There’s a wide spectrum of things to get into, several of them among the most interesting developments of camp, but I’ve been tied up more than usual with a couple things besides work the last couple days.
Plus, Kameron Loe takes the hill in about seven hours. It’s about to get even more interesting.
I plan to write a full report tomorrow morning. Thanks for your patience.
It was the lone off-day in the Rangers’ Cactus League schedule, but Monday was hardly quiet. News broke in the afternoon that the Ballpark was being renamed, and that righthander Thomas Diamond would miss the 2007 season due to a torn elbow ligament that would require Tommy John surgery.
Three years after negotiating a 30-year, $75 million deal to rename The Ballpark in Arlington as "Ameriquest Field in Arlington," the Rangers and Ameriquest Mortgage Company agreed that the subprime lender would relinquish the naming rights to the club. The club had reportedly approached Ameriquest a year ago but it wasn’t until recent months that the company was open to the idea of a split. The Ballpark will now be called "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington." The baseball team is the brand.
If the avalanche of responses I got when I sent that news out yesterday afternoon is a good indication, this is a very popular move. No more Liberty Bell in left field courtesy of the California-based company that has been entangled in litigation, massive layoffs, and widespread branch closings in the time since the deal with the Rangers was hammered out. The name never felt right to me, even before Ameriquest’s hard times set in.
One month after TBIA became Ameriquest Field in the spring of 2004, Texas used its first-round pick, 10th overall, on Diamond, a hard-throwing bulldog of a righthander who was thought to be a little polishing away from getting to the big leagues. A dominating first summer was followed by a 2005 season in which he was named the Rangers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and a 2006 campaign in which he led the Texas League in wins and strikeouts. Diamond came to camp this spring without a real shot to break camp with the big club, but the sense was that he would start the season in Oklahoma’s rotation and would probably break into the big leagues sometime in 2007.
On March 6, in the Rangers’ fifth game of the exhibition season, Diamond — who had impressed coaches with his side work in camp — made his first game appearance of the spring, entering a matchup against Seattle in the sixth inning. His ledger looked like this:
Groundout, 1-3. Strikeout, swinging. Walk. RBI Double, batter cut down at third, 9-4-2-5.
Walk. Single. Single, chasing Diamond.
Somewhere in that sequence, Diamond — who two weeks earlier had reported elbow soreness that was diagnosed as tendinitis — felt further discomfort in his elbow area. An MRI was administered, revealing an apparent ligament tear that prompted the club to seek a second opinion before concluding that the 23-year-old would need a season-ending operation. The second opinion matched the first, and Tommy John surgery is set to take place today.
These days, the success rate for pitchers returning from Tommy John is pretty good. Generally the rehabilitation process calls for about a year before pitching resumes, and another six months before the pitcher typically regains velocity and command.
Some pitchers come back even stronger after TJ than they were before getting hurt (C.J. Wilson), others never make it back at all (Jeff Zimmerman). This isn’t a death knell on Diamond’s career, but it’s certainly a setback, and a disappointment. Some think that he was one of the Rangers’ key trade chips going into 2007; if you were one of those who considered him virtually untradeable (a position you’d have to retreat from after seeing John Danks dealt), you’d at least have to admit that Diamond’s presence helped the Rangers’ trade position by perhaps making someone else expendable.
Developments like this one are why acronyms like DVD set up unfair expectations and why acronyms like TINSTAAPP gain momentum. This is why you never have enough pitching on the farm.
And while seeing a kid like Danks traded — which I described when it happened as "a slug to the gut" — hurts as a fan, at least there’s the hope that your team got something useful in return, and the ability to continue to root for the kid against 28 other teams. In Diamond’s case, the hope is that he attacks his rehabilitation with the same intensity and drive that he summoned in stretches as a Rangers pitching hopeful, and that, after a couple years during which he won’t be what we had envisioned, he’ll come back as good as before, and maybe even better than ever.
Like the name of a ballpark.
The time for roster moves that actually begin to clarify the Opening Day picture are underway. This morning the Rangers optioned righthander Josh Rupe and lefthanders John Koronka and A.J. Murray to Oklahoma, and reassigned the following non-roster invites to minor league camp: righthanders Franklyn German and Willie Eyre, catchers Salomon Manriquez and Kevin Richardson, and first baseman Nate Gold.
With Rupe and Koronka out of the mix for the fifth starter’s job, that competition is now down to Kameron Loe and veteran NRI’s Jamey Wright and Bruce Chen.
It’s such a therapeutic week for me every year, a week of dry heat and awayness and baseball. Before the first day is up, I can feel the stress points burning off, and even the crustier everyday issues crisping up and chipping away.
OK, that was gross.
But it’s true. The restorative powers of spring training border on indispensable for me. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I have some sensational teammates back home at the office, allowing me not to worry about things slipping through the cracks while I’ve been gone or about coming back to a work crisis. No chance of that.
