Boggs just gets better:
With Spokane: .235/.373/.369
With Clinton: .246/.353/.437
With Bakersfield: .258/.354/.457
With Oklahoma: .309/.368/.456
With Texas: .667/.714/1.167
He has to
be somewhere in the lineup again tomorrow afternoon, against the formidable
Zack Greinke, doesn’t he?
We always knew at some point we were probably going to have to cut that tree down, that red oak in the backyard that was the tallest, most majestic tree in the neighborhood. We finally had it removed about a month ago, and it sorta sucked. We knew we needed to do it to move forward with some other plans, but it was still a tough decision to make, and it still hurt to see it come down.
We’ve taken some good-natured heat from some friends. Not undeserved. But in the end, they understand why we’re doing it.
The yard’s going to look better at some point but for now it looks worse, with the tree gone. Not as bad, though, as that first week and a half after it came down, when it just didn’t look right driving up the alley and seeing nothing where once we saw that massive presence that had been there for so many years. When, in the front yard, layers and layers of branches and leaves and trunk were stacked in a heap, helplessly waiting to be picked up and taken somewhere else.
One of the things we counted on from the red oak was a surge every spring. It didn’t always get off to a fast start but eventually it would come to life, reliably and with poise and authority. We won’t have that any more, and that’s a little sad.
(I want to admit how sappy this is, but don’t want to lower myself by resorting to that word.)
Was age a factor? Maybe. Maybe not. It was just time for something different. And now it’s been done. We’re moving forward. There’s no turning back. We’re setting emotions aside.
People have to cut trees down. It happens.
The Rangers have 10 days to trade Jason Botts or try to get him through waivers.
The circumstances are crummy, but the big league career
of outfielder Brandon Boggs begins tonight.
With Hank Blalock landing on the disabled list with a small tear in his
left hamstring and no real candidate on the 40-man roster to come up and
fortify the infield depth (Joaquin Arias still isn’t throwing from the left
side of the infield, and Travis Metcalf’s hamstring isn’t ready for action yet),
German Duran will now pack away his outfielder’s glove and share third base
duties with Ramon Vazquez, with Boggs coming up to provide outfield depth. It’s an opportunity he’s earned.
The 25-year-old, drafted by Texas in the fourth round out
of Georgia Tech in 2004, has achieved the extraordinary feat of improving his
batting average and his slugging percentage in each of his four pro seasons,
and in his fifth year — his first at the AAA level — he’s off to his best
batting average and is close to yet another career high in slugging (.309/.368/.456). He’s also two off a career best — and one
off the league lead — with three triples.
In 2007, the switch-hitter’s .893 OPS was the third
highest in the Texas League, and only 11 players in all of minor league baseball
drew more than his 84 walks. Boggs has
enough arm to play on a corner and enough range to patrol center, and with his offensive
production catching up to his defensive versatility last year, he earned a
40-man roster spot in November that paved the way for this move.
Historically better against left-handed pitchers than
righthanders, Boggs has been just the opposite this year, hitting
.360/.431/.520 against righties and just .167/.167/.278 against southpaws.
Boggs has certainly earned the look, but if Nelson Cruz
were on the roster, he’d undoubtedly have gotten the call. The 40-man roster is hamstrung right now due
to the rash of early injuries, but at this rate Cruz (.366/.531/.775) is soon going
to get one last opportunity to play in Texas.
Cruz has played in the AAA Pacific Coast League in each
of the last five seasons.
Here’s how often he has drawn AAA walks:
2004: every 13.0 at-bats
2005: every 6.9 at-bats
2006: every 8.8 at-bats
2007: every 7.7 at-bats
2008: every 3.0 at-bats
And how often he has struck out:
2004: every 1.9 at-bats
2005: every 3.4 at-bats
2006: every 3.7 at-bats
2007: every 4.8 at-bats
2008: every 5.1 at-bats
It’s a ridiculously dramatic turnaround.
