August 2007

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — AUGUST 14, 2007

An optimistic reading of the MLB.com and Dallas Morning News Rangers blogs and Baseball America’s draft blog would lead one to believe that Texas is on the verge of signing all three of its top unsigned draft picks: Irving High School righthander Blake Beavan, University of Tennessee center fielder Julio Borbon, and Virginia Kempsville High School righthander Neil Ramirez.

No news yet, but with about 26 hours until the signing deadline it’s looking good.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 14, 2007

Thirty-one.

It’s the number of home runs Chris Davis has this year.

Seven in his first 13 Frisco games, after 24 Bakersfield bombs in less than four months.

The 21-year-old is in his first full pro season and is headed toward becoming the organization’s minor league player of the year. Davis was leading the California League in home runs and in RBI (93) and hitting .298/.340/.573 when he was promoted at the end of July. He’s a .386/.462/.932 hitter in 44 AA at-bats.

Nobody in the minor leagues has more than Davis’s 109 RBI, and only Alex Rodriguez (114) has more professionally. And Davis is drawing walks at three times a greater rate in Frisco than he walked in Bakersfield.

Thirty-one is also the age over which you were demonstrably over the hill if you attended last night’s Guitar Hero charity tournament at the House of Blues, hosted by C.J. Wilson, featuring Jason Botts and Wes Littleton, and benefiting Camp Ailihpomeh, the Texas Hemophilia Summer Camp. I had to buy a beer just to fend off the urge to fix myself a nice tall glass of Metamucil.

It’s also the answer to 26 plus 5, an equation that signifies the Rangers’ number of signed selections from June’s draft and the number of key unsigned picks. It’s the eleventh hour for Texas to come to terms with righthander Blake Beavan (first round), center fielder Julio Borbon (supplemental first), righthander Neil Ramirez (supplemental first), center fielder Garrett Nash, and lefthander John Gast.

The signing deadline is tomorrow night at 11 p.m., but the Rangers have already said that they won’t agree to terms with a player who hasn’t submitted to a physical, and so the clock is ticking.

Of the remaining unsigned picks, the ones whose names were the most intriguing to me on draft day — and understand that this is based only on what I’ve read, not at all on any sort of firsthand scouting assessment — were Austin high school outfielder Kevin Keyes, California high school righthander Kyle O’Campo, and New Jersey high school righthander Anthony Ranaudo.

Thirty-one is probably about how many Stuckey’s convenience stores (do they still exist?) righthander Michael Main passed on his road trip from Surprise to Spokane, having been promoted from the Arizona League to the Northwest League after 12.2 innings of work (two runs on nine hits and six walks, with 16 strikeouts). He’s well ahead of Beavan on the developmental track by virtue of having signed quickly.

And 31 still means ice cream, of course, and I’m betting we’ll celebrate Max’s third birthday tonight with a bunch of it, followed by some wiffle ball — I’m Ian Kinsler, albeit on the mound, and he’s, of course, Michael Young — and a little Rangers-Royals before we call it a night.

When I was eight years old I used to love turning groundball double plays in the yard or on the fields with my friends. Campy to Bump to Hargrove.

When Max turns eight, I’m thinking Chris Davis will be on the receiving end of his sandlot double plays.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 13, 2007

When this photo was taken on January 15, 2005, at the Newberg Report Bound Edition Release Party at Rawlings All American Grille in the Ballpark, whatever vision any of us worked up for what the 2007 season might bring for the Rangers and Chris Young, Thomas Diamond, and John Danks was obviously dead wrong.

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But two years is a long time to map out. A lot longer than 12 days.

Do you think that on July 31, 2007, Boston imagined that, 12 days later, Eric Gagné would surrender a game-tying, two-run home run to Baltimore’s Miguel Tejada in the eighth inning of a game that the Sox would ultimately lose in 10 innings, allowing the Yankees to pull to within four games of the division lead, a lead that stood at seven games on the day that Boston acquired Gagné, who now has a 15.75 ERA with Boston and has permitted 10 hits and two walks in four innings of work?

Do you think that, on that same day the trade went down, the Rangers imagined that, 12 days later, they’d be fired up about the return they got for Gagné despite having Kason Gabbard exit his start, after just 18 pitches, with forearm stiffness? David Murphy helps Texas spank the Devil Rays, setting a career high with three hits, all of which were well-struck doubles, which tied a franchise record. And down in the Arizona League, Engel Beltre homers for the second time in four games and adds a run-scoring single.

