March 2008

RANGERS PODCAST IN ARLINGTON

The first episode of Rangers Podcast in Arlington is now available (for free) on iTunes and on a dedicated blogspot page. To listen to Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball
and me talk Rangers baseball (majors and minors) for an hour with host Ted
Price, you can:

1. Go to http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=277027197
(I think it will open iTunes for you, but if not, go ahead and open iTunes and
then come back and click the link)

2.
Or go to http://rangerspodcast.blogspot.com

Feel
free to give Ted, Adam, or me your feedback on this initial episode, either by posting
comments on the iTunes page or the RPiA blog, or by replying to this email.

Jamey

NEWBERG REPORT AUDIO

Three things:

1. I’ll be on Minor League Baseball Radio tonight at
10:30 p.m. Central to talk about the Rangers on the big league and minor league
levels. You can listen live at www.milbradio.com

2. If you care to listen to my
15 minutes in the booth with Victor Rojas during last Monday’s Rangers game in
Surprise, you can do so by clicking this link (thanks to Eric "Shroom"
Carter):

3. Finally, Adam Morris of
LoneStarBall.com and I just finished our first hour-long episode of Rangers
Podcast in Arlington with host Ted Price.  It should be uploaded onto iTunes in the next couple days.  More details on how to find it once it’s available.


THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 23, 2008

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Texas is on the verge of signing injured righthander John Patterson to a minor league contract, days after the 30-year-old was released by Washington.  Patterson, a native of Orange, Texas, missed the final five months of the 2007 season after missing the second half of the 2006 season with nerve problems in his forearm. 

Interesting, low risk deal.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 23, 2008

Few things from today’s Rangers win over San Francisco:

1. Luis Mendoza,
pitching for the last month in an environment typically not conducive to
pitchers who rely on sink, has a 1.81 groundout-to-flyout rate, and has yielded
just one home run in 16.2 innings.  While his 5.40 ERA is unimposing, he’s
allowed just one run in his last 10 frames (including today’s five scoreless),
and his overall opponents’ line is a respectable .270/.324/.397 (and would look
even better if it hadn’t been for two base hits today that bounded off the rock
hard surface in front of the plate and over Hank Blalock’s head).   Mendoza’s got some momentum heading into the season.

2. Two more outfield
assists today (both belonging to Marlon Byrd, giving him a phenomenal five for
the spring).  Whether Texas leads baseball with 11 spring training assists from
its outfielders is not important, but I can’t tell you how fired up I am to see
the Rangers man the outfield each game with two or three guys capable of not
only playing a solid center field, but also throwing like a right fielder.  The
improvement in this outfield’s ability to catch the ball before it hits the
ground, and to throw well enough to erase baserunners — or at worst to keep
them from attempting to take an extra base — is going to help the number one
starter, the long man out of the pen, and everyone in
between.

3. If the all else is
equal in the competition for a bullpen spot apparently pitting Kameron Loe, Wes
Littleton, Frankie Francisco, and Josh Rupe against each other, Francisco’s
inability to field his position well could tip the scales in someone else’s
favor.

4. I get all the
arguments on both sides, but the news that the Rangers are apparently resigned
to shop righthanders Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando to teams in the Far East makes me sad.

5. Michael Young is 6
for 6 with a walk since playing catch with Max on Saturday morning.  And hours
after Jason Botts gave Max his wristband (also Saturday morning), Botts went 2
for 5 with a two-out, two-run double and two, run-scoring single, which
according to at least two beat writers following the team on a daily basis
cemented a roster spot for Botts, who has been battling Kevin Mench and Nelson
Cruz for a job.

Max hasn’t taken the
wristband off. 

And I know a guy who
goes about 6’6”, 250 who would probably prefer that it stay that
way.

 

Bottsandmax

 

That’ll be the last
reference to my kids for a while.

Probably.

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

 

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 23, 2008

Michaelandmax

 

I’m
sure I had dreams that looked like that when I was three and a half.

 

 

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

 

THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 22, 2008

It was our final full day in Surprise, and it began with a coolmoment.  As we were walking down the path to the fields, we were within
earshot as Mark Connor pulled his golf cart up alongside Blake Beavan,
who had taken a line drive off his foot Wednesday night:

Connor: “How’s the foot?”
Beavan: “Good, it’s good.”
Connor: “You showed me something.  You showed me something getting back up there.”


As 1:00 rolled around, Vicente Padilla and Frankie Francisco and Tommy
Hunter settled in for their day’s work, with Padilla pitching to Chris
Stewart in the AAA game, Francisco pitching to Patrick Arlis in the AA
game, and Hunter pitching to Max Newberg in the grassy area between.

Shortly thereafter, after I’d relieved Hunter (and Beavan), minor
league pitching coordinator Rick Adair stopped his golf cart in front
of me (mercifully giving me a 20-second break from what felt at that
point like a 20-hour throwing session with Max, who announced this week
that he intends to be a “fessional baseball player”) and told me he’d
never seen a kid Max’s age who wanted to throw as much as he does.  I
vowed not to let him throw curveballs until he’s 17 or 18.

