March 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT — March 31, 2008

Those first five innings were a thing of beauty.  Kevin Millwood was sharp and efficient, moving his fastball inside and out with great command of his breaking ball.  

Meanwhile, the offense was executing a solid approach against a pitcher that it couldn’t touch last year, chasing Erik Bedard after those five frames and not with a barrage of base hits.  With few exceptions the Rangers weren’t offering at bad pitches and were spoiling lots of good ones, and through five Bedard had thrown 106 pitches (44 percent for balls), Millwood just 75.  Of the first 22 hitters Bedard faced, 16 made him throw at least four pitches.

But I’m not suggesting we take comfort in any silver lining or chalk up a moral victory.  A loss is a loss, and while Millwood’s effort fires me up, and the way we gameplanned Bedard was a massive improvement over 2007, ultimately four or five plays unmade on defense hurt a lot, Kaz Fukumori was markedly different from the pitcher who shut down the opposition all month in Arizona, and until David Murphy’s RBI single in the eighth I’m pretty sure the lineup was no-hit with runners on base.  We’re 0-1, and that stinks.

Chalk this up to “What do I know?” but for some reason I trust David Murphy more than Marlon Byrd, not just at the moment but long-term, and for me it’s not particularly close.  Byrd seems really out of rhythm.

I’m not about to measure Ben Broussard’s ability to hit lefthanders on the sole basis of how he fared against Bedard, one of baseball’s nastiest, but at best he looked like he’s not very used to facing lefties, and not very comfortable doing it.

I suppose I should back off of Byrd a little bit for the same reason (Bedard, regardless of his handedness), but the 30-year-old looked somewhat out of sync to me in camp, too.  

The ability to check-swing is not the sixth tool, but if it were Josh Hamilton would be a 70-80 on that scale, too.  He held up one swing early in the game that showed phenomenal strength.

I’m still hoping to come home with three wins on this six-game trip that started with Bedard and includes Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, and while dropping a close game to Bedard certainly doesn’t kill that possibility, it doesn’t help me get past my grumpiness over the fact that the first pitch in three of the remaining five games on this trip will be thrown later in the evening than tonight’s final pitch was.

That’s great marketing by the league.  Have Seattle open at home in 13 of the last 14 seasons — I’m not exaggerating — and Texas open on the road in seven of the last eight.  Do the Mariners get that sort of nod because they have a roof?  Then make them start the games earlier in the season’s first week (like they did today), at least when playing teams in other time zones.  Though that still doesn’t begin to explain why Texas is sent away just about every single stinkin’ year to open the season.

Max got to see a really good baseball game tonight before heading to bed, which was about the time both teams went to the bullpen.  As for Game Two and Game Three and Game Four and Game Five, I’ll just have to tell him in the morning how his team played.  He won’t see one pitch of any of those games, and neither will his friends, and neither will most kids in Texas as old as his sister Erica, who is four years older.  Great way to try and make baseball as accessible to today’s kids as it seems like it was to my generation.  

The league scheduling is a joke, something that I probably wouldn’t care as much about and definitely wouldn’t spout off as much about if it weren’t for that fact that the Rangers just suffered their fifth straight Opening Day defeat, four of which came on the road.

End of knee jerk.


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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — March 30, 2008

Opening Day for my softball league began at 8-something
this morning, and I’m feeling it.  It wasn’t
too hot outside, it wasn’t too cold, and I didn’t necessarily get an overdose
of action at shortstop, but those two games have me creaking around right now like
the survivor of a home plate collision, or two. 
I’m one big mass of lactic acid — though I learned through a quick
Google search that a buildup of the stuff actually has nothing to do with
muscle soreness, and I’m too tired to correct this sentence. 

Way too tired.

And I love it. 
Sports soreness is the greatest.

I’m too worn out, frankly, to tell you that I’ll be Bob
and Dan’s in-studio guest on the Ticket tomorrow afternoon at 2:10 or that Nick
Masset won the final spot on the White Sox pitching staff or that the Dodgers
sent two non-roster pitchers with Metroplex ties going in wildly different
directions, lefthander Clayton Kershaw and righthander Chan Ho Park, back to
minor league camp today.  I just don’t
have the energy.

But I’m boosted right now by the thought that, in 22
hours, I’ll be sprawled out on the couch (like I was for this afternoon’s glorious
Sunday nap) tuned into Texas vs. Seattle, eager to see if an unaware Josh
Hamilton and a rejuvenated Hank Blalock and an improved Ian Kinsler and an unfazed
Milton Bradley and a determined Michael Young can do more with an Erik Bedard
in navy, northwest green, and white than the Rangers were able to with Bedard
in orange, black, and white.