Like that January 2005 photo, yesterday’s action was just a snapshot, but both go to show that you just never know.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 12, 2007

These days there’s an avalanche of good news in every one of Scott Lucas’s minor league reports. Save yesterday morning’s email from Scott, and the one you’ll receive today, and look back on them in two or three years. We’ve got the chance to recognize pitchers and hitters at virtually every level busting through right now.

It’s being reported everywhere that the Rangers are revising the plan to have Jarrod Saltalamacchia relieve Gerald Laird twice a week, and will now split catching duties between the two evenly. This is an important development to watch play out.

Mark Teixeira as an Atlanta Brave: .273/.340/.636, seven extra-base hits (including four home runs) and 12 RBI in 10 games.

Ron Mahay in six Braves appearances: two runs (one earned: 1.23 ERA) on four hits (all singles) and five walks in 7.1 innings, six strikeouts, one win, one hold, opponents’ line of .182/.321/.182.

Eric Gagné in four Red Sox appearances: six runs (16.20 ERA) on nine hits and two walks in 3.1 innings, four strikeouts, two holds, opponents’ line of .474/.524/.684.

Kenny Lofton as a Cleveland Indian: .250/.294/.271, one double among his 12 hits, two RBI, no stolen bases and one caught-stealing.

Old friend Kat O’Brien of Newsday advises that the Rangers asked the Yankees for either Melky Cabrera or Ian Kennedy in exchange for Gagné — not both of them, as reported recently by Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune.

For the heck of it: Fabio Castro is 4-4, 2.91 for AAA Ottawa (after earlier stretches of 0-0, 12.27 for Philadelphia and 2-0, 2.70 in relief for AA Reading). He was moved from the Lynx bullpen three weeks ago to the rotation, and has a 2.45 ERA in four starts.

John Koronka is 1-3, 4.38 (opponents’ average of .307) in five starts for AAA Buffalo in the Indians system.

Seventeen-year-old righthander Wilfredo Boscan is almost never mentioned along with fellow summer 2006 Latin American signees Wilmer Font, Geuris Grullon, or Carlos Pimentel, but remember the name. The Venezuelan is 2-1, 1.76 in eight Dominican Summer League starts and three relief appearances, with an eye-popping groundout-to-flyout rate of 4.53. In 51 innings, he’s allowed only 37 hits (.207 opponents’ average) and 13 walks while punching out 55 hitters. Right-handed hitters have been particularly helpless against Boscan, managing a scrawny line of .160/.229/.201 in 144 at-bats.

Don’t expect to see Oklahoma righthander Eric Hurley in Arlington next month. Bringing him up for a start or two might be merited by the brilliant season he’s had, but it would eliminate a winter roster spot unnecessarily. The new CBA dictates that Hurley’s first Rule 5 winter will follow the 2008 season, not this one, and so even if he stands a good chance to be in the big leagues sometime next year, adding him to the roster this September would theoretically mean one fewer roster spot this winter to keep open for a minor league who will be Rule 5-eligible.

Example: If Hurley was brought up to make one start in the week’s final season and, as a result, outfielder Brandon Boggs was lost to another organization in December via Rule 5, how would we all feel about that?

Righthander Edinson Volquez in AAA this year: 5-0, 2.03 in five starts, no home runs allowed, opponents’ average of .146, 4.4 walks per nine, 11.3 strikeouts per nine.

In simpler terms: In four of his five RedHawks starts, Volquez has allowed either one or two hits. Good grief. And in four of his five starts he’s punched out more than a batter per inning.

According to Drew Davison of MLB.com, supplemental first-round pick Neil Ramirez, a righthander who went 6-2, 1.46 for Kempsville High School and was named the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, says he’s “pretty close” to agreeing to terms with the Rangers. The club has until Wednesday to sign Ramirez (who has committed to Georgia Tech), fellow first-rounders Blake Beavan and Julio Borbon, and any other unsigned picks from the June draft.

The Rangers and Reds have equivalent 50-66 records, better than three other teams, if you’re thinking about 2008 draft position.

In June, Baseball Prospectus projected Tulane righthander Shooter Hunt as the number four prospect among college starting pitchers for next summer’s draft. Texas drafted Hunt in the 34th round out of a New Jersey High School in 2005.

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Lefthander Kason Gabbard will pitch to Jarrod Saltalamacchia tonight for the first time since Gabbard was a senior and Saltalamacchia was a freshman at Royal Palm High School in West Palm Beach, Florida, seven years ago.

I’ll be at the yard, and I invite you to pay close attention along with me.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 11, 2007

A partner of mine at work likes to say there’s no such thing as a bad day at the Yard.