And, for good measure, hitting and slugging:
Then there’s this from Cruz, the RedHawks’ number three
hitter: Last night he hit his eighth home run of the season — and five have
come in the first inning. Cruz is a
.400/.550/1.467 hitter in the first frame (20 plate appearances: no singles,
one double, five Cruz missiles, five walks, two strikeouts). He’s locked in as soon as the Anthem ends.
Bakersfield lefthander Kasey Kiker threw a career-best
seven-plus innings last night, earning the Blaze win as he held High Desert to
three runs on five hits and two walks, fanning four. The 20-year-old induced 11 groundouts and six
Slick second baseman Jose Vallejo homered in the game and
sits at .324/.371/.500 for the season. In
four pro seasons coming into 2008, the 21-year-old switch-hitter had a line of
.253/.316/.309, with five lifetime home runs.
He’s already gone deep four times in his first 25 games this season —
all from his less familiar left side of the plate.
Josh Hamilton leads baseball with 27 RBI. Edinson Volquez has baseball’s third-best ERA
at 1.23. The number of trades involving
big leaguers on both sides that neither team would conceive of undoing is very
small. This one is right at the top of
The shoulder injury that has put Yankees catcher Jorge Posada
back on the shelf is interesting because, even though it’s for an entirely
different reason from John Schuerholz a year ago, Yankees general manager Brian
Cashman — an avowed shepherd of the New
York farm system — may actually be forced into in an
amplified, self-preserving, win-now mode.
The Yankees purchased the contract of former Ranger catcher Chris Stewart
from AAA so he can serve as Jose Molina’s backup. It wouldn’t be shocking if New
York were to call Texas
about Gerald Laird (a lifetime 5 for 10 hitter at Yankee Stadium, by the way) and
Back in May, when the idea that trading Mark Teixeira gained
steam, I suggested that maybe New York, especially if it feared that Boston
might get in on Teixeira, could step up with an offer like Melky Cabrera, Kevin
Whelan, and either Dellin Betances or player to be named later Joba Chamberlain
(this was well before Chamberlain went on his rampage that ended in New York). Given the roster situation, if Texas were to trade
Laird at this point, it would make sense to try and land a top prospect not
needing protection on the 40-man roster, and from that standpoint righthanders Betances
or Alan Horne or outfielders Jose Tabata or Austin Jackson or Brett Gardner
make some sense. And there’s also McKinney native Daniel
McCutchen, a 25-year-old righthander who is 3-1, 1.42 in five AA starts.
Ian Kinsler has quietly reached safely in every one of
the 25 games he has played this season, good for the third-longest streak (at
any time of the season) in franchise history, behind Michael Young (37 games in
2005) and Gabe Kapler (29 games in 2000).
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the
Rangers have hired Russ Nixon as a roving minor league instructor. The former Cincinnati
manager work will work primarily with the organization’s catchers.
Lefthander Danny Ray Herrera, who went to Cincinnati with
Volquez in the Hamilton deal, posted a 3-0, 2.55 mark in 10 relief appearances
for AA Chattanooga, earning a promotion to AAA Louisville, where he’s pitched 4.1
scoreless innings (three hits, no walks, six strikeouts) in his first two Bats appearances.
has dropped lefthander Barry Zito from its rotation.
If you are locked into every Rangers radio broadcast like
I am, you probably share my desperate hope that Toyota Truck Month ends tomorrow.
The best thing about R.E.M.’s new CD, which is an
improvement over their last few releases but still falls well short of their
heyday: the return to prominence of Mike Mills, particularly on the first four
I erred when I noted a week ago that catcher Kelley Gulledge,
the son of Chuck Morgan, was playing for the Dodgers in AA after a five-year
absence from the affiliated minor leagues.
He had in fact already been promoted from AA to AAA two days before I wrote.
The Rangers signed 29-year-old righthander Brian Gordon
and assigned him to Frisco. He’d been with
the Astros organization, starting the season with AA Corpus Christi.
Texas released infielder
David Peterson, who hit .218/.272/.261 in three seasons after signing as
undrafted free agent in 2005 out of George
Fox University. Baltimore
signed catcher Brian Valichka. The
Atlantic City Surf of the independent Can-Am League signed righthander Jim
Righthander Aaron Myette, age 30, is pitching for the
York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League. Among his teammates are catcher Luis Taveras
and infielder Enrique Cruz.
