May 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 31, 2008

The disappointing news regarding Hank Blalock brings to mind what this team went through with Akinori Otsuka a year ago.  Otsuka, who had ceded his 2006 closer’s role when Eric Gagné was signed to pitch the ninth inning in 2007, was motoring along in the first half last year when he was sidelined with what was termed at the time as mild forearm stiffness.  The Rangers got nothing from him, or for him, after that.

That’s not to suggest that Blalock’s days here are potentially done, or that his career is in jeopardy, but the timing couldn’t have been worse with Otsuka, and it’s not great with regard to Blalock, either, though for not exactly the same reasons.

When Otsuka got two outs in a scoreless eighth in Boston on July 1, he lowered his ERA to 2.51 as he handed the ball off to Gagné, who got the final four outs, earning his 10th save and whittling his own ERA down to 1.11.  Just that morning, Ken Davidoff of Newsday had gone so far as to write that Otsuka and Gagné, pitching for what was then a 33-47 Rangers club (16.5 games back in the West), were two of the top three available pitchers in baseball as the trade deadline approached.  Otsuka had fired 12 scoreless outings out of 13, and was proven both as a closer and in the eighth inning, plus he was affordable ($3 million) and would be under team control for both 2008 and 2009 by way of arbitration.

But that’s when his forearm tightened up.

Lots of teams had reportedly been calling on Otsuka before the precautionary move to rest him in July.  On July 19, after 18 days of inactivity and no meaningful improvement, Texas placed Otsuka on the disabled list, and though it was made retroactive to July 9 and left open the possibility that he could return to action before the conventional trade deadline at the end of the month, his official deactivation effectively shut down any possibility Texas had of flipping him for a prospect or two.  (Octavio Dotel brought Kyle Davies last July.  Scott Linebrink brought Will Inman, Steve Garrison, and Joe Thatcher.  We know what Gagné brought.)

There were no reports of improvement in August.

On September 5, the Rangers moved Otsuka to the 60-day disabled list.

Two weeks later, the club acknowledged that he wouldn’t return before the end of the season.

In October, reports indicated that Otsuka was throwing again in Surprise, and Texas reinstated the 35-year-old from the DL.  Early in December, word came out that he’d been throwing without pain or setback for at least a month.

But on December 12, the Rangers non-tendered him, making him a free agent that Texas no longer had to go to arbitration with.  That was disappointing enough, considering how dependable Otsuka had been for Texas for a season and a half, but then there was a report from T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com that, at some point before the non-tender, Texas and the White Sox were prepared to swap Otsuka and 20-year-old Class A first base monster Chris Carter.

Instead, Chicago traded Carter to Arizona for a 25-year-old outfielder who had struggled in 2006 and 2007 looks with the Diamondbacks.  That outfielder, whom the Sox picked up for Carter after they were frightened off by Otsuka’s medical reports, was Carlos Quentin.  You’ll see him when Chicago comes to town July 11-13 — and probably two days after that in the All-Star Game.

Otsuka’s absence in the second half last year paved the way for the emergence of C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit in bigger roles.  But Otsuka’s inability to pitch after July 1 probably cost the Rangers a pretty good return in trade, whether in July or in the winter, if not an effective bullpen piece in 2008 had he proved to be healthy and wasn’t moved.

What is Blalock’s absence, first due to a torn hamstring and now due to a sudden onset of carpal tunnel syndrome in his right wrist (as he was otherwise poised to return to action), costing Texas?  Yes, the club is 20-12 since he last played, but this lineup would look a lot better if Blalock (who was hitting a healthy .299/.365/.460 with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career when he got hurt) were in it, especially at first base, which is where it had been determined he would play before this latest setback.

For now, the Rangers are obviously surviving Blalock’s absence.  But he’s certainly a hitter you’d rather have in the lineup than not.  

But the other, less immediate question looms.  At what point will he be back to show the Rangers what he can do at first base?  Setting aside for the moment the possibility that he could help a much improved team stay in the 2008 race, Texas holds a $6.2 million option (or a $250,000 buyout) on Blalock for 2009.  If this move across the diamond is permanent, Blalock will need to show not only a recovered rhythm at the plate but also evidence that he can be an effective defender at first base, for two reasons: (1) I bet management believes this team can contend in 2009, particularly with the way it’s played over the last month; and (2) if Chris Davis is going to be ready in 2009 (if not sooner), does it make sense to spend more than $6 million to delay his arrival?

Or, depending on Milton Bradley’s ability to play defensively (and the Rangers’ interest in bringing him back), could Blalock be a designated hitter (assuming, perhaps unwisely, that Max Ramirez won’t be ready to take over that role in 2009)?  

Or could Blalock be traded?

We talked 10 days ago about the list of teams who could conceivably be in the market for a first baseman this summer (the Yankees, the Mets, Oakland, and Houston, moving Lance Berkman back to the outfield) or this winter (San Francisco, Seattle, and Atlanta).  Blalock has too much potential value to Texas, either as a lineup fixture and improvement at first base (though to be fair, Frank Catalanotto and Chris Shelton are hitting .284/.375/.431 in May), or as a possible trade chip.  

Reportedly, Blalock should be out of action another 20-30 days as he recovers from yesterday’s surgery to alleviate pressure on the irritated median nerve in his wrist (resorted to when the wrist didn’t respond to anti-inflammatory medication or a cortisone shot).  I’m really hopeful that the prognosis is on target, that Blalock comes back when projected and that he comes back healthy and productive.

That, unlike Otsuka, he becomes very valuable to the Rangers, once again.

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

Jennings out for the season

Righthander Jason Jennings had surgery yesterday to
repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm — essentially the same procedure
he had last summer — and he’s out for the season.  He went 0-5, 8.56 in six Texas starts, allowing opponents to
.307/.406/.588.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 30, 2008

Before the game, among the batting practice pitches that Josh Hamilton sent into orbit were one that landed 15 rows up in the right field upper deck porch – there aren’t many more than 25 rows total – and one that struck the bleachers in right center field, just to the right of Greene’s Hill, about three rows short of the umbrellaed picnic tables that sit beyond the seats.

