THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 5, 2007

You’re probably like me. You’re the guy or the woman who, at your office, is the embodiment of the Texas Rangers as far as your co-workers are concerned. They not only sympathize with you after losses — they almost treat you as if you were the loser, the one who issued the walks, who failed to get the runner home from third, who couldn’t hang onto the ball at the fence or at the plate.

They engage in “What’s wrong with the team?” small talk with you as if you have the answers, as well as the ability to fix things. Sometimes it strikes me as sort of funny, other times it irritates me to no end. You’ve probably been there.

But you know what? These last few days I’ve felt like I did lose. Like I did struggle to capitalize with runners in scoring position, like my own rifle shots were getting caught while their bleeders were finding patches of grass. This opening series has been emotionally draining, and I’m happy to have a day off today. A day to let this slow burn dissipate.

While the Rangers and a lot of us will be idle today, the full-season minor league clubs will kick their seasons off. Here are the rosters for the Rangers’ four (lossless) minor league affiliates:

OKLAHOMA REDHAWKS (AAA)

STARTING PITCHERS: Francisco Cruceta, John Koronka, Doug Mathis, Josh Rupe, Alfredo Simon

RELIEVERS: Ezequiel Astacio, Willie Eyre, Frankie Francisco, Franklyn German, Wes Littleton, A.J. Murray, William White

CATCHERS: Guillermo Quiroz, Miguel Ojeda

INFIELDERS: Nate Gold, Tug Hulett, Dave Matranga, Drew Meyer, Jose Morban, Ramon Vazquez

OUTFIELDERS: Jason Botts, Victor Diaz, Freddy Guzman (and possibly Marlon Byrd)

DL: RHP Chris Baker, RHP Thomas Diamond, LHP Scott Rice, UTIL Desi Relaford

NOTES: Koronka gets the Opening Day start.

Mathis and Hulett are certainly the biggest surprises on the squad, but both had dazzling camps to earn AAA assignments. Mathis, the club’s 13th-round pick in 2005, went 10-7, 4.18 for Bakersfield last year, making two Frisco starts at the end of the season, but he came to camp stronger, sporting the increased velocity that began to show up last summer, complementing it with an improved array of secondary pitches. Like Murray, Mathis is someone who has put himself squarely on the radar.

Hulett also split his 2006 season between the Blaze and RoughRiders, and he’s a heady player (not surprising given his lineage) and solid defender, consistently collecting as many walks as strikeouts and owning a career on-base percentage of .416. Texas gave Hulett four spring training at-bats, and he hit safely in each of them, contributing three doubles and a single.

Astacio and Quiroz cleared waivers this week and were outrighted. Quiroz had the right to take immediate free agency but declined to do so. Byrd could be traded, but also remains a possibility to join the RedHawks should he clear waivers and accept an outright assignment.

Lefthander Bruce Chen, who agreed to renegotiate his deal late in camp, is now on a split contract that pays him $600,000 while in the big leagues and a much lower amount while on the farm. He’s also apparently agreed to accept an outright if Texas drops him from the roster when Eric Gagne and Jamey Wright join the big league staff and gets him through waivers.

FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS (AA)

STARTING PITCHERS: Armando Galarraga, Daniel Haigwood, Eric Hurley, Kea Kometani, Luis Mendoza (and Jamey Wright for now)

RELIEVERS: Michael Bumstead, Ken Chenard, Matt Farnum, Jesse Ingram, Brandon Puffer, Steven Rowe, Randy Williams

CATCHERS: Salomon Manriquez, Kevin Richardson

INFIELDERS: Casey Benjamin, German Duran, Adam Fox, Emerson Frostad, Travis Metcalf

OUTFIELDERS: Todd Donovan, Kevin Mahar, Steve Murphy, Kevin West

DL: RHP John Bannister, 1B Jim Fasano, OF Luke Grayson, OF Ben Harrison, LHP Matt Merricks, RHP Daniel Touchet

NOTES: Wright gets the Opening Day start (with Ron Washington on hand to watch), but he’ll depart for Texas before pitching a second time.

