THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 18, 2006

I have one thing to say about the big club today. I don’t know that the win-loss record would be any different if it weren’t the case, but it’s astonishing how many baserunners we’ve had cut down this year — hitters trying to stretch one into two, runners trying to score from second, and would-be basestealers (Texas has baseball’s second-fewest attempts but the worst success rate at 46.7 percent) — and it feels like it’s getting worse.

To state the obvious: Those plays not only erase a player attempting to get into scoring position, if not across the plate, but also reduce by one the number of outs the other guys have to get.

As demoralizing as that is, it doesn’t get any more uplifting than the news that Rudy Jaramillo has been pronounced by his doctors as cancer-free. Jaramillo has been with the club on this trip but won’t resume full duties until the Rangers return home.

All three American League divisions have two-team ties at the top.

In the last two nights, the Rangers and Mavericks have lost three games by a combined three runs/points.

The Rangers’ serious interest in lefthander John Koronka dates back almost four years. Texas made two picks in the December 2002 Rule 5 Draft, taking infielder Marshall McDougall in the first round (ninth overall) from Cleveland and Koronka in the second round (21st overall) from Cincinnati. Neither player stuck, but the Rangers were able to work a deal out for McDougall, running him through waivers and then trading lefthander Derrick Van Dusen to the Indians for McDougall, who was assigned to Frisco. They simply returned Koronka to the Reds.

Texas also lost two players in that draft, as Minnesota took infielder Jose Morban and Oakland swiped outfielder Rontrez Johnson from the Rangers’ minor league system.

There were also two future Rangers chosen in that draft, as Pittsburgh chose righthander Matt Roney from Colorado (promptly trading him to Detroit) and Boston drafted outfielder Adrian Brown from the Pirates.

The first pick in the 2002 Rule 5 Draft, however, was infielder Enrique Cruz, whom Milwaukee’s new general manager, Doug Melvin, chose from the Mets. On Saturday, Cruz became a Ranger.

The Rangers had designated lefthander Brian Shouse for assignment on May 8, after a calf injury and ineffectiveness against lefthanders eliminated the 37-year-old from the team’s plans. Texas was bound to lose Shouse one way or another, as he was unlikely to clear waivers and, even if he did clear, he had the right (having been outrighted before) to decline an outright assignment and take immediate free agency. So Jon Daniels didn’t attempt to run Shouse through waivers as the 10-day designation window opened, instead working the phones to see if he could create a trade market for the southpaw reliever.

(For more on this process and the strategy involved, check the article I wrote this weekend for MLB.com.)

Milwaukee made the best offer, putting Cruz on the table along with a player to be named later — there Daniels goes again, getting one extra player thrown in as he’s done in seemingly every trade he’s made as Rangers GM — and Shouse became a Brewer without Texas ever having to expose him to the waiver wire.

The 24-year-old Cruz was used mostly at third base in his four seasons in the Mets system, with some work at shortstop, before his disjointed Rule 5 season in Milwaukee in 2003, when he hit an anemic .085/.145/.099 (just six hits in 71 at-bats, with 30 strikeouts), seeing time at shortstop, second base, and third, mostly in late-inning situations. His season was such a disappointment that, one year after being the top pick in Rule 5 Draft, he was run through waivers and cleared, allowing the Brewers to outright him to the minor leagues.

Milwaukee assigned Cruz to AA Huntsville to begin the 2004 season, and he struggled, hitting .188/.284/297 over six weeks, prompting a demotion to High A High Desert. It was there that he appeared to have made the Rule 5 investment pay off. The right-handed hitter put together a .283/.347/.476 line, clubbing 17 homers and driving in 65 runs in just 361 at-bats.

An encore with Huntsville in 2005 was promising as well, as Cruz hit .300/.354/.466 in a full Southern League season, playing nothing but shortstop.

Milwaukee gave Cruz his first AAA assignment to kick off the 2006 season, and it didn’t start well, as 27-year-old Chris Barnwell beat him out at shortstop and he was shifted back to third base, where he didn’t have the requisite power to foreseeably figure in the Brewers’ plans. Cruz was hitting .261/.320/.377 at the time of the trade, with just one home run and 10 RBI through 24 games.