That was a pretty good day.

There’s nothing about Texas 7, Tampa Bay 4 that’s going get a page in next year’s media guide or more than 15 seconds on SportsCenter or the local news, but when your kids get a dose of home run fireworks, an overdose of nachos and burgers and ice cream, and a two-run oppo knock from their favorite player, it didn’t matter much that "Hello Win Column" flashed on the scoreboard at nearly 11:00. 

It was a pretty good day for the rest of us, too.  Brandon McCarthy wasn’t at his sharpest, and yet had it not been for a fumbled transfer by Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a ground ball to his right, McCarthy might have escaped with a scoreless effort.  Those 27 pitches in the first signaled a short night for the righthander, but he gutted up and kept the Devil Rays off the board until the fifth, when he coaxed three straight infield ground balls to start the inning but got chased after three unearned runs had scored.

Mike Wood is solid.  I don’t know if it will be here, but that’s a guy who wouldn’t surprise me if he has another 10 years in this league, even if he has to win a job every March, somewhere.

The run Wood permitted in the sixth would instead have been ESPN’s number one Web Gem if Frank Catalanotto had a legitimate throwing arm from left.  Marlon Byrd made a sensational grab of an Akinori Iwamura skimming missile in left center and, with too much momentum to have any chance of planting and throwing, flipped the ball to Catalanotto, who threw to second as Iwamura pulled in with a double.  There wasn’t a close play, but with a different left fielder there might have been, and it would have been spectacular.

Speaking of throwing arms, I can’t wait for Max to be old enough to appreciate, along with Dad, how different (and sometimes breathtaking) it is to watch the ball come out of Nelson Cruz’s hand.

Catalanotto’s rifle down the line was the shot hitters dream of.  Hitting a ball so hard on a line that the fence can’t reach it.  That it practically doesn’t have a trajectory.   

And defining the use of all fields, two innings later Catalanotto dumps a bases-loaded pitch into left, extending a 5-4 lead to 7-4.

B.J. Upton is really good.

But he was no match last night for C.J. Wilson, which doesn’t distinguish Upton from the rest of the league right now.   

Relieving Frankie Francisco with two men on and two outs in the eighth, the Rangers’ new (if unknighted) closer didn’t mess around with Carl Crawford, getting him to ground out to shortstop on three pitches, all strikes.   

In the ninth Wilson got Upton to fly out lazily to right.  Punched Carlos Pena out, touching 96 early in the count.  And got Delmon Young to line into a hard out to center field to end the game.

I asked back on June 17 how many left-handed relievers in baseball you would trade Wilson for.  It’s not even a discussion at this point.

The last time anyone scored on Wilson was July 6.  Since then, he’s compiled these numbers:

Fourteen innings.

Three hits.  In 43 at-bats.  (That’s an opponents’ average of .070 against Wilson over the last five weeks.)

Three walks.

Seventeen strikeouts.

Two wins.  Two holds.  And four saves in four chances.

Let me dial back for a second: Last nine appearances, dating back to July 20, which was a week and a half before the ninth inning became his?  Wilson hasn’t allowed a hit.

I don’t think you heard me. 

Wilson hasn’t allowed a hit.

Eleven innings, 31 major leaguers with a bat in hand, including several late-inning pinch-hitters designed to have a better chance to turn one around on Wilson than the men they were replacing.  No hits.  Yeah, two walks.  But 15 strikeouts, and zero base hits.

The idea that Akinori Otsuka might not reclaim the ninth inning later this summer no longer has anything to do with a possible effort to keep his arbitration number down.

All told, including Wilson’s less-than-stellar June, he’s emasculated hitters to the tune of .168/.278/.235, with 30 hits allowed (just six for extra bases) and 52 strikeouts in 52.2 innings.   

In a March interview with "Batter’s Box Interactive Magazine," when asked what the biggest surprise about the 2007 Texas Rangers would be, I answered: "Michael Young’s RBI total.  Ian Kinsler’s All-Star Game appearance.  C.J. Wilson."

For his career, Young’s 162-game average is 86 RBI, and he’ll probably end up right around there or a tick higher, so I missed that one.  I felt good about Kinsler a third of the way to the All-Star Game but that didn’t work out.

And I’m almost ashamed to take credit for the Wilson prediction, because I didn’t think he’d be this good.   

One advantage I admit to having over lots of other fans is that I get the chance to know a lot of these guys before they’re even 40-man roster candidates, let alone big leaguers.  I put a lot of stock in how a player is wired, maybe too much.