Padilla’s and Francisco’s San Diego counterparts on the mound were
former Rangers draftees John Hudgins (2003, 3rd round) and Cory Luebke
(2006, 22nd round, unsigned).

Emerson Frostad followed a sick morning batting practice display with a monstrous home run off of Hudgins in the afternoon. 

Cristian Santana’s BP looks more like Pudge Rodriguez’s every time I see it. 

Max Ramirez is going to do a lot of big league damage offensively.

Matt Smith may be a better bet to coach one day than to even reach AAA
as a player, but his actions at shortstop are great.  I mean great.

We finished the day as part of the largest crowd in Surprise Stadium
history, as Texas fell to the Angels, 4-1.  Ron Washington flipped
Michael Young and Josh Hamilton in the order, moving Young to his more
familiar number two slot and dropping Hamilton into the more classic
run-producing spot at number three.  Washington attributed the move to
a concession that putting Hamilton in a less pressured role is no
longer a concern, given the spring he’s had.

T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com projects the Oklahoma rotation to include Eric
Hurley, Doug Mathis, and A.J. Murray; the Frisco rotation to include
Matt Harrison, Michael Schlact, and Michael Ballard; the Bakersfield
rotation to include Hunter, Omar Poveda, Zach Phillips, Beau Jones, and
eventually Kasey Kiker, though he could start the year in extended
spring training as he did in 2007; and the Clinton rotation to include
Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland.  Center fielder Engel Beltre, though
just 18 years old, will start out at Clinton as well.   

Scott Feldman could land in either the Oklahoma or Frisco rotation, as
he was optioned yesterday.  Jason Davis was returned to minor league
camp as well.

The trade of Class A first baseman Freddie Thon to Toronto was for future considerations.

Looking back at the list of 32 things I said on March 13 that I
couldn’t wait to see in camp, there’s no question that the trip has
been a productive one:

1. Elvis Andrus and Engel Beltre, just to be sure I wasn’t seeing things in October.  Jorge Quintero, too, for that matter.  Check
as far as Andrus and Beltre are concerned, and it’s actually possible
that I’ve been underselling those two.  Missed out on seeing Quintero,
though.

2. Thomas Diamond, reasserting himself while nobody is looking.
Check; but count me among those who wasn’t looking.  I got to the back
fields five minutes too late to catch his unannounced sim game on
Wednesday.

3. Neftali Feliz.  Check.  Struggled some in Wednesday’s Prospect Game, but what he brings to the table is mesmerizing.   

4. Jason Botts, on one side of the complex or the other, in one shade of blue or another.  Check; he still belongs to us, for now.

5. Josh Rupe, my pitching sleeper for 2008. Check on getting to see him given the opportunity, but he hasn’t quite capitalized on it yet.

6. Whatever super-turbo-groovy kicks A.J. Preller is sporting these days.
Check, but he clearly ceded the yellow jersey to Mel Didier, who was
brandishing one rockin’, explosive pair of running shoes on the back
fields one afternoon.

7. A chance to talk to Chris Davis to figure out at what point his
boyhood dreams were surpassed by the reality of the last month.  German
Duran, too.  Unfinished business.

8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, making a late rush.  Luis Mendoza finishing what he’s started.  (Kyle Lohse? No, thanks.)  Check, though it appears that Saltalamacchia won’t break camp as the starting catcher.

9. David Murphy, continuing to quietly do his thing.  Check, though I’m not so sure how quiet it is anymore.

10. Michael Young becoming more and more like Don Mattingly was, and Ian Kinsler becoming more and more like Michael Young is.  Check.  Check.

11. The March 2008 version of March 2004 Ian Kinsler.  I’m not sure who
it will be, but it won’t surprise me if in a week I’m putting my money
on Cristian Santana. Not ruling out
Santana, but I saw a couple others who I could see exploding this
season.  Max Ramirez has probably accomplished too much already, so
give me Johnny Whittleman.

12. C.J. Wilson, using adversity to his advantage on the mound.  Channeling, I think it’s called.  Check.  He was especially dirty on Thursday, and will pitch in the big league game today.

13. Kea Kometani, whose increasingly legitimate velocity and
consistently nasty splitter belong on someone far less unassuming than
he is.  Root for that guy.  Saw him throw a side but not in a game.

14. Brandon Boggs, perhaps the most unfairly overlooked player in the system.  Check.  Quietly filled the box score the couple times I saw him play.

15. Macumba.  Check.  Wow.

16. Taylor Teagarden at full strength, I hope.  Not quite there, but getting closer.  And getting antsy.

17. A sense that Joaquin Arias hasn’t given up.  Check.

18. Milton Bradley, leading as he can.  He’s a baseball player.  Check, check, check.

19. Wilmer Font, Julio Borbon, Michael Main, Max Ramirez, and Tommy Hunter.  Lots. Check, thanks in part to the Prospect Game (though Main of course was shut down).

