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.