There were admittedly a few concerns for me this year as we planned this trip, mostly centered around how much baseball my wife and kids would be able to tolerate, since few people I know can tolerate as much baseball (especially the kind on the back fields, with no concession stands and only sporadic patches of shade) as I can. But the place we stayed was great (bathtub sponge letters for the kids, spelling out their names: very nice touch), and they all made some new friends on the trip, both at the yard and at dinners, and so the success of the vacation for them (Erica: “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on, Daddy”) naturally made it a complete success in my eyes as well.
I should also mention that daytime temperatures that resemble major league fastball readings rather than posted city speed limits help a lot, too. Last year it was sweatshirts, this year sunblock.
Of course, while my week here was work in a sense but felt completely like play, the hundred-plus ballplayers we were watching play were doing so in a setting that was unquestionably work. A casual fan watching the Low A and High A games with me yesterday wondered aloud about the fraction of those squads that would eventually escape the couple-thousand-dollar-a-month salaries and reach the big leagues. The answer, of course, would startle most people.
I’d guess that for a lot of the ballplayers who wear the nameless jerseys on the back fields, March is just about the most stressful month of the year. A percentage won’t be pro athletes by time the month ends, despite being All-Everything growing up and at every level until the time they signed with the Rangers. It’s a peculiar environment, guys competing with guys with whom they’ve bonded as they embarked together as Texas Rangers farmhands, as teammates, and yet fighting for jobs that necessarily could come at the expense of one another. It’s a strange gauntlet.
And if you think it’s a pure meritocracy based on objective numbers, on game productivity, it’s not always. There’s a reason that a kid like Johnny Washington is in camp fighting to get a fifth season in as a Rangers player, despite being a former 27th round pick and despite hitting .183 in his four pro seasons. We may not know the reason some players make it and others don’t, and maybe the players themselves don’t, either. They’re all out there trying to learn, trying to make an impression, trying to show the organization that they’re improving and maturing and fending off the “expendable” tag. Very few lack the fire it takes to play ball professionally; those who do aren’t long for the game.
One of the cool things about doing what I do and seeing most of these guys just once a year is that change often stands out. Seeing Cristian Santana and Michael Schlact physically sturdier than they were 12 months ago. Seeing Omar Poveda slimmed down. Seeing Eric Hurley carrying himself in a way that you want a pitching prospect on the doorstep carrying himself.
Watch Out for Steve Murphy.
Then there were the players I was eager to get a look at since I hadn’t seen them before at all. Kasey Kiker and Danny Ray Herrera look about a foot shorter than John Mayberry Jr. but have that same look and aura that they belong as the big outfielder has. Marcus Lemon’s tangibles are every bit as exciting as his intangibles. Wilmer Font, Carlos Pimentel, and Geuris Grullon: Pretty soon you won’t need me to tell you to remember those names. I’d seen Manuel Pina and Jose Jaimes before but not like this.
And of course, this was Camp Fabio Castillo, as far as I’m concerned. He’s special.
Another spring training has now ended for me, and for the next six months Schlact and Mayberry and Grullon and Castillo will be names confined to box scores and to Scott Lucas’s reports. But there will be more context when I check to see how Taylor Teagarden’s bat is coming along or how Chris Davis’s work at third base is progressing, because I have no concerns about the other half of their games. Speaking of those two, I’m eager to see whether “third base” (Travis Metcalf, Davis, Johnny Whittleman, Johan Yan, Emmanuel Solis) can become the new “catcher” for the Rangers this year, that is, a position that went developmentally from barren to loaded, overnight.
Some players who I will see during the 2007 season made new impressions on me. Kameron Loe has changed off the field, and it’s all good. C.J. Wilson isn’t yet the star that he’s wired to be, but I’ll never bet against him. (Read this ESPN article – it’s worth your time.) There’s a never-ending series of hurdles placed in front of Jason Botts, but he’s never going to feel sorry for himself. Eric Gagne has a chance to make as much of an impact on his teammates as he does on the club’s win-loss record.
Straying for a moment to a different club: If it was possible to motivate John Danks any more, I think the trade did it.
I saw a lot of father/son pairs at the back fields this week. Some of the Daddy and seven-year-old variety. Others who looked to be about 60 and 30. A good handful of men watching their sons compete in Rangers blue, experiencing in one way the pinnacle of 15 years of their boys playing the Great Game on sandlots and in Little League and for the schools where their identities were forged, and in another way the surely inescapable anxiety of watching their all-world athlete offspring fighting for their professional lives while making a wage they can barely support themselves on.
And with me every minute was Max, who at two-and-a-half is going through a bit of that fussy phase that his sister once went through and most two-year-olds go through, and soon outgrow, but those moments on this trip were mostly confined to time in restaurants or the hotel room. He enjoyed his time in the midst of baseball the way his dad always has, shifting from beaming smiles to frozen awe to moments of eureka-level recognition (though those were just as often due to low-flying fighter jets as to diving catches), and though I certainly hold out a small hope that he gets to play this game at a higher level than I did, and know that if that happens I’ll probably develop an ulcer watching him try to get to the one after that, what truly gives me peace, a kind even greater that the one that baseball in March has always given me, is the idea that he and I will have so many more spring training experiences to share together, one way or another, beginning in March of 2008.
