won’t need Tommy John surgery after all. Doctors determined he has a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow that will cost him four to six weeks.
University of Texas outfielder Jordan Danks broke his right ankle Saturday and will miss about six weeks. The freshman was hitting .327 (including .368 in conference play) despite dealing with a finger injury all spring.
Eleanor Czajka has transcribed the chat session we had on Friday with Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus. You can read it on the Minor Details page.
Kevin Millwood vs. Jamie Moyer tonight. Let’s go.