THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 11, 2007

Less than a week until the glorious pop of stitched cowhide against stitched full-grain leather, and the squeak-scrape of metal cleats, a sound that should be aversive but is anything but. For some of us it’s classical music.

So was this, in Gil LeBreton’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram column this morning, recounting Ron Washington’s meeting with Michael Young and Mark Teixeira shortly after he was named the Rangers’ new manager in November:

“This is your team,” Washington told his two stars.

It’s the players’ clubhouse, he was telling them. The players swing the bats. They win or lose the games.

Washington wasn’t dodging any responsibilities. Instead, he was empowering Young and Teixeira to take charge — to be the team leaders that they need to be.

If reading that doesn’t get you going, it’s doubtful that spikes and mitts will, either. Can’t wait for Camp Washington to get underway.

So there are some people close to the game who think Alex Rodriguez may exercise his contractual right to void the final three years of his deal after this season. While I have a hard time believing A-Rod would opt out of a guaranteed $81 million that would leave him at just age 35 at the conclusion of the deal, set that discussion aside for now: How great would it be if voiding his current deal relieved Texas of its continuing financial obligations? It probably wouldn’t if this is just Scott Boras posturing to get the Yankees to extend the existing deal, but this could get interesting.

MLB has changed its draft rules for the sandwich rounds to ensure that all supplemental picks awarded for the loss of Type A free agents are made before any Type B supplemental picks. Makes sense. And if I’m interpreting the provisions correctly, the Rangers will pick as follows in the first three rounds:

FIRST: 17, 24
SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST: 35, 44, 54
SECOND: 81 (could move up a spot if Arizona’s 2006 first-rounder, righthander Max Scherzer, signs with the Diamondbacks; could drop a spot if a team other than the Yankees signs Ron Villone)
THIRD: 111 (same contingencies)

The Rangers’ draft power is accentuated by the common assessment that this stands to be one of the best draft crops in years, particularly at the high school level. The Texas farm system, through graduations and trades, has gone lately from being considered middle of the pack to among the league’s thinnest, but the organization has a real chance to change that with an impact draft in June and a continuation of its resurgence in Latin America.

John Sickels grades Rangers prospects as follows in his “Baseball Prospect Book 2007” (listed alphabetically within category):

A- : Eric Hurley (number 11 pitching prospect in baseball)

B : Thomas Diamond, Kasey Kiker, John Mayberry Jr., Edinson Volquez (number 40 pitching prospect in baseball)

B- : Wes Littleton, Taylor Teagarden, Chad Tracy

C+ : Joaquin Arias, Jason Botts, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, German Duran, Emerson Frostad, Danny Ray Herrera, Marcus Lemon, Josh Rupe, Anthony Webster

C : Brandon Boggs, Jake Brigham, Francisco Cruceta, Armando Galarraga, Craig Gentry, Grant Gerrard, Nate Gold, Daniel Haigwood, Ben Harrison, Tug Hulett, Kevin Mahar, Travis Metcalf, Steve Murphy, Omar Poveda, Johnny Whittleman

Hurley is the first Rangers prospect to earn more than a B+ from Sickels, a notoriously tough grader, since he gave Mark Teixeira an “A” before the 2003 season.

Sickels’s book, as usual, is loaded with great information and analysis. You should buy it.

A little clarification on that Mets deal with Chan Ho Park, first reported to be worth $3 million: Park is guaranteed only $600,000, with an opportunity based on innings pitched to earn an additional $2.4 million.

Lefthander Jeff Fassero retired.

There will be a pot of coffee brewing on the 20th floor at Bryan Tower in downtown Dallas in about 15 hours. I won’t drink any of it myself, but it’s gonna be really cool that there will be a pot of coffee brewing, nonetheless.

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

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