Three at home against the Royals, starting tonight,
before 13 in a row against the A’s and
Mariners. Would be nice to win a second
straight series before jumping back into division play.
Complete-game shutouts by Texas righthanders in Rangers Ballpark:
Rick Helling (May 6, 1994)
Bob Tewksbury (July 7, 1995)
Roger Pavlik (Sept. 7, 1995)
Ken Hill (May 14, 1996)
Ken Hill (Aug. 12, 1996)
Aaron Sele (Apr. 21, 1998)
Rick Helling (Sept. 7, 1998)
Aaron Sele (Aug. 7, 1999)
Aaron Sele (Aug. 22, 1999)
Rick Helling (July 29, 2001)
Vicente Padilla (Apr. 27, 2008)
Vicente Padilla, April 2007: 0-4, 5.66
Vicente Padilla, April 2008: 3-2, 3.79
Vicente Padilla has teeth.
There are some things that fired me up yesterday, even
before Ian Kinsler, with the same look on his face that Brenden Morrow had as
Mike Modano fired in the empty netter to clinch Round One on Sunday, was the
first player to tear out of the home dugout to mob David Murphy on the game’s
I was fired up by the way this team responded to the
Twins’ four-spot in the top of the third with a five-spot of its own in the
bottom of the third, on the strength of seven straight hits. Hank Blalock’s rake to right that scored Josh
Hamilton to tie the game was obviously big, but it was the previous pitch that really
lifted me out of my seat, as Michael Young scored behind Kinsler on Hamilton’s
single and sprung up from his slide and shouted and fist-pumped and bounced all
the way to the dugout, like a college player who had just scored a tie-breaking
run in a June game in Omaha.
I was fired up when, before the game, Jon Daniels did his
weekly radio segment with Victor Rojas and said, without hesitation and without
pretense and without spin: “The fans are pissed. I’d be pissed.”
Bravo. That sort
of raw honesty hasn’t always been prevalent around here. I wasn’t crazy about a few Ron Washington remarks
after a couple of the week’s losses, comments that sounded as if he was counting
on us not having watched. (Moments after
the four-game sweep in Boston:
“I thought we came in here and handled ourselves well. Things might have unraveled a little bit
today, but before that I thought we handled ourselves well.”) A little insulting.
From Daniels we got this, instead: “We’ve played
terribly the past two weeks, and that’s a reflection on me, the coaching staff,
and the 25 guys on the field.”
And: “When a team struggles, you have to look to
leadership to turn it around. The
expectation of ownership is that we get things turned around. That’s on Ron. That’s on me. It’s on everybody that wears a ‘T.’ I’m not going to put the blame on any one
Accountability and a refusal to take the fan base for
granted, or to try and slip one past us: much appreciated. We’re all in this together.
I’m also fired up by the 14-4 Clinton IanGacs and the
15-5 Frisco CD-Ram’s (sorry) and Cristian Santana and Jose Vallejo and Kennil
And the impossible fact that nobody in the 16-team
Pacific Coast League has more walks than Nelson Cruz (who, more
characteristically, is also third in the circuit with a 1.204 OPS).
Keeping an eye on A.J. Murray, who is on the 40-man
roster, and Doug Mathis, who could be soon.
Warner Madrigal and Kendy Batista, Craig Gentry and Grant Gerrard, Derek
Holland and Andrew Laughter.
Learning that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is up with no plans
to return him to AAA, no plans to have him wither on the bench, and no plans to
play him at first base, and that Taylor Teagarden is headed to AAA to replace
him, paving the way for both Teagarden and Frisco’s Max Ramirez to start
catching five days a week.
Learning that the MLB Network will launch before the 2009
But of course, nothing was as adrenalizing as the Murphy
shot to left that plated German Duran to give Texas an April win that felt oddly like a meaningful
It’s too bad that these four weeks have made last night’s
win feel that liberating, but given what’s gone on, and despite the frustration
that we didn’t put that game away in regulation, what this team needed was a
win but what it was blessed with was a walkoff party. The daps procession behind the mound is cool;
the dugout-hopping, field-storming, pogo scrum closer to first base is a lot cooler.
