Part of the periphery of each of my 15 or so annual spring training trips to Florida or Arizona has always been March Madness on TV. Baseball in the morning, a quick lunch, baseball in the afternoon, some sort of baseball dinner, and college basketball on the tube as things wind down. Automatic.
This was my first fall instructional league expedition, and among all the obvious differences from spring training was that the days ended not with NCAA hoops, but with playoff baseball.
One thing that struck me this week about what’s happening out here is the emphasis on team-building. Among the indelible moments will unquestionably be Engel Beltre’s play in center field, Elvis Andrus’s effortless presence and seemingly effortless play, Miguel Alfonzo and Jorge Quintero’s mocking of their relative anonymity, David Paisano and Leonel De Los Santos’s hoses, Don Welke’s personality (and Tommy Hunter’s, too), and the fact that the two most impressive pitching performances over three days of games turned out to be the very first inning I saw (Michael Main) and the final frame (Neftali Feliz). But just as eye-opening was the culture of the camp.
There was no hint of a barrier between the players born in the United States and those born in Latin America. Unified by those gray and red “The Future Is Here” Under Armour shirts, there was more to it than that. Bilingually charismatic, Andrus and Beltre and Julio Borbon each seemed to be at the center of helping make this one group of 50 rather than several disconnected, segregated cliques, but of course everyone had to buy in to make it really work. Andrus and Main were together in charge of a world map showing every player’s birthplace. Fabio Castillo and Marcus Lemon organized an effort to have each player educate everyone else on his hometown, his family, his non-baseball interests, and so on.
You’ve got to remember that Andrus and Main and Castillo and Lemon, like the majority of the players here, are teenagers. They’re still kids. But among these kids are leaders.
There’s work being done here, of course. Lots of it. But it has a different feel from the work that’s done in March, when the players are getting back into condition, shaking off the winter rust as they fight for a promotion, if not a job. Players spend spring training ramping up physically, mentally, and rhythmically, preparing for the grind that awaits, a brand of natural selection that pits these kids not only against Angels prospects and Indians farmhands and future Rockies, but also against each other, in a way.
The difference in Fall Instructs is that it’s the culmination, for one year, of that grind, an eight-month crucible that for some began in Surprise, for others in high school or in college or on Latin America fields, playing with all the adrenaline and intensity you’d expect from a kid trying to earn the attention of pro scouts authorized to pay large signing bonuses and open the door to a lifelong dream.
At the end of the 2007 grind these kids came together, literally and otherwise, learning not only about situational hitting and defense and pitching technique, but also about each other and about what it’s going to take to get where they want to be, as baseball players, together. To develop to the point at which “Texas Rangers” adorns not only the complex they train in, but the uniform they get to wear when the games count.
At the end of each day in spring training, I’m used to seeing Kansas and Georgetown and Gonzaga, a considerable contrast from Indians-Yankees, or Diamondbacks-Cubs. That’s just how the calendar falls. But it fits.
I doubt there are framed photos in the Surprise clubhouse of Travis Hafner from his Instructional League days in a Rangers uniform, or of Doug Davis, or of Scott Eyre, but those guys have been framed on TBS this week, and some of them will be next week, too, as Fall Instructional League continues against the backdrop of the major league playoffs. That should be inspiration enough.
October baseball, both on TV and in the way it’s orchestrated in Surprise, probably helps fire these guys up, as the year’s grind nears its end, to get after it again in the spring. Bet they can’t wait to get back to Surprise in five months.
I know I can’t.
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.
As Chase Field lay momentarily dormant on Thursday afternoon, recovering from the Diamondbacks’ 3-1 Game 1 win over the Cubs the night before and readying itself for 50,000 people to converge for Game 2, a crowd of fewer than 10 was taking in a baseball game 15 miles away, a mid-afternoon contest between the Rangers and Dodgers at a ballpark advertised as the Arizona home of the Padres and Mariners.
Measured against big league playoff baseball, Fall Instructional League play is, almost by definition, the opposite extreme. There’s no scoreboard, no names on the uniforms, no coverage, no fanfare.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t singular talents. It was in the same uniform and in that setting that Thursday heroes Travis Hafner and Doug Davis once played as Texas prospects. One Rangers player in particular stood out for me yesterday, as I expected he would, but not nearly how I expected he would.