And then he helped win a game with his feet.

Brandon Boggs wasn’t supposed to play, got an opportunity due to the late Milton Bradley scratch (lightheadedness), and all he did was double Michael Young in (fourth inning), sac-fly Hamilton in (sixth inning), and double Hamilton in (eighth inning), accounting for all three Texas runs in a crisp 3-1 win over the team it’s directly behind in the division race.  

Finding ways.

Kevin Millwood showed no rust, holding the A’s to one run over six innings, throwing roughly two-thirds of his 86 pitches for strikes.  Eddie Guardado: strikeout looking, strikeout looking, lazy fly to left, roughly two-thirds of his 17 pitches for strikes.  Joaquin Benoit, 10 of 13 pitches for strikes.  C.J. Wilson, 12 of 14 pitches for strikes.  

None of them issued a walk.

And we’re talking about Oakland, a team renowned as much as any other for working pitch counts and drawing walks.

Can you draw it up any better?

Wilson nailed down the victory after surrendering an Eric Chavez excuse-me single by striking out Emil Brown (the worst defensive outfielder ever?) and inducing a game-ending double play, turned by Brenden Morrow:

kinslermorrow53008.jpg 

The last winning record the Rangers had this year was at 5-4.  The club is 1-9 when its win-loss record is even.  

Time to build off tonight’s really good win and start to march away from .500 tomorrow.

Good baseball is so rewarding.

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

In Their Footsteps: The fifth starter

The fifth starter has a tough job.  By definition the pitcher with the loosest hold on a rotation spot, he usually spends April having his turn skipped a time or two due to off-days, not getting the benefit of a five-day rhythm that his four rotation-mates have.  It’s not an ideal environment for a pitcher who is often a young player trying to establish himself and prove that he belongs in the big leagues.

Doug Davis’s rise through the Rangers system was spectacular.  The club’s 10th-round pick in 1996, the slender lefthander went 33-16, 2.82 with more than a strikeout per inning in his first four minor league seasons, reaching the big leagues briefly in 1999.  He didn’t make the Opening Day roster in 2000, but three weeks into the season he was in Texas, making two relief appearances before replacing Mark Clark in the fifth starter’s spot early in May.  

After three ineffective starts, however, Davis went back to AAA Oklahoma for a month and a half, returning to the big club in early July and spending six weeks in the Rangers bullpen (with one start mixed in).  On August 15, he replaced injured righthander Ryan Glynn in the number five rotation spot, going 3-3, 4.80 in nine starts the rest of the way, including a seven-start stretch in which he fired six quality starts and went 3-1, 2.28.  

Davis was the Rangers’ number five starter when the 2001 season began, winning two of his first three starts before going 0-4, 8.49 in his next five, a span bisected by a 15-day stay in AAA.  At that point he was a 43-19, 2.83 pitcher in the minor leagues, and a 9-11, 6.35 pitcher in the big leagues.  

But something clicked for Davis at that point.  Getting the ball every fifth day, he would go 9-5, 3.77 for Texas the rest of the way.  For the year, he allowed only 14 home runs in 186 innings.  Only Freddy Garcia, Mark Mulder, and Andy Pettitte were stingier among American League starters.  

As a result of the outstanding four months that Davis had at the back of the Rangers rotation in 2001, he opened the 2002 season as the club’s fourth starter and went 2-0, 1.88 in his first three starts.  But he struggled in his next seven starts, going 1-5, 7.07, and Texas used its final option on the 26-year-old on May 27, recalling righthander Rob Bell and sending Davis back to Oklahoma for the remainder of the season.

Whether or not the Rangers were out of patience with Davis when spring training began in 2003, they were out of options on him, and when he gave up six runs in nine exhibition innings, Texas designated him for assignment and got him through waivers, outrighting his contract to AAA.  

When righthander Ismael Valdes hurt his shoulder three weeks into the season, Texas reached back down to get Davis, who was 3-0, 3.25 in four Oklahoma starts.  New Rangers manager Buck Showalter gave Davis the ball for an April 27 home start against the Yankees, and he permitted four runs in three innings.  The next day, the club designated Davis for assignment again, clearing a spot on the roster for left-handed reliever Erasmo Ramirez.  

The Rangers didn’t get Davis through waivers this time (though even if they did, he would have been able to decline an outright assignment this time), as Toronto claimed him and gave him a two-month audition in its rotation.  Davis went 4-6, 5.00 for the Blue Jays, who then exposed him to waivers themselves.  Though he cleared, he declined an assignment to AAA, signing instead with Milwaukee, whose new general manager Doug Melvin and new director of minor league operations Reid Nichols had been in charge of Davis’s development in Texas.

After one minor league start, Davis was purchased by the Brewers, going 3-2, 2.58 in eight starts.  He went on to win in double figures in each of the next four seasons (three with Milwaukee and one with Arizona).  Now 32, Davis is a dependable, 200-inning rotation mainstay, a far cry from the number five starter that he was in Texas.  As a Ranger, Davis was inconsistent, but in stretches he showed an ability to win in Arlington.

In this exercise of projecting current Rangers prospects into eventual big league roles, I’ve tabbed one player per roster spot so far.  But with the rotation, it’s far more difficult, given the tremendous depth in pitching prospects that the organization is currently developing.  

Is it unfair to suggest that 18-year-old Dominican righthander Carlos Pimentel, who struck out more than 12 Arizona League batters per nine innings in 2007, could be a future number five, and not more?  What about 20-year-old Dominican righthander Kennil Gomez, who has had a sensational 7-1, 2.21 start for Clinton this year, holding the Midwest League to a .196 batting average, walking just two per nine innings, and just last night limiting Beloit to one hit in seven innings of work?

I’m going with 21-year-old Bakersfield lefthander Zach Phillips, who shares a birthday (September 21) and birthplace (Sacramento) with Davis, and might share even more.  While not overpowering, for every nine minor league innings Phillips has struck out an impressive 9.3 batters (Davis: 8.6) and walked 3.4 batters (Davis: 3.8), and he’s actually a far more pronounced groundball pitcher than Davis.  

