THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 12, 2007

There’s exactly one player on the Rangers roster who is exceeding expectations (at least the expectations I had), and it’s the player I probably had the least hope for going into the season. Sammy Sosa is hitting .278/.346/.548 with eight home runs 26 RBI in 32 games.

One American League team and one National League team have a worse record than the Rangers’ 14-21.

I’m easily demoralized by bad defense.

It’s been an exceedingly demoralizing fifth of a season.

In early March, “Batter’s Box Interactive Magazine” asked me what I thought the biggest surprise would be for this team in 2007. My answer: “Michael Young’s RBI total. Ian Kinsler’s All-Star Game appearance. C.J. Wilson.”

Despite Young’s slow start, Frank Catalanotto’s struggles limiting Young’s RBI opportunities, and Catalanotto’s injury ultimately prompting a return to the two spot for Young, the shortstop nonetheless has 21 RBI and is on pace for 97, six short of a career best. Still, not what I had envisioned.

Kinsler? That prediction looked very good a few weeks into the season, and it’s still not impossible, but as a result of his recent struggles, both at the plate and in the field, what was beginning to look like a lock, especially with a tremendously weak American League class, is certainly no longer that.

Wilson has been filthy lately. His ERA is at a season low 2.63, opponents are hitting .163/.305/.245 against him, and only one of his 11 inherited runners have come around to score.

Wilson claims he is throwing the mythical gyroball (which allegedly moves up and away from right-handed hitters) once or twice an appearance, and he says he’s punched out five batters with it, adding, “I haven’t had anybody really swing at it — mostly check-swings.”

Mark Teixeira in April: .231/.346/.341 (on-base higher than slug!).

Mark Teixeira in May: .400/.429/.750. Interestingly, after drawing 15 walks in 25 April games, Teixeira has drawn just two in 10 May games. Considering how many hitters’ strikes he patiently watched early on, I think it’s actually a good sign that he’s not racking up as many free passes.

Catalanotto will make a rehab appearance for Frisco tonight, leading off as the designated hitter. The assignment is expected to last just one game.

Pretty interesting that Nelson Cruz is starting to see time in left field on occasion. His troubles at the plate are obvious. But when you start to see him in left rather than right — including twice in games that Victor Diaz got the right field assignment — you have to wonder whether a AAA assignment might be nearing.

There’s no shortage of piping hot outfield alternatives at Oklahoma. Marlon Byrd is hitting .358/.428/.537. Jason Botts, after a slow start, is hitting .333/.408/.500 in May. Kevin Mahar, a week into his promotion to the RedHawks, sits at .414/.485/.655.

Lefthander John Koronka’s first three AAA starts this year: 0-2, 8.40, no quality starts. His four since: 3-0, 2.60, four quality starts.

Oklahoma co-catcher Guillermo Quiroz has multiple hits in five of his last seven games, raising his line to .306/.352/.327.

Only three times in 27 games has RedHawks infielder Tug Hulett failed to reach base on a hit or a walk. He’s hitting .340/.429/.489, having started the season as Oklahoma’s everyday third baseman before becoming the club’s full-time second baseman late in April.

The RedHawks activated first baseman Nate Gold (fractured finger) from the disabled list. He was hitting .194 with one home run and one double in 36 at-bats when he got hurt; he’s 6 for 20 with two home runs and two doubles since returning. Oklahoma utility man Dave Matranga replaced Gold on the DL.

Oklahoma righthander Scott Shoemaker pitched five times for Bakersfield (one win, three saves) after coming over from Boston in the Daniel Haigwood trade, giving up three runs (1.80 ERA) on nine hits (.173 opponents’ average) and three walks in 15 innings, fanning 10. Promoted this week to AAA, he debuted for the RedHawks on Thursday, giving up two hits in 3.2 scoreless innings, setting two Las Vegas hitters down on strikes.

Haigwood debuted for AA Portland on Monday, firing four shutout innings (three hits, two walks, four strikeouts).

Major League Baseball suspended Oklahoma righthander Francisco Cruceta for 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The 25-year-old righthander, whom Texas claimed off waivers from Seattle in October, has a 1-0, 4.82 record in five starts and one relief appearance for the RedHawks.

Joaquin Arias made his first defensive game appearance in extended spring training game on Thursday, apparently at shortstop.

Frisco second baseman German Duran is having the quietest breakthrough of any Rangers position player prospect. The stocky second baseman is hitting .317/.366/.587 with seven home runs in 104 at-bats, less than two years after Texas drafted him out of Weatherford College in the sixth round. Duran hit .262/.313/.393 for Spokane in 2005, and .284/.331/.446 for Bakersfield last year. He’s trending up.