The Rangers want to see if Cruz can give them another utility infield option, and since the plan was to move him back to shortstop — despite 37 errors in 2005 — Texas assigned him to Frisco rather than Oklahoma, where Joaquin Arias plays shortstop every day. In his first two RoughRider games, Cruz has singled three times in eight trips, fanning three times.

The player to be named later in the deal will reportedly be identified in late July (presumably once post-draft roster needs are determined), but as with all such trades, the teams could resort to a cash fallback instead if they can’t agree on the player.

The Brewers assume the remainder of Shouse’s 2006 salary, which amounts to about $500,000.

Oklahoma designated hitter Erubiel Durazo had a contractual right to request his release if not brought to Texas by May 15, and he did so, triggering a right that the Rangers had pursuant to the contract to trade him within 72 hours. With Durazo on the disabled list, nursing a barky hamstring, no deal materialized, and Texas released Durazo yesterday.

Sorry that one didn’t work out. But this brings Jason Botts (.308/.362/.586) one step closer to getting another opportunity in Texas, though he’s currently day to day with his own hamstring injury.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler is 2 for 17 (.118/.211/.176) on his rehab assignment with the RedHawks. His progress is being monitored by minor league field coordinator Mike Brumley, who incidentally is now serving as interim manager for the club, as new skipper Mike Boulanger has a detached retina and will be sidelined for a couple weeks. Brumley will run the club through May 21, after which farm director Scott Servais will take over from May 22-25 while Oklahoma visits Colorado Springs before Brumley takes over again. Servais played for the Sky Sox in 2000 and 2002, and was a scout for the Rockies before the Rangers hired him in November.

Boulanger had been named as a permanent replacement as Oklahoma manager for Tim Ireland, who was dismissed after the RedHawks got off to an 11-22 start. Boulanger had been acting interim manager while Ireland was serving a 10-game league suspension in connection with his conduct leading to and following an ejection from Oklahoma’s game on May 3.

Wayne Kirby was named Oklahoma hitting coach, which had been Boulanger’s role. Kirby was the organization’s baserunning, bunting, and outfield coordinator.

Pitching rehab news: Righthander Frankie Francisco saw Dr. Lewis Yocum after cutting short an appearance in extended spring training with elbow tenderness, but Dr. Yocum determined that Francisco was merely dealing with scar tissue. Righthander Josh Rupe and lefthander Brian Anderson have progressed to the point that they are throwing live batting practice.

Righthander Antonio Alfonseca experienced elbow stiffness while warming up Tuesday and is a candidate for the disabled list. Since he hasn’t pitched since May 10, the move could be backdated. The trouble spot was in a different area of the elbow than the stress fracture that limited Alfonseca in 2005.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports speculates that Texas could be interested in Florida lefthander Dontrelle Willis.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette writer Dejan Kovacevic says that "multiple sources" told him at the Winter Meetings in December that Texas offered Hank Blalock to the Pirates for lefthander Oliver Perez but were turned down more than once. Perez has had an awful year. I’d still love to get that guy. But certainly, at this point, not for Blalock, who sits at .336/.404/.537 with 16 walks and just 19 strikeouts and looks like a changed player.

Three of the Rangers’ top four pitching prospects had their finest outings of the season within a week of each other. Frisco lefthander John Danks punched out 10 Tulsa hitters in six innings on May 5, holding the Drillers to one run on four hits. Bakersfield righthander Eric Hurley set 15 High Desert hitters down on strikes on May 9, yielding a run on four hits and no walks in eight frames. Frisco righthander Thomas Diamond blanked San Antonio on two singles and one walk in six innings on May 12, fanning 11 Missions, 10 of whom went down swinging.

Danks followed his gem with two more terrific six-inning stints, first giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks, fanning six, and then punching out 12 while issuing just one walk as he yielded three runs on three hits. Diamond’s encore was last night, a five-inning stint in which he gave up one run on three hits and four walks, setting eight Midland hitters down on strikes.

Danks (56) and Diamond (49) are currently the top two strikeout pitchers in the eight-team Texas League.

Hurley’s 49 punchouts are second-most in the California League.