The box score, if there was one, would read an unremarkable 1 for 4, including an opposite field pop-up that fell in for a single, a lazy opposite-field flyout, two strikeouts, and a walk. Engel Beltre didn’t fill up the box score in the Rangers’ two-run win over the Dodgers, but he lived up to the reputation that he’s one of those players you just can’t take your eyes off of.
When we got to the side field and leaned against the back of the five-row riser that made up a third of the seating for the game, Texas was in the field. Michael Main was busy throwing an explosive array of power pitches, coaxing lots of foul pop-ups and bad swings. One Los Angeles hitter lobbed a soft liner to center field, but before it could land, in came Beltre, whose great jump allowed him to intercept the shot at shoetop level. My first instinct, not yet knowing who was in center for Texas, was that it might have been celebrated speed merchant Julio Borbon.
No, the play was made by Beltre, whose build is more likely to remind you of a utility infielder than a player whose bat has invoked comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. and Darryl Strawberry. (Beltre has the same lean frame that those two did when they were drafted number one out of high school, though Beltre yields four inches of height to Griffey and half a foot to Strawberry. He’s built more like Alfonso Soriano, like a young Jimmy Rollins, like I imagine a young Ichiro Suzuki was built. Like a bat bag. An athletic, shrink-wrapped, hermetically sealed bat bag.)
A couple innings later, Beltre ended a rough inning for righthander Kyle Ocampo by cutting down a runner trying to score from second base on a hard single up the middle, firing a one-hop laser to catcher Manuel Pina.
He then led off the next inning with a walk, took third on a Miguel Alfonzo single to center, and tried to score on a shallow flyout to left field, getting erased on a great throw to the plate.
Minutes later, a right-handed Dodgers hitter smoked a ball to the gap in right center field — closer to right than to center — with severe enough furious slice on it that it looked like right fielder David Paisano might track it down.
But there was Beltre, darting into view, seemingly out of nowhere, and flagging the ball down at full speed with a backhand to end the inning. His and Paisano’s legs glanced off each other, prompting every trainer and every coach to jump to his feet, if not into the outfield. Both stayed on the ground for a few minutes but ultimately both were OK, staying in the game.
In the top of the ninth inning, Beltre got his lone hit of the day, dumping a flare down the left field line for a single. Elvis Andrus’s second walk of the game moved Beltre to second, and he came around to score on an Alfonzo single.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers were mounting a bit of a rally against Andrew Laughter when Beltre fielded a single to center and killed the runner from second at the plate, unleashing an absolute laser on the fly.
Beltre saw lots of pitches on Thursday, showing obvious bat speed even though he didn’t make a lot of good contact on the day. But you see the defensive tools, the phenomenal closing speed and devastatingly strong arm, and watch him step in as a leadoff hitter with what could almost be described as a small frame, and the picture you being to develop in your mind as to what type of player he is disintegrates in the face of that .310/.388/.583 line he put up as a 17-year-old in the Arizona League after coming over in the Eric Gagne trade.
He has a real chance to be a special player.
Other observations from yesterday’s game:
Main looked really, really good.
Carlos Pimentel had command issues (mostly up in the zone) but the Dodgers never got a good swing off him. Serious velocity.
For some players, the ball just sounds different coming off their bat. Some can spin a breaking ball in such a way that you know the hitter has no chance before the pitch is halfway to the plate. There are others, like Andrus, who you can tell are different simply by how they carry themselves. I’m struggling as to how to explain it. It’s not really a swagger that Andrus has. It’s more of a comfortable magnetism. He reminds me of a feature tailback, or a really good cover corner, with that smile that says he knows he’s going to beat you more often than not. He’s going to be a leader.
Max Ramirez is not 5’11”. But he’s impressive.
Los Angeles outfielder Scott Van Slyke hit a ball real far.
Biggest disappointment of the day: Learning that if we’d arrived a day earlier, we would have seen Blake Beavan, Kasey Kiker, Fabio Castillo, and Neil Ramirez all pitch in a game against Seattle.