When I predicted big things for guys like Michael Young, Jason Botts, and C.J. Wilson (and yes, Laynce Nix and Jason Romano and Spike Lundberg), it wasn’t just about OPS and hitting the ball where it’s pitched and strikeouts-to-walks.  It’s about what’s inside these guys, which not only helps explain the numbers but promises that, really, we’ve seen nothing yet.

So when I see Young step in, regardless of the situation, the later in the game the better, and imagine what’s going on in his head as he pounds his batting glove the way that Max just started emulating last week, my adrenaline starts to tick up.   

When I see Botts, despite knowing he’s in the audition of his life right now, making big league pitchers throw more than four times to the plate when it’s his turn at bat, and striking out less than he did in 2006, which was less than he struck out in 2005, I think about how that guy’s ability to stay within himself is as freakish as his physical presence.

And these days, when I see Wilson, the admitted adrenaline junkie, stride in from the bullpen, I think back to the kid I got to know almost five years ago, the kid who was a 2-10, 6.87 college pitcher when we drafted him and, in spite of those mound numbers from the collegiate hitting star, envisioned big things.  The guy whose path to Arlington was derailed four years ago by Tommy John surgery, but who came back with a vengeance, and a mission.  The ambassador for "straightedge," which should become a word and a concept that you soon won’t need to Wikipedia to understand if the Rangers market him correctly.

The dude who, as much as anybody on this team, makes it easier to imagine that things could get a lot better for this team in a timeframe much shorter than you’ll be told during those 15 seconds on SportsCenter or the local news.

And which gives new meaning to the concept, for me, that there’s no such thing as a bad day at the Yard.   

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

Swapping Stories: The Rick Helling Trades of 1996 and 1997

August 8, 1996: Texas trades righthander Ryan Dempster and a player to be named later to Florida for righthander John Burkett; September 3, 1996: Texas sends righthander Rick Helling to Florida to complete the trade; August 12, 1997: Texas trades lefthander Ed Vosberg to Florida for Helling.

When reporters asked Rangers GM Jon Daniels last week if his trades of Kenny Lofton, Mark Teixeira, Ron Mahay, and Eric Gagné signaled a shift into a lengthy rebuilding phase, Daniels rejected the notion, pointing out that fortunes can turn quickly. He offered Cleveland up as an example, noting that in 2006 the Indians were July sellers, sending closer Bob Wickman to Atlanta for Class A catcher Max Ramirez – but just a year later they were contenders, in a position to flip Ramirez to Texas for Lofton.

There are plenty examples of a team trading for a prospect like Ramirez and then moving him elsewhere after a shift in blueprints. There are far fewer instances in which a team has traded a prospect away – and then gone out to reacquire him a year later.

It’s exactly what Texas did with righthander Rick Helling in 1996 and 1997.

The Rangers made Helling their top pick in the 1992 draft, and placed him on a fast track. After three High A appearances the summer in which he signed, he split the 1993 season between AA Tulsa and AAA Oklahoma City.

Helling earned a spot in the Rangers rotation out of camp in 1994, getting chased in the fifth inning of his debut but going 3-0, 2.68 over his next five starts. Three subpar starts followed, however, and Texas optioned him back to AAA in late May, and he struggled the rest of the year, going 4-12, 5.78 for the 89ers.

Texas had a new general manager, Doug Melvin, and a new manager, Johnny Oates, in 1995, but the script was familiar for Helling, who again opened the season in the big league rotation but was back in AAA for good in May, going 4-8, 5.33 for Oklahoma City. The 24-year-old had a big league ERA of 6.01, a AAA ERA of 5.41, and two exhausted options.

Helling turned a corner in 1996. He didn’t break camp with the Rangers, but got off to a good start with the 89ers and was summoned to Texas in mid-April, though this time it was only to serve as a placeholder in middle relief until Jeff Russell was procedurally allowed to return to the big leagues on May 1. Helling was called on again on May 25 to make a spot start for the injured Kevin Gross, and though he held Kansas City to a run on three hits over eight innings, Texas sent him right back down, this time for two months.

When Gross reinjured his back in mid-July, the Rangers brought Helling back for another start. On July 19, he gave up eight Oakland runs in four-plus innings, prompting a return ticket to the Pacific Coast League.

There’s a good reason the Rangers weren’t displaying more patience with Helling that summer. The franchise without a single playoff game in its first 24 seasons was nursing a division lead it had held for all but three days of the season, though what was once a 6.5-game cushion had shrunk to three games.