20. As many conversations with Don Welke as he’ll tolerate.  Check – though you’ll have to ask him whether it got to the point at which it was a beating for him.  (I don’t think it did.)

21. Nolan Ryan, watching the Texas Rangers with as great a hope and
confidence as any of us have that things are headed in the right
direction, and with as great a passion as any of us have to see this
team win.  Check.  More on that in a bit.

22. Blake Beavan and Neil Ramirez, neither of whom I got to see pitch at Instructs. Check.  It will probably be close to summer before we see them in box scores, but it will be worth the wait.

23. The look in Eric Hurley’s eyes, which has been different, and better, every March that I’ve seen him take the mound. Check.

24. Johnny Whittleman and Michael Schlact, two players whose standing
among the Rangers prospect hierarchy seems to have waned, but only
because of the dramatic, headline-y influx of high-end prospects in
June’s draft and July’s trading season.  There’s no reason they
shouldn’t be on everyone’s watch list. CHECK.

25. Johan Yan, hopefully looking less raw with those sick skills.  It’s time.  Jury’s
still out.  Still looks as good as ever in BP and infield practice, but
in the few game situations I saw him in, he wasn’t as dangerous.

26. Zach Phillips and Derek Holland, either of whom could be a year or two away from being Matt Harrison.  Big check, particularly Holland.

27. This rumor that Franklyn German has found command.  Check.  Very interesting.

28. Fabio Castillo, of course.  The resoundingest of checks.

29. The booth alongside Victor Rojas for Monday’s webcast, weather permitting. Check.

30. Speaking of which, a couple mistaken weather forecasts for Sunday and Monday would suit me just fine.  Check, sorta.  Wasn’t as bad as forecasted, but we didn’t break out the sunblock until Tuesday.

31. Erica and Max, hopefully having half as good a time as they’ve been anticipating for weeks.  Missed on this one.  They seemed to have twice as good a time as they had hoped.

32. Josh Hamilton.  In batting
practice and in games, at the plate and in center field.  Interacting
with fans 20 years his junior and with his teammates of three months
who have accepted him unconditionally, as one of them.  Doing
everything loudly between the lines, quietly outside them.  Helping
redefine what the Texas Rangers plan to be about, with all of us
watching intently.  Massive check.  One league scout told ESPN’s Jayson
Stark that Hamilton “has been the best player in Arizona,” and I can’t
offer a counterargument.



As our Friday night ended, I got the chance to introduce my family to
Nolan Ryan, a moment that I don’t have to tell you was one I won’t
forget.  Though exhausted from yet another day in paradise, Max managed
to give Ryan a high five and tell him that his favorite player is
Michael Young.

What followed was a brief discussion of a breathtaking play that
Hamilton had made in left center in the sixth inning, gracefully
outrunning a Torii Hunter blast and hauling it in as he reached the
warning track on the dead run, lunging at full extension.  It was Ryan
who initiated that discussion, and he had a high five in his eyes as he
recounted the play.

Nolan Ryan has a better idea as I type this of who Max Newberg is than
Max does of who Nolan is.  That will change, of course, as Max get
older, though I’m guessing he won’t remember last night’s
introduction.  We asked for no autograph, no photograph, just an
opportunity to say hello.

What struck me, though, is that, impossibly, Nolan and Max have
something very real in common.  Hearing one of the greatest to ever
scale a major league mound talk in almost giddy terms about the
phenomenal play that his team’s new center fielder made in the middle
of a game that didn’t count was, in a way, no different from watching
Max play catch this week with Michael Young and Jason Botts and Thomas
Diamond and Tommy Hunter and Blake Beavan and John Whittleman Sr., and
seeing him flawlessly handle a two-hop fungo from Ron Washington.  It’s
a passion for the game, pure and alive and infectious.

I expected to come away with certain things on this trip, but not a
sense that Nolan Ryan and Max Newberg share something.  Baseball,
always offering surprises, is one of the great inspirations in my life,
as was the game’s all-time strikeout leader, as is my son, and I saw
this week, on a new level, how much the game inspires, and energizes,
the two of them as well.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 21, 2008

Kasey Kiker was ridiculous in the top of the first against a Seattle squad yesterday, striking out the side, but I bet he’ll remember the bottom of the first for a lot longer.  After Kiker exited the dugout to get in his post-appearance stretch, he was intercepted by a man who threw his final big league pitch when Kiker was five years old.  I couldn’t hear what Nolan Ryan was saying to the 20-year-old lefthander and it didn’t matter.  The smile on Kiker’s face and the look in his eyes as he nodded through five minutes of Nolan’s observations, whatever they were, said it all.

Kevin Millwood had to make the dreaded two-hour trip to Tucson yesterday in order to make his first exhibition start of the spring, but if it ticked him off, he took it out on the Diamondbacks lineup.  Millwood went five scoreless innings (needing only 63 pitches), punching out five while scattering three hits and a walk. 

It will be the righthander’s only Cactus League appearance of the spring.  He’ll start a minor league game on Tuesday rather than face the Mariners, whom he’s scheduled to face on Opening Day.