Biggest surprise of the day: Jorge Quintero. Absolutely overmatched a couple hitters.
Pina moves like a catcher is supposed to. If he starts to hit, watch out.
Advice that you didn’t ask for: Never, ever use City Shuttle or Executive Cab in Dallas. Ever.
More advice: If you’re a boxer from Garland and have a big fight coming up in Arizona, finish your training in the city where the fight is going to be. Because if you fast for four straight days just before the fight in order to make weight, and then get on a plane to Phoenix and nearly pass out on the first leg of the flight, airline officials are probably going to make you get off the plane (along with your entourage) at the stopover. So, you know, eat. Or at least get to Phoenix before you start to starve yourself.
Bravo, Kenny Lofton.
I didn’t really read this morning that Colorado is planning to start Mark Redman in Game 4 against Philadelphia, did I? Mark Redman, who posted an 11.86 ERA in seven Rockies appearances after throwing up a 5.34 ERA in nine Oklahoma starts?
The Rockies have voted to give a playoff share to Mandy Coolbaugh, the widow of Mike Coolbaugh, the AA Tulsa coach who was killed when struck in the head by a line drive a few months ago. Very cool.
At the end of the Rangers’ Instructional League win yesterday, there were no reporters waiting to interview the star of the game, no victory song blaring over the P.A system, no P.A. system (for that matter), and no fans cheering the result.
But there was that familiar procession on the infield, with the Rangers’ defensive nine striding in toward the dugout, exchanging daps with their teammates who had poured out of the dugout (which wasn’t dug out at all, but instead a bench separated from the field by a chain-link fence), everyone smiling and chattering and celebrating a win.
The stakes weren’t nearly the same as they would be a few hours later and 15 miles to the southeast, but one of the things they instruct in Fall Instructional League is how little things matter, how hitting behind the runner and laying off the pitcher’s pitch and throwing to the right base can all help lead to a win. Teaching young players how to contribute to winning teams undoubtedly includes mechanical adjustments and work on technique, but it’s also about doing the little things that don’t show up in the box score and understanding why they are so important.
There will be plenty of days when Engel Beltre dominates the box score, but one of the things that could make him great is that, even on days that he doesn’t, he can nonetheless absolutely steal the show.
The most interesting thing I heard Jon Daniels and Ron Washington say at yesterday’s season-ending press conference may not have been the most important, or the most provocative, but it was the kind of remark that I thought was worth talking about, not only because of what was stated but also because of what it reveals.
Washington, regarding his young players: “Entitlements are over. We expect everybody to be major league ballplayers and do what it takes to be successful as major league players.”
Daniels: “They’re going to have to produce and get rolling.”
First, and most obvious, is the connotation that while 2007 was the first year for a first-time big league manager and a lot of first-year ballplayers, not to mention an arguably new way of playing baseball, 2008 will no longer be about acclimation. It will be about capitalizing on opportunity, or losing it.
Second, implicitly, it’s a statement that this organization has not only put in place a greater commitment to finding pieces that fit a model of long-term stability (as opposed to an effort to catch bottled lightning), but that it also has the makings of the kind of system depth, for the first time in many years, to enable that sort of commitment and allow it to pay off. Gone, it sounds like, are the days that a fringe prospect will be going head to head in camp with a Greg Colbrunn or Dan Miceli, a Doug Glanville or Steve Woodard, to fill a position that everyone knows will belong to someone else a year later, if not sooner.
Even the prospects that this club has developed into big leaguers or targeted in trades are not going to be handed anything any longer. There are more like them, some nearly ready and others a year away or two. And the front office is going to continue to be aggressive looking for more. The added prospect depth also means a better chance to make trades for veterans who can be long-term fits, and while Daniels says that the Rangers are going to get away from signing mediocre free agents who will block the club’s better prospects, and that he’s committed to solving roster deficiencies internally, he won’t shy away from aggressively pursuing young, established players who can be brought in to add to the core going forward.
Daniels did add that that he won’t rule out bringing in a veteran on an opportunistic one-year deal if it’s a player the club feels can come in and not only contribute but also help our younger players grow. (Last year’s example: Eric Gagné.)
