THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 24, 2006

Jon Daniels and his crew have two major decisions to make in the next month or so, one of which has been getting coverage every day for a few weeks now, while the other will barely be reported outside of an email newsletter with a focus on the minor leagues. The Rangers’ highly publicized managerial search stands to heat up in about a week, while the organization’s determination of which minor leaguers have earned protection on the 40-man roster must be made by November 20.

Ron Washington, John Russell, and Manny Acta each got their first interviews with Texas, and now continue to shop themselves. Washington is likely to get strong consideration from Oakland, Russell will apparently interview with the Nationals, and Acta is evidently high on the lists of both Washington and San Francisco, which were also both after Joe Girardi (although Girardi has reportedly withdrawn from the Nationals mix). Acta became the fourth candidate to interview with the Giants yesterday.

Whether the three interviews that Daniels, Thad Levine, and A.J. Preller have conducted were more along the lines of rule-out meetings than anything else is anybody’s guess, and it’s probably just a semantic distinction, anyway. Still feels like this is Don Wakamatsu’s or Trey Hillman’s job to lose.

Hillman’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters took Game Two of the Japan Series, knotting the best-of-seven against the Chunichi Dragons at a game apiece. Game Three will be played today. Wakamatsu won’t interview until the Rangers visit with Hillman, which suggests that those two are the frontrunners. Look at it this way: If the Giants or Nationals, for instance, were poised to hire Acta, do you think Texas would jump into the mix without even having sat down with Hillman or Wakamatsu? Doubt it.

As for spots on the 40-man roster, it’s not a particularly strong group of eligibles once you get past no-brainers John Danks and Thomas Diamond, if the measure is whether the candidates are foreseeably within a year or so of helping at the big league level. Among the Ranger farmhands who will be Rule 5-eligible if not added to the roster in a month are, after Danks and Diamond, the following: righthanders Jesse Ingram, Johnny Lujan, Alexi Ogando, and Omar Beltre (who would need to be reinstated from the restricted list); lefthander A.J. Murray; catchers Emerson Frostad and Kevin Richardson; infielders Nate Gold, Tug Hulett, Travis Metcalf, and Jim Fasano; and outfielders Ben Harrison, Kevin Mahar, and Anthony Webster. (Kelvin Jimenez, Aarom Baldiris, Enrique Cruz, and Ruddy Yan are free agents.)

From that list, the players who probably made up the most ground during the summer were Frostad, Gold, Ogando, and Harrison, the first three of whom have been Rule 5-eligible before. For Harrison, however, this is his first eligibility winter, and he’s making a huge case for inclusion. After a breakthrough first half with Bakersfield (.293/.397/.520, 18 homers, 19 doubles, 74 RBI, and 49 walks in 331 at-bats), he struggled in July in his first taste of the Texas League, but then exploded with a line of .318/.378/.579 over the final five weeks of the season, smacking seven Frisco home runs and driving in 24 runs in 28 games.

Harrison has amped it up even further this winter. Playing left field for Oriente in the Venezuelan Winter League, the 25-year-old is hitting .459/.512/.730 in 37 at-bats, with four doubles and two bombs among his 17 hits.

Is he ready to help an active big league roster, which is what a team would have to envision if it decides to devote a Rule 5 pick on him? There’s an extra factor at play here: Texas is so thin in outfield depth and in power-hitting prospects in general that, if the club thinks Harrison can impact this team down the road, even if not in 2007, Daniels may decide the risk of losing him is too great to leave him exposed to the draft. While teams tend to save those precious roster spots for players who are close to being ready, it’s not always the case.

Nick Masset, who would be part of this conversation had he not already forced his way back to Arlington during the season, remains unblemished in Mexican Pacific League play. The Mazatlan closer has appeared in five games, firing one scoreless inning each time and registering five saves. He’s allowed four hits and no walks, fanning five.

Johnny Whittleman started his Hawaii Winter Baseball League season by going 1 for 17 with no walks and five strikeouts. Since then he’s gone 8 for 15 with two walks and two strikeouts. Interestingly, the first streak took place over four games, all played at West Oahu’s home field, while the big run he’s gone on has come in the ensuing four games, all on the road.

Baseball America’s Chris Kline ranks the top 10 prospects in baseball at each position, plus the top 20 right-handed pitchers, the top 12 lefthanders, and top five closers. The only Rangers to appear on a list were Danks, the number six southpaw, and Eric Hurley, the number 12 righthander.

According to Baseball America and MinorLeagueBaseball.com, the Rangers’ minor league free agents include, in addition to Jimenez, Baldiris, Cruz, and Yan, the following: Jared Abruzzo, Brian Anderson, Jace Brewer, Ryan Bukvich, Michael Bumstead, Jamie Burke, Jesse Carlson, Reese Creswell, R.A. Dickey, Juan Gonzalez, Tom Gregorio, Jason Hart, Adam Hyzdu, Ryan Jensen, Eric Knott, Derek Lee, Jon Leicester, David Meliah (wow), Adam Morrissey, Gerry Oakes, Lou Pote, Erasmo Ramirez, Matt Riley, Cory Vance, Kevin Walker, Shane Wallace, and Jeremy Ward. Miguel Ojeda was also listed on MiLB.com but I think that’s a mistake, unless he was dropped from the 40-man roster this month without it being reported.

Ramirez, Hyzdu, and Dickey have evidently already declared their intentions to explore free agency.

Others on the list include pitchers Ben Kozlowski, Spike Lundberg, Ricardo Rodriguez, Chris Jaile, Rob Bell, Mario Ramos, Justin Echols, Erick Burke, and Joselo Diaz, catcher Nick Trzesniak, infielders Jason Bourgeois, Chris O’Riordan, and Danny Solano, and outfielders Juan Senreiso, Rashad Eldridge, and Ryan Ludwick.

The reports are still all over the map, but the latest I’ve read on whether draft pick compensation will survive this new CBA agreement is that it will remain in place, though fewer free agents will have compensation tied to them from now on. Fine.

Oakland released second baseman D’Angelo Jimenez.

Ian Kinsler, C.J. Wilson, and Kameron Loe will host a World Series watching party tomorrow night at the Fox Sports Grill at 5741 Legacy Drive in Plano. They’ll sign autographs and take questions between innings. The players will be available beginning at 6:30 p.m., and admission is free.

Kenny Rogers apparently apologized to Kat O’Brien yesterday for his childish behavior at Sunday night’s press conference, saying it was nothing personal.

Whatever.

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

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