Hank Blalock continued to shake any residual concerns about his readiness for the season as well, hitting his second home run and adding his third double.  He sits at .258/.343/.548, with five of his eight hits going for extra bases.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.231/.259/.615) doubled in a run and crushed a three-run homer, and though he’s not hitting for average, five of his six hits have gone for extra bases.  Meanwhile, Gerald Laird (.290/.313/.710) is having a terrific camp, leading the club with four homers.  The fascinating issue of which catchers Texas will take to Seattle heats up.  (T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, and San Diego have each called Texas about Laird.)

The spirited battle for a roster spot between Jason Botts (.351/.368/.459) and Kevin Mench (.353/.463/.647) continues (Sullivan reports that Seattle and Tampa Bay have asked about Nelson Cruz), while Josh Hamilton (.538/.581/.949), Ian Kinsler (.450/.531/.600), and David Murphy (.405/.409/.762) keep on putting up video game numbers.

Yesterday I saw Kinsler take batting practice for the third or fourth time since getting out here, and it struck me that the kid who hit .400 in Clinton and slugged .500 as a minor leaguer nonetheless has to be one of Rudy Jaramillo’s proudest sculptures.  Kinsler has come a long way from the dead pull hitter he was on the farm to a potential star who has learned to quiet those lightning-quick hands enough to create a legitimate spray chart.  In batting practice, he’s showing an ability to hit the ball to right center with tremendous authority, and I think we’re about to see a player about whom we should be thinking not about 30-30 but about 30-30-.300, a leadoff hitter whose power may make him even more dangerous than Craig Biggio.

In six fewer at-bats, Murphy (32) has three times as many total bases as Marlon Byrd (11), who is hitting .188/.264/.229.  I’ll say it again: there’s nothing that’s convinced me that Murphy can’t be a factor on a championship team, and he’s done nothing in his eight months here to confirm the notion that he’s merely a fourth outfielder. 

Think about how much the Rangers could get right now for Murphy, Engel Beltre, and Kason Gabbard, none of whom the Rangers would have any interest in trading right now.

I don’t know what Milton Bradley is going to look like coming out of the box (he debuts tonight as the designated hitter and will only sit once in the next five games), but if BP is any indication, he’s going to look great in it.  His back field sessions at the plate are impressive, and business-like.

Name one hitter in the Rangers lineup whom you can’t reasonably expect to improve on his 2007 numbers. 

This lineup, assuming it stays relatively healthy, is going to score.

Mark Connor’s assessment of the best pitches on the big league staff: C.J. Wilson features the best fastball (even though Franklyn German throws harder), Kason Gabbard’s curve ranks ahead of Millwood’s, Joaquin Benoit possesses the top slider as well as the filthiest change (“one of the best I’ve ever seen”), Luis Mendoza unquestionably totes the best sinker, and German has the best split.

Wilson was really sharp in a minor league outing yesterday, getting three outs on strikes and one on the ground in a 20-pitch appearance.  He’s expected to face Seattle in tomorrow’s big league game.

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News learned that Hamilton’s favorite TV show, naturally, is “Smallville,” which is about a young Superman.

Edinson Volquez shares the strikeout lead in all of baseball this spring, and his 21 punchouts have come in fewer innings (15) than co-leaders Johan Santana (20 innings) or John Maine (19.1).  Volquez (3.00 ERA) has walked only three hitters and hasn’t been taken deep.

Cincinnati has reassigned uberprospect Jay Bruce, the player whose apparent readiness was a key factor in the Reds’ decision to trade Josh Hamilton, to minor league camp.  Bruce is going to be a star, but his big league debut will apparently not be a week and a half from now.

Justin Duchscherer, Clint Brannon, and Freddie Thon.  Thon completes the trifecta of players whom I’ve seen get the spring training word that they’d been traded.  I was standing outside the dugout during Gabbard’s minor league start on Wednesday when, as Thon came off the field after the top of the first, he left the dugout with his bat on his shoulder and a smile on his face, as teammates and coaches slapped him on the back and wished him good luck.  I learned later that the career .290/.318/.429 hitter who had a tremendous second half at Bakersfield in 2007 (.313 with 10 homers and 46 RBI after the All-Star Break) had been traded to Toronto.

One more full day at the fields, capped by Rangers-Angels under the lights tonight.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 20, 2008

Imagine settling in at your favorite movie theater, and tiled on the massive screen, all playing at once, each in one of four corners, are “The Usual Suspects,” “Braveheart,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “Godfather II,” each with the sound up loud.  The frustrating whole would be a lot lousier than the sum of its parts.

That’s what it can sometimes be like on the back fields in Surprise, particularly in the mornings, when there’s activity on all four diamonds and maybe some on the row of mounds where pitchers get in their side work, too.  Spend too much time watching Zach Phillips and Jorge Quintero and Kea Kometani throwing sides and you might miss Max Ramirez and Elvis Andrus taking their cuts on the field over your shoulder.  Focus on Engel Beltre and David Paisano’s dazzling outfield displays during a round of infield practice on one field and you might deprive yourself of the spectacle of Manny (Pina) being Manny behind the plate on another.

