THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 5, 2008

One of my favorite days of the year is The Day When the Thermometer First Kicks Up Over Room Temp, for obvious reasons. Monday got even better when Baseball America concluded its off-season look at the game’s 30 farm systems by zeroing in on Texas.

When BA projects a club’s lineup three years out, it’s less of a prediction of what the lineup will actually look like (it assumes no trades or free agent acquisitions) and more of an assessment of who the organization has in place and where they’d project to fit if players progress as expected.

If the fact that BA moved Texas from its number 28 farm system a year ago to number four today isn’t enough to convince you that the industry’s premier trade publication thinks Jon Daniels has engineered a quick, dramatic overhaul of its player development program, consider the transformation of the three-year picture that BA offered for the Rangers this year, as opposed to last:

PROJECTED 2010 LINEUP

Catcher Gerald Laird
First Base Mark Teixeira
Second Base Ian Kinsler
Third Base Hank Blalock
Shortstop Michael Young
Left Field John Mayberry Jr.
Center Field Brad Wilkerson
Right Field Nelson Cruz
Designated Hitter Jason Botts
No. 1 Starter John Danks
No. 2 Starter Eric Hurley
No. 3 Starter Kevin Millwood
No. 4 Starter Vicente Padilla
No. 5 Starter Thomas Diamond
Closer Edinson Volquez

PROJECTED 2011 LINEUP

Catcher Taylor Teagarden
First Base Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Second Base Michael Young
Third Base Chris Davis
Shortstop Elvis Andrus
Left Field Engel Beltre
Center Field Julio Borbon
Right Field Josh Hamilton
Designated Hitter Ian Kinsler
No. 1 Starter Eric Hurley
No. 2 Starter Neftali Feliz
No. 3 Starter Michael Main
No. 4 Starter Blake Beavan
No. 5 Starter Brandon McCarthy
Closer Kasey Kiker

Not one repeat. Three players resurface (Young, Kinsler, Hurley) but in different slots.

There’s so much good information in yesterday’s Rangers features, engineered by assistant editor Aaron Fitt. I highly recommend you venture over to the BA website and buy the Prospect Handbook. But let me share some highlights with you.

The top 10 prospects in the system, according to BA:

1. Elvis Andruz, ss (“has a unique ability to slow the game down and always put himself in the right position to make plays”)

2. Chris Davis, 3b (“could be an impact middle-of-the-lineup bat in the majors even if he is tied to first base”)

3. Eric Hurley, rhp (“projects as a mid-rotation starter in the Kevin Millwood mold”)

4. Taylor Teagarden, c (“should be ready to be an everyday catcher by 2009″)

5. Neftali Feliz, rhp (“rather than blowing hitters away with his fastball after the trade, he focused on developing his secondary stuff and still struck out 27 in just 15 innings . . . if it all comes together for him, he has the potential to be a true No. 1 starter, though some scouts see him as a flame-throwing closer down the road”)

6. Michael Main, rhp (“evokes Bret Saberhagen for his slight build, plus-plus arm strength, intelligence and determination”)

7. Kasey Kiker, lhp (“[the Rangers'] idea was to keep him to 20 starts in 2007 . . . Texas preferred to have him peaking at the end of the season rather than in July . . . worked perfectly, as he repeatedly ran his fastball up to 97 mph in a Midwest League playoff game”)

8. Blake Beavan, rhp (“some scouts think Beavan profiles best as a two-pitch bullpen ace with a nasty streak, but the Rangers will give him every chance to start”)

9. Julio Borbon, of (“garners comparisons to Johnny Damon for his prototypical center-field tools . . . plus-plus speed and good instincts make him a quality defender in center . . . projects to hit 10-20 homers annually in the big leagues . . . makes consistent, line-drive contact, is a good bunter and isn’t afraid to work the count . . . also a natural leader”)

10. Engel Beltre, of (“given time and at-bats, Beltre could blossom into a true five-tool superstar, but he’s a long way off”)

BA ranked the organization’s best minor league tools as follows:

Best Hitter for Average German Duran
Best Power Hitter Chris Davis
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Johnny Whittleman
Fastest Baserunner Jose Vallejo
Best Athlete Michael Main
Best Fastball Neftali Feliz
Best Curveball Neil Ramirez
Best Slider Eric Hurley
Best Changeup Kasey Kiker
Best Control Matt Harrison
Best Defensive Catcher Taylor Teagarden
Best Defensive Infielder Elvis Andrus
Best Infield Arm Elvis Andrus
Best Defensive Outfielder Julio Borbon
Best Outfield Arm Engel Beltre

Need some more BA love for the Rangers? Executive editor Jim Callis wrote on Friday that, of the seven biggest trades in baseball since the summer — those involving Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis, Mark Teixeira, Dan Haren, Johan Santana, Nick Swisher, Miguel Tejada, and (imminently) Erik Bedard — the Rangers “got the best value . . . the only better haul went to the Marlins, who gave up two all-stars (for Cabrera and Willis).”

Things you really should read:

* Evan Grant’s fantastic summary of his recent trip to the Rangers’ Dominican Academy, on the Dallas Morning News’s “Seamheads” blog (complete with more than two dozen photos).

