February 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 28, 2008

Funny how waiting five months for a day like yesterday can make a group of words like “Hamilton doubles off left-center field fence, driving in two” or “Botts scores from second on an infield single, diving over a bat in the right-hand batter’s box to beat the tag” or “Teagarden goes deep in first-ever spring training at-bat, on second pitch he sees” or “Murray, Mendoza, Rupe, and Littleton deal” jump out at you like you had front-row seats, a cold beverage, and just enough sunblock.

Texas 6, Kansas City 1 is a meaningless group of words and numbers, and what a hitter managed to do in one at-bat or a pitcher accomplished in an inning or two on February 27 means squat. But that was a really good day for the Rangers to migrate to the clubhouse with a win, no matter how inconsequential a win it was.

Or maybe it was just a really good day for a Rangers fan to get a win.

Though really, it was good enough just to have a game going on.

As for the Botts play, check Photo 4. It prompted Ron Washington to say to reporters: “What a base-running gem that was.” Washington was also caught on camera last week saying to Botts about his progress at first base: “You’re just turning into the perfect package.”

Kason Gabbard is slated to pitch to high school teammate Jarrod Saltalamacchia this afternoon, followed by Eric Hurley. Matt Harrison starts tomorrow, Vicente Padilla on Saturday, Jason Jennings on Sunday.

By that time, Jon Daniels may have a new contract extension in place, according to multiple reports. It’s expected to match the duration of team president Nolan Ryan’s deal, which is also yet to be finalized (or at least disclosed).

Kevin Mench’s two hits yesterday came in his first non-roster showing since his first big league camp, back in 2001. How long ago was that? Ryan was with the Rangers. So was Jerry Narron (on whom middle infielder Mike Young, who was in his first Rangers camp, was making a strong first impression). Buck Showalter was working for ESPN. Homecoming of sorts for all four in 2008.

Mench could get a look at first base later in camp.

Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list features five Rangers: Elvis Andrus (19), Chris Davis (65), Hurley (77), Teagarden (80), and Neftali Feliz (93).

BA’s Jim Callis, John Manuel, Will Lingo, and Chris Kline were the four experts whose rankings produced the eventual Top 100, and to get there each compiled a list of his top 150 prospects. All four had Michael Main on their lists even though he didn’t ultimately crack the top 100; his highest ranking among the four writers was 87. Interestingly, Harrison and Engel Beltre each appeared on only two of the four lists, but they were extremely high on at least one — one writer pegged Harrison as his number 35 prospect in the game, and one had Beltre number 27.

Kasey Kiker also made two lists, with a high ranking of 109. Julio Borbon (113), Blake Beavan (144), Omar Poveda (145), and Kaz Fukumori (145) appeared on one list each.

The Schaumburg Flyers of the independent Northern League signed outfielder Rontrez Johnson. The Sussex SkyHawks of the independent Can-Am League released lefthander Derrick Van Dusen.

Should be another good day today. Looking forward to hearing that Torii Hunter couldn’t touch Eric Hurley, that Hank Blalock made two strong throws to first on tough plays, that the ball didn’t get out of the infield in Kaz Fukumori’s spotless frame, and that Jason Botts did some more damage offensively.

It’s even OK with me if my team doesn’t stay undefeated. Just give me more baseball, between the lines.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 24, 2008

Back from a late afternoon at the Dallas Children’s Theater, there’s a small dose of discouraging news to share from Rangers camp:

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of ―

The cow jumping over the moon
And there were three little bears sitting on chairs

And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens
And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse

And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush
And a quiet old lady whispering that Kevin Millwood tweaked his right hamstring today – not the hamstring that shelved the righthander for a month last season – and while there’s nothing especially good about this development, the Rangers reportedly expect Millwood to get in couple innings as expected this Friday against the Angels.


(No, T.R. and Evan, I’m not calling you “quiet old ladies.”)

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 24, 2008

1. Bryan Curtis, a columnist for the New York Times sports magazine, Play, has written an article for the March issue of Texas Monthly called “Once More Unto the Breach: A letter to the long-suffering Rangers fan.” Despite the fact that Curtis, who also writes for Slate, Outside, Men’s Vogue, and GQ, devoted three paragraphs to the Newberg Report, it’s nonetheless an entertaining article. Check it out at http://www.texasmonthly.com/2008-03-01/thecheapseats.php.