Bakersfield catcher Taylor Teagarden’s stay on the disabled list was happily brief, as his surgically repaired elbow was sore but not damaged. Sidelined for three weeks, he returned to action on Thursday and has DH’d the last two nights, picking up right where he left off offensively, going 2 for 6 with three walks. He’s hitting .325/.518/.575 for the season.

The Rangers’ last two second-round picks are leading Clinton’s offensive attack. Third baseman Johnny Whittleman, repeating with the LumberKings, went 3 for 3 with his sixth homer and a walk last night, and is hitting .364/.461/.664 for the season. Center fielder K.C. Herren homered and doubled and sits at .363/.414/.626, including a sick .538/.571/.949 in May.

Whittleman leads the Midwest League in batting average. And in on-base percentage. And in slugging percentage. Herren is second, fourth, and third in the same categories.

Clinton lefthander Glenn Swanson (who made my pitching breakout predictions in the 2007 Bound Edition) has made six starts for the LumberKings. Every one of them has been a quality start. The 2005 49th-rounder is 5-1, 2.19, having scattered 29 hits (.218 opponents’ average) and just four walks in 37 innings while punching out 37 Midwest Leaguers.

Don’t be fooled by Swanson’s draft position. He was coming off a medical redshirt season in which he was only healthy enough to pitch nine innings. He returned to Cal Irvine as a fifth-year senior, allowing Texas to retain draft-and-follow rights on the southpaw after using its penultimate 2005 pick on him. Swanson proceeded to go 9-4, 2.86 last spring, firing the third no-hitter in school history, and he signed with the Rangers on June 5, the day before he otherwise would have gone back into the draft.

Good scouting, Steve Flores.

Swanson’s teammate Zach Phillips, who went 5-12, 5.96 for the LumberKings last summer after a brilliant debut season in the Arizona League in 2005, is capitalizing on his encore run at Low A hitters. After a disappointing season debut (five runs on six hits and a walk in three innings, two strikeouts), the 20-year-old is rolling. In his six starts since, he is 4-0, 1.23 with 39 strikeouts (though 18 walks) in 29.1 innings, scattering 22 hits. Phillips has a 1.67 groundout-to-flyout ratio for the season.

Phil Nevin retired. He’s going to work on a Padres radio pregame show and provide analysis for ESPN during the College World Series.

Outfielder Ryan Ludwick, back in the big leagues for the first time since May 2005, has driven in runs in three of his five games for St. Louis.

Cincinnati optioned third baseman Edwin Encarnacion to AAA Louisville.

Baltimore purchased the contract of righthander Jon Leicester.

A former heralded Rangers righthander prospect is dealing for AAA Sacramento in the Oakland system, but it’s not Juan Dominguez, who was a failure in his A’s stint. Colby Lewis is 4-1, 2.42 in seven RiverCat starts, scattering 32 hits and 13 walks in 44.2 innings while fanning 40. The Nationals released Lewis in mid-March — on the day his son Cade was born.

“Studio 60″ returns (even if briefly) on May 24.

When I was probably 12 years old I had an NFL Almanac that, among a thousand other things, had complete historical draft lists. It may not surprise you that I read that section over and over, and that it was really cool to me that the Cowboys had drafted Ball State halfback Merv Rettenmund in the 19th round in 1965, and Kentucky wide receiver Pat Riley in the 11th round in 1967.

Peter Gammons writes that Gabe Kapler will manage the Red Sox one day, possibly as Terry Francona’s eventual successor. Kapler is managing at Low A Greenville right now.

Indie moves: The Reno SilverSox (Golden Baseball League) signed outfielder Cody Nowlin. The Edmonton Cracker-Cats (Northern League) signed righthander Lou Pote. The Sussex SkyHawks (Can-Am League) released shortstop Bobby Lenoir. The Pensacola Pelicans (American Association) released righthander Clint Sodowsky.

Texas held Vladimir Guerrero hitless last night for just the fourth time in his 58 career games against the club. He’s never gone hitless in two straight against the Rangers. How good are Kameron Loe’s chances of making history today? Guerrero is hitting .313/.421/.375 against Loe in 16 career at-bats. The .313 lifetime clip is the just 12th-highest that Guerrero sports against pitchers who have appeared for Texas this year.

But Vlad can go 5 for 5 today, for all I care, if we come away with a win.

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

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