THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 6, 2007
That’s the sound not only of the hundreds of Canadian soldiers that nested on Joba Chamberlain’s neck and face and cap and jersey last night at Jacobs Field, but also of the two scouts from another team sitting seven hours earlier in the stands in Surprise, watching Elvis Andrus and Marcus Lemon and Emmanuel Solis and Johan Yan take ground balls and watching Engel Beltre and David Paisano take batting practice at the beginning of the day.
*******. They’ve got some Guys.”
Word’s getting around.
Like when another scout, also from another organization, marveled that Texas threw seven consecutive pitchers to the mound on Tuesday that threw 93 or better. Or when yet another scout, also from another organization, said that he saw four pitchers on Wednesday that he graded as big league: Blake Beavan, Kasey Kiker, Fabio Castillo, and Neil Ramirez. Those scouts will tell you the over/under on filing a report that says he saw a big league arm in a given Instructional League game is probably one. But four of them, trotted out to the hill in succession? That’s just sick.
But here’s the thing.
Nelson Cruz was in town getting some work in, and when he took batting practice reps with a group of players that in some cases were 10 years younger, doing nothing but hitting missiles to center and right, by design, the ball came off his bat differently, every time. You think about how his AAA dominance has translated into frustrating inconsistency in the big leagues, and it drives home the point that as much talent as there is among the 40 or 50 young players here, nobody’s a lock. Nobody.
Quality without quantity isn’t a good bet.
But other teams’ scouts are seeing both in Rangers camp.
No uniform numbers during the morning workouts. A bit disappointing at first, but before long the key prospects made themselves plenty recognizable even though they were wearing the same “The Future is Here” shirts as everyone else.
Andrus has enough arm for shortstop. And every action is smooth.
Yan, in two days of watching him take reps at third base and at the plate, reminded me of Joel Guzman. He’s very long, both in physique and in actions. The ball comes out of his hand differently (Tony Fernandez whip and Adrian Beltre strength), and at times comes off his bat differently. Like Guzman, he appears to do every single thing on a baseball field well, but the results haven’t shown up in games yet.
Wouldn’t surprise me to see Yan tried on a mound one day if the offense doesn’t come together.
Beltre and Paisano both had their right knees wrapped, evidently due to yesterday’s outfield collision in Peoria. But both played nine innings.
Johnny Whittleman has gone home to Kingwood because of a viral infection, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.
The outfielders participated in a modified “pop time” drill in the morning, with hitting instructor Mike Boulanger clocking time between catch and delivery to a target about 150 feet away. Not surprisingly, Cruz established the early time to beat. But Julio Borbon (nursing a hamstring strain), Beltre, and Paisano all eclipsed Cruz’s mark before the veteran finished the drill by clocking the winning time.
The second gear that Fabio Castillo showed me in March resurfaced yesterday. He’s what a pitching prospect looks like.
Bruce Chen threw live batting practice and, afterwards, held court by discussing (in fluent Spanish) what appeared to be hitting mechanics with a half dozen young Latin American position players. From what I gathered, he was telling them how he exploits certain hitters’ tendencies. You should have seen the awe in those kids’ eyes.
Matt Harrison pitched in the afternoon game against the Dodgers (in a tune-up before he reports to the Arizona Fall League) and was fair. Probably rusty.
Two plays of the day: the first one came in the bottom of the first, after Beltre ended up on third base when his fly to left careened off the Dodgers’ left fielder’s head. Andrus hit a sharp one-hop shot to the mound, snared by the pitcher, who immediately froze Beltre 15 feet off the bag at third. Beltre proceeded to do the dance and force what must have been a half-dozen throws in the ensuing rundown, and Andrus took advantage of it by ending up on third base as Beltre was finally tagged out. Electric play by the top two hitters in the Rangers’ lineup.
Second memorable moment: Miguel Alfonzo’s majestic grand slam off of Clayton Kershaw. It wasn’t the blue-chip Dodgers prospect’s day (14 strikes, 16 balls), but 10 years from now, if things don’t come together for Alfonzo, he can tell his kids that he turned a Kershaw fastball around and sent it nearly 400 feet to straightaway left, breaking open a close game that would finish with the Rangers on top, 8-2.
Taking a look at Alfonzo’s pro stats (.189/.298/.256 with one home run in 180 Dominican Summer League at-bats in 2006, and .310/.405/.416 with one home run in 113 Arizona League at-bats in 2007), you get a picture of a certain type of player, and it’s not one who has the ability to do some real damage with the bat. What he has shown – admittedly, in just a two-day sample – has been surprising.
Andrus goes back on a pop-up better than Alex Rodriguez ever did.
(Faint praise, I know.)
I’m going with Carlos Beltran as the player I think Beltre can become. Or maybe one of the Upton’s.
Good grief, is Tommy Hunter big. Offensive lineman big. One of his legs probably weighs as much as Danny Ray Herrera. He’s got huge stuff, but got knocked around a bit.
I wonder how many strikeouts Herrera has had where the batter ended up on first.
Paisano made a spectacular diving catch coming in on a line drive. At the plate he goes to the opposite field well.
In the first of what was two more fantastic playoff games yesterday, Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He is 0 for 6 in the series, and is now 4 for 47 (.085) with zero RBI and 15 strikeouts in his last 14 playoff games. In 2004, his first Yankees post-season, he hit .320. In 2005, he hit .133. In 2006, he hit .071. Still looking for a hit in these playoffs, and he’s potentially running out of time. Tomorrow he’ll face Jake Westbrook, against whom he’s a lifetime .375/.423/.542 hitter.
While A-Rod failed yesterday to come through, the game was won by his former Rangers teammate Travis Hafner, who rifled a two-out, bases-loaded, full-count single off their former Rangers teammate Luis Vizcaino, driving in former Ranger Kenny Lofton to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series that now travels to Yankee Stadium.
After the game, Hafner said, “I came up in a great situation. Bases loaded, two outs. That’s what you dream about as a kid.”
Which probably included Hafner’s own swim through Fall Instructional League with the Rangers 10 years ago, when he and fellow playoff heroes Doug Davis and Mike Lamb were drilling the fundamentals and visualizing October moments like they would eventually provide.
But the 1997 group that Hafner and Davis and Lamb were part of didn’t generate the kind of buzz that this year’s squad has. There’s a gathering swarm.