After a whole lot of lousy over the past couple weeks, that
was a perfect moment — for the GM, the coaching staff, and the 25 guys on the
field — and for us. Regardless of what
The Rangers have recalled catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia from
releasing catcher Adam Melhuse (who, it turns out, broke his hand yesterday,
according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram).
The club has also activated LHP Eddie Guardado from the 15-day disabled
list and placed RHP Luis Mendoza on the 15-day DL, retroactive to April 24,
with right shoulder inflammation.
The release of Melhuse reduces the roster to 39 players, potentially
clearing the way for a non-roster pitcher (Sidney Ponson? Doug Mathis?) to join the rotation in the next
Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News also reports
that RHP Brandon McCarthy has had a setback of some sort, pushing his potential
return to some time in the second half.
Patterson of the Daily Oklahoman
reports that Texas
has decided to recall catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, in light of the bruised throwing
hand that catcher Adam Melhuse sustained handling a pitch in the dirt in
yesterday afternoon’s game. Nothing official
yet, though, and in fact Jon Daniels told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com that the
club wouldn’t make a decision until evaluating Melhuse further today. It could just be that the club is bringing Saltalamacchia
in from Oklahoma City
so that he’ll be in town and available just in case.
switch-hitting Saltalamacchia, in the first AAA assignment of his career, has
hit .291/.391/.491 for the RedHawks (.462/.500/.769 against lefthanders,
.238/.360/.405 against righties, .300/.417/.400 with runners in scoring
position). He has caught 15 of the club’s
21 games, sporting a spotless fielding percentage and cutting down three of 11
The Rangers’ season begins in May.
Max’s career in organized ball is a week away from
beginning. When it came time to choose a
name for his Junior T-ball team, there was no question. And when it came time to decide what number would
adorn his Rangers jersey, of course, it was 10.
Three years and eight months ago, Texas won the first seven Ranger games of Max’s
life. He wasn’t yet walking the one time
since then that the club had a longer win streak than that one. The Rangers are 21 games under .500 in his lifetime
(though worse during Erica’s), have never finished higher than third in the
division, and have arguably gotten worse each season.
And he couldn’t be more proud to be a Ranger.
I take lessons from Max.
I know it would have been more difficult for me to be as proud as I am,
in times like this, to be a fan of this team, before we had kids. There are so many things I have more of because
of Erica and Max, among which is perspective.
For my kids, especially Max, what matters is the motion,
the pitch, the swing, the contact. The catch,
the throw, the slide.
Not the standings.
I’m not suggesting that I don’t care how this team fares,
how it competes. It means everything to
But my kids have taught me to see things, when it helps,
through their own eyes, and lately that’s been a real baseball blessing. For Max, every game is an event, an eagerly anticipated
event, another episode starring his heroes.
And you never know the ending.
I don’t really know what it must feel like to be Michele and
Bill Beavan right now, as their son Blake is on the verge of pitching in his
first professional game that counts. Or how
Chuck Morgan must feel now that his son, Kelley Gulledge, has fought his way
back to the minor leagues, sharing catching duties for AA Jacksonville in the Dodgers
system after toiling in the independent leagues since 2003.
But I have an idea, because Max is about to be on a team
for the first time.
Soon playing on a team will probably be as natural a part
of his routine as his daily insistence, when I leave for work, that when I get
back home we need to play baseball in the yard, as his daily excitement when I tell
him the game is about to start on the TV and radio, as his habit of wearing a
Rangers shirt and baseball pants and a Jason Botts wristband to pre-school.
When we get in the car to head out for our first practice
this weekend, with Max in his booster seat decked out in Rangers clothes and
cap, cradling a baseball in his well-broken-in Wilson, like he’s done so many
times, he probably won’t understand that what’s in store is something new. Baseball as a team sport has essentially been
a spectator’s experience for him, until now.
To play the game, an exercise he’s been obsessed with for a couple years
now, has rarely involved more than two or three others. That’s all about to change.