The first thing I thought about when Eric Gagne took the mound on the back field adorned by three five-row metal bleachers and not much else, with C.J. Wilson 50 feet away throwing his side to get ready to pitch the second and third innings, was how surreal the moment had to be for Hunter Harrigan, who signed with the Rangers nine months ago after going undrafted out of Southern Illinois University and proceeded to hit .121 in 58 at-bats for Spokane (with one emergency appearance for Oklahoma). Harrigan got the assignment to catch Gagne and Wilson, and later Wes Littleton, in the Rangers’ AAA matchup against the Royals yesterday afternoon.
The scene as Gagne warmed up on the side was very cool. There were a few members of the national press, a bunch of Metroplex writers, a gaggle of pitching coaches, and at least two dozen minor league pitchers, that final group obviously in awe as they absorbed Gagne’s process.
By time the game got underway, the crowd – which probably approached 60 or 70 observers, easily four times more than normal – included Jon Daniels and Ron Washington, even though the big league club was getting its own game underway 150 miles away in Tucson. Gagne made quick work of the Royals in his one frame, throwing 10 of his 14 pitches for strikes and logging a pair of punchouts. He had command of all his pitches (fastball, curve, and a spellbinding change).
Wilson followed Gagne and, for the most part, had good control of his plus stuff, inducing a bunch of fouls back and, among his several swings and misses, one filthy slider that Jared Price flailed at despite the fact that it put a divot in the dirt two feet in front of the plate.
Between Wilson’s innings and for a bit afterwards, I shuffled 60 feet north to the AA game so I could take in the Danny Ray Herrera phenomenon. Wow. The 5’7” listing may be generous, but nothing else about him is. The way batters swing at his dizzying array of offspeed and uber-offspeed stuff, you’d think they were swinging at playing cards. Herrera is a strike-throwing machine. After a couple of the more ridiculous cuts, including one (a fourth straight curve) that resulted in a lazy fly to center field and a complete loss of footing by the hitter on contact, several of the dozen fellow Rangers pitchers who were watching from the stands started laughing. DRH is a marvel even to his peers.
Righthander Michael Schlact has put on 15 pounds, but that’s nothing: the 21-year-old has also grown an inch, now standing at 6’8”.
Couple things I noticed in the Rangers’ 2007 media guide: Among the new area scouts in the Rangers player development operation are former club farmhands Andy Pratt and Dustin Smith. Pratt’s territory includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, while Smith will scout Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
Jayce Tingler, not surprisingly, is now coaching in the Rangers system, and if I’m reading the media guide correctly, he’ll begin his coaching career in the Dominican Summer League.
Righthander Jacob Brigham’s uncle is former White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice.
Sammy Sosa, who played with Karkovice from 1989 through 1991, and Jerry Hairston Jr., whose father played with Karkovice from 1986 through 1989, have been told they have made the 40-man roster (which effectively means they have made the Opening Day squad), though the Rangers have not officially added them to the 40 and thus haven’t had to remove two others from the roster (one of which will surely be righthander Alexi Ogando, who will shift to the restricted list).
Sosa is guaranteed $500,000 and can earn up to another $2.2 million in incentives. He homered yesterday and has hits in all 10 “A” games in which he’s appeared.
Righthander Jamey Wright, who for the moment seems to have emerged along with righthander Kameron Loe as a frontrunner for the fifth rotation spot, has his own out clause if not added to the roster by March 28.
Outfielder Marlon Byrd was drilled on the right hand yesterday but X-rays were negative. He appears to have a leg up on Jason Botts for the final outfield spot. Righthander Josh Rupe, after breezing through two innings by facing the minimum six hitters, was tagged for eight runs in an ugly 10-run sixth. “Just in cases” Kevin Mahar (home run) and Jesse Ingram (four outs, two on strikes) contributed.
Lefthander John Danks has reportedly taken the lead in the battle for the final spot in the White Sox rotation.
Milwaukee outfielder Laynce Nix is sidelined with a strained oblique muscle. Wouldn’t surprise me if he sustained the injury on his all-out dive in right center attempting to catch a Sosa line drive on Tuesday.
According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Cubs center fielder Alfonso Soriano is now thanking the Nationals for forcing him to move from second base to the outfield a year ago. Grrmph.
Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests the Rangers and Phillies could get together on a deal involving Rick Bauer or Scott Feldman and backup catcher Chris Coste.
Texas has signed 27-year-old lefthander Keith Ramsey out of the independent South Coast League, where he’d been slated to start for the Aiken Foxhounds. The University of Florida product spent three seasons in the Cleveland system and went on to pitch in the Philadelphia, Arizona, and Colorado systems before playing for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League in 2006. Ramsey, who has issued just over two walks per nine innings as a minor leaguer and fanned a little more than six per nine, was signed by Pratt and is now in minor league camp in Surprise.
