THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 20, 2007

The good news about Sammy Sosa not being a pitcher is that the dozen or so local television reports filed so far from Surprise have focused largely on Ron Washington’s positive energy, which is what, from a media standpoint, this camp should be about. Sosa is expected to report to camp by Thursday’s deadline for position players to do so, and with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Friday, you can bet that next weekend’s Sunday packages on the local news will be Sosa-intensive. And probably not for the reasons Sosa was brought in.

But for now, the stories are about the good vibe going forward, and we should get a few more days of that before reporters start to dredge up the past.

Washington has rearranged the Surprise clubhouse. Pitchers and position players are no longer grouped with each other, and players aren’t sorted by native tongue, either.

Their lockers are all marked with nameplates done in a very good-looking late-’90s Rangers red.

Though Texas is taking things slow with him, righthander Eric Gagne has had no issues with his back or elbow. He threw 37 low-intensity pitches off a mound yesterday with no residual soreness or stiffness. He’ll throw again tomorrow.

Righthander Kameron Loe cut a cold, rainy workout short yesterday with stiffness in a glute muscle. Righthander Thomas Diamond has a mild case of elbow tendinitis and an ingrown toenail and was held out of the first round of bullpen sides. He’s scheduled to throw off a mound tomorrow. Lefthander A.J. Murray, added to the 40-man roster in November, is on a limited regimen as he comes back from shoulder surgery.

As expected, righthander Wes Littleton goes into camp with an inside lane in the race for bullpen spots. Gagne, Akinori Otsuka, C.J. Wilson, Ron Mahay, and Littleton are penciled in for jobs, meaning righthanders Rick Bauer, Joaquin Benoit, Frankie Francisco, Scott Feldman, Willie Eyre, Franklyn German, and Mike Wood are battling for what is likely just a pair of jobs.

As for the fifth spot in the rotation, righthanders Josh Rupe, Loe, Edinson Volquez, Jamey Wright, and Francisco Cruceta and lefthanders Bruce Chen, John Koronka, and John Rheinecker go in as candidates, and it’s possible that a couple of them could enter the bullpen mix as they fall out of contention for the starting role.

Righthanders Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando, as you know, remain in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues, and righthander Jose Vargas was delayed by the visa process as well.

Outfielder Brad Wilkerson reported early, telling reporters that he thinks it will take all of camp and part of the season before he feels 100 percent following August surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

Other position players who have shown up despite not having to do so until Thursday include Hank Blalock, Ian Kinsler, Kenny Lofton, Jason Botts, Marlon Byrd, Drew Meyer, and Nate Gold.

Righthander Vicente Padilla spoke yesterday. Actually had a lot to say.

With lefthander Ron Villone returning to the Yankees, the Rangers’ draft pick stash in the first three rounds sits as follows:

FIRST: 17, 24
SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST: 35, 44, 54
SECOND: 81 (will be 80 if Arizona signs its 2006 first-rounder, righthander Max Scherzer)
THIRD: 111 (110 if Scherzer signs)

ESPN’s Peter Gammons asked about 70 executives, coaches, and scouts around baseball to submit their choices for breakout seasons in 2007. The player who received the most nominations? Rangers righthander Brandon McCarthy: “there are many, many people who believe McCarthy is Jack McDowell II.”

And lest you think McCarthy merely topped a list of fringy, anonymous young players whom those polled were predicting would start to garner moderate notice, the next four were Felix Hernandez (12 wins last year), Matt Cain (13 wins last year), Delmon Young (the top prospect in baseball, many say), and World Series star Adam Wainwright.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, when the Indians signed righthander Keith Foulke a month and a half ago, they got in on the veteran closer late because they were convinced he was headed for Texas. It wasn’t until the Rangers signed Gagne that Cleveland moved on Foulke — who retired over the weekend.

The White Sox are not only giving righthander Nick Masset a real shot at winning a big league job out of camp, they’re evidently going to give him an opportunity to audition for a rotation spot.

Notes on a few players Texas signed last week: 31-year-old lefthander Randy Williams has a 6.68 ERA in big leagues stints with Seattle (2004), San Diego (2005), and Colorado (2005). He went 1-2, 6.41 in 47 relief appearances for AAA Colorado Springs last year, permitting Pacific Coast Leaguers to hit .306. He was not given an invite to big league camp.

Vargas, who went 6-4, 1.36 with 27 saves in the Mexican League last season, pitched only briefly in the Dominican Republic this winter but fared well. The 29-year-old gave up one run (0.84 ERA) on nine hits and four walks in 10.2 innings between the winter league regular season and the Caribbean Series, fanning six and saving three games in three opportunities.

Infielder Desi Relaford hit .221/.296/.305 for Kansas City in 2004 and .224/.308/.319 for Colorado in 2005 before failing to make the Orioles bench out of camp last spring, hitting .171 in 35 exhibition at-bats. The 33-year-old will compete with Jerry Hairston Jr., Ramon Vazquez, Meyer, and Joaquin Arias for utility infielder work.

Half a year before the Rangers popped righthander Cain Byrd in the 18th round, Baseball America ranked him as one of the 10 best high school prospects in the country. A forearm injury as a senior backed teams off from using a premium pick in 2003 to steer Byrd away from a commitment to LSU. The Rangers took a shot late in Day One of the draft, and retained draft-and-follow rights when Byrd scrapped his LSU pledge and instead enrolled at San Jacinto Junior College. Baseball America called him the number four draft-and-follow candidate from the entire draft.

Texas signed Byrd after his 2004 junior college season but an MRI then revealed a torn ligament in his right elbow. The Rangers voided his contract and promptly re-signed him to a new deal, and he underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the 2004 season and was held back until late June in 2005. He would throw only 32.1 innings that summer — but that was 29 frames more than he’d log in 2006, still limited by arm problems. He retired last week, with a professional record of 2-1, 5.88 in 21 relief appearances, scattering 33 hits and 21 walks in 35.2 innings while fanning 37.

Fellow righthander Adam Schaecher retired as well, after going 2-3, 4.83 in 22 relief outings for Spokane last summer, following his selection by Texas in the 31st round. The Northwest League hit safely 73 times in 54 Schaecher innings, drawing 10 walks and striking out 28 times.

According to Baseball America, Texas signed righthander Chris Baker. The Rangers signed the 29-year-old last winter, too, after seven seasons in the Toronto system. He pitched once for Oklahoma in April before Texas traded him to Houston, and he was very good for AAA Round Rock, going 9-4, 2.68 in six starts and 20 relief appearances, permitting 77 hits and 28 walks in 84 frames while setting 40 down on strikes.

Minor league deals: the Dodgers signed third baseman Marshall McDougall and righthander Agustin Montero, San Diego signed outfielder Juan Senreiso, Colorado signed second baseman Adam Morrissey, Oakland is giving lefthander Mario Ramos a third shot, and St. Louis signed infielder Edgar Gonzalez.

This is what Ron Washington told reporters his attitude is about his team’s clubhouse: “They run things in there. They can do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t cause the police or the fire department to come out. They can blast their music or dance on the tables. Everyone is accepted as an individual. It’s their home away from home.”

It’s an early, refreshing theme in Camp Washington: What you see is what you get. Players are encouraged to be exactly who they are, nothing more, nothing less. In that sense, and others, the manager is leading by example.

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

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