2. Also, I’ll have a monthly column in the Rangers game program again this season, and we’re sticking with the minor league Q&A theme that we used last year. If you have questions about minor league players being developed by the Rangers, or any other issues or developments that relate to the organization’s farm system, go ahead and email them to me now (simply respond to this message, or you can email them to me at jamey@newbergreport.com). I’ll probably cut submissions off a week from today for the April edition.

Please include your first name and the city and state you’re writing from. Thanks.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 23, 2008

The two coolest notes to come out of Surprise over the first week of camp are loosely symmetrical, one involving the clubhouse that sits tucked away behind the batting practice field, which Josh Hamilton has been reaching with show-stopping regularity, the other involving the trio of Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Hank Blalock hanging back in a media room, tucked away behind a throng of notepads, cameras, and dictaphones on Wednesday as Hamilton spent half an hour with reporters discussing his life off the field over the first half of this decade.

Said Hamilton about his new teammates’ presence at the presser: “It made me a little nervous at first to see them. Honestly, it just makes me, well, it makes me want to be here. Those guys, they are not boisterous or loud; they just go out and play. It makes me want to be part of that.”

Young: “We respect what he’s gone through.”

Kinsler: “We’re teammates. He said he wants to be part of what’s going on here, and we want him to know we want him here.” More: “I don’t know what he went through, I don’t know what he experienced, and all I can do as a teammate is just support him.”

Blalock: “We want to support him. He wants to be treated like any other guy. We wanted him to know we are right there with him.”

Hamilton told reporters said that Wednesday was the first time any teammate had ever taken the time to hear his story.

There were whispers in Cincinnati that some of Hamilton’s Reds teammates, Ken Griffey Jr. perhaps foremost among them, not only failed to show the same interest in what Hamilton had been through, but actually took offense to the special treatment he was getting (particularly having Johnny Narron around as a personal coach/mentor) and made Hamilton feel unwelcome in the clubhouse at times.

Sad. Considering Hamilton’s impossible return to the game and the huge production he gave Griffey and the rest of his teammates, it says a lot about any veteran of the game who would shun a kid like that wearing the same uniform.

What happened Wednesday in Surprise, in a small room not far from that same clubhouse that Hamilton has been drilling with an array of jaw-dropping, opposite-field missiles, says something about what’s going on here, too.

The Reds signed veteran righthander Josh Fogg to a big league contract this week, which — given Dusty Baker’s career tendencies — endangers Edinson Volquez’s chances to earn a rotation spot out of camp. The competition to join Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo in the Reds rotation now includes Matt Belisle, Jeremy Affeldt, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Matt Maloney, along with Volquez and Fogg.

German Duran is generating as much camp buzz as any Rangers prospect right now. Even though he’s not on the 40-man roster (there was no need to devote a spot to him this off-season since his Rule 5 eligibility doesn’t kick in until next winter), he’s in the mix for a utility infielder job on Ron Washington’s bench. The 23-year-old is slated to start at second base for Oklahoma, but in the meantime he’s getting an opportunity to give Ramon Vazquez a run for a big league job, and he’s apparently done nothing to call his non-roster invite into question.

Jason Botts, who has been impressive in camp with his work at first base, was awarded a Gold Glove for his left field play in Mexico this winter.

If you haven’t been reading Evan Grant’s daily, and sometimes semi-daily, blog entries from Surprise, you should be. Bookmark http://rangers.beloblog.com/, and learn something every day.

Cleveland signed outfielder Jason Tyner to a minor league contract. The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association re-signed lefthander Joel Kirsten. The Lincoln SaltDogs of the same league signed righthander Mark Roberts. The Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the independent Northern League released outfielder Tydus Meadows.

Texas will play an intrasquad game Monday and will face Kansas City in its exhibition opener on Wednesday, beginning a stretch of three weeks during which they will play at least one game every day.