The stated purpose of the league we’re joining is “to
provide a fun, non-competitive environment for developing fundamental baseball
skills. Players should receive positive
reinforcement and be encouraged to do their best. Standings, scores, and outs are not recorded.”
I wish the standings weren’t recorded for the big club
right now, or that the real Rangers’ season, like the T-ball version, wasn’t
set to kick off until May.
But Max’s excitement right now over the idea of getting to
play baseball games while wearing a Texas Rangers uniform labeled with Michael Young’s
number reminds me of what it was like 30 years ago for me, when the game, and
not so much the win-loss record, was the thing.
I can’t wait for the experience of watching Max become
part of a team, and seeing him grow in that environment. The added bonus that it will be a team whose caps
will say “T” and whose jerseys will say “Rangers” will make
it exponentially more special for him, which helps underscore for me the unshakable
fact that to love a team means that while frustrating streaks of bad results can
be grueling to fight through, it’s gonna be so stinkin’ great for those of us
sticking this out when things do eventually turn themselves around.
He’s like a good punter. The effective situational left-hander can quietly carve out a career that spans more than a decade, even if just as often as not he began his pro career as a relatively anonymous arrival. Tony Fossas, round 12. Ed Vande Berg, round 13. Graeme Lloyd, undrafted.
There have been a number of really good southpaw specialists in Rangers history, but the best was arguably Mike Venafro, a social sciences and economics major from James Madison University who went undrafted as a junior before Texas landed him as a senior in the 29th round of the 1995 draft. Often that type of pick is a guy you hope provides some stability and leadership on a short-season farm club full of younger players, with an upside of maybe reaching the upper levels of the system, where, if he has some success, he has a shot at a cup of coffee in the big leagues or can be used as a sweetener to complete a trade.
Venafro defied the odds, and wasted no time in doing it.
In 1999, just four years into his pro career, Venafro was not only in the big leagues but posted the best ERA (3.29) of any left-handed reliever in the American League. He was a key member of what was the Rangers’ last playoff team, a club that won 95 games with one of baseball’s deepest bullpens. He may have exceeded any expectations that Texas had for him when the club made him the 794th player drafted in 1995, but it was clear from the day he signed that he was being groomed for the precise role he would ultimately flourish in.
Venafro made 307 Major League appearances in a career that lasted through 2007, and 424 appearances on the farm. Not once did he start a game.
The slight lefthander averaged less than an inning per appearance in his seven big league seasons with Texas, Oakland, Tampa Bay, the Dodgers, and Colorado, but it’s not because he wasn’t effective (his career 4.09 ERA was markedly better than the league average 4.50 over that span). It’s because Venafro was often called on to get the opposition’s best left-handed hitter out in a key situation between the sixth and eighth innings, and often that’s all he was asked to do.
While left-handed hitters accounted for 41.9 percent of the league’s at-bats during Venafro’s big league seasons, he faced them 47.3 percent of the time, and fared extremely well, holding them to a .239 batting average and .309 slugging percentage. As solid as those lifetime numbers are, they pale in comparison to what Venafro accomplished in his brilliant rookie season alone, when he and Jeff Zimmerman set John Wetteland up in what might have been the Rangers’ best-ever late relief trio. In that playoff season, lefties hit just .193 off Venafro, slugging an impotent .219. In 114 at-bats by lefthanders, he allowed just one extra-base hit, a Darren Fletcher solo home run on August 8.
It’s not as if Venafro developed a mid-90s fastball that he rode from the New York-Penn League to Arlington. It was all about deception, as it often is for the left-handed specialist. Never a strikeout pitcher, Venafro used a pronounced sidearm slot to induce an extraordinary 4.09 groundouts for every flyout in his career, including an otherworldly 5.54 rate in 1999.
Reid Nichols was in his first season as Rangers director of player development when Venafro was drafted, and remained in that position throughout Venafro’s quick ascent to the Major Leagues. “We knew Mike had a chance even though the velocity wasn’t there,” said Nichols. “He had such an unorthodox delivery that we thought he had an opportunity to get guys out at the highest level.”