Lots of upside in the Riders rotation.

The Frostad experiment behind the plate is evidently over, as he is now being listed as a first baseman. Bannister has reportedly undergone Tommy John surgery.

Gagne pitched in simulated games in Surprise on Monday and Wednesday. After joining the big club for introductions at tomorrow’s Home Opener, Gagne will pitch for Frisco tomorrow night and Saturday, continuing his path toward an April 13 activation.

BAKERSFIELD BLAZE (HIGH A)

STARTING PITCHERS: Kendy Batista, Keith Ramsey, Michael Schlact, Edinson Volquez, Ace Walker

RELIEVERS: Kevin Altman, J.B. Diaz, Patrick Donovan, Josh Giles, Jose Marte, Tony Pluta, Jon Wilson

CATCHERS: Hunter Harrigan, Taylor Teagarden, Brian Valichka

INFIELDERS: Johany Abreu, Chris Davis (3b), Micah Furtado, Tony Roth, Matt Smith, Freddie Thon

OUTFIELDERS: Jake Blalock, Terry Blunt, Brandon Boggs, John Mayberry Jr.

DL: UTIL Nick Cadena

NOTES: Schlact, and not Volquez, gets the Opening Day start.

It’s a big year for Schlact, who returns to the Blaze after a 4-13, 5.99 campaign last season. He grew an inch to 6’8″ and added 15 pounds to his frame over the winter, and as sharp as that kid is, you expect him to get better every year simply by taking instruction and applying it.

Blalock returns to Class A after a full season in Frisco’s outfield.

The move of the power-hitting Davis to third base is intriguing; he makes the jump from Spokane, leapfrogging Johnny Whittleman, who goes back to Clinton for a second season.

But the big story in Bakersfield, without a doubt, will be how Volquez responds to his three-level demotion.

CLINTON LUMBERKINGS (LOW A)

STARTING PITCHERS: Michael Ballard, Broc Coffman, Omar Poveda, Zach Phillips, Glenn Swanson

RELIEVERS: Nate Fogle, Tim Gudex, Jeremiah Haar, Jon Hollis, Jared Locke, John Slusarz, Brett Zamzow

CATCHERS: Kevin Gossage, Manuel Pina

INFIELDERS: Thomas Berkery, Mauro Gomez, Marcus Lemon, David Peterson, Jose Vallejo, Johnny Whittleman

OUTFIELDERS: Chad Tracy, Craig Gentry, Grant Gerrard, K.C. Herren, Truan Mehl

DL: RHP Juan Jimenez, 1B Chris Kemp

NOTES: A bit surprising to see Poveda back in Clinton, though it should be pointed out that he’s still just 19 years old. The big righthander from Venezuela went 4-13, 4.88 for the LumberKings last year (and 0-1, 1.80 in a spot start for Frisco). He’ll get the Opening Day start.

Lemon makes a two-level jump from the Arizona League. Tracy, interestingly, is listed as a left fielder rather than as a catcher.

EXTENDED SPRING TRAINING

PITCHERS: Bear Bay, Jake Brigham, Fabio Castillo, Craig Crow, Miguel de los Santos, Wilmer Font, Brennan Garr, Geuris Grullon, Danny Ray Herrera, Dan Hoben, Ivan Izquierdo, Jose Jaimes, Kasey Kiker, Ryan Knippschild, Michael Kirkman, Yoon-Hee Nam, Carlos Pimentel, Jorge Quintero, Kyle Rogers, Julio Santana, Eleno Soto, Keisuke Ueno

CATCHERS: Reese Creswell, Luis de los Santos, Billy Killian, Steven Marquardt, Cristian Santana

INFIELDERS: Wally Backman, Ian Gac, Jay Heafner, Andres James, Renny Osuna, Jose Rodriguez, Emmanuel Solis, Johan Yan

OUTFIELDERS: R.J. Anderson, Victor Barrios, Josh Bradbury, David Paisano, Cody Podraza, Tim Rodriguez, Miguel Velasquez, Anthony Webster

DL: RHP Jesse Hall, RHP Luis Indriago, RHP Matt Nevarez, RHP Edwin Vera, RHP Michael Wagner, C Carlos Dominguez

NOTES: There are two groups of names that jump out: the high-end pitching talent that includes Castillo, Kiker, Brigham, Grullon, Font, de los Santos, and Pimentel, and the eye-opening inclusion of Herrera and Webster, who are listed as staying back at extended though not on the disabled list. There must be physical issues (or just a building up of game stamina, as the Rangers are doing with Gagne) that have prompted the organization to delay the opening of their seasons somewhat.

