THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 4, 2007

Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis suggested yesterday that the Rangers farm system, which BA had ranked 28th over the winter, probably sits somewhere between 11 and 15 in the league right now, on the heels of the transformation that Jon Daniels and his crew has engineered this summer. 

On the assumption that Texas will sign Blake Beavan, Julio Borbon, and Neil Ramirez by the August 15 deadline, Callis ranks the Rangers’ top 20 as follows:

1. Eric Hurley, rhp
2. Blake Beavan, rhp 
3. Kasey Kiker, lhp
4. Johnny Whittleman, 3b
5. Taylor Teagarden, c
6. Elvis Andrus, ss 
7. Michael Main, rhp 
8. Julio Borbon, of 
9. Omar Poveda, rhp
10. Joaquin Arias, ss
11. German Duran, 2b
12. Chris Davis, 3b
13. Fabio Castillo, rhp
14. Neftali Feliz, rhp 
15. Matt Harrison, lhp 
16. John Mayberry Jr., of
17. Marcus Lemon, ss
18. Max Ramirez, c 
19. Neil Ramirez, rhp 
20. Engel Beltre, of

Callis notes: 

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia would be number one, ahead of Hurley, if he were still eligible under Baseball America’s guidelines (fewer than 130 big league at-bats or 50 innings).

2. In addition to Saltalamacchia, Kason Gabbard is ineligible, and Callis constructed his list on the assumption that Jason Botts (89 at-bats) and Edinson Volquez (46 innings) will be ineligible by season’s end.

3. Callis is a self-proclaimed Andrus skeptic, acknowledging that there may be no more debate in the BA offices on any player than there is on Andrus.  BA ranked Andrus as the number 65 prospect in baseball coming into the season; notably, in the 2007 Prospect Handbook, editors in chief Will Lingo and John Manuel ranked Andrus 42nd and 49th overall — while Callis didn’t include him in his own top 50.

In a story published yesterday on BA’s website, an American League scout said of Andrus, "I’m not sure if there’s a better defensive shortstop in the minor leagues right now," praising his "explosive first-step quickness to his right or left" and "incredibly soft hands," though he questioned the 18-year-old’s arm strength.  Of Andrus’s total package, the scout said, "He’s still really raw in a lot of phases of his game, but when you watch him make some of the plays he makes, you know he’s special." 

My notes:

1. No Thomas Diamond on Callis’s list.  No Brandon Boggs.  No Chad Tracy.  No Jacob Brigham or Doug Mathis or Zach Phillips or Cristian Santana or Johan Yan or Michael Schlact.  No Wilmer Font or Carlos Pimentel or Gueris Grullon.  No Tommy Hunter or Matt West or Evan Reed or Jonathan Greene.  No Beau Jones.  No David Murphy.

No Armando Galarraga, who was number 15 on last year’s list after a terrible season, and has come back strong in 2007 (6-2, 2.65 in his last 10 starts, 9-5, 3.90 overall at Frisco).   

2. Texas likely signed some high-profile kids from Latin America this summer, though nothing has been announced yet.  They’re obviously unaccounted for. 

3. In the Atlanta and Boston and Cleveland trades, Texas added five players who play in the middle of the field (assuming Saltalamacchia ends up at catcher), each of whom has above-average athleticism for his position, and four pitchers, three of whom are lefthanders.  On Callis’s top 20, eight of the 11 position players play up the middle.  And seven of the nine pitchers have big fastballs.  Lots of tradeability there.

4. One general manager told Peter Gammons that if Andrus (6), Feliz (14) and Beltre (20) "went into the draft, [they] would all go in the first 10-15 picks."  Think about that.

5. There are certainly more years than not lately in which every player from 11 to 20 would legitimately fit in a Rangers top 10.   

6. BA had the Boston system ranked ninth overall in the Prospect Handbook, and Atlanta 16th overall.  Murphy (15), Andrus (2), Harrison (3), and Jones (14) each ranked higher in those stronger systems before this season than Callis ranks them now in the Rangers’ system.  Only Feliz (Atlanta’s number 18) and Beltre (Boston’s number 20) don’t find themselves lower on Callis’s Rangers list. 

7. Two months ago, nine of those players were not Rangers property.  Add Saltalamacchia and Gabbard — and Jones and Murphy, if you’d like — and you can come to one of two conclusions: (1) Texas was pretty weak in prospects or (2) the organization has added a massive haul in June and July.