Come to think of it, I might have a problem with that
sprawling out part, because Max is going to successfully demand part of that
couch, having never been more excited about anything in the history of ever
than the fact that, just like we had to eight days ago, the Rangers have left
Arizona themselves and are ready for real games.

Speaking of being ready for real
games, the way my legs are groaning I’m not sure that they were this
morning.  But I sure was, and I can’t
wait to recover by, say, Friday or Saturday, just in time to get back out there
on Sunday and kill myself all over.

But there’s a whole lot of real
baseball to sit back and take in between now and then, both on the couch and at
Rangers Ballpark, which will take less of a toll on me physically but will
probably wear me out in another way, amplifying every single emotion I own,
some of which have laid dormant for the last six months.

All but motionless right now,
tuned into Braves-Nationals (and a Dean Palmer-esque Nick Johnson
“slide” at second before a slightly better one at the plate) and anticipating
Rangers-Mariners, I’m as fired up as I can be.

 

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

NEWBERG REPORT UPDATE — McCarthy placed on 60-day DL

The Rangers have finalized their Opening Day roster by placing righthander Brandon McCarthy on the 60-day disabled list along with lefthander John Rheinecker (who was placed on the 60 two days ago when righthander Dustin Nippert was acquired from Arizona), taking both pitchers off the roster until activated.

Along with the designation for assignment of outfielder Nelson Cruz and righthander Robinson Tejeda, the McCarthy and Rheinecker moves clear the way for non-roster righthanders Jamey Wright and Franklyn German and catcher Adam Melhuse to join the roster.

Righthander Luis Mendoza and third baseman Travis Metcalf were officially placed on the 15-day disabled list. Mendoza, whose move was retroactive to March 24, will be eligible to return on April 8, though it will be April 12 before he’s needed. Righthander Wes Littleton was optioned to Oklahoma.

McCarthy will be eligible to be reinstated on May 29, which is later than some projections of when he might be healthy enough to return to action, but the benefit (other than to allow Texas to get down to 40 players without needing to place Thomas Diamond or Joaquin Arias on the 60) is that, no matter what’s happening with the big league rotation, the Rangers won’t be tempted to bring McCarthy back before he’s absolutely good to go, since now they can’t bring him back until the end of May.

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

NEWBERG REPORT UPDATE — Rangers Trade for Nippert

It appears likely that the final spot on the Rangers pitching staff, which Wes Littleton and Robinson Tejeda have been vying for, has just been filled by trade.

According to a press release issued moments ago by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas has traded Class A righthander Jose Marte to the Diamondbacks for 26-year-old righthander Dustin Nippert, who is out of options.

The 6’8″ Nippert has a 2-3, 6.43 record in three big league seasons, including five starts in the 2005 and 2006 seasons and 36 relief appearances in 2007. In 70 innings, the 2002 15th-rounder has fanned 58 and walked 36. He’s been a tremendous minor league starter (33-25, 3.42 with more than a strikeout per inning) but hasn’t yet converted his promise to consistency on the big league level.

Nippert will have to be on the Rangers’ big league roster as the club breaks camp unless they attempt to slide him through waivers to outright his contract to the minor leagues.

The 24-year-old Marte posted a 5.23 ERA between Bakersfield and Clinton last season.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — MARCH 27, 2008

This afternoon’s third inning featured back-to-back home runs off of Kansas City lefthander Mike Maroth, an opposite-field missile off the bat of Hank Blalock and a majestic, right-handed “Hamiltonian” blast (so dubbed by C.J. Wilson) by Milton Bradley, which, neatly wrapped, gives me another opportunity to suggest to you that Blalock (.377/.421/.660) and Bradley are the two keys to transforming this lineup from a question mark to a weapon.

Blalock is going to have a huge year. Huge.

Bradley, if he can stay healthy, is going to play big, too.

This team is going to score runs.

The Mavericks are steadily getting closer to vacating the front page of the sports section a whole lot earlier than expected, and I can’t tell you how ready I am for some baseball.

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

NEWBERG REPORT UPDATE: FARM ASSIGNMENTS

According to various local reports:

Righthander Jason Davis requested (and received) his release. Texas also released catcher Chris Stewart and infielder Edgardo Alfonzo.