Oklahoma center fielder and leadoff hitter Freddy Guzman is 3 for 21 (.143/.182/.143) since Texas acquired him from San Diego. His arrival has resulted in Laynce Nix sliding over to right field.

Righthander John Hudgins earned the win in his debut for AA Mobile, permitting two Jacksonville runs on four hits and two walks in 5.2 innings, fanning six. Vincent Sinisi is 2 for 20 (.100/.182/.100) for Mobile, playing two games at first base and three in left field for the BayBears.

Pretty soon we’re going to start hearing sidewinder Wes Littleton’s name as a candidate for bullpen help this year in Texas. The 23-year-old righty, who is already on the 40-man roster, is having a mind-boggling spring. In 22.2 Frisco frames, Littleton has permitted 11 hits (.139 opponents’ average) and seven walks while fanning 20 Texas Leaguers. He’s given up two runs, one earned, giving him a 0.40 ERA to go along with a 3-0 record and a pair of saves, and he’s induced 35 groundouts and only 12 flyouts (and no home runs).

There were questions in the past about Littleton’s ability to get left-handed hitters out with his sidearm look. Last year in Frisco, lefties hit .336 off him while righthanders managed only to hit .265. This season, nobody can figure Littleton out: lefties are hitting .167 while righties are hitting .122.

Oklahoma lefthander Kevin Walker and Frisco southpaw Jesse Carlson are in pretty good grooves, which might have factored into the decision to drop Shouse from the roster. Walker, has allowed three runs (3.12 ERA) on nine hits and two walks in 8.2 May innings, punching out 12 hitters, while Carlson has surrendered just two hits and a walk in six scoreless frames in the month, striking out four.

Frisco outfielder Anthony Webster is hitting .440/.462/.560 in 50 May at-bats. Third baseman Travis Metcalf and outfielder Jake Blalock have also rebounded from disappointing Aprils.

As his history promised he would, Arias has caught fire after a slow start. A notoriously poor April hitter, the Oklahoma shortstop is hitting .353/.365/.412 in May, with five steals in six tries.

Bakersfield catcher Emerson Frostad, one of the Ranger system’s biggest breakthrough stories of the season so far, was placed on the disabled list with a hand injury on May 14. He’d been hitting .323/.417/.710 for the month, and .298/.398/.595 for the season.

The considerable catching depth that the Rangers have developed over the last couple years has been decimated by injury. Taylor Teagarden will miss most, if not all, of the season due to Tommy John surgery, which 18-year-old Manuel Pina also needed. Cristian Santana, the 16-year-old wunderkind, will apparently miss the season due to a partially torn labrum. And Blaze catcher Mike Nickeas, on the disabled list for the second time with a hamstring injury, has played only 16 games.

Clinton outfielder John Mayberry Jr. is heating up, hitting .283/.371/.433 in May. LumberKing righthander Jake Rasner, last summer’s seventh-round pick, is 2-1, 2.00 in three May starts, holding the Midwest League to a .148 clip. In 18 innings of work, he’s allowed just nine hits and three walks, fanning 17. Interestingly, three of the four runs he’s allowed in the month have come on solo bombs.

Texas released Oklahoma righthander Jose Silva after the 32-year-old posted a 6.75 ERA in three relief appearances. Frisco righthanders Nick Masset, Joselo Diaz, and Bryan Corey were promoted to the RedHawks, though Masset returned to the RoughRiders after one spot start.

Infielder Adam Morrissey was demoted from Oklahoma to Frisco and got off to a .304/.333/.609 start for the RoughRiders.

Lefthander Shane Wallace and righthander Danny Touchet were promoted from Bakersfield to Frisco, and Clinton righthander Nate Fogle — who had a 0.00 ERA in 14 LumberKing innings, punching out 20 while allowing six hits and seven walks — was promoted to Bakersfield.

Righthander Jon Wilson, who had a phenomenal rookie season in 2005 for Spokane (3-1, 2.08 with 11 saves, 49 strikeouts and only four walks in 34.2 innings), was activated from the disabled list and assigned to Bakersfield.

