THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 6, 2006

Let me start by saying that there is no sports hatred in my heart that remotely approaches the level of my hatred for the New York Yankees.

I despise them.

I sorta like despising them. Feeds my sports adrenaline.

I wish we were going to get to see John Koronka face all those left-handed hitters in the Yankees lineup. If the 25-year-old rookie’s 3-1, 3.55 mark in six starts isn’t remarkable enough, given that he was just one of three players Texas got about a month ago for Juan Dominguez, consider the following.

In Baseball America’s 2006 Prospect Handbook, an terrific resource that evaluates every big league organization and ranks each club’s best prospects, Koronka failed to crack the top 30 for the Cubs, which, according to BA, has a “rapidly thinning” farm system. Chicago’s top 30 included 16 pitchers, none of whom was Koronka, who was listed as a relief pitcher.

Despite spring injuries to Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Wade Miller, the Cubs agreed to send Koronka — and a player to be named later or cash — to Texas for utility man Freddie Bynum, who is out of options and hitting .192/.222/.269 in 26 at-bats over 16 games.

Compare the Rangers, whom BA judged to have the 16th-strongest batch of prospects, one slot beneath the Cubs. Texas had 14 pitchers in its top 30. Among those in the upper levels of the Rangers system who were slotted outside the top 30 were Nick Masset, Jesse Chavez, Wes Littleton, Kelvin Jimenez, and A.J. Murray. Even assuming that Masset and Littleton, based on the first month of the 2006 season, would surely show up in the top 30 now, imagine if one of them were traded for an Adrian Brown type as camp came to a close and, despite having no real chance to make the Rangers staff out of spring training, proceeded to pitch lights out for his new club — in the big leagues.

Koronka is basically doing to the American League what Masset and Littleton are doing to the Texas League.

The funny thing is that if Adam Eaton hadn’t hurt his finger five days before Opening Day, Jon Daniels might not have traded Dominguez and David Dellucci to get Koronka, John Rheinecker, and Robinson Tejeda. Those three pitchers have a collective mark of 4-1, 3.64 in eight Ranger starts, games in which the club is 6-2. Would Eaton and Dominguez have fared any better?

Before answering that, consider that we still have Eaton.

And that Dominguez is 1-4, 9.27 for AAA Sacramento, with more walks (17) than strikeouts (13) in 22.1 innings of work, and an opponents’ batting average of .311. Oakland has already called three pitchers up from AAA since the season began, the latest of which was former Ranger farmhand Matt Roney yesterday. Dominguez, whose one relief appearance came on April 23, when he was supposed to start but was scratched because, as the Sacramento Bee put it, the mercurial righthander “was somewhere in the city besides the team bus and showed late to the stadium,” doesn’t seem to anywhere near earning a look with the A’s.

Credit Jay Robertson, the special assistant to the GM whom John Hart brought over from Cleveland in November 2001 (along with Dom Chiti and Tom Giordano). Robertson reportedly led the movement to reacquire Koronka, who spent part of spring training of 2003 with Texas as a Rule 5 pick but was returned to Cincinnati before camp ended. He then lacked the slider that he would later develop after the Cubs traded for him that August, and Robertson lobbied for him this spring.

Credit Jon Daniels, who is neither a Moneyball GM nor a pure-scouting GM. He’s an information hound, one who trusts the opinion of everyone in his circle and doesn’t exclude any one “philosophy” in favor of another.

The Moneyball crowd probably would have viewed Koronka’s 9-11, 4.24 season in AAA last year, not to mention his 1-2, 7.47 cup of coffee with the Cubs, and ruled out any interest. (If that weren’t the case, Oakland could have traded Bynum to the Cubs for Koronka and a player to be named themselves, and cut Texas out of the middle.) But Robertson, through his scouting eyes, saw a guy who was better than his 2005 numbers (although, to be fair, Koronka did throw 13 scoreless innings in the Arizona Fall League in October), and Daniels believed in Koronka because he believes in Robertson, and with the input of Robertson and the rest of the Rangers’ pro scouting department and front office, a deal was made.

My disappointment at the time of the Dominguez deal is on record (“It’s probably true that Dominguez needed the change of scenery, as did Texas. But as much as I knew that this day was always a possibility, I’m more disappointed than I anticipated I’d be.”), but with Dominguez here, and Koronka not, I’d be pretty surprised if the Rangers were in first place today.

I haven’t bought into the Koronka-Jamie Moyer comparisons, which I suppose might have been generated by some of the media because Koronka is left-handed, relatively slender, not overpowering, and came to Texas from the Cubs. What I see, more and more with each passing Koronka start, is mid-1990s Kenny Rogers. He has deceptive velocity for a lefty, commands the ball, and has a quiet savvy. He seems to understand how to pitch in Arlington.

Rheinecker, in his last three Oklahoma starts (sandwiched around his big league debut), has given up two earned runs (0.96 ERA) on 19 hits (.271 opponents’ average) and five walks, fanning a dozen in 18.2 innings.