* MLB.com’s Lisa Winston’s excellent review of our own Eleanor Czajka’s genius “Girls Don’t Know Anything About Baseball” blog.

* Mike Hindman’s ranking of the number 11 through number 20 prospects in the Rangers system.

* Grant Schiller’s terrific Taylor Teagarden interview.

* More details on (and a few highlights from) T.R. Sullivan and Mel Didier’s fascinating book, “Podnuh Let Me Tell You a Story: A Baseball Life,” complete with instructions on how to order it.

Texas traded righthander Armando Galarraga yesterday, having designated the 26-year-old for assignment on January 25, sending him to Detroit for 24-year-old outfielder Mike Hernandez, a power hitter whose pro path has been unusual. Drafted out of high school in 2002 by Kansas City, out of Daytona Beach Community College in 2003 by Kansas City, and out of Connors State College in 2004 by the Dodgers, Hernandez declined to sign each time and ultimately transferred to Oklahoma State for the 2005 season. He wouldn’t be drafted again.

But Hernandez did sign with Detroit out of an open tryout before the 2006 season. He began his career in extended but was soon assigned to Low A West Michigan, where a .278/.318/.461 season was highlighted by 13 home runs and 63 RBI in just 87 games, two of which featured Hernandez hitting for the cycle.

Hernandez split the 2007 season between High A Lakeland (.260/.326/.478) and AA Erie (.250/.282/.469), hitting 24 homers and driving in 106 runs in 134 games. He was sixth in the Florida State League in slugging, fifth in home runs (20), and second in RBI (87).

New Rangers third base coach Matt Walbeck managed Hernandez in each of his two pro seasons, at West Michigan in 2006 and at Erie in 2007.

Hernandez is limited defensively and not someone who fits in among the Rangers’ top 30 prospects, but is said to have plus makeup to go along with legitimate power. Still, certainly not an impact prospect, which makes this much seem clear: there must not have been a lot of interest out there in Galarraga. But at the same time, Detroit’s willingness to part with a player for him indicates that the Tigers would have placed a claim on the righthander, so Texas wouldn’t have been able to slide him through waivers and hang onto him by way of an outright assignment to the farm if the club had opted to take that chance.

The odds of Hernandez ever getting to the big leagues are not great, but stranger things have happened. Such as 38-year-old Juan Gonzalez landing a non-roster invite from St. Louis. Gonzalez’s last big league action was his one at-bat in May 2005 with Cleveland, an innocent groundout to third on which he pulled up with a strained hamstring that had seemingly ended his career. He’ll evidently have a chance to beat out former Ranger Ryan Ludwick for a spot on the Cardinals’ bench.

St. Louis also passed out non-roster invites to righthander John Wasdin and infielder D’Angelo Jimenez.

According to BA, the Rangers have signed 29-year-old righthander Trey Hodges to a minor league deal. The Houston native and LSU product has spent most of his eight years in pro ball with the Braves (he also had brief stints with the Twins and in Japan), reaching the big leagues in 2002 and spending most of the 2003 season in the Atlanta bullpen. A hand injury limited him in 2004 and 2005 and wiped away his entire 2006 season, and last year he went 6-6, 4.72 in 20 starts and 10 relief appearances for AAA Richmond, fanning 81 and issuing 63 walks in 122 innings. He was far better as a reliever, posting a 2.18 ERA and limiting the International League to a .212 batting average and surrendering no home runs in 33 innings.

Texas has hired scout Jesus “Chu” Halabi to cover Aruba, Curacao, and Cuba. While working for the Orioles, Halabi was responsible for finding righthanders Sidney Ponson and Calvin Maduro, lefthander Radhames Dykhoff, and outfielder Eugene Kingsale in Aruba.

There’s talk that the Rangers might give Ponson a non-roster look in camp. They’re reportedly less likely to offer a deal to reliever Armando Benitez, whom they’ve also auditioned.

Outfielder Kevin Mench is apparently a candidate for a non-roster invite as well.

Daniels reportedly met with officials at the American embassy in the Dominican Republic last week but is no more optimistic about the club’s chances to get righthanders Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando cleared to return to the United States than he was going in. Daniels suggested the Rangers might allow the pitchers to move on and pitch in another country, perhaps Japan.

Brad Wilkerson’s one-year deal with Seattle guarantees $3 million and offers an additional $2 million in plate appearance bonuses.

Baltimore signed righthander Esteban Yan to a minor league contract. Tampa Bay signed lefthander Brian Anderson to a minor league contract.

One of the things about the almost unprecedented Rangers prospect depth that Jon Daniels is building is that, in a couple years, we’re going to see far fewer Yan and Anderson types showing up during the season as injury reinforcements. As we saw last week with Armando Galarraga, the bottom of the 40-man roster is already getting crowded, and that’s only going to become more pronounced.

It’s not out of the question that, in 2008, when a need presents itself for a two-week patch, or even more, it might be Matt Harrison or Warner Madrigal or Brandon Boggs we see, or even someone not yet on the roster like Eric Hurley or Chris Davis or German Duran. Fewer Nick Bierbrodt’s and Desi Relaford’s? I look forward to that.

As does Baseball America.

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

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