Either way, it’s clear that Texas has undergone the most dramatic overhaul in farm system health of any organization this summer.

Kameron Loe has been placed on the disabled list with lower back tightness, and despite widespread reports that Mike Wood was summoned from Oklahoma to make this afternoon’s start, the start will go to Scott Eyre, with Wood available in long relief.  Wood threw eight innings on Wednesday, though he needed only 81 pitches to do so.

According to Ron Washington, Jamey Wright could get Loe’s next start.

Volquez in Class A this year: 0-4, 7.13 in seven starts, one home run every nine innings, opponents’ average of .211, 5.1 walks per nine, 9.7 strikeouts per nine.

Volquez in AA this year: 8-1, 3.55 in 11 starts, 1.4 homers every nine innings, opponents’ average of .212, 2.9 walks per nine, 9.6 strikeouts per nine.

Volquez in AAA this year: 4-0, 2.63 in four starts, no home runs allowed, opponents’ average of .159, 4.9 walks per nine, 11.3 strikeouts per nine.

The program was unorthodox, but Volquez is unquestionably earning another shot.

The Rangers have said that Saltalamacchia will catch about twice a week the rest of the season, playing first base otherwise, and in October he’ll go to fall instructs in Surprise to work with Don Wakamatsu on his catching skills.  Washington said that Adam Melhuse’s start behind the plate on Thursday afternoon would probably his last one of the season.

Harrison is already in Arizona, rehabbing his strained left shoulder and a case of turf toe in his left foot (which some suggest could have led him to alter his mechanics, resulting in the shoulder discomfort).  He’s expected to return to action in about three weeks, which should mean one or two appearances before the minor league season ends.  If he is assigned to Frisco, he could end up pitching in the playoffs as well.

For a guy who had never played first base professionally until thrust into that position after getting called up to Atlanta in May, Saltalamacchia looks very smooth around the bag.

Murphy’s arrival in Oklahoma has been delayed because his wife is expecting a child.

The Rangers have Beltre leading off for the Arizona League squad.  In his debut on Thursday, he was drilled leading off the game, after which the left-handed hitter skied out to left, hit an opposite-field single and stole second base before scoring on a double, flew out again to left, grounded out to first, and doubled to center before scoring the go-ahead run in the 12th inning.

Poveda has been promoted to Bakersfield.  In 21 Clinton starts, the 19-year-old went 11-4, 2.79, leading the 14-team Midwest League in wins and allowing more than three earned runs just twice.  His ERA’s was the circuit’s fourth best.  In 125.2 innings, the righthander fanned 120 (third best in the league) and walked only 32, and the league hit just .208 off of him.  Left-handed hitters (.205/.255/.333) had no better luck against Poveda than righties (.211/.270/.324).

Poveda replaces Schlact, who was promoted to Frisco despite a 5-7, 5.77 mark in 21 Blaze starts.  The 21-year-old groundball specialist should debut for the RoughRiders in San Antonio tonight.

Texas has traded catcher Billy Killian, who came over from San Diego in the Chris Young deal, to the White Sox.  The Rangers promoted catcher Kevin Gossage from the Arizona League to Spokane to replace Killian, who hit .258/.343/.355 in limited action this summer.

In Baseball America’s "Best Tools" survey of league managers, Freddy Guzman was named the Pacific Coast League’s best baserunner, and Anthony Webster earned the same acclaim from Texas League skippers.  Webster’s teammates German Duran (best defensive second baseman) and Danny Ray Herrera (best changeup) were recognized as well.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranks Whittleman and Davis the ninth- and 11th-best third base prospects in baseball, though he suggests neither is projected to remain at that position if they get to the big leagues.  Goldstein ranks Teagarden fourth and Ramirez seventh among catcher prospects, and Duran as baseball’s fifth-best prospect at second base.

Nelson Cruz walked 10 times in his pre-demotion 140 at-bats.  He’s walked four times in the 26 at-bats he’s had since his return, roughly twice as high a rate.

And even Cruz’s outs have looked great since coming back.

Brandon McCarthy in April: 1-4, 9.90, opponents’ line of .356/.433/.522, three home runs allowed in 20 innings.

Brandon McCarthy since that first month: 4-3, 3.69, opponents’ line of .239/.320/.397, five homers allowed in 50.1 innings.