To make room on the staff for Tejeda, Texas placed lefthander Fabio Castro on the disabled list with a groin strain. He said he was injured while warming up in the seventh inning of Monday’s game in Tampa Bay, and he landed on the DL the next day when the Rangers needed to clear a spot for Tejeda’s start in Tampa Bay.

Castro, pursuant to Rule 5, must be active for at least 90 days this season — he has 31 active days so far and will get 31 more in September and October when rosters expand — or else the Rule 5 constraints will carry over into 2007, forcing Texas to keep him in the big leagues at the start of the season (unless they decide to expose him to waivers) until an aggregate of 90 days is accrued.

Castro remains with the big club for now but will soon report to extended spring training in Surprise to begin a rehabilitation program, after which he’ll head out on a 30-day rehab assignment with a minor league club.

If Castro does put in at least 90 days this season on the active roster, he will remain Rangers property and can be optioned to the minor leagues in 2007.

Esteban German, the utility infielder whom Texas traded to Kansas City to acquire Castro once he was made the first pick in the December draft, is taking over at third base for the Royals, who optioned Mark Teahen to AAA. German has been outstanding in spot duty, hitting .481/.576/.519 in 27 at-bats and seeing time defensively at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and center field.

Since April 28, Brad Wilkerson is hitting .464/.516/.786 in an eight-game span, bringing his total numbers to .267/.336/.448. In eight games at the leadoff spot, he hit .167/.189/.306. Since then, in 20 games batting seventh, he’s a .319/.405/.522 hitter.

In the eight games in which Wilkerson has driven in at least one run, Texas is undefeated. When he has played without an RBI, the Rangers are 8-12.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the verge of testing his dislocated left thumb in an extended spring training game, possibly on Monday, which would be followed by a rehab assignment.

Righthander Frank Francisco, coming back from Tommy John surgery a year and a week ago, is slated to pitch two innings in extended on Monday and then see Dr. Lewis Yocum on Wednesday. With Dr. Yocum’s endorsement, Francisco could begin a rehab assignment within a week.

Lefthander Brian Anderson, who had Tommy John surgery in July, could be ready to pitch on a rehab assignment late this month.

Righthander Ryan Bukvich, just short of a year since his Tommy John procedure, has been promoted from Bakersfield to Oklahoma. In six relief appearances for the Blaze, the 27-year-old went 2-0, 2.70, scattering six hits (.167 opponents’ average) and five walks in 10 innings while punching out 10 California Leaguers.

Redhawks righthander John Hudgins was placed on the temporary inactive list, which is generally used when a player has to tend to family matters.

Oklahoma outfielder Will Smith was placed on the disabled list with a sore left ankle, clearing space for the return of outfielder Adam Hyzdu, whom Texas optioned a week ago to make room for the return of Mark DeRosa to the big club.

Bakersfield righthander Mike Padgett retired. The Cal-Berkeley righthander, who signed with Texas after going undrafted in 2004, went 0-3, 2.77 with two saves for the Blaze in April, after compiling a 5-7, 2.83 mark over his first two pro seasons, saving nine games.

Texas promoted lefthander Shane Wallace from extended to Bakersfield. The 25-year-old, the Indians’ sixth-round pick in 1999 out of Carrollton Newman Smith here in the Metroplex, is a 25-25, 3.53 pitcher over seven seasons in the Cleveland and St. Louis organizations. He sat at 10-2, 1.61 for High A Kinston through two months of the 2001 season when an elbow injury cut his breakthrough season short and resulted in Tommy John surgery.

Clinton long reliever Broc Coffman has landed on the disabled list. The lefthander was off to a phenomenal start to the season, going 3-1, 0.47 in a start and three relief appearances, allowing 12 hits (.171 opponents’ average) and four walks in 19.1 innings and fanning 15. Texas transferred righthander Juan Jimenez from extended to the LumberKings staff to replace Coffman.

It doesn’t look good for lefthander Matt Riley, who sustained yet another tear in his ulnar collateral ligament and is facing a decision as to whether to submit to a third Tommy John procedure in order to continue his career. The 26-year-old, who had the surgery in 2000 and again in 2005, had his velocity back up to 93 before hearing a pop in his elbow last week.

The Rangers named Oklahoma outfielder-first baseman Jason Botts (.313/.363/.500 with 17 RBI in 21 games) and Clinton lefthander Zach Phillips (1-0, 1.19 in four starts, with 24 strikeouts and four walks in 22.2 innings) their minor league player and pitcher of the month for April. Tim Darley and Rob Cook will have features on the Newberg Report’s winners in the next few days.

Frisco righthander Thomas Diamond and lefthander John Danks are coming off their best starts of the season. Diamond blanked Wichita on three singles and a walk over six innings on Tuesday, striking out five. Danks fanned 10 and walked one in a six-inning effort on Friday, allowing one Tulsa run on four singles after the Drillers had touched him for eight runs (four earned) in 4.2 frames five days earlier.