The AAA rotation will feature A.J. Murray, Eric Hurley, Doug Mathis, Sidney Ponson, and Elizardo Ramirez. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will start behind the plate, with Kevin Richardson backing him up. German Duran reports to Oklahoma, but Joaquin Arias will see time at second base as well. The outfield will be manned by Kevin Mench, Jason Ellison, and Brandon Boggs.

The AA rotation will feature Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison, Michael Schlact, Michael Ballard, and Trey Hodges. Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez will split catching duties and also see time at DH. Chris Davis and John Mayberry Jr. return to Frisco, and Elvis Andrus will debut as a RoughRider. Emerson Frostad and Adam Fox will hold down third base. Warner Madrigal will close.

Kasey Kiker, Tommy Hunter, and Beau Jones will pitch in the Bakersfield rotation, and Johnny Whittleman returns to the Blaze. Julio Borbon will start in center field.

Fabio Castillo is Clinton-bound. Blake Beavan and the currently sidelined Michael Main will stay back in extended, which is no surprise (um, so to speak).

No decision on where Thomas Diamond will report once he’s ready to pitch, which is still two months off.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 27, 2008

When Texas tees it up with Kansas City at lunchtime today, it will be the professional equivalent of heading out the door for the final day of school before summer break. After the 27th out, the Rangers will toss their textbooks and spelling tests and book reports in the air and board a flight to Dallas, leaving Arizona behind for another year. A game against the White Sox in Oklahoma City tomorrow night, a game in Frisco against the RoughRiders Saturday afternoon, and it’s off to Seattle for three that count against the Mariners, another three in Anaheim against the Angels, and back to Texas for an eight-game homestand against Baltimore, Toronto, and Los Angeles.

A handful of games out of 162 doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it sure would be nice to build some momentum out of the gate. Coming home to open with a more encouraging record than last year’s 0-3 is obviously important. In recent years Texas has made a bad habit out of starting poorly, which can’t be good for morale and certainly takes the wind out of the fan base. Last year it was a 10-win April. In 2006, the team got off to a 1-5 start. In 2005, Texas was over .500 (10-9) for one day in April.

The Rangers’ 0-2 start in 2004 was quickly forgotten when they went on a tear late in the month and, starting April 24, would spend 11 straight days in first, sitting atop the division at some point in every month of the season until September and finishing with 89 wins. April wasn’t the club’s best month in 2004, but it set a tone and Texas would have a losing record only in July (13-14) (if you lump October’s three games in with September). April does mean something to a team that isn’t expected to win.

Friday’s trip to Oklahoma City will be more than a one-night stand for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Frankie Francisco, Kameron Loe, Kevin Mench, and Jason Ellison, and for Luis Mendoza as well, and while Mendoza’s assignment to the RedHawks to start the season comes as no surprise, the manner in which it will happen is a bit different from what was expected. A blister on the right middle finger will park Mendoza on the disabled list to start the season, but he’s still expected to return to Arlington to start against the Blue Jays on April 12, the first time that the fifth starter will be needed. There’s actually some potential benefit to Texas this way — by sending Mendoza to Oklahoma on a rehab assignment for the first 12 days of the season, that’s 12 days that won’t count toward the 20 days on the farm in 2008 that would exhaust an option.

The pronouncement yesterday that Josh Rupe nailed down a bullpen spot (on the strength of allowing just two earned runs in his last eight Cactus League innings, spanning six appearances) leaves Robinson Tejeda (who is out of options) and Wes Littleton (who has one left) vying for the final spot on the pitching staff. Keep in mind, however, that a reliever will end up being dropped when Mendoza is activated April 12, which almost certainly means that Littleton (if he makes the club) or Rupe will return to AAA at that time, since Tejeda and Franklyn German and Jamey Wright have no options.

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Nelson Cruz will be designated for assignment today, while the transactions wire indicated that that happened on Tuesday. The distinction isn’t critical; whenever the move is or was made, the Rangers will have 10 days from that point to trade Cruz or attempt to slide him through waivers in an effort to outright his contract to Oklahoma (a move that he wouldn’t be able to refuse since it would be his first outright). Seems unlikely that he would clear.

Before you get all up in arms about the decision to option Saltalamacchia and decide for yourself that the organization is burying him, keep in mind that he’s 17 months younger than Taylor Teagarden, who has all of 102 at-bats above Class A, and seven months younger than Max Ramirez, who has none. Chances are that Texas will trade Laird at some point and turn the frontline catching duties over to Saltalamacchia, but now is not the time.