In 2008, more than ever, there’s just too much worth seeing on the back fields, which accordingly means there’s a lot that gets missed.

But that problem was momentarily erased at 7 p.m. last night, when the Rangers staged the 2008 Prospect Game, pitting the organization’s best AA and AAA farmhands against its best Class A kids in a nine-inning affair under the lights in Surprise Stadium.  It was gold for me, a chance to sit in one seat and take in, over the space of three hours, what would normally take three days to see – and without the attendant risk of missing something I failed to see simply by virtue of facing the wrong direction.

I settled in and saw that one squad would be sending Derek Holland, Fabio Castillo, Blake Beavan, Carlos Pimentel, and Martin Perez to the hill.  If that wasn’t enough to fire me up (on a night that would see the temperature dip 20 degrees between gametime and the final out), the opposing team would feature Tommy Hunter, Neftali Feliz, Wilmer Font, and Neil Ramirez on the bump.

Judging by the pitching talent that would be on display, it felt like I was about to take in the Futures Game.

Johnny Whittleman must have had the same feeling.  Having homered off then-Mets phenom Deolis Guerra (since traded to Minnesota as the key to the Johan Santana deal) in July’s Futures Game, the 21-year-old had two great at-bats against Hunter last night, fouling off a thousand 1-2 pitches in the second inning (before going down looking) and then hitting the game’s only home run in the fourth when he drove a ball authoritatively to the base of the Home Run Party Deck beyond the fence in right field.

Four hours earlier, I watched Whittleman put together one of the most impressive batting practice sessions I’ve seen in years.  It looked like Hank Blalock, vintage 2001.  It carried over into the Prospect Game, where Whittleman had two really solid trips to the plate before his night and that of the rest of the starters were finished.

But make no mistake: This night belonged to the pitchers. 

I loved what I saw out of Holland, a slight lefthander who punched out 83 Northwest Leaguers while issuing only 21 walks in 67 innings in 2007, his debut season.  If I’d never seen Holland and you’d told me the 25th-round draft-and-follow was actually a second-round pick, I not only would have believed it but would have been impressed with how he’d made the selection pay off.  He flashed a very good fastball and threw two curves for strikes, a sweeping bender and a harder version (mixing in a terrific move to first).  There’s unquestionably something there – and the fact that Texas rewarded him with a start last night suggests the organization is convinced of that.

Holland’s opposing starter, Hunter, struck out five in his four innings of work, including Davis looking at a curve twice and Whittleman watching the curve once.  He was victimized, however, by a textbook first inning, that is, if your textbook is titled “Small Ball.”  Julio Borbon led off with a bunt to the third base side of the mound, which Hunter fielded quickly and cleanly but whose throw couldn’t beat Borbon to the bag.  Andrus then executed a perfect hit-and-run, bounding a ball through the vacated hole on the right side, sending Borbon to third.  Duran singled to right on another hit-and-run, scoring Borbon and allowing Andrus to move to third.  After Davis struck out, Max Ramirez shot a ball 390 feet to center on a rope, scoring Andrus as Beltre hauled the fly in.

In the third, Andrus reached on a Marcus Lemon error, stole second easily on a hit-and-run attempt that Duran swung through, and would have swiped third had Duran not skied to shortstop on the next pitch.  Get used to Andrus creating offense.

Of the seven pitchers who appeared in relief, only two logged multiple innings, and they had far different results. 

Castillo was absolutely filthy, striking out the side on just 11 pitches (10 of which were strikes, six looking) in the fifth and then inducing three routine groundouts – on a total of five pitches – in the sixth.  He was stinkin’ great.

Feliz, however, struggled in his three frames.  As he was warming up, I wrote in my notes the word “SICK” and underlined it and underlined it and underlined it.  The velocity and the ease with which he gets the ball up there are spellbinding.  But he had trouble locating, issuing three walks and throwing, by my count, five breaking balls in the glove-side dirt and to the backstop.  It wasn’t his night.

Grant Gerrard rifled Beavan’s second pitch off the big righthander’s right foot, which created a resounding “thud” (fortunately not a resounding “crack”) before the ball bounded all the way back to the third base dugout.  Beavan satisfied coaches and trainers that he was OK to stay on the mound, and he proceeded to induce a 6-4-3 double play and a fly to left to quickly end his lone inning of work.

Pimentel flashed a good-looking curve and kept his fastball down.  He was solid.

Font is more stunning to watch than Feliz.  There’s more effort in his delivery than in Feliz’s (which makes him no different from any other pitcher), but the explosion of his fastball would make you giddy even if he were 22, rather than 17.  His results weren’t spectacular last night (he walked his first two batters, though he did pick off the first, Andres James, with a very good move before throwing his first pitch to the second, Casey Benjamin), but when Mauro Gomez stepped in as the third batter to face Font, I found myself praying for a 6-4-3 so that “Macumba” (catcher Leonel de los Santos) wouldn’t have to face Font (who must carry nearly twice Macumba’s weight) on what by then was about a 55-degree night.  But Gomez singled sharply to right, and Macumba swung at four straight pitches, making contact the final three times, ultimately flying out to right. 