Frisco first baseman Jim Fasano, off to a spectacular .407/.448/.704 start in 27 RoughRider at-bats after hitting .305/.359/.458 in 59 Bakersfield at-bats, doesn’t believe he’s related to the Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano, the Cowboys’ 2006 second-round pick in last week’s draft.

Middle infielder Casey Benjamin is hitting .333/.385/.375 in 24 at-bats since being promoted from Bakersfield to Frisco a week ago.

Texas signed catcher Tom Gregorio to a minor league deal on Wednesday. The 29-year-old, who appeared in 12 games for Anaheim in 2003, spent his first six-and-half pro seasons in the Angels system before appearing with Oakland’s AAA club last summer and playing briefly for Seattle’s AA affiliate early this season.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus writes that Detroit, which owns the sixth pick in next month’s draft, is “beginning to lean heavily” toward Highland Park lefthander Clayton Kershaw, whom one scouting director is comparing to Scott Kazmir with a better pitcher’s frame. Kershaw, who has gone 10-0, 0.46 with 104 strikeouts in 46 innings (and just 12 hits and 22 walks), exited a start eight days ago with a strained muscle in his side but is apparently healthy again. He has committed to Texas A&M but will never set foot on campus.

Goldstein suggests that the Rangers, who pick 12th, might be the team most interested in University of Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs, who’s had a slightly disappointing year with the bat. Stubbs came into the 2006 college season as the potential first overall pick in the draft.

Baseball America’s ranking of its top 15 junior college draft prospects includes, at number 11, third baseman Steven Marquardt, who was the Rangers’ 23rd-round pick last summer out of Columbia Basin Community College in Washington. Texas retains draft-and-follow rights on Marquardt until a week before the June 6 draft.

Two other Ranger draft-and-follow candidates are dealing with injuries, according to BA. Eighth-round pick Brad Barragar, a righthander at Golden West Junior College in California, is experiencing arm fatigue accompanied by a drop in velocity. Twelfth-rounder Dexter Carter, a righthander out of Louisburg Junior College in North Carolina (Josh Rupe’s alma mater), hasn’t pitched since throwing a no-hitter on March 11. He has a stress fracture in his ulna, one of the bones in the forearm. He’s apparently close to throwing his first bullpen since the mid-March gem.

Tom Burns will depart his position as the director of grounds at Ameriquest Field at the end of May to take a job with Diamond Pro, a Dallas-based sports turf company. Among the candidates to replace him is Joe Kennedy, who oversees the grounds at the Rangers’ complex in Surprise.

Rangers third base coach Steve Smith was hit with a five-game suspension and an undisclosed fine on Thursday following an argument with umpire Brian O’Nora in Cleveland. Speculation is that the suspension was handed down because O’Nora reported that Smith spit on him, while Smith insists that if there was any expectoration involved, it was incidental and unintentional. Bobby Jones is coaching third base and interim hitting coach Brook Jacoby is filling Jones’s role at first base while Smith serves the suspension.

The Pacific Coast League has suspended Oklahoma manager Tim Ireland for 10 games for his actions during Wednesday’s RedHawks game in Round Rock. Ireland argued with umpires for 18 minutes after a controversial call.

San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has lost his starting job to Mark Bellhorn. A 2-for-37 skid (including one walk and 12 strikeouts) has dropped Gonzalez’s numbers for the season to .228/.279/.327.

The White Sox signed righthander Jeff Nelson to a minor league deal, and Baltimore designated righthander Jim Brower for assignment.

Outfielder Juan Senreiso, who hadn’t been in Class A with Texas since the summer of 2004, is playing for High A High Desert in the Kansas City system, hitting .222/.222/.533 in 45 at-bats. It was a Senreiso screamer that drilled Bakersfield righthander Michael Schlact in the ankle on Monday, chasing him from the game. Schlact will be fine.

Lefthander Clint Brannon, whom Texas traded to the Cubs as the player to be named later for righthander Jon Leicester, is 1-0, 9.64 in four relief appearances for High A Daytona. The Florida State League is hitting .409 off Brannon.

The Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League signed catcher Craig Hurba. The North Shore Spirit of the independent CanAm League traded catcher Jason Dewey to the Yuma Scorpions of the independent Golden Baseball League, for future considerations.

Roger Clemens’s agent, Randy Hendricks, told the New York Times that Clemens will decide whether to pitch this year, and for what team, before June 15. Texas, the Yankees, and Boston each have at least a share of the lead in their division; Houston sits half a game behind the Reds.

You need to read this. It’s an extraordinary story by St. Petersburg Times writer John C. Cotey about Ryan Acosta, the 17-year-old son of former Ranger pitching coach Oscar Acosta, who was killed in an auto accident on April 19.

Mark Teixeira will announce his involvement with a local charitable venture at a press conference on Monday afternoon.

And I hate the Yankees.

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

1 Comment

Thanks for the link to the story on Ryan Acosta, that was beautiful.

Mark

http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com

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