The Atlantic League’s Newark Bears signed second baseman Matt Brunson.
I did an AL West roundtable discussion with Rich Lederer, Patrick Sullivan, and Jeff Sullivan that has now been posted at http://baseballanalysts.com/.
Thanks to the 42 of you who emailed back yesterday to tell me that NYPD Pizza and Red Robin are, in fact, in the Metroplex.
My high school baseball team, Dallas Hillcrest High, has been in Tucson this week over its spring break, using raised funds to travel to Arizona and play three games and take the field with the Rangers during batting practice before yesterday’s Rangers-Diamondbacks game.
Pretty cool, and of course I’m envious, but as memorable as it must have been for the Panthers, it has to pale in comparison to the day Hunter Harrigan had.
From Little League through high school, I stood in against a handful of pitchers that were simply different, the kind you went into the game knowing you didn’t have much of a chance
against unless he was remarkably off of his game, the kind you’d end up telling your friends
you got to play against because one day he was going to be playing at a much higher level.
Juan Corea. Jerry Owen. Lee Jones. Rodney Jenks. Morris Moss. Mike Moscrey. My BBI
teammate Chris Hill.
I thought of those monsters yesterday when I saw Fabio Castillo climb the hill for his one
inning of work against San Francisco’s Low A squad. His dazzling, adrenalizing, inspiring
inning of work. Castillo just turned 18 three weeks ago, but age aside, he was clearly the
man on that back field yesterday afternoon.
I watched his side for 10 minutes before he entered the game, and it was impressive if for
no other reason than he was keeping the ball down with a smooth, easy delivery that
suggested a power repertoire even if it didn’t look quite like a Frankie Francisco or Omar
Beltre or David Elder side.
What I didn’t realize was that Castillo, at least on this day, had another gear that he
saved for the guys in the other uniform. I wish I’d kept a full, accurate ledger of his
pitches, but what I saw was command of what had to be mid-90s velocity, in and out with late
run and mostly at the knees; a nasty, sharp breaking ball that had Giants swinging and
missing and blushing; and a dirty change that the third batter swung through twice to end
the inning, and probably coming closer to contact with his backswing than with his offer at
the pitch both times.
The arm speed and the size and the command and the relatively effortless actions – and of
course the age – were enough together that, even if you were just a fan like me, you didn’t
need to know who the pitcher was to know that he was different. The fact that
Castillo didn’t come out for a second inning of work was pretty disappointing, sorta like
when “Wonderland” was canceled after just two episodes. I wanted more.
Texas thought enough of Castillo as a 17-year-old to give him a start for the Arizona League
squad in June, maybe significant less so from the standpoint of it being a stateside
affiliate than what it represented as a reflection on the organization’s determination to
put him, at that age, in a stateside environment. The 6’3” righthander is obviously a
player that the Rangers are going to handle carefully, which made their decision to return
him to the Dominican Summer League after that one start – in which he limited the Mariners’
AL squad to one hit and two walks in three innings, punching out four – a less confusing one
than it might have been with another player.
Does that mean Castillo could return this season to the DSL, where he went 1-4, 3.46 in
seven games last year, yielding just 21 hits (.216 opponents’ average) and 12 walks in 26
innings with 37 strikeouts, held lefthanders to a .125 clip with that filthy change, and
coaxed more than three times as many groundouts as flyouts? Highly doubtful. But will the
organization be able to resist assigning Castillo to a full-season affiliate, sending him to
Low A Clinton in three weeks rather than keeping him in extended until a June assignment to
Spokane or the AZL? Tougher question.
My guess is, largely because of the cultural issues involved with sending such a young kid
from another country to that virtual island in Iowa, that Castillo won’t show up in box
scores until the short-season leagues roll out. But it won’t be because anyone thinks the
talent isn’t there for Castillo to compete in the Midwest League.
I’m not sure, if I were another team’s general manager, that Castillo wouldn’t be on my list
if the first five Rangers prospects I’d ask for in trade.
Erica and Max are big fans of watching the Luke Air Force Base flyover exercises and of
blowing bubbles while the Class A games go on.
Don Welke is a big fan of Erica and Max.
Max slept an unprecedented 15 hours last night, after that great day at the minor league
fields. Bet he had spectacular dreams.
John Mayberry Jr. surprised me in only one way: He’s no bigger than he was last year at this
time. He’s almost skinny. It’s frightening to imagine how much power he’s going to
be capable of, once he starts to fill into the Dave Winfield/Jermaine Dye frame that he has.
He already has light tower power that stands out from his peers.
Chris Davis played on the same squad as Mayberry, Taylor Teagarden, and German Duran
yesterday. Is it possible that Davis, who might be undertaking a position change if the
instructional league work at third base was a sign, could break camp with High A
Bakersfield, in his first full pro season? Sure looks that way. His power is staggering.
Even his groundouts sound different.