Perez, a short but athletic lefthander who at age 16 has a ton of poise on the mound, retired the side in order in the top of the ninth with a varied assortment, and Neil Ramirez, displaying a big, sharp curve to offset his plus fastball, had some command issues but was helped out by left fielder Miguel Alfonzo, who handled a Tim Rodriguez single cleanly and fired a one-hop rope to the plate to gun down Johan Yan by 10 feet. 

In the couple times I’ve seen Alfonzo play, in October at Fall Instructs and this week in camp, he’s done something good every time.  For me, Miguel Alfonzo is the new Butch Davis (the old Red-Shoed Rangers outfielder, not the football coach).

Beltre and Andrus, opponents last night, were trash-talking from in front of opposing dugouts just before game time.  Those two guys are magnetic.

Watching Pina work behind the plate is worth the price of a ticket.

Tim Smith just hits.

Joaquin Arias still has some pop in his bat.

I hate the drive from Houston to Dallas.  But there’s that moment, about 30 minutes from home, when the Downtown Dallas skyline emerges in the distance, and even though you know there’s a ways to go, and probably some irritating traffic along the way, it’s still a bit of an adrenaline rush to see home on the horizon.  That’s what I thought of when I saw the look in Thomas Diamond’s eye yesterday afternoon, as he’d just gotten finished throwing a 30-pitch simulated game, his first work against hitters swinging bats in about a year.  He threw lots and lots of strikes (including every one of his curves), and while a good number of them were hit squarely, you wouldn’t know it from the smile on his face after his outing was complete.  A return to full action is still down the road a bit, but I think Diamond saw the skyline yesterday.

Which is a bit different from what I saw last night.  Diamond, if all goes well, will be in the big leagues before Fabio Castillo and Wilmer Font and Derek Holland, but as Diamond’s path back to full strength and, ultimately, to Arlington progresses, there’s an armada forging ahead a ways back, deep in numbers and heavy on power. 

The Rangers, I feel comfortable saying, have never had this big a swarm of high-ceiling pitchers in the system at one time.  Last night I was fortunate enough to see a lot of them in one place, and at one time, with no risk of choosing the wrong way to look. 

The siege is underway, and even if they won’t all move at the same pace, the Rangers’ fleet of young arms moves in a unified direction, toward us.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 19, 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT

With no visit from the Tooth Fairy to delay the day’s start, and only
the minor issue of my inability to plug iPhoto files into my SBCGlobal
emails gumming thing up, we got to the fields at 9 a.m. on Tuesday,
early enough to see Ron Washington and Art Howe working exclusively
with Kevin Mench around the first base bag on Field 7, which is
basically nothing more than an infield with a fence fringing it.

We walked by the Mench Crash Course and caught up with a handful of
players just before their morning stretch, with Erica showing off her
missing tooth and Max energetically exchanging high fives.

That is, except when Max’s favorite player tried to strike up a
conversation with him, and he went into a shell that almost never
surfaces when he’s cloaked in baseball pants, a Rangers cap, and his
trusty Wilson A2291.  It was pretty cool, though, when he posted up and
threw a ball to his hero, who then flipped it to Ginger, who tossed it
back to Max to complete a crisp 6-4-3.

Moments later, as I was tossing grounders to Max on the grass, Wash
emerged from Field 7 and headed toward a spot nearby, where the few
beat writers and columnists in town were waiting for his morning
briefing.  T.R. Sullivan addressed the manager first, 10 feet before
he’d arrived: “Wash, right there is the only player in camp you haven’t
hit ground balls to.”

Wash drops his glove but keeps the baseball that was tucked inside.
Lifts his fungo.  Without so much as a word or a gesture toward Max, he
slaps a solid two-hopper from about 20 feet away, and a thousand
thoughts rushed through my head (one of which was not
to grab the camera or ask Ginger to, though there was no time for that
anyway): How badly would Max be scarred if he booted the ball with that
sort of rapt audience?  Would he earn a “Pickin’ ma-CHINE!” shout-out?
Would he earn a split lip? 

Knees bent, both hands properly outstretched, feet at an appropriate width, Max gathered the Wash bouncer perfectly. 

“There.  I’ve hit grounders to everybody now.”

Funny thing is, Erica is more proud of losing a tooth than Max was
making the play on a fungo off the bat of the Rangers manager and one
of the game’s premier infield instructors.  But the moment wasn’t lost
on me.

One run on two hits and no walks over five innings for Luis Mendoza
yesterday pretty much solidified a rotation spot for the 24-year-old.
He not only became the first Rangers starter to go five innings this
spring, but he did it in just 61 pitches, which included an array of
dirty changeups that held left-handed hitters to a 1 for 11 day.