The current roster will not look like the one that Texas takes to Surprise in February, particularly the position players. But the message I got yesterday was that the young players among the 25 who break camp in March may not automatically get a month or two to prove themselves.
We all want this team to be competitive, year in and year out. A good way to get on that path is to make sure the internal battle for roster spots is more competitive than it has been, and it feels like that’s what we’re going to get from this point forward, because of the organizational gauntlet being thrown down and because of the healthiest this system has been, in terms of depth of young talent on the way, in a long time.
Jason Botts hit .280 in September and reached base at a .372 clip. Not surprising, if you know his history of struggling in his first month or so at a new level before settling in. But he also slugged only .373 in the final month, and that’s going to need to be better if he’s going to claim the club’s DH spot in 2008 (when he’ll be out of options). His selectivity is something the lineup could use more of, but there’s a fine line between effectively working pitch counts and regularly digging yourself into two-strike counts.
I have faith in Botts taking that next step.
David Murphy finished with 105 Rangers at-bats, giving him 127 career at-bats in parts of two big league seasons. Another three at-bats and he would have exhausted his rookie eligibility, but instead he goes into the 2008 eligible to figure in as far as the Rookie of the Year race is concerned.
Kevin Millwood’s 172.2 innings mean he’ll need to average 180 innings over the next two seasons or pitch 180 innings in 2009 in order for his $12 million salary in 2010 to become guaranteed.
Marlon Byrd drove in 102 runs this year between Oklahoma and Texas.
Center field is getting all the attention as the big story of the winter, and there’s no doubt that it’s a big one. But I’m nearly as interested in what Daniels does with Gerald Laird.
Akinori Otsuka will begin a throwing program in Arizona at the end of this month.
Chris Davis was ranked by California League managers and club scouts as the number nine prospect in that league, according to a Baseball America survey. Taylor Teagarden was ranked 13th. Elvis Andrus wasn’t considered because he joined the league too late in the season but would have ranked somewhere between ninth and 15th.
Shortstop Joaquin Arias, still not healthy, won’t go to the Arizona Fall League after all.
Carlos Pena (.282/.411/.627, 46 home runs, 121 RBI) is the American League Comeback Player of the Year.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell (.281/.363/.533 with 27 home runs between Low A and High A, plus a September look with the Nationals) was named Washington’s minor league player of the year.
Gagné made Boston’s division series roster. Gary Matthews Jr. and Adam Eaton were left off of the Angels’ and Phillies’ rosters.
Texas will make the 11th pick in next June’s amateur draft.
Another thing that Ron Washington said yesterday is that the club will make sure that its minor league players are being taught at every level to play the game the same way that they will be expected to play it in Arlington — and that means moving runners, bunting, running the bases well — so that they don’t need to be taught those things, on the job, once they reach the big leagues.
That of course goes back to the remarks at yesterday’s press conference that the “entitlements are over,” and that young players are “going to have to produce and get rolling.” The indoctrination of the entire system on the new way of playing Rangers baseball began in 2007 and will continue in full force in 2008.
I’m about to get a chance to see some of that first-hand. My next report will come to you from Surprise, Arizona, where I’m going to see a lot of the Rangers’ youngest prospects in person for the first time. Most of them will be two years away, if not more, from being in the picture to help the big club, but some of them will help sooner than that.
Stated another way, in this year’s fall instructional league group there will probably also be a Travis Hafner or Aaron Harang or Edwin Encarnacion who will eventually star for someone else. But there will likely also be a couple Corey Lee’s, Justin Echols’s, Julian Cordero’s, Juan Dominguez’s, players who could be used to make trades that help the big league club immediately (or soon) and whose loss won’t be met with any long-term regret.
That part is on Jon Daniels. What he and his manager made clear yesterday is that the club’s young players are about to be charged with more accountability themselves than they were in 2007.
“There’s always room for optimism,” said Michael Young to reporters over the weekend, “but the simple fact is this is getting old.”
“I don’t want the topic of conversation to be who’s in third place.”