(Incidentally, Davis DH’d in the game, so I’m not sure about the defensive plan.)
Teagarden threw a Giants runner out at second, on a hit-and-run attempt, by what I roughly
estimated to be a thousand feet.
Max has Kevin Gossage hair.
But I bet Gossage hasn’t walked up to the goateed Jason Botts and asked, “What’s that on
San Diego general manager Kevin Towers on outfielder Terrmel Sledge, whom Texas got from
Washington in the Alfonso Soriano deal last winter and three weeks later tacked onto the
trade that sent Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton, Akinori
Otsuka, and Billy Killian and who came into camp this year as a candidate to start in left
for the Padres and perhaps lead off: “It’s almost scary. He’s swinging the bat so good, we
might want to have him hit in the middle of the order. . . . I would say that so far,
he’s been our best hitter, and one of the better hitters in the Cactus League.”
On my drive to NYPD Pizza to pick up dinner last night, I caught about 15 minutes of the
Phoenix Suns’ radio call of the Mavs game and came to the extremely easy conclusion that
there cannot be a worse big league broadcast team. In any sport. Unbelievable. (And I
made up my mind well before the half dozen times that the play-by-play man got on his pulpit
and complained that Dallas gets every call because Mark Cuban has pressured the league’s
referees to favor the Mavs. Ha.)
But what a game.
NYPD Pizza, incidentally, needs to find its way to the Metroplex. We could use a Red Robin,
too, for the kids.
The Dodgers released Fernando Tatis, whose baseball career got started when Texas found him
in San Pedro de Macoris, just like Sammy Sosa.
Today is the day that, contractually, Texas must add Sosa and Jerry Hairston Jr. to the
40-man roster to prevent them from taking free agency, if they so choose. But the players
might agree to extend the deadline.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News predicts that Texas will trade a reliever,
possibly Rick Bauer, for a backup catcher by the end of camp.
Michael Young will be sidelined for about a week following surgery to repair torn cartilage
in his left ear, the result of a Gavin Floyd changeup to the head on Tuesday. Young’s ear
was lacerated, exposing tissue and cartilage; doctors told him the trauma was similar to
someone taking a pair of scissors to his ear. Getting a helmet back on is now the main
Nelson Cruz is still experiencing dizziness after he was drilled in the helmet on Monday.
Former Rangers general manager John Hart, who was once said to question Young’s ability to
produce enough offensively to play every day at second base, told MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan
this week that Young is the best clutch hitter he has ever seen. Only Barry Bonds has a
better average with runners in scoring position over the last four years than Young’s .373
I believe in Jose Vallejo more and more every time I see him. Still not sure he’s
going to hit enough to be a starting major league second baseman, but he’s such a good
defender and has enough speed to leg out a routine ground ball right at the second baseman.
(Saw it with my own eyes again yesterday.)
All the reports that Chad Tracy may not be a catcher by time he gets to the big leagues but
will have enough bat to get there at a different position are believable. Especially given
the outstanding depth the Rangers have built behind the plate, from the top of the system to
I bet the number of those Rangers catchers who would put Fabio Castillo in the top two or
three pitchers in the system – in terms of upside and stuff – equals the number of Rangers
catchers who have had the chance to catch Castillo.
On the same day that White Sox lefty John Danks continued his march toward a possible Opening Day rotation spot by earning a win against Texas with three innings of relief (two
runs, one earned, on two hits and a walk, with three strikeouts), the Rangers began a
three-week run of roster moves by transferring righthanders Edinson Volquez (option) and
Thomas Diamond (reassignment) to minor league camp.
Those events are completely unrelated of course – the Rangers believed Danks was ahead of
Volquez and Diamond when they agreed to ship him to Chicago along with righthander Nick
Masset in a deal for righthander Brandon McCarthy – it’s a sequence that’s sure to give the
papers and blogs a convenient lead for today’s camp stories.
None of this comes as a surprise. Danks is a better prospect than Gavin Floyd or Charlie
Haeger; the only question, as far as I’m concerned, was whether he’d claim a rotation spot
right away or not until sometime during the 2007 season. It’s looking like he may never see
As for Volquez and Diamond, the odds of either heading to Arlington in April were
astronomically slim, and we’re at the point of camp where starters are beginning to stretch
out and bullpen competitions are becoming more defined, which means the innings available
for pitchers who aren’t in the mix for the Opening Day staff are disappearing. Volquez and
Diamond need work – assuming Diamond’s elbow tendonitis allows him back on the mound – and
sending them across the complex to work with the AAA squad facilitates that.
Also optioned were righthander Armando Galarraga (two Cactus League innings) and lefthander
Daniel Haigwood (none), and along with Diamond the Rangers reassigned righthanders Eric
Hurley (one inning) and Jose Vargas (two) and lefthander Scott Rice (one).
Scary moment yesterday as Michael Young got drilled in the helmet by a Floyd delivery, an
offspeed pitch that clocked in at “only” 81 mph – but it was enough to force Young from the
game and to the hospital for stitches in his ear area, and that’s troubling. All
indications from the club are that it’s a minor thing, relatively, and that he’ll just miss
a few games, but if his equilibrium is affected even slightly, that’s anything but minor.