Is Phillips, a 23rd-round draft-and-follow chosen in 2004, a lock to get to Arlington?  No.  Could he be more than a fifth starter in the big leagues?  Without question.  Davis showed just as varied an upside and downside even after getting to the majors.  

In his time in Texas, Davis was as promising as any fifth starter that the franchise has had.  Phillips could do a lot worse than to follow Davis’s path, perhaps earning a bit more organizational patience than the veteran of more than 100 big league starts got as a Ranger.

 

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 28, 2008

He was a career .255/.316/.372 hitter against southpaws, facing one who was holding left-handed hitters to an anemic .167/.286/.167 line (no extra-base hits in 36 trips) this year.  On top of that, he was 1 for his last 11 overall, bothered by a sore thumb.  And he wasn’t seeing the ball well in Tropicana Field.

Turns out all Josh Hamilton needed was a Sports Illustrated jinx.  

He’s so good that a grand slam in a three-run game in the eighth sort of felt inevitable, like a handoff to Marion Barber at the one-yard line.  Just taking care of business.

(Enjoy this from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Anthony Andro: “Hamilton didn’t know he had hit the ball until he heard the contact.  He thought the sinker was going way inside, and his eyes closed in anticipation of the ball hitting him.  Instead, he hit the ball.  ‘When I swung, my bat path made contact with the ball and I actually closed my eyes for a split second,’ Hamilton said. ‘When I heard it hit, I opened up my eyes. I saw it when I was running to first.'”)

We’ve played a third of the season.  If he keeps this up, Hamilton paces out at .329/.371/.603 with 39 home runs, 45 doubles, nine triples, 174 RBI, and 105 runs.  

Wanna bet against him?  

Be my guest.

By the way, according to several media accounts, only about 3,000 Rays fans stood and applauded Hamilton when he first stepped to the plate on Monday, his first trip to Tampa Bay, in front of a crowd whose organization was where his storied pro career began.  

But hey, that was still a whole quarter of the fans on hand.

On Memorial Day.

To support the team with the best record in baseball.

Pathetic.

Incidentally, the only active Rays that Hamilton has played with are outfielder Carl Crawford (1999, rookie-level Princeton), righthander Jamie Shields (2001, Class A Charleston), and outfielder Jonny Gomes (2002, Class A Bakersfield).  Hamilton and Longoria both played for short-season Hudson Valley in 2006, but not at the same time.

Here’s the SI cover story.

Hard to believe that Hamilton was primarily a leadoff hitter for Cincinnati last year.  

But it helps explain the low RBI estimate in Bill James’s otherwise not-so-crazy projection for Hamilton this winter: .305/.382/.598 with 31 home runs and 71 RBI in 410 at-bats.  The .980 OPS that James projected is only a few ticks off of the .974 that Hamilton sports right now.  Impossibly, James is the only person in the world that thought that Hamilton would be this good — if not better.

Michael Young has 61 hits, which extrapolates to 183 for the year.  Concerned?  Don’t be.  Through a third of the 2007 season, Young had just 57 hits (a 171-hit pace), and he finished with 201.

To count on Vicente Padilla to go 21-6, 3.67 is too big a leap, but the difference between Padilla in 2007 and 2008 when he gets himself into a mess has been staggering.  He didn’t have his A game command last night, but fanned 10 in six innings — half of them looking — and won a fifth straight decision for the first time in his career.

On March 1, I wrote this: “[B]etween [Ian] Kinsler’s ability to pile up doubles and get into scoring position with his feet if he merely singles or walks, and Hamilton’s and Michael Young’s ability to do all kinds of things with the bat behind him, it’s probably not a bad bet to expect a healthy Kinsler could threaten to score at least 115 times, which would give him one of the top 10 run-scoring seasons in franchise history.”

Kinsler is on pace for 132 runs, which would be one short of Alex Rodriguez’s franchise-record 2001 output.

Milton Bradley is hitting .329/.438/.569 with eight home runs, 16 doubles, and 29 RBI in 47 games.  Name a better free agent hitter signed anywhere in baseball this winter.

On September 23, Texas started an outfield of Jason Botts in left, Marlon Byrd in center, and Nelson Cruz in right.  David Murphy came on defensively for Botts in the eighth but didn’t get an at-bat.

On September 24, same exact thing.

Murphy started in right on September 25, going 2 for 3 with a run-scoring single.

But he was back on the bench on September 26, as Texas went back to the Botts-Byrd-Cruz triumvirate.  

It was that four-game stretch, which preceded Murphy playing every inning of the Rangers’ final three games in 2007, which set the table for Murphy to make a run at Rookie of the Year in 2008.  He finished last season with 103 at-bats as a Ranger, giving him a career total of 127, three short of exhausting his rookie eligibility.

Murphy is hitting .289/.333/.474 with a Major League-leading 19 doubles to go along with 36 RBI, which is sixth in the league and extrapolates to 108 for the year.  

Right now, objectively speaking, Evan Longoria is Murphy’s only legitimate competition for the award (though I suppose Nick Blackburn and Aaron Laffey may be longshot candidates), but at the moment Murphy should be in the driver’s seat.  

In 97 Rangers games, spanning 314 at-bats, Murphy is a .306/.349/.494 hitter, with 31 doubles, eight home runs, and 50 RBI.

Bob Sturm blogged that, going into yesterday’s games, Rangers hitters led the American League in strikeouts, Rangers pitchers led the league in walks and had the fewest strikeouts, and Rangers defenders led the league in errors.  Sturm asks: “How are they not in last place?  It makes you wonder if this is a smoke and mirrors hot month, or if the Rangers are making up for it elsewhere.  The truth will be told over the course of 162.”

Yes, it will.  There have been years where this team’s record lagged its video game statistical output, where the whole was crummier than the sum of its parts.  I’ll take the flip.  This team finds ways, unlike lots of other recent Rangers editions.