Soon we’ll start to see some concrete stories begin to develop, as the competition for a handful of roster spots steps up, as veterans work to find their rhythm and help the Rangers get off to a stronger start than they did in 2007, and as young players get the chance to show how close they are to being ready to impact this club.

For now, those two Hamilton stories are the ones that have me as fired up to get to Surprise as anything else.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 20, 2008

Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips were baseball’s only second basemen to turn in 20-20 seasons in 2007.  Phillips signed a four-year, $27 million deal last week that will pay $38 million over five seasons if Cincinnati exercises a club option for 2012.  Incentives could kick the package up as high as $43.25 million.

Kinsler agreed to terms yesterday on a deal that guarantees $22.5 million over five years, and $32 over six if Texas exercises a club option for 2013.

Why the disparity?  Why did Texas offer Kinsler less than the Reds offered Phillips, and more to the point, why did Kinsler accept it?

It comes down to service time.

Here’s the breakdown of the Phillips deal, followed by the Kinsler deal:

PHILLIPS

2008: $2.75M + $0.75M signing bonus
2009: $4.75M
2010: $6.75M
2011: $11M
2012: $12M club option ($1M buyout)

KINSLER

2008: $0.50M + $1M signing bonus 
2009: $3M
2010: $4M
2011: $6M
2012: $7M 
2013: $10M club option ($0.5M buyout)

Yes, Phillips (1618) has nearly twice as many big league at-bats as Kinsler (906), and he’s been a major leaguer in each of the last six seasons, as opposed to Kinsler’s two.  So if you wanted to make the argument that Phillips is more of a known quantity, there’s probably a little something to that.

But the key difference between the two young second basemen is the following:

2.000 vs. 3.022

Service time.

Kinsler, in his two big league seasons, has amassed two years of service, having spent no time on the farm in 2006 or 2007.

Phillips, over his six years in the major leagues, has three years plus 22 days of service.   

What that means, boiled down to the key point, is that Kinsler was one year away from being arbitration-eligible this winter, while Phillips was arbitration-eligible this off-season for the first time.

So you can’t compare the above contractual breakdowns by putting the first years side by side, and the second, and so on.  You have to compare Kinsler’s 2008 to Phillips’s 2007 (when he too was in his final pre-arb season), and go from there.

Let’s do that:

PHILLIPS

2007: $0.4075M
2008: $2.75M + $0.75M signing bonus
2009: $4.75M
2010: $6.75M
2011: $11M
2012: $12M club option ($1M buyout)

KINSLER

2008: $0.50M + $1M signing bonus 
2009: $3M
2010: $4M
2011: $6M
2012: $7M 
2013: $10M club option ($0.5M buyout)

Interestingly, the salary Phillips earned last year was nearly identical to the one that Kinsler was set to be paid this season, before yesterday’s extension was announced.

With the new deal in place, Kinsler will pocket nearly $1.1 million more this year than Phillips did last year, when he was in the same service class as Kinsler is now.  Phillips will earn $3.5 million in 2008 (including his signing bonus), a rough midpoint between the $2.7 million and $4.2 million arbitration figures submitted by the Reds and by Phillips a month ago.  Kinsler’s equivalent year — when he too would have been arbitration-eligible for the first time — is 2009, when he’s set to make $3 million.

In each of the following two years (which would have been their final two arbitration-eligible seasons), Phillips is set to make $750,000 more than Kinsler.  The big disparity is in what would have been year one of free agency, which the Reds bought out by agreeing to pay Phillips $11 million and the Rangers purchased for $7 million.  The gap narrows a bit in the option year, when Cincinnati will have to sign off on a $12 million contract to keep Phillips from free agency, while Texas has a $10 million option to exercise.

Did Phillips command higher numbers because his extra year of service makes him more of a proven commodity?  Maybe because his 20-20 season last year was actually 30-30?  Was his appearance in the NL MVP vote (he finished 22nd) a factor?  Did Texas just make a better deal than Cincinnati did, and if so, why did Kinsler accept it?

Maybe because a minimum guarantee of $22 million is enough security for the married, 25-year-old second baseman, who said yesterday: "I was not trying to set the bar and make the most money for a second baseman.  I’m just here to play the game and be treated fairly.  All I wanted the Rangers to do is step up and make a commitment to me.  They did, and I made a commitment to them."