Blaze infielder Mauro Gomez was placed on the disabled list with a hand injury, and infielder Joey Hooft was summoned from extended to replace him. With the injuries to Frostad and Nickeas, Bakersfield also got catcher Ben Crabtree from Clinton.

LumberKing lefthander Mike Kirkman was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Righthanders Josh Giles and Gerry Oakes were sent from extended to Clinton.

The Rangers signed 28-year-old reliever Jeremy Ward to pitch out of the Oklahoma bullpen. He debuted for the RedHawks on Monday, allowing an unearned run on one hit in three innings of work. Ward, who was a second-round draft pick of Buck Showalter’s Diamondbacks in 1999, pitched in Arizona’s system until being traded to the Yankees in May 2004. He split the 2005 season between Atlanta’s AA and AAA clubs, and was pitching for the Atlantic City Surf of the independent Atlantic League when Texas signed him. He’d thrown five hitless innings for the Surf in five appearances.

Texas also signed a lefthander named Yoon-Hee Nam.

Washington righthander Ryan Drese has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Season-ending Tommy John surgery is a possibility.

The Nationals’ primary medical provider, D.C. Sports Medicine Group, fired Dr. Bruce Thomas, who was serving as the club’s medical director.

The White Sox purchased righthander Agustin Montero from AAA Charlotte.

The Yankees signed outfielder Jason Conti to a contract with AAA Columbus.

Oakland optioned righthander Matt Roney to AAA Sacramento and designated righthander Chris Mabeus for assignment. Milwaukee put in the prevailing waiver claim on Mabeus, whom Texas took in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft but didn’t keep.

Former Ranger farmhand Ryan Cullen, dealt to Oakland with Aaron Harang for Randy Velarde in 2000, is healthy and pitching well in the Mets system. The lefthander earned a promotion to AAA Norfolk and has yet to allow a run in 5.1 innings of relief for the Tides.

Old friend Fernando Tatis is hitting .317/.379/.460 for AAA Ottawa in the Baltimore system.

Baltimore released lefthander Matt Perisho, the Cubs released righthander Sam Marsonek, and Seattle placed shortstop Jose Morban on the suspended list.

The Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League released infielder Bobby Lenoir and righthander Shawn Phillips. The Sussex SkyHawks of the independent Can-Am League signed Lenoir. The Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League signed righthander Fernando Rijo.

Draft-and-follows are eligible to be signed for another 12 days (unless the player in question is still playing for his junior college team). Texas is reportedly negotiating with Daytona Beach Community College infielder Chase Fontaine, last year’s 18th-round pick. Fontaine, who played for the University of Texas before transferring, hit .407 with 10 homers this season.

The season isn’t yet over for 23rd-rounder Steve Marquardt, a third baseman for Columbia Basin Community College in Washington, and so the Rangers can’t negotiate yet with him.

Whether arm injuries to righthanders Brad Barragar (eighth round) and Dexter Carter (12th round) are enough to cool the Rangers’ interest in signing them is anyone’s guess.

The Rangers hired AAA Round Rock groundskeeper Dennis Klein to replace Tom Burns as head groundskeeper at Ameriquest Field. Klein once spent three years as Burns’s assistant.

Mike Hindman’s column for MLB.com on the Rangers farm system is now kept in blog format, at http://rangersfarmreport.mlblogs.com/. He published a new entry yesterday, focusing on the relatively unnoticed progress that Anthony Webster and John Mayberry Jr. are making.

The prospect video packages that I’ve recorded for the Jumbotron are in the process of being loaded on my MLB blog page. The first two I did this season, on Travis Metcalf and Thomas Diamond, are now available in one click.

Bakersfield righthander Michael Schlact has updated his excellent Newberg Report diary, which can be found by clicking "EMC’s Minor Details" on the website side menu.

Rob Cook’s and Tim Darley’s pitcher and player of the month features are loaded on the Minor Details page as well, as is the recent chat session we had with Rangers radio color analyst Victor Rojas.

Rangers-Yanks at noon. Although it doesn’t feel like it, Texas has a chance to get out of New York with a series split. Sure, it could have been a lot better than that, but in the big picture you’d jump at a road draw against that team, wouldn’t you?

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

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