Main has now thrown 9.2 innings in the Arizona League: no runs on four hits and five walks, with 13 strikeouts.

Mark Teixeira has homered in each of his three games as a Brave.

 

If I were Baltimore, I would offer Don Mattingly my managerial post this off-season.  You know why.

Love the Ticket, but I’ll never understand why they would ever choose to run their (infrequent) weekday Rangers segments while Rangers games are underway on a different station.

How about trading for Adam Dunn this winter?  He has a club option for 2008 at $13-13.75 million, which if exercised triggers a no-trade clause through June 15 — but I bet a window could be opened for a team interested in the slugger to negotiate a long-term extension.  An on-base machine, he’d fit nicely in the cleanup slot and at first base here (though he’s not very good defensively) for the prime years of his career.  And there’s no question that we have loads of trade ammunition to get him.

 

C.J. Wilson is hosting a Guitar Hero video game charity event/tournament on Monday, August 13, at the House of Blues in Dallas.  Wilson, Loe, Botts, and possibly a few other Rangers players will be playing Guitar Hero in a 32-contestant competition, and there will be prizes, autographs, giveaways, and food at the event. 

Tickets are $10 at the House of Blues website.  Revenue from ticket sales will go to the DFW childhood hemophilia support programs.  Hemophilia, Wilson points out, is a very expensive blood condition that requires daily or regular medication, treatment, and transfusions, and lots of hospital time, and also prevents kids from being able to participate in contact sports.  Through outreach and education programs, children who suffer from this condition grow up empowered, self confident, and self reliant.

Atlanta signed Ryan Drese to a minor league contract.  He’ll likely team up with Julio Franco, who will reportedly accept an assignment to AAA Richmond if he clears waivers Monday.

Pittsburgh designated Matt Kata for assignment.

Which was less ignominious than Donnie Sadler’s 50-game suspension for violating minor league baseball’s drug policy while with Arizona’s AAA affiliate in Tucson.

It hasn’t been a good start to righthander Sam Demel’s pro career.  Oakland’s third-round pick, the TCU product — whom the Rangers drafted in 2004′s 35th round — has a 7.07 ERA in 11 relief appearances for High A Stockton, giving up 16 hits and 15 walks in 14 innings of work, though he has set 13 Cal Leaguers down on strikes.

Thanks very much to those of you who have chosen to contribute to the Newberg Report’s honor system fee program this week.  We appreciate it very much.

Excerpts from Peter Gammons’s ESPN blog on Thursday:

* "As one GM pointed out, Kason Gabbard might have been the best starting pitcher traded, better than [Matt] Morris or [Kyle] Lohse or Kyle Davies."

* "Red Sox and Braves officials were very impressed by the way Daniels made these trades.  It had been speculated that he would be trading to save his job.  Instead, in Beltre, shortstop Elvis Andrus and right-handed pitcher Neftali Feliz, he got three young players with huge ceilings who might not be in the big leagues for five years.  One GM said, ‘He got three teenagers who, if they went into the draft, would all go in the first 10-15 picks.’  Another compared Feliz to Mariano Rivera, and the majority of executives believe Saltalamacchia will be a top five catcher a year from now because of his power and his arm.  Oh yes, and Gabbard was the best starting pitcher to be traded."

* "The biggest holdup in the Gagné deal, other than working out his negotiated rights to refuse a deal to Boston, was 17-year-old outfielder Engel Beltre.  When Epstein went to bed at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, he had refused to include Beltre in the trade, so on Tuesday morning, the Rangers still were down to the Brewers — who were on Gagné’s list of teams to which he could be traded — and the Red Sox.  But Epstein decided a 17-year-old kid a half-dozen years from the big leagues probably was worth including for a shot to win the World Series.  ‘When Theo called and said he would put Beltre in the deal, it was down to the no-trade language and the paperwork,’ Daniels said.  That paperwork was so complicated that it almost was not completed by the 4 p.m. deadline."

* "Top prospects moved?  Texas got them.  Period."

On May 25, I wrote this: "What Jon Daniels does in the next two months on the trade front, and what Ron Hopkins engineers two weeks from now in the draft, will factor in heavily to the direction things take here.  The Rangers need to capitalize in June and July."

It’s too soon to tell how this will all work out, but there’s no question that, regardless of who you ask, the consensus is that the Rangers have done just that.

 

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

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