Furthermore, this ownership and this front office have already shown that they’ll tear up a contract like this one in favor of a bigger deal to ensure that free agency never becomes imminent.  Michael Young was set to earn $3.5 million in 2007 and $4 million in 2008 (via a club option) when the Rangers agreed in March 2007 to add five years and $80 million to his deal.

Said Jay Franklin, one of Kinsler’s agents (along with former Rangers second baseman Jeff Frye), regarding the deal: "It’s fair to both parties.  I don’t know if it’s a win for either side.  This was his decision.  Ian loves the city and the organization, and this is what he and [his wife] Tess wanted to do."

More from Kinsler, the 496th player chosen in the 2003 draft: "A lot of people say [Young] took a club-friendly deal in his first [multi-year] contract, but the important thing was to make sure he had taken care of his family first and that he could concentrate on just playing baseball.  We talked about all of that.  It’s the same way for me."

Admirable.  That’s a core guy, no matter how you look at it.  Great day for anyone who is a Rangers fan.

Back in September, Kinsler and Young and Hank Blalock told reporters that they were lobbying the organization to bring red back as the team’s primary uniform color, even though none of them were with the Rangers when they ditched red in favor of the current blue.  Texas’s three playoff seasons came during the six years (1994 through 1999) in which they were in red.  The club has yet to finish higher than third in the AL West since the switch to blue.

Rangers Executive Vice President of Communications Jim Sundberg told reporters yesterday that the Rangers may consider a switch to red as soon as 2009.  It’s a discussion that is expected to involve new Team President Nolan Ryan.   

It’s time to bring the red back.

Blalock, whose last defensive activity was prior to his mid-May surgery to remove a rib in connection with his diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, made throws to first from third base Monday for the first time since the procedure, and he came out of it without pain.

Lefthander John Rheinecker, complaining of numbness, tingling, and swelling in his throwing arm shortly after reporting to camp, returned to Arlington for tests and has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome himself.  He’s expected to have shoulder surgery before the month is up and will be out until at least the All-Star Break.   

Rheinecker is out of options, but he’ll be afforded 30 days on a minor league rehabilitation assignment when and if he’s ready to pitch in 2008.  In the meantime, he’s a strong candidate, obviously, to start the season on the 60-day disabled list, which would clear a spot on the 40-man roster for a non-roster player who earns a role on the Opening Day roster.

Lots of buzz on righthander Josh Rupe’s early work in camp.  If healthy, his dirty stuff could play in several different bullpen roles (and, in the bigger picture, could factor into a rotation competition down the road, though evidently not in 2008).

According to Jeff Wilson and Anthony Andro of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 55 to 60 minor leaguers have already shown up in camp even though their reporting date is still a couple weeks away.  Cool.

I’m not sure how proud I am of this, but Mark Cuban and I have something in common.  Jason Kidd is the reason that I, too, bought Mavs season tickets (or at least a third of two seats) back in 1994.  (The trade of Kidd in 1996 is also the reason I gave those tickets up.)

Flip Boone wants another chance, and Washington is going to give one to him, a non-roster invite to camp.  Good luck with all that.

Newsday baseball columnist Ken Davidoff, the author of my favorite Bound Edition foreword (he wrote one in the 2008 book), stuck a fully unsolicited plug for the Newberg Report at the end of his blog today. 

Ron Washington’s tentative lineup, health-permitting: designated hitter Frank Catalanotto, center fielder Josh Hamilton, Young, right fielder Milton Bradley, Blalock, left fielder Marlon Byrd, first baseman Ben Broussard, Kinsler, and either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Gerald Laird.  Against lefthanders (Opening Day, for instance, when Seattle is expected to give Erik Bedard the ball), Kinsler moves to the leadoff spot and a right-handed designated hitter replaces Catalanotto, probably eighth or ninth.

The Cubs still want Byrd, according to several reports.  The Rangers still want to be overpaid (in the form of pitching prospects on top of outfielder Matt Murton) if they’re going to part with Byrd, a better (and more versatile) defender and a guy who has established himself as a strong clubhouse presence.  I’m good with that.