No more word on Nelson Cruz, who took a fastball to the helmet on Monday but whose hospital
tests were happily negative.
In Young’s absence, Joaquin Arias (6 for 14, no walks, one strikeout) is expected to make
his defensive debut today, possibly starting at shortstop.
Sammy Sosa, who originally signed with the Rangers out of the Dominican Republic before the
less-than-a-year-old Arias could walk (which puts a baseball joke squarely on the tee), is
hitting .464/.483/.821 and leading the club in spring average and slugging. I’m still
pulling for Jason Botts (.368/.400/.579) to force his way onto this roster, but Sosa and
Marlon Byrd (.375/.448/.542 and solid center field defense) aren’t letting up.
Interesting question from a reader: if the Angels are somehow able to void Gary Matthews
Jr.’s contract (highly unlikely), would the Rangers lose the 24th and 44th picks in the June
draft that they were awarded as compensation for losing Matthews to free agency? I would
guess not, since free agent acquisitions fall under the category of “buyers beware,” but
it’s a question worth looking into.
Primary minor league observation from yesterday: Righthander Fabio Castillo has gotten
bigger in the last year. Not Jose Marte big, but bigger, and in a good way. Pumped about
Minor league games kick off today. I should have a bunch more prospect notes for you
Hopefully not including news of any more pitches to the head.
Like Icarus ignoring sound heliological principles, like Barry Switzer defiantly relying on “Load Left,” like Brad Lidge giving Albert Pujols something to hit, I have nobody to blame but myself.
I knew from years of experience that there was exactly one choice not to make, and I summoned up every ounce of hubris I could, and made that one choice anyway.
I chose Grand Avenue. Taunted it.
Sixteen years ago, when I made my third trip to spring training, there was one indelible baseball memory, and it happened no more than five minutes after we got out of the car at the end of the drive from Austin to Kissimmee. I saw a 20-year-old named Raul Mondesi fire a laser from right field to cut some Astros player down at the plate. He immediately became the player whose big league debut, which was still two years away, I couldn’t wait for.
Sixteen years from now, I imagine the most lasting memory from this trip will be one that also happened within minutes of us walking through the gates at our first game, on our first day. The sound of the Yovani Gallardo fastball that struck Nelson Cruz in the helmet — and evidently caught some of his unshielded face as well — registered in my brain as a foul ball, and probably one that broke Cruz’s bat, until I noticed the fallen Cruz writhing in pain on the ground. Scary, scary moment.
Cruz is apparently going to be OK. After several minutes on the ground under trainer Jamie Reed’s care, he walked off the field, lucid and on his own feet, and a CT scan at the hospital showed no signs of a concussion or a fracture. More evaluations today. At best, it’s going to be another ding to add to the sore hamstring and shin splints that have slowed Cruz this spring.
Mark Teixeira’s left knee is sore, Gerald Laird’s left foot is bruised, and Hank Blalock’s left calf is sore. Miguel Ojeda’s got a bruised thumb as well. All could be minor, but the tweaks are adding up.
Two groundouts and a four-pitch walk from Eric Gagne in yesterday’s B game, and his day was done, as planned. He worked at 88-91 in his Rangers debut. Eleven pitches, no concerns.
There could be some cuts today — not releases or designations for assignment, but procedural moves to reassign some players in camp to the minor league side.
Lots of jaw-dropping moments for Max yesterday — the literal kind — both on the flight over real mountains and at the first baseball game he’d been to in six months, which I suspect to a two-and-a-half-year-old seems like a lifetime. Erica was in impressive mentor mode, especially on the berm in Maryvale, where the kids were putting on a show for 14 college students from Lubbock, about 10 of whom were there because they’d grown up with Laynce Nix in Midland.
Looking forward to more good stuff today, starting with the back fields this morning and Texas vs. John Danks in the afternoon. I don’t know what exactly the day will have in store, but I know one thing it won’t.
Grand Freakin’ Avenue.
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.
Minor league camp gets a later start each year. Pitchers and catchers weren’t required to report until last Friday, and position players were to report yesterday. It’s one reason we haven’t yet seen Texas reassign any of the non-roster minor leaguers who were invited to big league camp without real chances of making the Opening Day roster, like righthanders Eric Hurley and Thomas Diamond, lefthander Scott Rice, catchers Kevin Richardson and Salomon Manriquez, and first baseman Nate Gold.
Not surprisingly, a great number of minor league players have been in Surprise for some time even though the first full squad workout isn’t scheduled until later this morning, and each day a few have been asked to suit up for the big club as “just in cases” for that day’s game. Pitchers Danny Ray Herrera, Doug Mathis, Luis Mendoza, Steven Rowe, and Broc Coffman, first baseman Jared Sandberg, and outfielders Kevin Mahar and Todd Donovan are among those who have been pulled over from the minor league side so far.