Part of the formula is that this offense leads the league not only in home runs, as it’s accustomed to doing, but also in sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, and stolen base percentage.  (No team has led all four categories in 35 years.)  This is a smart offense, something we’re not necessarily accustomed to saying about a Texas Rangers attack.

A win today, and Texas would run its streak to 10 straight series won (nine) or tied (one), its longest such streak since opening the 1998 season with seven series wins and three ties.  

The Rangers’ record since their seven-game slide in late April is 20-11, a winning percentage of .645.  Their four minor league teams have a collective .627 winning percentage.

Hank Blalock returned to Texas to get a cortisone shot in his sore right wrist.  Once the wrist responds, he might go out on a rehab assignment to get some reps before a return to the big club.  If it doesn’t respond at all, surgery apparently isn’t out of the question.

Righthander Kevin Millwood, who got through a 65-pitch simulated game environment on Saturday and a bullpen session yesterday with no groin issues, will start Friday’s opener of the Oakland series in Arlington.  He’ll be on an 85-90-pitch count.

It’s no longer a lock that righthander Doug Mathis returns to AAA when Millwood is activated.  He’s reportedly a consideration for a bullpen role, which would mean righthander Josh Rupe or righthander Kameron Loe could be optioned.

Righthander Luis Mendoza struggled in a rehab start with Oklahoma on Monday, yielding five earned runs on three doubles and three singles in two innings of work.  He came out of it with no shoulder or blister complaints, but at this rate he’s not going to reclaim a rotation spot from Sidney P
onson or Scott Feldman anytime soon.

Righthander Brandon McCarthy has been cleared to start throwing.

Lefthander John Rheinecker had a minor arthroscopic procedure on his shoulder and won’t throw for another two or three weeks.

Texas released righthander John Patterson, whose arm hasn’t bounced back from the nerve problems that have hampered him for two years.  He plans to sit the rest of the season out.

Frisco catcher Max Ramirez, on the strength of a .455 average, four home runs, and 10 RBI, was named Texas League Player of the Week for the second time in May.

Scott Lucas points out that Clinton righthander Blake Beavan has faced 118 hitters as a pro — and has issued one walk.  In 31 innings, he’s scattered 26 hits and fanned 15, coaxing 1.45 as many groundouts as flyouts.

The draft is in eight days.  

The Yankees signed Ben Broussard to a minor league contract.  He doubled three times and walked, driving in three runs in his AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre debut last night.  They were his first RBI since April 6.  He failed to push a run in over his last 62 Rangers at-bats.

The Dodgers designated righthander Esteban Loaiza for assignment to make room for the arrival of lefthander Clayton Kershaw.

The Calgary Vipers of the independent Golden Baseball League signed infielder Jose Morban and catcher Pat Arlis, and the Edmonton Cracker Cats of the same league signed righthander Agustin Montero.

After today’s Tampa Bay matinee, the Rangers come home for a season-long 10-game homestand, during which they’ll face the A’s, Indians, and Rays (and during which we all have a job to do: Josh Hamilton is currently sixth in the American League outfield vote for the All-Star Game).  

Whether or not Texas can claim that elusive winning record today, there’s a seriously good chance that the club could come out of the upcoming stretch at home on the right side of .500.  

Not that I want to jinx anything.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 26, 2008

You can’t win ‘em all on Draft Day – nobody does – but yeah, June 4, 2002 wasn’t a real good day in Rangersland.  

(Or in Exposland, where Montreal hung out at the correct high school field but chose the wrong guy . . . or in the war rooms of nearly half the teams who had the chance to name their player before the Mets came up):

1. Pittsburgh, Bryan Bullington, rhp, Ball State
2. Tampa Bay, B.J. Upton, ss, Greenbrier Christian Academy, Chesapeake, Va.
3. Cincinnati, Chris Gruler, rhp, Liberty HS, Brentwood, Calif.
4. Baltimore, Adam Loewen, lhp, Fraser Valley Christian, Surrey, B.C.
5. Montreal, Clint Everts, rhp, Cypress Falls HS, Houston.
6. Kansas City, Zack Greinke, rhp, Apopka (Fla.) HS.
7. Milwaukee, Prince Fielder, 1b, Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, Fla.
8. Detroit, Scott Moore, ss, Cypress (Calif.) HS.
9. Colorado, Jeff Francis, lhp, U. of British Columbia.
10. Texas, Drew Meyer, ss, South Carolina.
11. Florida, Jeremy Hermida, of, Wheeler HS, Marietta, Ga.
12. Anaheim, Joe Saunders, lhp, Virginia Tech.
13. San Diego, Khalil Greene, ss, Clemson.
14. Toronto, Russ Adams, ss, North Carolina.
15. N.Y. Mets, Scott Kazmir, lhp, Cypress Falls HS, Houston.
16. Oakland (from Boston for Johnny Damon), Nick Swisher, 1b-of, Ohio State.
17. Philadelphia, Cole Hamels, lhp, Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego.
18. Chicago White Sox, Roger Ring, lhp, San Diego State.
19. Los Angeles, James Loney, 1b, Lawrence Elkins HS, Missouri City, Texas.
20. Minnesota, Denard Span, of, Catholic HS, Tampa, Fla.
21. Chicago Cubs, Bobby Brownlie, rhp, Rutgers.
22. Cleveland, Jeremy Guthrie, rhp, Stanford.
23. Atlanta, Jeff Francoeur, of, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.
24. Oakland (from N.Y. Yankees; Jason Giambi), Joseph Blanton, rhp, Kentucky.
25. San Francisco, Matt Cain, rhp, Houston HS, Germantown, Tenn.
26. Oakland, John McCurdy, ss, Maryland.
27. Arizona, Sergio Santos, ss, Mater Dei HS, Hacienda Heights, Calif.
28. Seattle, John Mayberry, Jr., 1b, Rockhurst HS, Kansas City, Mo.
29. Houston, Derick Grigsby, rhp, Northeast Texas CC.
30. Oakland (from St. Louis; Jason Isringhausen), Ben Fritz, rhp, Fresno State.