According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers will have their pro scouts cover the Low A farm clubs for the four or five organizations they’re responsible for scouting, which is one level deeper than most clubs.  Texas, like most franchises, had previously charged its pro scouts with coverage of the High A, AA, and AAA affiliates of the big league clubs they were assigned.  The purpose for the increased coverage is to be prepared to target teenaged prospects at trade deadline time, rather than focus solely on the higher minor league levels.

The added coverage won’t help Texas find the next Ian Kinsler, who was in AA by the time the Incaviglia Rule made him eligible to be traded.  His baseball life has been an amazing odyssey, one in which he didn’t play in the same place two straight years between high school (2000) and the year he broke into the big leagues (2006), and that was only because of a 10-game rehab assignment in Oklahoma City that year.   

Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School in 2000.  Central Arizona Junior College in 2001.  Arizona State University in 2002.  The University of Missouri and Spokane in 2003.  Clinton and Frisco in 2004.  Oklahoma in 2005.  Texas in 2006, with that 10-game rehab stint with the RedHawks.  Fans of the home team didn’t get much of a chance to get attached to Kinsler for the first half of the decade.   

Much different story these days.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 19, 2008

According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers and Ian Kinsler are on the verge of announcing a long-term contract that will guarantee the 25-year-old $22 million over five years, with a sixth-year club option for an additional $10 million (or a $500,000 buyout).

This is great news for everyone involved, and while primary congratulations are appropriate for Jon Daniels and his crew, and for Ian and Tess, I think a hearty shout-out is in order for Rangers Central Crosschecker Mike Grouse, who was the area scout that pounded his fist on June 3, 2003 until Texas called Kinsler’s name in the 17th round.

More on this deal in the next Newberg Report.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 18, 2008

There are a handful of
measures that the Rangers are taking to give center fielder Josh Hamilton the
greatest possible chance to succeed, one of which is installing him, in all
likelihood, in the number two spot in the batting order, where common baseball
wisdom suggests he’ll be fed a heavier diet of fastballs, batting behind a high
on-base guy (Frank Catalanotto) or a stolen base threat (Ian Kinsler) and in
front of Michael Young, than he might in a more traditional run-producing slot. 
Hamilton saw some time hitting second for Cincinnati last year (.333/.429/.500
in 24 at-bats), a note that’s not all that notable considering he hit in all
nine slots for the Reds during the season.

The list of number two
hitters around the league capable of going over 450 feet to the opposite field
is only slightly shorter than the list of humans capable of going 450 feet to
the opposite field.  Courtesy of Scott Lucas, below is a photo of the spring
training batting practice/”B” game field in Surprise where the
left-handed-hitting Hamilton, according to multiple reports, has been drilling
not only the top of the indoor batting cage beyond the left field fence but also
the clubhouse that sits 454 feet from the plate behind the fence in left
center.

 

Az_b_field_clubhouse3

 

When I’m in Surprise
next month, you have my word that, as always, I’ll spend virtually all of my
time south of the parking lot scouting prospects (though there are at least
preliminary plans for me to join Victor Rojas as a guest color commentator for
one big league game while I’m there), but that cluster of diamonds on the south
side does include more than just the minor league fields. 

That batting
practice/”B” game field is down there, too, separated from Surprise
Stadium/Billy Parker Field by the aforementioned parking lot, indoor batting
cage, and clubhouse that is evidently looking more and more each day like it’s
been under siege by intermittent, early morning hailstorms. 

Historically, you
haven’t had to worry much about jockeying for position in Surprise if you wanted
to take in morning batting practice, but that might be changing in this camp. 
Getting there early might be key if you want to experience the Josh Hamilton
show, not only because of the limited metal bleacher seating but also because,
as it stands now, the Rangers are having him take cuts in that first
threesome.

Can’t wait.

 

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 16, 2008

From the August 26, 2007 Newberg Report:

“The Rangers once drafted a 6’3”, 220 masher out of college, developed him as a third baseman, and moved him to first base once he arrived in the big leagues, which was after just one full season on the farm.