By August 5, the lead was down to one game, and Melvin couldn’t trust Gross, who had just returned from a rehab assignment, or Helling to hold down a spot every fifth day. Melvin had traded for John Burkett 20 months earlier, sending minor leaguers Rich Aurilia and Desi Wilson to the Giants for the righthander while the players were on strike, only to non-tender the veteran righthander after the strike ended. Florida signed Burkett two days after Texas let him go.

In 1996 Melvin got a second chance to add Burkett, who had won 14 games in 1995 but was just 6-10, 4.32, with one win in his last eight starts, when the Marlins, hopelessly out of contention, placed the 31-year-old on revocable waivers, necessary for any trade since it was after the July 31 trade deadline. The Rangers made the prevailing claim, giving them 48 hours to try and engineer a trade before Florida would have had to pull Burkett back.

On August 8, the two teams agreed in principle on a deal that would send Burkett to Texas for Ryan Dempster, a 19-year-old righthander whom the Rangers had drafted the summer before in the third round, plus a player to be named later from an agreed list of prospects that included Helling. Texas didn’t need to run Dempster – the key to the deal for the Marlins – through revocable waivers since he was not on the 40-man roster.

Helling was having an outstanding AAA season, but Melvin thought Florida was going to choose AAA reliever Danny Patterson as the player to be named. At least until August 13, when Helling threw the first perfect game in Oklahoma City history.

The Rangers couldn’t alter the parameters of the deal. But they were hardly remorseful buyers. Two days earlier, in his Rangers debut, Burkett had authored a complete-game, 6-0 shutout, stretching the Texas division lead back to five games.

The Rangers placed Helling on revocable waivers in early September, when post-season rosters were already set, and he reached the Marlins without being claimed, allowing the teams to complete the trade on September 3. (Presumably, had he been blocked, Texas simply would have pulled him back and conveyed him to Florida after the season.) With the minor league season over, Helling, who had gone 12-4, 2.96 for Oklahoma City, posted a 1.95 ERA in four Marlins starts and a relief appearance, scattering 14 hits and seven walks in 27.2 innings while punching out 26 National Leaguers.

Again, though, Texas had no regrets. Burkett went 5-2, 4.06 in 10 Rangers starts as the club nailed down its first post-season berth, and earned what remains the only playoff win in franchise history with a complete-game gem in Yankee Stadium, a 6-2 victory to kick off the series before it turned sour.

Helling began the 1997 season in Florida’s bullpen, moving into the rotation in May before returning to the pen in June. By August, it was the Marlins who had the playoffs in their sights for the first time ever. But on August 11, left-handed reliever Felix Heredia, after retiring the Braves in order in the eighth inning of a 1-1 tie, issued a leadoff walk in the ninth, followed by a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk. Marlins manager Jim Leyland took the ball from Heredia, replacing him with Jay Powell, who walked the next hitter and gave up a game-ending sacrifice fly.

Atlanta extended its division lead over Florida to 5.5 games with the walkoff victory, and a Dodgers win brought Los Angeles to within 4.5 games of the Marlins in the Wild Card race. Leyland went into GM Dave Dombrowksi’s office and said he needed another southpaw reliever he could rely on. The next day, Dombrowski called Melvin, whose team was 10.5 games back in the AL West, and asked if he was willing to part with 35-year-old Ed Vosberg.

Melvin wanted Helling back, and he knew that Leyland wasn’t high on the 26-year-old, who was unable to crack a sturdy rotation that included Kevin Brown, Alex Fernandez, Al Leiter, Livan Hernandez, and Tony Saunders. Melvin consented to moving Vosberg, who had already cleared waivers. Dombrowksi agreed to return Helling, who had cleared waivers himself. The trade was consummated that same day.

Vosberg went on to pitch 5.2 post-season innings in the Marlins’ World Series run, but it was Texas who got the better end of the deal. Helling went 20-7, 4.41 in 1998, leading the Rangers to a second playoff appearance in three years, and 13-11, 4.84 in 1999, as Texas reached its third post-season. Helling would win in double digits four straight years, exceeding 215 innings each season and never missing a start.

The Rangers’ two Helling trades offer a perfect, if rare, example of a team moving a young player for a veteran to make a stretch run, and then turning around the next year, in the position of a seller, and getting that young player back. There were more heralded trades during Melvin’s seven years in Texas, but very few that turned out as well.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 8, 2007

We’re a week away from the deadline for the Rangers to come to terms with their 2007 draft picks, 28 of whom remain unsigned. Key among them are righthander Blake Beavan, taken 17th overall, and two of the club’s three supplemental first-rounders, center fielder Julio Borbon (35th overall) and righthander Neil Ramirez (44th overall).