None of the “just in case” players have shown up in games so often that we should assume there’s any particular significance, but we’re just a week into games. In 2004, after a relatively pedestrian pro debut (.277/.352/.410 at Short-Season A Spokane), Ian Kinsler showed up in 11 spring training games for Texas. That obviously opened our eyes, a month before he would launch into his storybook 2004 season (.402/.465/.692 at Low A Clinton and .300/.400/.480 at AA Frisco).
In 2005, Orel Hershiser took a special interest in C.J. Wilson, who made only two spring training appearances but was brought over at least a half a dozen more times than that. He was the talk of camp in terms of players who had put themselves back on the radar.
In 2006, outfielders Rashad Eldridge (.462/.533/.692 in 12 at-bats) and Mahar (.429/.500/.714 in seven at-bats) kept showing up and kept doing good things, even though neither had been officially invited to big league camp.
This year, it may be too early to tell if there’s a “just in case” whom the Rangers brass is motivated to see more and more of against big league competition, but there’s one player who, like Wilson two years ago, is making some noise as quickly as most fans are learning his name. Lefthander A.J. Murray may be on the 40-man roster, but the way the last three years have gone, he may have come to Surprise as anonymous as any of the 32 pitchers invited to camp, including the nine who aren’t even on the roster.
Murray has no more chance of making the Opening Day staff as Wilson had two years ago, but that’s not the point. Wilson was coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2005 when he had his huge spring training, and though he was assigned to High A Bakersfield when camp broke, by June 10 he was making his big league debut. Don’t be stunned if Murray (who was my number three pitching candidate to break out this season, in the 2007 Bound Edition) shows up in Texas this season himself, though he’s not about to return to Class A in the meantime.
In two camp appearances so far, Murray has thrown two perfect innings, getting four of his six outs on strikes — and all four of his punchouts caught the hitter watching strike three. His fastball sits at 89-91 but he commands it, he works fast, and he’s deceptive. A week from his 25th birthday, Murray is far and away the lefthander that the system is most likely to feed to the big league staff this year, now that John Danks is gone.
Murray was the Rangers’ 19th-round pick in 2000 out of a Utah high school, monitored as a draft-and-follow through his 2001 season at Salt Lake Community College before signing with Texas days before that summer’s draft. He moved quickly, going 21-13, 3.07 over his first three pro seasons, including a sparkling 10-4, 3.63 mark with Frisco in 2003, posting the Texas League’s seventh-best ERA as one of the circuit’s youngest pitchers, at age 21.
But that’s when adversity set in, and not in a small dose. Shoulder surgery cost “Pirate” the 2004 season. He was assigned to Bakersfield when the 2005 season began, actually working in tandem with Wilson after the latter’s breakthrough spring training, as both were on strict pitch counts since they were returning from a year off due to injury. While Wilson earned a promotion to Frisco after one month with the Blaze, Murray struggled, posting a 6.00 ERA in five April outings. But he turned things around after that, going 1-1, 2.97 in six May starts (with 32 strikeouts and three walks in 33.1 innings), and after two starts in June, he was promoted to Frisco, where he’d been so good in 2003.
At first, Murray was not nearly as effective with the RoughRiders as he’d been with the same club two years earlier. He posted a 2-2, 4.15 mark in six starts but permitted opponents to hit .341. Texas sent him back to the Cal League for one start but then brought him right back to Frisco — to replace Wilson, who had been promoted to Texas.
In his second start upon returning to the RoughRiders, Murray combined with Steve Karsay and Scott Feldman on a perfect game in Corpus Christi, going six spotless innings and, amazingly, throwing fastballs on more than 80 of his 91 pitches. It was the first no-hitter that Murray had ever pitched in, going back to high school, and it was the third nine-inning perfect game in Texas League history, the first since 1983.
It also came on the 11th anniversary of the only big league perfect game in Texas Rangers history, authored by Kenny Rogers — the man that pitching coach Mark Connor said Arlington John Murray reminded him of after his first camp outing on Monday.
Following the July 28, 2005 perfect game, Murray made three more Frisco starts before debuting in Oklahoma in mid-August, getting two starts before the organization shut him down. He wouldn’t pitch again for more than a year, as he underwent a second shoulder surgery that cost him the 2006 season.
After the year of inactivity, the Rangers made Murray part of their Arizona Fall League contingent in October, and he went 3-2, 5.30 in three starts and six relief appearances, though that mark was marred by an awful 1.1-inning effort in which he allowed eight runs. In his other eight appearances, he posted a 1.56 ERA, and Texas added him to the 40-man roster in November. He might have been left off under the same circumstances in any other year, but given the changes in Rule 5, with very few exceptions the only minor league players considered by clubs for winter addition were those who had been eligible for the draft in prior years but left off the roster. Without a rule change, Texas would have added Danks and Thomas Diamond, and possibly Ben Harrison as well. But not needing to do so, Murray became a viable option, and he’s got a shot to make it pay off for the Rangers before long.