“That’s not what I play baseball for.”
“This is by far my toughest year in baseball.”
I believe it.
“I hope this gets turned around immediately.”
That’s the comment that some of you evidently have an issue with.
Do you really want the leader of your team to say that 75-87 was a blast? That he’s comfortable with personal achievements and a nice contract?
Do you want him saying, expressly or implicitly, that he doesn’t think he and his teammates are capable of playing beyond 162 in 2008 like Arizona and Cleveland and Colorado are going to do in 2007?
Those three teams won between 76 and 78 games last year.
Do you even want him thinking that?
You better believe I want Michael Young hoping that this team’s fortunes turn around immediately.
As disappointing as the last three games in Seattle were, as the season ends I’m feeling as good about this team’s long-term health as I have in a long time. The general manager is intent on emphasizing player development, having already engineered huge strides in that area, through trades and through the draft and through international scouting. And the owner is on board. As long as those two people are committed to the plan, I’m good.
But the players? I want them focused on the present, believing they can win. What do you think the chances are that Kevin Millwood will ever wear the same uniform as Engel Beltre or Neil Ramirez? It’s not up to the players to think about building a winner. It’s up the players to win.
And that’s exactly what I want the player whose lead every other Texas Rangers player follows to think, and to say. Let’s win. Now.
The Dallas Cowboys last won a division title in 1998, a longer drought by a year than the Rangers. The Cowboys last won a playoff game in 1996, same as the Rangers.
This start to the football season feels so good not just because of a 4-0 start and a weak conference, but more so because the best players on the team, for the most part, are still young and getting better, and because the fact that they’ve gotten to this point while being developed by this organization gives us hope that the scouts and the coaches responsible for finding and sculpting football talent here are on to something — something that’s going to last for a while.
There are no Yankees and no Red Sox in football. The salary cap has created an arguably level playing field, where good drafting and limiting mistakes in free agency are crucial.
In baseball, there’s more than one way to get there. We can’t be New York or Boston. (On the other hand, nobody in the league should feel real good about Chien-Ming Wang and Philip Hughes and Joba Chamberlain wearing pinstripes, or pre-arbitration pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and Jonathan Papelbon forming a long-term pitching base in Boston.)
But we don’t have to be the Yankees or Red Sox. Arizona and Cleveland and Colorado are far from the New York/Boston payroll stratosphere, and those teams are full of relatively young players, mostly homegrown, with a key veteran or two brought in each year by trade or free agency.
Detroit, too. A young core, brought in by draft or trade and developed internally. Pudge Rodriguez added through free agency in 2004, Carlos Guillen acquired in a trade that same year. Magglio Ordonez (free agency) and Placido Polanco (trade) in 2005. Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones (both through free agency) in 2006. Gary Sheffield (trade) in 2007.
San Diego, too, though it’s less likely that you’ll hear the Rangers reference them since part of the young core there features Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez and the scouting and player development resurgence is led in part by Grady Fuson.
The point is that there are just as many teams, if not more these days, winning by developing talent than by buying star players. Truthfully, even in the Yankees’ case, despite a payroll close to double any other team’s outside of Boston, they seem to have gotten key contributions from as many young, internally developed players as at any time since the mid-’90s franchise revival.
Yet even Don Mattingly, if asked at the end of the 1993 season — the 12th straight out of the playoffs for both him and the Yankees — what he thought about Class A and Class AA players Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, surely didn’t tell reporters on the last day of the season that he couldn’t contain his excitement over the club’s long-term future.
But when each of those players contributed to a 1995 Yankees team that reached the playoffs for the first (and only) time in Mattingly’s playing career, you can bet he believed in the process.
Even if in the back of Michael Young’s mind is what his boyhood idol Don Mattingly went through and finally accomplished (one playoff series, in which he hit .417/.440/.708 in a five-game loss to Seattle), if you’re expecting Young to be comfortable, to be satisfied with any season that ends before October, to say anything other than “I hope this gets turned around immediately,” then you don’t understand Michael Young.
I’m thrilled that my team’s GM and owner are committed to methodically building a core from within.
And I’m just as pumped about the restlessness of my team’s leader.