THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 11, 2007

The competition in Surprise continues for more than three roster spots, but the key battles are fifth starter, seventh reliever, and fifth outfielder.

No need to worry about Brandon McCarthy or Robinson Tejeda’s rotation spots despite their latest work, or C.J. Wilson’s hold on a bullpen job despite his. It’s the final spot in both the rotation and the pen that’s up for grabs, and so far Kameron Loe, Josh Rupe, Bruce Chen, Jamey Wright, and Edinson Volquez have done their part to stay in the starter mix, while Joaquin Benoit’s strong spring has vaulted him into the “job to lose” category, meaning the final reliever is probably one of Rick Bauer, Scott Feldman, and Frankie Francisco. Too early to handicap that battle.

As for the final outfield spot, it appears not to be an apples to apples competition. Marlon Byrd and Jason Botts are completely different players, but as long as Sammy Sosa keeps producing and Nelson Cruz is healthy three weeks from now, it appears that the Rangers’ decision may come down to keeping Byrd, a solid center field defender, or Botts, a more versatile hitter.

Kenny Lofton is going to get the day off once or twice a week this season, so all other things being equal, a big factor will be whether the Rangers are comfortable with Cruz playing in center on those days and Sosa (or Botts) putting a glove on. Another possibility would be Jerry Hairston Jr. getting the backup center field duties, which would favor Botts making the club. But the way Byrd is hitting in camp (.368/.409/.579), the organization’s comfort with his outfield defense probably gives him the decisive edge, at least at this point.

But there’s a lot of baseball to go before those decisions get made.

Sosa and Hairston have out clauses on Thursday, requiring Texas to add them to the 40-man roster to prevent them from taking immediate free agency. Unless those two consent to pushing that deadline back, we’ll see some player movement this week, as both Sosa and Hairston are headed toward roster spots. The Rangers’ 40 is full, and so unless Sosa and Hairston allow Texas to postpone their roster dates, a couple players are a few days away from being designated for assignment or traded.

The next report comes to you from 90-degree weather in Surprise, Arizona.

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

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