Kason Gabbard makes a start in a minor league game this afternoon, as
the big club is off.  His rotation spot is reportedly not in any
jeopardy despite poor numbers this spring, but the Rangers would
obviously like to see the lefthander locate his fastball more
effectively than he has so far.

Milton Bradley will make his official spring training debut Friday
night, serving as the designated hitter, which he’ll also do so
Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, if all goes well.  Texas had planned to
have him travel to Tucson for tomorrow’s game against Arizona, but the
Diamondbacks have told the Rangers that they are opting to having
pitchers hit in that game, as is their right as the home team.

Every few days a Chicago newspaper revisits the idea that the Cubs
continue to covet Marlon Byrd.  I understand the positive clubhouse
factor that Byrd offers, but with the way David Murphy is backing up
his breakthrough summer with a massive spring, as long as Texas holds
firm on its insistence that it would take more than Matt Murton to get
him, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Byrd moved.  It would take a bit of
a leap of faith on the ability of both Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley
to avoid the disabled list all year, but Murton would address the depth
situation (he’s not a center fielder but Murphy certainly can be), and
if Chicago added a pitcher like Sean Gallagher or Donald Veal or Jose
Ceda to its offer – a longshot but it’s the Rangers who have the
leverage here – Texas can capitalize on a great non-roster signing (and
another Rudy Jaramillo success story) from a year ago.

Typical day for Engel Beltre yesterday.  Leads off the game with a
no-doubt home run on the first pitch he saw, drops a drag bunt late in
the game that the Royals third baseman had to eat.

Watch out when Wilfredo Boscan and Kennil Gomez start to fill out.

I would have had a big smile on my face, too, if I were Scott Servais
having a conversation with Neftali Feliz, Wilmer Font, and Martin Perez
on the back fields yesterday.

It’s a scary thing whenever a prospect gets hurt, but in righthander
Michael Main’s case, the stress fracture in his rib cage is easier to
cope with considering (1) it’s not an arm injury, (2) he should be back
on the mound two months into the season, and (3) it’s likely that the
first-rounder was going to be held back in extended at the outset of
the season to keep his workload down anyway, much as lefthander Kasey
Kiker was last year, his first season in the system.

The St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association released infielder Matt Brunson.

Day off today for the big club, a welcome break for lots of people,
including the skipper, who certainly earned a day to regenerate after
managing to slap a ground ball to the last kid in camp he hadn’t done
so to yesterday.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 18, 2008

Monday started with a surprise for Erica, proof of an overnight visit from Iggy, the Egotistical Iguana, who serves as the Greater Phoenix Tooth Fairy despite the fact that his foot is severely burned (the ugly result of a Starbucks mishap you wouldn’t believe if I told you) and, sadly, unable to bear weight.  Iggy passed the crucial test, coming through with a suitable exchange for the left maxillary central incisor that Erica no longer had any use for.

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Stunningly, Max was awake earlier than the rest of us, a huge upset considering not only the fact that Erica had gone to sleep Sunday night almost grudgingly, with a single purpose of waking up just to see whether the Tooth Fairy was keeping up with her dental status even 1,100 miles from home, but also the yeoman’s work Max had turned in on a brisk Sunday in Surprise, volunteering both to get Jason Botts some extra work at first base:

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. . . and to catch an extra side for Thomas Diamond as he continued his impressive return from Tommy John surgery:

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It didn’t much matter to Max on Monday morning that Cristian Santana might see some time as a corner outfielder in 2008 to avoid overdoing things behind the plate as he tries to put 2006’s shoulder injury and 2007’s thumb injury behind him.  He wasn’t concerned about whether Dad would manage to find another way to lead the report with Josh Hamilton, and he wasn’t fixated on the truth to the rumor that Marcus Lemon had come to camp bigger, in a good way. 

The simple, innocent reason Max was ready to go before the rabbit who had attacked T.R. Sullivan a couple days earlier had rolled out of its own bed was that the two minor league baseballs he’d come home with on Sunday were trophies, yes, but more like gateway drugs.  “These are gray baseballs, Dad.  I need white baseballs.” 

Telling Max that we’d see what we could do, but that we couldn’t promise anything, was like telling rookie Mike Young he wasn’t going to hit enough to be a starting middle infielder in the big leagues.

The boy was determined.

We got to the fields early, but there aren’t baseballs to be hunted down when the players are merely loosening up.  Soon the back fields started to fill up, with what was easily four times as many fans as there had been the day before.  I didn’t want to tell Max that baseballs would be harder to come by (too soon to start those Adam Smith lessons), fearing it would crush his spirit.

Distracted by another sick Josh Hamilton Batting Practice Display, followed by yet another eye-opening round from David Murphy – and a completely punishing effort from both sides of the plate (particularly the right side) by Milton Bradley, which fired me up more than anything else I saw on Tuesday – the Quest for White Baseballs seemed like it had, at least momentarily, slipped Max’s mind.

Having also watched the big club take infield, which is still one of my favorite things to watch in all of sports, and drawing Max’s attention to how much of a weapon an outfield of Murphy in left, Hamilton in center, and Nelson Cruz in right can be (and coming to my own conclusion that Jarrod Saltalamacchia really does look like what a big league catcher looks like), we decided to head west from the batting practice field to the back fields, where the minor leaguers were getting their work in. 