The one thing to keep in mind as far as Kazmir is concerned is that, if the Rays decide at some point that they can no longer afford Kazmir, whom they agreed to pay $6 million in 2009, $8 million in 2010, $12 million in 2011, and a $2.5 million buyout in 2012 unless they choose to pay him $13.5 million for that season, the likelihood is that the club will not trade him to the Yankees or Red Sox, with whom Tampa Bay shares a division, or to the Mets, who from a P.R. standpoint might not opt to empty the farm system for a pitcher they once traded to key a deal for The Far Lesser Zambrano.  

It may not be for a few years, but the Rangers could be in a position some day to do what they were almost able to do with Josh Beckett – use a deep farm system to come out ahead in an effort to get the best young pitcher (like Beckett, a Texan) available on the trade market.  I want that guy here.  (Back in November, six months before the Rays locked Kamzir up with the long-term extension, I wrote this: “Eric Hurley, Taylor Teagarden, and Tampa Bay’s choice of Joaquin Arias or Omar Poveda.  The Rays won’t do it.  Would you?”)

There’s no question that if Texas can maintain the horizontal and vertical depth in prospects that it has right now, it will be able to compete with anyone when it comes to loading up for a blockbuster trade.  For a guy like Kazmir.

But for now: Wow.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT TURNS 10 — May 25, 2008

“Texas signed Ricky
Pickett to a AAA contract today.”

That’s how the first
Newberg Minor League Report began, 10 years ago today. 

I was a newlywed, with
no kids, a fourth-year lawyer fired up about the six-game division lead the
Rangers were nursing, when I decided to start writing about the club’s minor
leaguers.  Suddenly unanonymous phenomenon Jeff Zimmerman had just been promoted
to AA, leaving Mike Lamb, Doug Davis, and the dominant Shawn Gallagher behind in
Charlotte and joining Ruben Mateo, Warren Morris, and Ryan Glynn in Tulsa.  Josh Hamilton was
a year away from finishing high school, Jon Daniels was a year away from
finishing college, and Nolan Ryan was a year away from induction into the Hall
of Fame. 

Tom Hicks was three
weeks away from purchasing the red-shoed Rangers, who were a week away from
drafting Carlos Pena and Barry Zito.

There were back-to-back
playoff Octobers just ahead.

That first “report” went
to one email address, belonging to a newsgroup that today is one of about 4,000
subscribers on the Newberg Report distribution list. 

A few months ago my
sister gave me the book “Lyrics by Sting,” a book, surprisingly enough, of
lyrics by Sting.  In it, Sting reprints the words to every song he’s ever
written, both with the Police and as a solo artist, with lots of commentary.  I
read the book in just a few days, because I dig that sort of thing and because
there was a time when I was a big fan and because, man, I couldn’t believe how
unabashedly self-important the commentary was, even knowing how unabashedly
self-important Sting is.  In that sense, the book had something of a train wreck
aspect to it that wouldn’t allow me to put it down.

Just because I couldn’t
come up with a decent idea on how to commemorate the 10th anniversary
of this thing, I figured I’d lift a few excerpts from past reports, and call on
Sting as a guest commentator.  You know, let him do his
thing.

 

August
5, 1999

How about all these
Juan-to-Detroit rumors starting to invade the papers?  The Tigers are looking
for a way to make a splash offensively and expect to have a huge revenue boost
as they move into their new stadium next year.  What would it take?  Texan lefty
Justin Thompson will be the name tossed around most frequently, but you would
expect it would take more than just Thompson, who has already made an All-Star
team at age 26 but has had a rough season thus far (one could read that whole
sentence and just as easily insert the name Andy Pettitte, eh?).  Detroit won’t deal Jeff
Weaver, of course.  What about Rice Owl Matt Anderson, who hits 100 on the gun,
or fellow closer prospect Francisco Cordero?  A trade of Gonzalez would leave a
hole in either CF or RF, with Mateo inheriting the other.  So what about power
guy Gabe Kapler, tools guy Juan Encarnacion, or right-field porch threat Bobby
Higginson?  There could be a match with these two teams, and this off-season
might be the right time to take advantage of a team with Diamondback Syndrome:
an imminent infusion of bigtime profit on the way and a big head to match. 
Trading Juan for, say, Thompson and Kapler would save the team a ton of cash and
arguably improve the team, as the loss of run production would be offset by the
addition of a front-of-the-rotation lefty, not to mention whatever the extra
millions would mean – another legit starter,
probably.

I
prefer the saints in my personal hagiography to have at least some basic human
flaws, but JT took that notion to a prickly extreme.  The King of Pain, indeed.
 – Sting   

 

August
11, 1999

Cesar King has served
out his penance, and now it’s teammate Juan Bautista’s turn.  The two were
involved in a clubhouse scuffle a week or so ago, and the organization has
assessed three-game suspensions for each.

Ah,
yes.  The report that led the director of player development to set up a meeting
with Newberg to find out how he knew such a thing.  (The answer?  The
Tulsa World, online edition.)  Newberg has said it felt like he
was being deposed, which I suppose would be like me sitting in the front row at
a show put on by the world’s greatest rock band.  Ever. – Sting
 

 

September
6, 1999

In response to the
requests of a number of NMLR readers and website visitors (including a bundle of
players’ parents and wives), I am going to compile every daily edition of the
1999 Newberg Minor League Report in one bound copy, and sell it for very little
more than cost.  I am going to try to keep the bound volume at $10 plus postage
if at all possible.  It stands to be over 200 pages, so the copying costs alone
(without taking binding into consideration) might force me to charge a tad
more. 

Collectively,
individually, by intention or accident, we dream our world into being.  We just
have to be careful what we dream. – Sting  

 

September
13, 1999

As difficult as last
night’s Texas
game was to watch until the 10th, seeing Royals skipper Tony Muser imitate John
Shulock after being tossed was about the funniest thing I’ve seen all season. 
Shulock had called a balk on rookie pitcher Tim Byrdak in the ninth, and Muser
came out to instigate what at first was a calm discussion and then escalated
things and got himself thumbed.  Just before heading off to the clubhouse
runway, Muser took one last shot, stiffening his posture, lowering his cap over
his eyes, and mocking Shulock, doing about as good an impersonation of the
veteran ump as I have seen.  Kind of reminded me of that chef on the Muppet
Show, which 20 years later I probably should not remember a thing about . . . .