The likelihood that Saltalamacchia, Francisco, Loe, and Mench will be in Texas at some point in 2008 is probably little consolation to those four, but the news was more harsh for a handful of minor leaguers, as the Rangers have handed down a wave of releases in the process of sorting out season-opening assignments. Let go were pitchers Eric Cyr, Daniel Hoben, Jon Hollis, Ivan Izquierdo, Marc Major, Michael Wagner, Ace Walker, Jim Wladyka, and Brett Zamzow, catcher Kevin Gossage, first baseman Jim Fasano, and infielders Micah Furtado and Matt Smith.

In Furtado and Smith’s case in particular, I hope they’re not finished with the game.

Texas signed righthanders Mark Alexander and Caleb Moore to minor league contracts. Both are pretty interesting. I can’t figure out why the Dodgers were so quick to dump Alexander, whom they drafted out of the University of Missouri in 2004. The 27-year-old was the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2006, going 3-2, 0.96 with 26 saves for AA Jacksonville and 2-1, 3.14 with one save for AAA Las Vegas, allowing just 37 hits and 23 walks while fanning 85 in 61.1 innings. He was less effective at the same two levels in 2007 (5.90 ERA) but did manage to punch out 95 batters in 79.1 innings, though his walks jumped to 54 and he allowed 12 home runs after surrendering just two in 2006.

A.J. Preller was in baseball operations with the Dodgers when they drafted Alexander, as was Don Welke.

Moore was Minnesota’s fourth-round selection in 2005, the highest pick the Twins had devoted to a catcher since taking Joe Mauer at the top of the 2001 draft. The East Tennessee State product, who also closed games for the Buccaneers, hit just .258/.310/.356 in three pro seasons and never got out of Class A, and Minnesota decided last year to give him a look on the mound. In 13.2 innings for rookie-level Elizabethton, Moore posted a 2.63 ERA, fanning 13 hitters and issuing four walks. Texas signed him as a pitcher.

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that John Patterson has a June 15 out clause in his minor league contract that allows him to force his release if he’s not in Texas by that point.

The reason Patterson chose the Rangers over his hometown Astros was, according to Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Patterson’s past relationship with Mark Connor, who was with the Diamondbacks when they signed Patterson out of West Orange High School. Said Connor: “He was the best-looking high school pitcher I’d ever seen. . . . The ball just jumped out of his hand, [and] he had a hook from ****. It was as good a curveball as you want to see.”

Milton Bradley feels fine after Tuesday night’s defensive debut, in which he wasn’t tested in right field but did leg out a first-inning triple. He’ll be back in right field this afternoon.

The Mets released Andy Cavazos and Ryan Cullen. Washington released Rob Bell.

Colorado’s release of Marcus Giles paves the way for Jayson Nix to start at second base.

Kansas City released 6’6″ first baseman Brett Amyx, the club’s 30th-round pick last summer out of Coppell High School. I mention this only because Amyx caught my eye when he took C.J. Wilson deep last week during a Class A game on the back fields.

The Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League re-signed Ruben Mateo. The York Revolution of the same league signed righthander Pete Munro.

Despite a strong camp, utility player Jason Bourgeois (.333/.440/.452) was sent back to minor league camp by the White Sox a couple days ago. Meanwhile, Nick Masset, who is out of options, is battling sidewinder Ehren Wassermann for the final spot on Chicago’s pitching staff. Both are slated to pitch today.

St. Louis placed Juan Gonzalez on the temporary inactive list. He’d been sidelined since March 10 with an abdominal strain.

Colorado is going to war with Mark Redman in its rotation.

And the Angels are starting the season without John Lackey or Kelvim Escobar in theirs. Scot Shields, Chris Bootcheck, and Gary Matthews Jr. could all join them on the disabled list.

Just sayin’.

I don’t know if there will be any water balloon fights this afternoon as the Rangers break camp and head toward the plane, but I think everyone’s been waiting for this day for a few weeks now. School’s out, and the real fun is about to begin.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 25, 2008

On May 15, 2000, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was working in Boston for international food and beverage company Allied Domecq, the job he’d landed after graduating a year earlier from Cornell with a degree in applied economics and management.

Assistant GM Thad Levine was in his first season in baseball operations with the Colorado Rockies, having earned his MBA from UCLA the year before. Rangers Director of Player Development Scott Servais was with the Rockies, too, serving as Brent Mayne’s backup at catcher in what would be Servais’s penultimate season in the big leagues. Two days earlier, he had singled and walked off of Giants starter Shawn Estes, driving in a run in a 10-9 Rockies win and squeezing 13 strikeouts, 11 of which belonged to Colorado starter Pedro Astacio.