Venafro was nearly as effective in the big leagues (4.09 ERA) as he was on the farm (4.02), and even though he never again quite matched the incredible success he had as a rookie, he carved out a solid seven seasons in the Major Leagues, a notable accomplishment for a pitcher without formidable stuff that lasted until the 29th round of the draft.
The type of success that Venafro and others like him have had as situational lefthanders in the big leagues might serve as an inspiration for 23-year-old Ryan Falcon, who like Venafro was drafted by Texas as a college senior – also in the 29th round.
Falcon’s slot is a more conventional three-quarters, and he’s not a groundball artist, but the six-footer has thrived with tremendous command of a fastball that doesn’t touch 90, and with deception and the ability to change speeds, perhaps succeeding 2006 45th-rounder Danny Ray Herrera (traded over the winter to Cincinnati in the Josh Hamilton deal) as the Rangers farmhand most likely to be groomed into a situational lefthander if he continues to pitch like he did in his pro debut in 2007.
Falcon, who had Tommy John surgery as a University of North Carolina-Greensboro sophomore in 2005, put up video game numbers with Short-Season Class A Spokane once he signed last summer. In 47 innings of work, he scattered 39 hits and just six walks, setting an impressive 62 Northwest Leaguers down on strikes while posting a 2.68 ERA. Left-handed hitters were especially inept, hitting just .175, slugging .246, and managing only two extra-base hits while striking out 27 times in 57 at-bats.
Asked to make a two-level jump in 2008, Falcon is off to a solid start for High A Bakersfield, posting a 2.13 ERA through six relief appearances, yielding just seven hits and three walks in 12.2 innings, and fanning eight. Lefties have three hits in 11 at-bats against him.
Given the nature of attrition in minor league baseball, you rarely look at a club’s pick in round 29 and predict more than a couple years on the farm. But sometimes, with situational lefthanders, if they locate and deceive and do their specific job well, draft position becomes irrelevant. There may be no other role on a baseball team in which you would be less surprised to see a guy still earning a big league paycheck 10 or 12 years down the road, entrusted with the job to get hitters out who earn 10 or 12 times as much to play the game.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
silver lining when your team is struggling through a string of bad play,
whether it’s a pluckless veteran NBA team that retreats predictably into its
shell when it counts every April, or a baseball team beset by a contagious rash
of plays unmade, runners left in scoring position, and heartbreaking losses
(Texas has led in 15 of its 21 games), is that it’s more likely that changes
will be made.
risk with teams that muddle along without ever exceeding expectations but
without really falling terribly short of them is that they tend not to take
risks. While that’s never going to be a real issue with Mark Cuban or Jon
Daniels, neither of whose guts can ever be questioned, it was last season’s
disappointing first half that prompted the trades of Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagné,
and Kenny Lofton which accelerated this franchise’s progress dramatically – and
in that sense, thank goodness for the slow start in 2007, without which we
probably don’t get to enjoy what David Murphy brings to this team or imagine
how Max Ramirez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz
and Engel Beltre and others have a chance to make things a lot better here in
the next few years.
not sure if there are imminent changes (or if so, what type) in store for the
Rangers, who have dropped 10 of 12, but you have to believe that it’s at least more
likely that there will be.
what the columnists in town might think, I know that there’s a huge segment of
loyal Texas Rangers fans who care a lot about what goes on with this team, who
are in this for the long haul. (There’s no other way to explain, for
instance, that Scott’s and my mailing list has not only increased by 260 members
[to nearly 4,000] in the last four months, but has actually had 93 new members
since the season began, and only five drop off the list, amid a month of
disappointing win-loss results.)
in this through thick and thin, and not necessarily any less passionately
during the thin.
not suggesting I know what changes might be in store or when, or that I know
what changes should be in store. But as an unconditional fan of
this team, and as a believer in Jon Daniels, if there are changes to be made, I
have confidence that they will be made for the right reasons and with the
long-term health of this franchise in mind.
that, if nothing else, has me as keyed in to this team every day as I would be
if its 7-14 record were flipped.