“Mark Teixeira hit 153 home runs as a Ranger, one short of the most any player drafted by Texas has ever hit for the team. But Dean Palmer’s 154 came in eight seasons, while Teixeira was here for only five.

“Another Scott Boras client, Chris Davis, is also 6’3”, 220, also drafted out of college, and is playing third base for Frisco right now, though there’s a good chance he’ll move across the diamond and play first base as a major leaguer, just as Teixeira did.”

The move to first base has been made. Davis, who was a first baseman/third baseman/closer in 2006 at Navarro College, an outfielder/first baseman that summer at Spokane, and a third baseman in 2007 at Bakersfield and Frisco, was told this week in Surprise that he’s moving back to first base.

The move could have implications for Ben Broussard, Jason Botts, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Gerald Laird, Taylor Teagarden, Travis Metcalf, Johnny Whittleman, Chris Shelton, and Nate Gold, but not as much as they might for Davis, who doesn’t need to be on the 40-man roster for another 21 months but who might find himself there in the next five or six if he produces over the next few months at a level anywhere close to his 2007 tear.

Laird to reporters on Thursday, commenting on the Ron Washington’s declaration that he and Saltalamacchia will compete in camp for what the manager considers an open position: “For me to have to earn a job, it’s kind of ridiculous but I’ll do whatever I have to do.”

Gerald. C’mon, man. “Ridiculous”?

Really?

Before Ian Kinsler came to terms (along with 13 other pre-arb players) on a 2008 contract on Friday, local reports indicated that both Kinsler’s camp and the Rangers were open to keeping dialogue open on a long-term extension, one that could encompass five years with the possibility of an option for a sixth. Taking a page out of the Michael Young book (Kinsler’s copy of which is dog-eared and margin-scrawled beyond recognition), the 25-year-old second baseman has said he doesn’t want to negotiate beyond spring training.

For now, Kinsler’s 2008 deal is for a reported $407,570, just short of the $410,690 that Kameron Loe agreed to. Three of the 14 players signed for the minimum $390,000 — they were the three who have no big league experience, catcher Max Ramirez, lefthander Matt Harrison, and outfielder Brandon Boggs.

Management has pronounced the closer’s job as C.J. Wilson’s to lose, which isn’t surprising from an objective standpoint but which the club hadn’t proclaimed in so many words since the season ended.

Loe and Robinson Tejeda and Josh Rupe are competing strictly for bullpen roles, while A.J. Murray will audition as a starter.

German Duran, who had an outstanding Arizona Fall League campaign while quietly working in the October mornings with Rangers minor league outfield coordinator Wayne Kirby to add left field to his growing repertoire, is now in early camp working with big league outfield instructor Gary Pettis. The move of Davis to first base and the return of Jason Botts to the position would seem to suggest Duran is not likely to get many reps there, but his ability to play all other infield positions could mean that if he proves in Cactus League play to be as tough an out as he was 2007, he might go right down to the end of camp as a legitimate candidate to emerge as the utility infielder.

Botts is drawing heaps of praise from Washington for his progress with the glove at first base.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Arias’s shoulder is still not 100 percent but he’s throwing. Now 23, he’s certainly no longer the shortstop of the future here (Elvis Andrus owns that label). If healthy, he’ll get looks all over the infield. Whether the center field experiment is dead remains to be seen.

The buzz continues to grow for big 17-year-old righthander Wilmer Font, who would be a high school senior right now if he were raised in the States, probably projected to be long gone before the Rangers’ pick this June at number 11.

Righthander Michael Main is no longer righthander-DH Michael Main. Last summer’s gesture by the organization to let Main, an accomplished center fielder who would have been a Day One draft as a hitter, step to the plate from time to time on days he wasn’t pitching won’t be revived in 2008.

Want another objective indication that the Rangers farm system is among the deepest in the game right now? In Baseball America’s 2008 Prospect Handbook, Detroit’s number nine prospect is righthander Francisco Cruceta. Number 15 is Freddy Guzman.

BA has catchers Cristian Santana and Ramirez as the Rangers’ number 20 and 23 prospects, respectively.