As of May 15, 2000, Rangers Scouting Director Ron Hopkins was a national crosschecker with Oakland, whose big league third base coach was Ron Washington.

On that date the professional baseball career of Jason Botts began. Rangers Scouting Director Chuck McMichael (now Special Assistant to the Braves GM) had drafted Botts in the 46th round out of Glendale Community College in Southern California in June of 1999, on the recommendation of area scout Tim Fortugno, whose responsibility for Botts and C.J. Wilson and Scott Feldman and John Mayberry Jr. and John Hudgins and Zach Phillips and unsigned pick Noah Lowry helped him land his current job as a Mets crosschecker.

Texas followed Botts through his sophomore season at Glendale, convincing him days before the 2000 draft to forgo an opportunity to transfer to USC (where his teammates would have included Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes). Rangers General Manager Doug Melvin, his assistant Dan O’Brien, and Director of Player Development Reid Nichols — all of whom work in similar roles today for Milwaukee — decided to send Botts to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he played for current Royals Class A manager Darryl Kennedy.

It was in the GCL that Botts, with the help of roving minor league hitting instructor (and current Yankees AAA hitting instructor) Butch Wynegar, taught himself to switch-hit. Botts, having never batted from the left side before turning pro, hit .319/.440/.503 and was named by Baseball America as the top draft-and-follow signing in baseball that season.

It’s been a long road for Botts. Among his teammates on that 2000 club, which won the GCL title, were Edwin Encarnacion, Laynce Nix, Jason Bourgeois, and Omar Beltre, the latter of whom is, as far as I can tell, along with Hank Blalock and Joaquin Benoit, about the only player who has been in the organization longer than Botts. Director of Minor League Operations John Lombardo, around since 1998, can probably confirm that.

Tom Hicks and Eric Nadel and Tom Grieve have been around longer than Botts, too, as has Zack Minasian. Although they’d headed elsewhere before returning, Nolan Ryan and Chuck Morgan were here in 2000, too, and they’ll be on hand with the others two weeks from today when Botts trots out to the first base line with his major league teammates for the first Major League Opening Day introductions of his career.

Our second-grade daughter Erica wasn’t born until three weeks after Botts signed with the Rangers. Anything could happen as his 2008 season gets underway, and just because he’s made the team it’s not a lock that he’ll still be around by time Erica graduates second grade. Kevin Mench has an out in his minor league contract if he’s not in the big leagues as of June 1, and depending on his start at Oklahoma, and Botts’s in Texas, there might be a temptation to retrieve Mench’s bat for use against left-handed pitchers and prevent him from leaving via free agency.

But for now, Botts — himself an established destroyer of southpaw pitching — has a chance to prove that his spring line of .357/.386/.476 is more indicative of the type of damage he can do than the .242/.329/.336 numbers he has in his big league looks over the last three seasons.

Nobody in this system has had to prove himself to more people, from general managers to player development officials to coaches and scouts, than Jason Botts has. Part of that is due to his longevity, part due to differing opinions on what he is, and could be.

Today the Rangers have given Botts a chance to reward a lot of baseball people who have believed in him over the years, an opportunity to do his part to help this team win, eventually, like it hasn’t since 1999.

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

NEWBERG REPORT UPDATE — MARCH 25, 2008

According to several local reports, righthanders Franklyn German and Jamey Wright have sealed jobs as relievers on the big league staff, and righthanders Frankie Francisco and Eric Hurley have been sent to minor league camp. There are still two open bullpen jobs.

Both German and Wright are non-roster players and so two players will need to be removed from the 40-man roster to accommodate their addition — one will evidently be outfielder Nelson Cruz, while John Rheinecker is a likely shift off the roster to the 60-day disabled list. It gets a little trickier once a move must be made to make room for Adam Melhuse, assuming he sticks as the backup catcher, though righthander Robinson Tejeda will lose his roster spot if he doesn’t earn a job on the Opening Day roster.

In addition, the club has officially named C.J. Wilson its closer, which is no breaking news but is obviously an indication that the Rangers are comfortable with the soundness of Wilson’s arm and his readiness to take the ball in the ninth inning when the season begins in six days.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 25, 2008

All local outlets are reporting that Jason Botts has made the Rangers’ Opening Day squad. Jon Daniels and Ron Washington gave Botts the news, while Kevin Mench and Jason Ellison were told they would be headed to AAA and Nelson Cruz will be designated for assignment, if not traded first.

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

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