Imitation
is the sincerest form of demagoguery. – Sting  

 

December
13, 1999: A love letter to Todd Zeile

Doug Melvin won’t cast
aspersions in your direction through the media, and that is one of the many
things I admire about him.  But in a way, I am sure he isn’t terribly
disappointed you won’t be around for the next three years, and instead Lee
Stevens, whose apparent integrity actually seems to have some substance behind
it, will be here for the time being to provide some veteran lineup protection. 
Pack up the pink bats and the frying pan glove.

Tantric.
– Sting

 

April
18, 2000

I tell you what: I don’t
want to hear any more about Luis Alicea and the outstanding leadership he
provides this club.  It was boneheaded for him to stand in the batter’s box on
the game’s penultimate at-bat, and “boneheaded” will have to suffice so that AOL
doesn’t cancel my account based on the words I’d like to use.  Either he did not
know the ball hit his leg after he made contact, and he has to run to first
base, or he knew the ball hit him and he has to put up a better fight – any
fight! – than to accept the umpire’s severely blown call and just grab his
things and sulk back to the dugout.  There is no other possibility.  Some savvy
veteran he is.  I don’t care if Alicea wins the next four games with walk-off
homers – he will never have a fan in me again. 
Never.

We
men are strangely contradictory creatures, which has very little to do with the
fact that I fondly remember Hungry Jack biscuits, Pepsi shakes, magic kits, and
the word “decipher.” – Sting

 

April
12, 2001

Watch Out for Juan
Moreno. 

I
ran home with the cawing derision of the crows in my ears while the sheep
resumed their grazing. – Sting

 

May
26, 2001

I assume I am not the
only one who suffers from a handful of meaningless nagging emptinesses.  It
hurts a little whenever I think about that pass that Jackie Smith dropped in the
end zone.  I bemoan the fact that Jellyfish disbanded after making just two
brilliant CD’s.  I struggled inside for 11 years waiting for Thomas Harris to
finally write another novel.  I am as big a fan of the Rangers now as I have
ever been, but at some point I would like to enjoy a playoff series win.  I
still have never seen the episode where Edith Bunker
dies.

But yesterday I expelled
one of those vexing irritants, and in my opinion this one is not entirely
insignificant.  I have been looking for almost all of Erica’s life for a good
photograph of Kermit in his “roving reporter” trenchcoat and fedora.  Right
around Erica’s birth, I painted Ernie and Bert, Big Bird, Elmo, and Super Grover
on the walls of her nursery.  The finishing touch was going to be News Flash
Kermit, but the only image I could gather to use as a model was a VCR still from
the recent A&E Biography on Sesame Street.  Not workable.  For one, the
freeze frame on our VCR was not good enough to get any use out of the image, and
on top of that, I didn’t feel like lugging a television set and VCR into Erica’s
room for the “sitting.”

So I check out of the
office in mid-afternoon yesterday to get the holiday weekend started early, and
after buying another $30 tank of gasoline, I decided to stop off at Half Price
Books and check for some book that might help.  I did so without any confidence,
since I’d gone hitless in my last two stops there.  Home run.  I found “Sesame
Street Unpaved,” a like-new book that some halfwit actually chose to give up,
and I now own it.  A dozen good photos of Kermit in the get-up I needed.  The
final character is set to join the party on Erica’s walls, and work on it
commences this holiday weekend.

Heh
heh.  Heh heh heh heh.  He said “$30 tank of gasoline.”  Heh. – Sting

 

May
31, 2001

On December 18, 1988,
one of the most important games in Dallas Cowboy history took place, as the
Green Bay Packers defeated the then-Phoenix Cardinals, 26-17, salting the win
away on a Don Majkowski-to-Clint Didier touchdown pass. 

I kid you
not.

The significance of that
GB-PHO game — the Pack’s second straight win — was that it improved the Packer
record to 4-12, while the Cowboys were busy dropping to 2-14 with a 23-7 loss to
Philadelphia. 
Had Dallas won and Green Bay lost, the teams would have been
deadlocked and facing some sort of tiebreaker or maybe a coin flip to determine
which of them would get the number one pick in the 1989 draft. 

With the unlikely
two-game win streak for Green
Bay, the Cowboys picked first, taking Troy Aikman.  The
Packers picked second, landing Tony Mandarich.

Why do you
care?

Because in my opinion,
the final week of the Rangers’ 2000 season might ultimately prove to be
similarly significant in its effect on this club’s immediate future. 

The Baltimore Orioles
were a bad baseball team last year, at 67-86 with nine games remaining against
Boston, Toronto, and the Yankees.  Texas wasn’t so great either, as its record stood at 70-83
with nine to play against Anaheim, Seattle, and Oakland.  And then something strange happened. 
The O’s reeled off seven wins out of the nine games, including the final four
games straight — by the average score of 13-2.  At the same time, the Rangers
lost eight of nine, including the final three — by the average score of 11-2. 
And as a result, in the space of nine days, Baltimore went from three games worse than Texas in the AL standings
to three games better, and accordingly Texas ended up with the third-worst record in
the league.

In baseball, the draft
is conducted with the AL and NL alternating picks, and so the result of the
Texas-Baltimore standings flip at the 2000 finish line was that the Rangers will
pick fifth overall in the June 5, 2001 draft, and the O’s will pick seventh. 
This could be very, very important.