On the walk there, Max got hold of an abandoned foul ball, lightly used, certainly closer to white than the two scuffed balls he’d come away with on Sunday.  On the rest of that walk to the four minor league fields, with Max clutching the relatively new baseball, he never looked up, staring down at that ball with a smile on his face that cannot be faked, until persuaded by Mom and Dad to look up for just a second.

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We settled in with maybe half a dozen others to watch the trio of Chris Davis, Elvis Andrus, and Max Ramirez get their batting practice reps in, a display that, while not at the level of Hamilton-Murphy-Bradley-Marlon Byrd, would have had any serious Rangers fan salivating, unless they were three and a half years old and more intent on fielding ground balls with that new, game-issue prize he was toting around.  As I threw him grounders, and Erica was doing cartwheels (literally), he was doing the same (figuratively).

Soon it was time for lunch, and on the way to the car a fan handed Max another ball.  Of course, that turned lunch into a nuisance for Max, who couldn’t wait to get back to the fields.  We got back in time to grab a patch of grass on the stadium berm just before the Rangers and Mariners stood out of their dugouts for the National Anthem, a closer call than we imagined it would be because we hadn’t counted on passing the mini-wiffle ball park, in which Max dutifully took some cuts, hitting two inside-the-park home runs that, in his mind, clearly ended with plays at the plate since he insisted on sliding home both times.

Jason Jennings was effective through four innings, even though several of the outs were loud (but predictably he was no match for Cha Seung Clemens, who inexplicably toys with Texas like it was a lineup of kids in wiffle ball park).  Jennings’s velocity was up a tick or two (touching 87 a few times), and he limited the Mariners to two hits and no walks with a solid array of off-speed offerings, fanning a pair.  He felt good enough that Texas had him throw an extra 17 pitches in the bullpen after his four innings were done.

The Rangers are going to pitch Jennings in a minor league game on Saturday so that they don’t give Seattle another season preview.  Eric Hurley will get the big league start that day, which is a pretty interesting development considering that by then we’ll be just over a week from Opening Day.  I’m still convinced that Hurley needs to be in Oklahoma in April, but the more camp innings he gets with a big league defense behind him and big league hitters in the box, the better.

Robinson Tejeda was impressive again in relief; it’s obvious why Texas isn’t in a rush to give up on his arm, especially with Frankie Francisco (still toting one option) not seizing an opportunity thus far.  Tejeda, who pitched one inning yesterday, will the get the ball again today, the next step in the process of evaluating whether he’s capable of pitching in a high-leverage bullpen role on back-to-back days.

I’m still hanging onto my prediction that Josh Rupe is this year’s pitching surprise.

The Rangers don’t seem concerned about Kason Gabbard’s lack of effectiveness so far, which is good enough for me right now, but the more and more I see of Murphy and Engel Beltre, the more I’m convinced that the Eric Gagne trade will have a place right next to the Mark Teixeira trade in Jon Daniels’s trophy case, no matter what Gabbard does.

I don’t know how brilliant the inning and a half was that I got to do alongside Victor Rojas during yesterday’s Webcast, but I had a blast.  I believe if you go to this link, you can listen to yesterday’s game for free.  I did the seventh inning and the top of the eighth.  Thanks to those of you who emailed questions to the booth – there were apparently tons of questions we never got to.

You must read Mike Hindman’s final spring training observations.  Great stuff.   

Texas released a handful of minor leaguers, the most prominent of which was probably speed merchant R.J. Anderson, a standout high school cover corner and punt returner who turned down stacks of Division I football opportunities (and ultimately a commitment to the University of South Florida) to take the Rangers’ above-slot signing bonus as the club’s ninth-round pick in 2005.  Beset by hamstring issues in his first season, he never found a rhythm and, with the dramatic influx of center field prospects in the system since the time Anderson was drafted, his chances here had been minimized.  The Rangers also released catcher Joe Hulett, infielder Jason Sowers, and outfielder Luke Salas.

I know the error totals have been disappointing, but you watch Johnny Whittleman get his infield work in and you do see a third baseman.  In the box he looks like a number six hitter, maybe a number three depending on where he takes things over the next two years.

According to Baseball America, Texas will assign Julio Borbon to Bakersfield to start the season.  I’m not sure whether BA is drawing that conclusion from Borbon’s camp assignment once he was optioned (those assignments are often not final) or if a Rangers official confirmed that that’s where the 2007 supplemental first-rounder will play in April, but it was his likely destination in any event.

The Hunt continues today.  Max has his agenda, I have mine (which is not to say that the girls don’t have their own).  Tops on my list is to take in a couple Class A games today, plus another opportunity, if possible, to watch Milton Bradley continue on his path to regular season readiness.  If he’s physically right, he has the chance to significantly impact the level of damage that this team’s lineup is capable of inflicting.  Perhaps dramatically.

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

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