Lefthander John Koronka, the one candidate for the final rotation spot who’d had a rough Cactus League outing, bounced back by facing the minimum nine batters in three no-hit innings on Wednesday (he issued one walk but promptly induced a double play grounder). Koronka was so efficient that Texas had him throw 15 more pitches in the bullpen after he’d gotten through his three frames with just 31 pitches.
The outing may not erase the impact of Koronka’s first effort (six runs in an inning and a third), but it certainly puts him back in the mix for the number five spot. There’s been a lot more good than bad from each of the other primary candidates (Kameron Loe, Josh Rupe, Edinson Volquez, Jamey Wright, and Bruce Chen), who have collectively allowed no earned runs on seven hits and five walks in 13.2 innings, fanning five.
Lefty John Rheinecker, who has been battling back spasms, is slated to throw off a mound today, as long as he’s not held back by a stomach virus he’s caught. He’s all but out of the mix for the Opening Day staff.
It was thought that outfielder Nelson Cruz would sit yesterday’s game out with shin splits. But he entered the game in the seventh inning and delivered a two-run triple.
Shortstop-outfielder Joaquin Arias’s barky shoulder continues to limit him to plate work.
If righthander Joaquin Benoit keeps this up, there’s undoubtedly going to be a trade by the end of camp. In three relief appearances, he’s fired four scoreless innings, allowing one hit, walking nobody, and punching out five hitters. He’s working more quickly, harnessing his filth, and making a strong case for a long man job in the bullpen. He’s out of options, so he’s either building on his own trade value or putting Texas in a position to deal someone like Rick Bauer before camp breaks.
San Diego is force-feeding at-bats to outfielder Terrmel Sledge, and he’s capitalizing. Leading the Padres with 15 at-bats, he’s hitting .400/.438/1.000 with three home runs (one short of the league lead), seven RBI, and 15 total bases. Sledge was the tack-on from Washington in the Rangers’ trade of Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals last winter, and then the tack-on when Texas sent Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres three weeks later for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, and Billy Killian.
Righthander Alfredo Simon, whom Texas signed in November but lost to Philadelphia (via Baltimore) in the Rule 5 draft a month later, is getting spanked. In two relief appearances for the Phillies, he’s surrendered six runs on nine hits and two walks in three frames, fanning one. Simon has to make Philadelphia’s Opening Day pitching staff and spend all year with the Phillies or else be run through waivers and, if he clears, be offered back to the Rangers for half the $50,000 purchase price that the Orioles had to pay them in December.
St. Louis righthander Kip Wells has thrown five scoreless innings this spring.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reports that, according to a major league source, the Cardinals, dealt another bullpen blow with the news that righthander Josh Kinney needs Tommy John surgery, could come to Texas asking for Otsuka.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland has invited Ron Washington to coach third base in this summer’s All-Star Game. Washington has accepted.
The Angels are reportedly looking into the viability of voiding Gary Matthews Jr.’s five-year, $50 million contract.
Mark Hale of the New York Post wrote earlier this week that there were talks last summer between Texas, Baltimore, and Houston about a potential trade that would have sent Hank Blalock, Danks, and Diamond to the Orioles for righthander Roy Oswalt and third baseman Morgan Ensberg, whom Baltimore would have picked up by sending Miguel Tejada to the Astros. One apparent variation of the deal also involved righthander Brad Lidge coming to the Rangers.
On the heels of his contract extension, Michael Young is committing $500,000 to the Texas Rangers Foundation, which funds local charities.
On Monday, Rangers radio broadcaster Eric Nadel was named top play-by-play man in any sport in 2006-07 by the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters. Nadel had won his fourth National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Texas Sportscaster of the Year award earlier in the off-season.
According to Baseball America, the Rangers have signed their first pick of Day Two of the 2006 draft, 19th-round outfielder Miguel Velazquez, a high-ceiling 18-year-old out of a Puerto Rico high school. The organization also released catcher Jose Sanchez Jr.
Velazquez’s agent’s website notes that he signed for $72,000 plus an allowance to attend college later, bringing the deal’s value to about $100,000. The website also suggests that the 6’2″, 200-pound outfielder, who runs a 6.5 60, lasted until the 19th round only because of a knee injury (though he’s healthy now) and “certain personal problems that prevented him from attending most pre-draft workouts.”
Florida signed righthander Ricardo Rodriguez to a minor league deal. Kansas City signed infielder Jace Brewer to a minor league deal.
The Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League signed outfielder Cameron Coughlan. The York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League signed catcher Luis Taveras.
News soon on who will succeed the great Mike Hindman at the helm of the daily farm reports this season. This is bittersweet for me. I’m excited about Mike’s replacement, but make no mistake: there will never be another MJH, and I want to thank him again for giving the Newberg Report new life in 2003 and, for the last four years, providing the best minor league coverage that this newsletter has ever provided, that the Dallas-Fort Worth market has ever been treated to, and that any team in baseball has been lucky enough to have.