Enjoy this comp that one Rangers official offered BA regarding Santana: “Raul Mondesi, if you put [Mondesi] behind the plate.”

Got an urge to map out how all your favorite Rangers bloggers and national experts have Rangers prospects ranked? No need — Scott Lucas has done it for you.

BA’s College Preview edition includes the publication’s early ranking of the top 100 draft prospects among the nation’s collegiate players. On the list are four unsigned picks from the Rangers’ 2005 draft class: 34th-rounder Shooter Hunt (Tulane RHP, ranked 10th on BA’s list), 35th-rounder Chris Hicks (Georgia Tech RHP, ranked 78th), 12th-rounder Dexter Carter (Old Dominion RHP, ranked 95th), and 17th-rounder Chris Dominguez (Louisville 3B, ranked 99th).

Imagine what BA might have said about the Rangers’ 2007 draft — which the publication ranked in October as baseball’s second best — had they signed Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz (12th round), Oregon State igniter Garrett Nash (fourth round), Notre Dame righthander Brian Dupra (36th round), LSU righthander Anthony Ranaudo (11th round), and Clemson outfielder Jeff Schaus (35th round), all five of whom are among BA’s top 50 freshmen in the country.

Right now the fact that Ron Hopkins and his crew have drafted as well as it seems they have the past few years is arguably accentuated, not diminished, by the quality of the players that didn’t even end up signing as part of the haul. That could change, of course, if Hunt or Pomeranz or John Gast ends up as someone else’s first-round pick down the road and stars in another uniform. That’s when regret sets in, the type of regret over not kicking a few more bucks Barry Zito’s way, or Noah Lowry’s, when you had the chance.

The type of regret Boston must have had by not signing ninth-rounder Mark Teixeira out of high school.

Or that the Yankees must now have by not having signed 50th-round pick Chris Davis out of high school.

Or that the Angels must now have by not having signed Davis as a 35th-rounder after his first year of junior college.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 14, 2008

Happy Holidays.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 12, 2008

When all the talk surfaced the last couple weeks that Texas was interested in bringing Kevin Mench in on a non-roster deal, I was instinctively opposed to it, since his usefulness to this team would be in his ability to hit left-handed pitching, which further endangers Jason Botts’s chances of making the team coming out of camp. But while Mench’s presence does give Botts another hurdle to clear, the terms of the Mench deal make it a bit more palatable if you’re a Botts fan.

The reason is that Botts (like Nelson Cruz) must make the Opening Day roster or else he’ll be with another team, either by way of trade or a waiver claim, since he is out of options. There’s virtually no chance that Botts or Cruz is playing for Oklahoma on April 3. There’s a very good chance that Mench will be.

Texas gave Mench a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp to fight for a job. The sticking point had reportedly been the Rangers’ insistence that he agree to report to Oklahoma if he failed to make the club coming out of Surprise. Some players are able to negotiate March outs if not added to the roster by a certain date (Sosa, Hairston, Wright, and Guillermo Quiroz had them a year ago). Mench (who also considered overtures from the Yankees and Royals) agreed to a June 1 out, allowing him to declare free agency if not added to the big league roster by then. In that sense, he’s not an impediment to Botts or (Cruz) since, if all else is equal, he can be sent to AAA as camp ends, while Botts (and Cruz) cannot.

As far as Botts getting his opportunity to win a job and stave off a designation for assignment is concerned, Mench’s arrival shouldn’t present a huge problem.

The Rangers have 31 scheduled games this spring (plus at least three B games), meaning there should be more than 600 at-bats to give to the outfield and designated hitter. Last spring the Rangers had eight outfielders on the roster, plus another nine off the roster (including Sammy Sosa) who got camp at-bats. Ten of them got at least 20 at-bats.

Ian Kinsler and Brad Wilkerson had 66 and 64 plate appearances last spring, respectively, and 11 other players were in the 50s. Botts had 42, which was 15th-most on the team and eighth-most among outfielders.