That is because in my
opinion, which I will state right out front is worth very little since I have
not seen any of these guys play, four players are worth getting excited about –
USC righthander Mark Prior, Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira, Middle
Tennessee State righthander Dewon Brazelton, and Baltimore high school
righthander Gavin Floyd.  And even though Texas drafts fifth, I feel pretty comfortable
that one, and maybe two, of those players will be there when the Ranger
selection comes up.  Were the Rangers picking seventh, those four would likely
be gone

*          *         
*

Teixeira is, by all
accounts, one of the most polished hitters to come out of college in years, a
switch-hitting Troy Glaus/Lance Berkman type.  A Scott Boras client, the Twins
won’t take him.  The Cubs won’t unless Prior goes first.  Tampa Bay cannot pay its own major league
roster, so forget Teixeira — plus they have never — never — taken a college
player in the first three rounds.  The Phillies?  Would they choose to run into
Boras again,
after the J.D. Drew disaster a few years ago? 

Would the Rangers take
Teixeira, when (1) the need for pitching is so glaring for this organization,
(2) they do not pick again until the fourth round, and (3) third base seems to
be fairly well accounted for on the farm with Mike Lamb at AAA and Hank Blalock
making huge noise again, this time at High A Charlotte?  The way I look at it is
this: you take the best player available.  If you are not crazy about the
pitchers available to you at number five, you don’t “settle” on someone with
that pick.  Were there hitters that Texas preferred over Jonathan Johnson in 1995,
such as Todd Helton or Geoff Jenkins, who were the two players taken immediately
after the Ranger pick?  In 1996, do you wonder whether St.
Louis (3rd pick: Braden Looper), Montreal (5: John Patterson), Detroit (6: Seth Greisinger), or San Francisco (7: Matt
White) actually liked Mark Kotsay (9th pick) or Eric Chavez (10th pick) more but
felt they needed to go with a pitcher?  In 1997, according to the Baseball
America draft preview issue I am staring at right now, Anaheim had the third pick
and was split between Glaus and righthander Jason Grilli — they took Glaus, and
Grilli went with the next pick to the Giants.  Think the Angels are happy they
made that decision?  In the 1998 draft, Kansas City took Stanford righthander Jeff
Austin with the fourth pick.  J.D. Drew went fifth, Austin Kearns went seventh,
Sean Burroughs went ninth, and Carlos Pena went tenth. 

What’s the point?  These
examples illustrate that at times, deciding in the top of the first round to
draft for need can be dangerous.  It may very well be that the Rangers like
Prior and Brazelton and Floyd and Karp more than Teixeira, and if so, I hope
they take the pitcher.  But if they evaluate Teixeira to have a higher and more
projectable ceiling than whatever pitchers are undrafted by the time the fifth
pick comes around, then I think Teixeira needs to be the pick. 

Ah,
yes.  Thus was hatched the “Glaus vs. Grilli” mantra that I must shoehorn into
the next song that I pitch to Jaguar.  Alliterative truisms cook like an Oliver
Perez slide-piece.  – Sting

 

April
14, 2002

There are a number of
interesting notes in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, headlined by this one:
when Ranger team physician Dr. John Conway gave Jeff Zimmerman a routine
diagnostic saline injection during contract negotiations in January, for the
purpose of insuring Zimmerman’s arm, no tears were found in the elbow region. 
But Zimmerman had an adverse reaction to the shot, according to club trainer
Danny Wheat, causing swelling in the elbow.  Wheat says the pain that eventually
sidelined the righthander is not in the area where the injection was
administered, but of course there is speculation that Zimmerman might have
altered his motion to compensate for the original pain, causing the additional
damage that forced the shutdown.  Both papers report that Zimmerman will resume
his throwing program tomorrow.  He might be throwing off a mound in a
week.

The
wind was decidedly ill. – Sting

 

April
20, 2002

Frank Catalanotto may be
one of my favorite hitters in the game today, but as much as I couldn’t
understand why Derek Harper was not taking more playing time away from Brad
Davis in the mid-’80s, I fail to see why there would be anyone in baseball who
doesn’t think Michael Young is a 150-game second baseman.  He may not offer the
offensive versatility that Cat does, but he is virtually infallible defensively
and executes at the plate.  The three opposite-field shots he hit last night,
one in front of Ichiro and another separated from Ichiro by an outfield fence,
were impressive.  Does anyone realize that Young has at least two hits in each
of last four starts, has an OPS for the season of 1.176, and has committed no
errors?  Nobody noticed that he hit 11 jacks in his 386-at-bat rookie season
last year, and as he continues to quietly go about his business for this club, I
will make sure to bullhorn the guy, even if nobody else will. 

“Il n’y a rien de plus discretement précoce que de
déguiser des pensees vides dans une langue étrangere.  Admirez moi!” – Sting

 

May
5, 2002

Bill Walton is an
extremely entertaining basketball commentator, but only because he makes some of
the most idiotic observations imaginable, and does so with exceptional
consistency. 

“Where
the Streets Have No Name” and “Crazy On You” are even better without words. -
Sting

 

February
13, 2003

Imagination is fuel.  It
gives us “Memento” and “The Usual Suspects” and “The Westing Game” and
“Werewolves in Their Youth” and Tin Star and ASU linebacker Darren Woodson as a
pro safety and some producer’s idea that Jennifer Garner’s work in “Dude,
Where’s My Car?” would translate so well to a project as challenging as
“Alias.”  In my elementary school days it gave me the idea that Mark Gallagher
and Castorian Kirby really could lap the Tom C. Gooch blacktop in 1.5 seconds
and that my T-ball teammate Keith Menter really did hit that ball through the
school window and that if I tied the corners of the paper towel down just right,
I could get the Evel Knievel action figure to float down to the floor like he
had a real parachute on.  Erica’s imagination is wildly active these days,
whether she’s describing what the Little Mermaid’s grocery list contains, what
kind of birthday cakes the Muppets get on Sesame Street, or what piece of
clothing she needs to grab out of the closet or the playroom in order to “be the
Mommy.” 

I’ll bet you that if I
asked Erica right now whether Texas can win the West this season, she’ll
emphatically assure me that it’s a slam dunk.  There’s something about spring
training (perhaps the promise that our brains will soon thaw out overlaid on the
reality that they aren’t quite there yet) that gives each of us the license to
believe that this could be The Year.  And you and I have the added benefit of
knowing what Anaheim just got through doing, information I’m
fairly sure Erica’s not up on.  Our two-and-a-half-year-old sees no reason the
Rangers can’t win in 2003, and I’m not about to talk her out of
it.