The idea with Castillo and Kiker in particular is not to push them too aggressively, as young and promising as those two are.

It appears that Texas will continue to look at Marquardt behind the plate, an experiment that started at fall instructs, and keep Santana, a converted middle infielder, on the mound.

Paisano is the Venezuelan outfielder who came to Texas from the White Sox in the McCarthy-Danks-Masset trade.

Knippschild was a teammate of Travis Metcalf’s at the University of Kansas, drafted by Cleveland in the 35th round of the 2004 draft. The lefthander posted a 3.78 ERA with tremendous control over three seasons in the Indians system, and was particularly tough on lefties last year, holding them to a .195/.233/.293 line and a 1.17 ERA while with High A Kinston.

Righthanders Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando remain quarantined in the Dominican Republic because of the marriage scandal two winters ago, and accordingly they are slated to pitch once again in the Dominican Summer League.

Texas released righthander Wandy Morla, catcher Brian Munhall, and outfielder Roberto Valiente. Morla spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and two undistinguished years stateside, splitting between the Arizona League, Spokane, and Bakersfield. Texas had acquired Munhall from San Francisco in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December. Valiente was the Rangers’ 44th-rounder in 2005, hitting .300/.361/.379 in his two pro seasons.

The Bay Area Toros of the independent Continental Baseball League signed righthander Greg Runser.

San Diego signed first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to a four-year contract worth $9.5 million. He gets a $500,000 signing bonus, $500,000 this season, $750,000 in 2008, $3 million in 2009 (his first arbitration-eligible season), and $4.75 million in 2010. The Padres have a $5.5 million option for 2011 with no attached buyout, meaning he’ll still be eligible for a final year of arbitration if the club declines the option.

Welcome back, Babe Laufenberg. You were missed.

You too, Vic Mackey.

Jeff and Cindy Kuster are auctioning off four Home Opener tickets to benefit the Hello Win Column Fund that was established in honor of Cindy’s late father, Mark Holtz. They initially auctioned the tickets off on Randy Galloway’s radio show yesterday afternoon, with a winning bid of $1500, but it turns out the winner — and the runner-up — are now unable to attend tomorrow’s game.

So the seats are still available. They are in Section 223, Row 2, Seats 5-8 on the Lexus Club Level, just below the press box. Also included is a reserved parking pass in a spot located very close to the First Base Entrance.

The first $500 bid wins the tickets and parking pass, which have a face value of $280. You can email Jeff at longhornjk@aol.com with your bid — but please note: the bidding closes at 10:00 a.m. this morning. A portion of the winning bid will entitle you to a tax-deductible donation to the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation.

Jeff and Cindy want to thank you for your support of the Hello Win Column Fund and for helping make a difference in the lives of families dealing with cancer.

Did K-Rod doctor the baseball during the Angels-Rangers series that just concluded? Judge for yourself.

My weekly column for MLB.com kicks off today. Last year I featured one of baseball’s procedural rules each week; this year I’m taking a retrospective look at a Rangers trade that took place the same week during a previous Rangers season.

The initial installment, which will be published on the front page of www.texasrangers.com, focuses on one of the franchise’s ugliest deals, the April 1, 1982 trade of Ron Darling and Walt Terrell to the Mets for Lee Mazzilli.

And Scott Lucas’s daily minor league recaps kick off tomorrow, as the RedHawks, RoughRiders, Blaze, and LumberKings get their seasons underway today while the parent club rests and gears up to get things turned around in tomorrow’s Home Opener.

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

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