Fourth-rounder Garrett Nash, a high school outfielder from Utah with an awaiting scholarship to the national champion Oregon State squad, and fifth-rounder John Gast, a Florida high school lefthander coming off an elbow injury and bound for Florida State, have not signed either. But Beavan, Borbon, and Ramirez are the ones on the front burner.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote a feature yesterday on the status of the players chosen in the conventional first round, and of note was the fact that Randy and Alan Hendricks are advisors to seven of the first 26 picks. They profile as follows:

13. College infielder, signed for $1.575 million ($100,000 more than last year’s number 13 pick)

16. High school infielder, signed for $1.44 million ($110,000 less than last year’s number 16 pick)

17. High school pitcher, unsigned

18. High school infielder, signed for $1.395 million ($155,000 less than last year’s number 18 pick)

20. High school pitcher, signed for $1.35 million ($150,000 less than last year’s number 20 pick)

23. College pitcher, signed for $1.26 million ($140,000 less than last year’s number 23 pick)

26. College pitcher, signed for $1.1925 million ($132,500 less than last year’s number 26 pick)

The lone Hendricks Brothers player not to sign thus far? Beavan, the Irving High School righthander who has committed to the University of Oklahoma as well as Navarro Junior College, the latter of which he could attend and be eligible for redraft next June.

Chances are that Beavan and the Rangers will come to terms — last year’s 17th pick, Wake Forest third baseman Matt Antonelli, signed for $1.575 million, and Goldstein suggests that the Rangers are at $1.4 million (in line with the 10 percent drop in slot that most first-rounders have signed for thus far) while Beavan seeks $1.7 million — but with just three weeks remaining in the Arizona League season, it may be that he won’t see any game action before fall instructs since it’s been over two months since he’s faced hitters.

And unless I’m missing something, it will have nothing to do with whether Texas were to sign Beavan to a 2007 contract or one that’s not effective until 2008. As I discussed in the July 12 report, the new CBA provision regarding Rule 5 is dependent on the player’s signing date, not the effective year of his contract. So if Beavan signs, he’ll be Rule 5-eligible if not on the 40-man roster by 2011, regardless of whether he plays this summer and regardless of whether he signs a 2007 or 2008 deal.

Contrary to all the ink that the Beavan situation has gotten, virtually nothing has been written about Borbon (the University of Tennessee product, advised by Scott Boras) and only a little has been written about Ramirez (the Virginia high school pitcher with a Georgia Tech commitment, advised by Larry Reynolds), but those are obviously two players that the Rangers want to add to the system. Last year’s 35th and 44th selections signed for $950,000 and $775,000, respectively.

Of the three, I’d guess Beavan is the most likely to sign, followed by Borbon, with Ramirez the greatest challenge. I just can’t see Beavan going to Navarro and expecting to improve his draft position dramatically while inviting the risk of injury in the meantime.

The Rangers’ top Navarro alum, Frisco third baseman Chris Davis, is 6 for his last 10 with two homers and two doubles, after starting out 1 for 11 as a RoughRider. Between Bakersfield and Frisco, the 21-year-old slugger is hitting .301/.345/.588 with 30 doubles, 27 home runs, and 102 RBI, trailing only Alex Rodriguez in all of baseball in runs driven in. In the Rangers organization, Jason Botts has 81 (including his three big league RBI), Oklahoma’s Nate Gold has 79, and Clinton’s Chad Tracy has 76.

Botts has drawn 82 walks, exceeded only by Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Nick Swisher, and Low A Greenville DH Jonathan Still.

In its recent ranking of prospects by position (on the basis of “ceiling, performance and prospect status”), Baseball America judged Oklahoma’s Eric Hurley to be the number 10 right-handed starter prospect in baseball. Clinton’s Kasey Kiker was the number eight left-handed starter, Bakersfield’s Max Ramirez was the number seven catching prospect, and Frisco’s Taylor Teagarden was number 10. Frisco’s German Duran was the number nine second baseman, Davis was the number 10 third baseman, and Bakersfield’s Elvis Andrus was the number six shortstop.

In the Class A edition of Baseball America’s “Best Tools” survey of league managers, Davis was recognized as the best power prospect in the California League (from his time with the Blaze) and Johnny Whittleman (while with Clinton) was judged to have the best strike zone judgment in the Midwest League. The Carolina League rankings included Andrus (while with Myrtle Beach) as the most exciting player and best defensive shortstop, and Ramirez (while with Kinston) as possessing the league’s best strike zone judgment.

Ramirez is hitting .361/.425/.528 since joining Bakersfield.