This year there are nine outfielders on the roster, and only three (Mench, John Mayberry Jr., and Jason Ellison) off of it who have been invited to camp. To be fair, last year’s nine non-roster outfielders who appeared in games included several “just in cases” who were brought over from minor league camp for spot duty without being on official invites (Mayberry, Kevin Mahar, Steve Murphy, Craig Gentry, and others), and there will be some of those this spring as well. But those players aren’t going to get more than 20 trips to the plate, and their work will come in the eighth and ninth innings, not affecting Botts, or Mench or Cruz or David Murphy.

Last year Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton, Marlon Byrd, Jerry Hairston Jr., Sosa, Frank Catalanotto, and Cruz saw more plate action than Botts did. Of this year’s nine rostered outfielders and three non-roster invites, it’s a certainty that Brandon Boggs, Julio Borbon, and Mayberry will get fewer at-bats than Botts, and Jason Ellison probably will, too. That leaves Milton Bradley (who will probably be limited when games get underway), Josh Hamilton, Byrd, Catalanotto, Cruz, Murphy, and Mench. Botts will get his chance, and Mench’s arrival doesn’t change that.

Mench hit .314/.343/.558 against left-handed pitching in an otherwise disappointing 2007 season with Milwaukee. He’s a lifetime .305/.361/.563 hitter against southpaws in his six big league seasons, and a career .284/.353/.503 hitter in Rangers Ballpark. That’s a good insurance-type player to have in Oklahoma City. But unless he has a massive camp and there are unforeseen injuries among those on the roster, I’d be surprised if he were to make the team.

Mench is a better player than Matt Kata, but hopefully the Rangers realize how fortunate they were last March 31 when they designated Byrd for assignment to make room for the purchase of Kata, got Byrd through waivers, and assigned him to Oklahoma, where he obliterated Pacific Coast League pitching for nearly two months before working his way back to Texas. Mench, at age 30, shouldn’t beat out Botts and Cruz and make a club that is still posturing itself to be very good in a couple years, unless the determination is made that Botts and Cruz (both 27) are not part of that picture themselves. He’s basically a solid safety net to stash in AAA in the event that neither Botts nor Cruz claims a job in March — since in that case they’ll be with another organization in April.

The bottom line is that this is a non-roster deal given to a 30-year-old player who has had declining use the last three seasons. It doesn’t change much, other than it gives Texas some potentially useful depth in AAA.

Here is the 40-man roster and the group of 20 non-roster invites that Texas opens camp with:

40-MAN ROSTER:

PITCHERS (21): Joaquin Benoit, Thomas Diamond, Scott Feldman, Frankie Francisco, Kazuo Fukumori, Kason Gabbard, Eddie Guardado, Matt Harrison, Jason Jennings, Wes Littleton, Kameron Loe, Warner Madrigal, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Mendoza, Kevin Millwood, A.J. Murray, Vicente Padilla, John Rheinecker, Josh Rupe, Robinson Tejeda, C.J. Wilson

CATCHERS (3): Gerald Laird, Max Ramirez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia

INFIELDERS (7): Joaquin Arias, Hank Blalock, Ben Broussard, Ian Kinsler, Travis Metcalf, Ramon Vazquez, Michael Young

OUTFIELDERS (9): Brandon Boggs, Julio Borbon, Jason Botts, Milton Bradley, Marlon Byrd, Frank Catalanotto, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, David Murphy

RESTRICTED LIST (2): Omar Beltre, Alexi Ogando

NON-ROSTER INVITES:

PITCHERS (7): Jason Davis, Franklyn German, Eric Hurley, Kea Kometani, Elizardo Ramirez, Bill White, Jamey Wright

CATCHERS (3): Adam Melhuse, Chris Stewart, Taylor Teagarden

INFIELDERS (7): Edgardo Alfonzo, Elvis Andrus, Chris Davis, German Duran, Nate Gold, Ryan Roberts, Chris Shelton

OUTFIELDERS (3): Jason Ellison, John Mayberry Jr., Kevin Mench

Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer writes that the Rangers intend to bid for the All-Star Game to return to Arlington in 2015, which would be 20 years after the last time the game was hosted here.

I’ve received my copies of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook and John Sickels’s Baseball Prospect Book 2008, but I’m sick and don’t have the energy to write about the Rangers coverage in them today. I’ll get to that next time.

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

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