Teagarden, who was promoted to Frisco upon Ramirez’s arrival in the Kenny Lofton trade, has this fascinating split in Frisco: he’s a 5 for 9 hitter (.556/.583/.778) while playing catcher, and 0 for 15 when DH’ing.

Righthander Brennan Garr forced a promotion to Bakersfield after holding Midwest League hitters to a .177 average in 39 Clinton innings over the season’s first three months, punching out 50, issuing just 16 walks, and coaxing 2.58 as many groundouts as flyouts as he posted a 2.31 ERA. He’s been even better with the Blaze, giving up two runs (1.59 ERA) on only five hits (.128 opponents’ average) in 11.1 innings to go along with 15 strikeouts and only two walks. Stunningly, right-handed hitters are 0 for 19 against the 23-year-old righty.

The Rangers’ second first-rounder, righthander Michael Main, has now thrown 9.2 Arizona League innings and has yet to be scored on. He’s allowed four hits and walked five, fanning 13.

Clinton first baseman Mauro Gomez is the Rangers’ minor league player of the month for July, having hit .359/.407/.786 with 12 home runs and 31 RBI in 27 games. The 22-year-old is in his fifth pro season since signing with Texas out of the Dominican Republic. He sits at .274/.330/.481 for the season, with a Midwest League-leading 20 homers and 67 RBI.

Frisco righthander Armando Galarraga got the nod as the organization’s minor league pitcher of the month for July, going 3-1, 1.58 in six starts, including a one-hit shutout and a two-hit shutout. The league hit .156 off the 25-year-old for the month, during which he led the Texas League with 42 strikeouts.

Good day for the players the Rangers got from Boston in the Eric Gagné trade. Lefthander Kason Gabbard (5-1, 3.93) wasn’t at his sharpest but threw a quality start, holding Oakland to three runs in six innings to earn the win in his Rangers home debut. While center fielder David Murphy singled in four trips in his Oklahoma debut last night, center fielder Engel Beltre went 4 for 9 out of the leadoff spot in an Arizona League doubleheader.

Texas signed 17th-round pick Mitch Moreland, a first baseman who also starred on the mound for Mississippi State. The Rangers will keep the lefthander, who won the Home Run Derby at the Cape Cod League’s All-Star Game in 2006 and projects to hit with massive power, away from the mound.

Bakersfield’s game with Visalia was canceled last night, after seven Visalia players were involved in a one-car accident the day before. Infielder Blake Sharpe reportedly sustained a fractured skull.

Toronto released shortstop Royce Clayton.

The independent South Coast League suspended South Georgia infielder Joey Hooft for 10 games for violation of the league’s drug policy. Shortly thereafter, South Georgia manager Wally Backman resigned.

For those of you who didn’t see it in the handful of local and national stories the past week, it has come out that the Angels apparently never offered first baseman Casey Kotchman and lefthander Joe Saunders to Texas for Mark Teixeira, despite widespread reports that they had. The Angels reportedly offered Kotchman and righthander Ervin Santana, who had pitched his way back to AAA. Big, big difference.

According to Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, when shopping Gagné, Texas asked the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera and righthander Ian Kennedy and asked the Mets for outfielder Lastings Milledge and pitching prospects.

The price for center fielders Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, and Mike Cameron just ticked up. Arizona’s Eric Byrnes extended yesterday for three years at $30 million, establishing the contract that Gary Matthews Jr. got last winter as a benchmark, rather than an aberration.

Duncanville High School has been such a baseball factory for so many years, producing first-rounders like Keith Creel and Todd Ritchie, plus expansion draft headliner David Nied and fellow big leaguers Chad Allen, Brandon Fahey, Cliff Bartosh, and Chris Eddy (not to mention my BBI teammate and former Mets, Astros, Orioles, and Red Sox farmhand Chris Hill). It’s a bit sad that the program’s greatest bullet point, at this point, is now Mike Bacsik’s place in history as the man who delivered the pitch that Barry Bonds turned around for number 756.

Bacsik, the recent BaD Radio intern and a dead ringer for Daniel Benzali, was born in November 1977, months after his father’s third and final season pitching for the Rangers. Mike Sr. faced Hank Aaron on August 23, 1976, getting him fly out to right and giving up an infield single, five weeks after Aaron had hit his final home run. Stated another way, Mike Sr. and Mike Jr. faced Aaron and Bonds when each had 755 home runs.

Mike Jr. would pitch for Texas himself in 2004, contributing 15.2 innings (and serving up longballs to the less prominent Melvin Mora and Larry Bigbie).

Fellow lefthander C.J. Wilson, coming off a 6-9, 5.05 season with Frisco, sat out that 2004 season, recovering from Tommy John ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery.

A lot of you weren’t with me in 2005 or 2006 when I tried to persuade you to believe in Wilson.

On March 17 of this year, I wrote: “C.J. Wilson isn’t yet the star that he’s wired to be, but I’ll never bet against him.”

He’s on the verge of invalidating the first part of that comment.

Are you with me yet?

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

SUPPORT FOR THE NEWBERG REPORT

Thanks to those of you who have responded with “honor system” contributions to the Newberg Report the last few days. If you are still interested in participating, we’re asking for a contribution of $10 to $25.

The easiest way to contribute is to go to http://www.PayPal.com and send payment to the gjsneaker@sbcglobal.net account.

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As I mentioned Thursday, I never hold it against anyone who chooses not to participate. But I want to emphasize that there are a handful of people who put lots of their time into the effort to make the email newsletter and the website as worthwhile as the mass of sites that provide similar types of content and charge pretty sizable fees for the right to read it. By responding positively to this “honor system” fee program, it helps us avoid having to seriously think about heading down a subscription-based path.

Regardless of your level of participation, I thank each of you for your continued support of the Newberg Report.

Jamey

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 5, 2007

This is the kind of box score that fires me up.

Down in San Antonio, the Missions barely draw a fraction of what Cowboys practices attract 15 miles east. There were an announced 4,511 on hand for last night’s matchup with the hated RoughRiders, likely none of whom decided to pack the kids up and hit the game only because it would be the AA debut of visiting Frisco pitcher Michael Schlact.

The 21-year-old righthander, whose 5-7, 5.77 record in 21 Bakersfield starts this season followed a 4-13, 5.99 campaign with the same club in 2006, is a cerebral groundball specialist, a great kid who went back home to Georgia over the winter at 6’7″, 205, and came back to camp in Surprise an inch taller, 15 pounds sturdier, and married.

He was 0-3, 5.11 in July, but that included three earned runs over 12 innings his last two times out, and the organization decided his 47 Cal League starts had readied him for a chance to get AA hitters out.

Setting up behind the plate was Taylor Teagarden, Schlact’s Bakersfield teammate until a week ago, making his fifth Frisco start and just his second defensively. Manning third base was Chris Davis, who was briefly teammates with Teagarden at the University of Texas, and who wore the red, orange, yellow, and black of the Blaze along with both Teagarden and Schlact until a week ago himself.

In the bullpen sat righthander Kea Kometani, one of Schlact’s good friends, a four-year man from Pepperdine who had hit it off with the Georgia high schooler when the two righthanders played together in Clinton in 2005 and Bakersfield in 2006.

San Antonio sat a game ahead of Frisco in the second-half standings as the game got underway.

The bottom of the first didn’t start off crisply. Leadoff hitter Matt Antonelli, San Diego’s top prospect, reached on an error by first baseman Jim Fasano. But Schlact promptly got Will Venable to ground into a fielder’s choice, struck prospect Chase Headley out swinging, and got Colt Morton to foul out to left.

Schlact, who has fanned five batters per nine innings in his four pro seasons, struck one Mission out in the second inning. One in the third. Two in the fourth. One in the fifth.

All swinging.

The first two San Antonio hitters reached safely off Schlact to lead off the sixth, after which he got Morton to pop out to Fasano. RoughRiders manager Dave Anderson came to the mound and took the ball, handing it off to Danny Ray Herrera, who was Schlact’s Blaze teammate in 2006. Herrera induced a fielder’s choice grounder and ended the inning on a strikeout, preserving Schlact’s pristine line:

5.1 innings, three hits, one walk, six swinging strikeouts.

Seven groundouts, just three flyouts — one of which was that foulout to left and another of which was that popout to first.

No runs.

Herrera would pitch a perfect seventh, after which Kometani would pitch a perfect eighth, sandwiching Antonelli and Headley strikeouts around a Venable groundout to first.

Teagarden picked up two of his three hits (two of which were doubles) before Schlact exited. Davis hit his first AA double, drew his second AA walk, and blasted his second AA home run before Schlact’s day was done, a two-run blast that extended a 1-0 Frisco lead to 3-0, which Schlact’s former Blaze teammate Jesse Ingram made stand up in an eventual 4-1 Riders win.

It was the best Frisco effort thus far for Teagarden and for Davis, and it’s one that’s going to be hard for Schlact to top.

But I’m looking forward to seeing if he can.

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

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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