Perhaps
the dream was dreaming us. (And hey, what ever happened to Erik Thompson?)  -
Sting

 

April
2, 2003

Chan Ho Park was awful. 
It was the kind of effort you find yourself hoping was attributable to a
blister, or a stomach virus, or a hamstring strain.  I know: Tom Glavine and
Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson and Freddy Garcia and Josh Beckett and Roy
Halladay have been punished this week.  But Park’s eminent hittability, and
total lack of command, has become too consistently characteristic of what he
takes to the mound, regardless of how many protections his manager creates for
him, regardless of who his catcher is, regardless of the situation (bouncing a
hit-by-pitch with an 0-2 count on the number nine hitter??).  It’s
demoralizing.  Buck Showalter’s ability to diagnose and unlock will be tested in
no case more important than in Park’s.

Appreciating
the Ho, while fraught with limitation, has also an element of magic to it.  It
is essentially a shamanic art, and to follow its winding path is to reenter that
realm that is halfway between sleep and waking, where the mysterious imperative
of the unconscious can reveal itself on a payoff pitch with the bases jacked,
whether or not you have a physiatrist on retainer.  Watch Out for Kennil Gomez.
– Sting

 

May
3, 2003

Nauseated by that
disgraceful basketball game, I have very little appetite to write today.  This
Maverick team is a 12-man extension of Michael Finley’s game, and that’s not
good enough to do anything.  When we lose tomorrow, which feels as close to a
sure loss at this point as a seventh game at home can, we’ll be wishing
Portland would
have had mercy on us by sweeping us in four.  What a pathetic display – and the
worst part is that I have less faith that Dallas will grow from the adversity, as
currently constructed, than I have confidence that the psyche of the team will
be further eviscerated, that it’s lack of fight will be further forged.  Sorry,
sorry effort.  But hey, nobody can beat us in
H-O-R-S-E.

By the way, spare me the
talk about not trading Michael Finley because he’s the heart and soul of the
Mavs team, when the team basically has zero heart and soul.  Finley might be the
emotional leader of the team, but the Rangers also have a number one starter,
the Cowboys have had head coaches for the last nine seasons, and Andie MacDowell
had a role in which she came across as more believable than in any of her
others. 

Songs
are built by whimsy, faulty memory, and free association.  So are parts written
for Andie MacDowell. – Sting

 

June
14, 2003

Mark Teixeira will be
appearing at JW Sportscards at Preston and Belt Line in Dallas from 11 a.m. until
1 p.m. today.  Bring your 2002 or 2003 Bound Edition and have him sign the
cover.  Then have him tear the cover off of it, which is something he’s been
doing with encouraging frequency to baseballs of
late.

Brevity
is the soul of wit, the point of which is that it makes me not a little
uncomfortable that you’re still reading. – Sting

 

June
27, 2003

I’m convinced that the
reason that toothbrush manufacturers tell you on the box whether the bristles
are soft or medium or “razorblade” but don’t put the description on the brushes
themselves is that they count on those of us whose memories have capacity
remaining only for the really important things to forget after a few months of
using a brush which kind we’re supposed to get for ourselves when it needs
replacing.  That way we end up having to buy twice as many toothbrushes as we
need.

The
idea of finding myself in the cold, desolate landscape of old age and melancholy
reminded me indecorously that my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, and
that William Hurt was an underrated actor. – Sting

 

January
31, 2004

There were two teams I
never wanted to see invite Garth Brooks to spring training, especially in years
I plan to visit Surprise. Kansas
City, the Rangers’ complex-mates, will take reps away
from players fighting for roster spots in order to showcase Brooks. What an
embarrassing farce. There have to be 10,000 better ways for him to raise money
and awareness for his charity.

Like
writing a song and selling it to Jaguar. – Sting

 

February
5, 2004

If you ever cut my hair,
I assure you that I’ll double the tip if you actually practice dental hygiene.

Gross.
– Sting

 

February
29, 2004

I miss Progresso pizza
sauce, Marathon bars, and pineapple pink
grapefruit juice. 

Marking
the passing of the snowdrops and crocuses of February for the daffodils of
March, the hanging blossoms of April, I remember marveling at the elaborate
courtship dance of the mayfly all around the copper beechwood.  And I miss
Progresso pizza sauce, too. – Sting

 

June
25, 1999

            One of the
most underrated skills in baseball is flipping the bat away like Dan Wilson (and
Kirby Puckett before him). 

April
19, 2002

Dan
Wilson’s bat flip is the best in baseball. 

July
25, 2002

Dan
Wilson’s bat flip is the best in baseball.

August
11, 2002

Dan
Wilson’s bat toss may reign supreme, but his teammate Bret Boone’s flippant flip
would compel me to put a pitch in his mouth — it shows less class than standing
at the plate and watching the ball’s flight, which by the way Boone also does
from time to time.

April
14, 2004

Very nice
win last night, with Chan Ho Park being the biggest plus (his seven shutout
innings lowered his career Safeco ERA to 1.00).  But the greatest 30 seconds of
the game came in the bottom of the second, when Laird gunned Randy Winn down at
second by a silly amount, after which we were treated to Dan Wilson’s Hall of
Fame bat flip. 

We
are a superstitious and primitive tribe, perhaps staving off the same fate that
visited “Cop Rock,” the XFL, New Coke, and Chris Gaines by virtue of the
inimitable manner in which Dan Wilson tossed aside his lumber.  That, and the
injection of self-esteem we all get every time we ponder the impossibility that
Nickelback is successful. – Sting

 

April
17, 2004

Finally, a plea to you
travelers who stay on upper floors in downtown hotels and think nobody can see
you when you’re standing in the window in the morning with the curtains pulled
back and wearing nothing but your underwear, surveying the day: number one,
please understand that there are parking garages and office buildings that
(ahem) abut these hotels, and there are people on levels in those garages and
buildings just as high up as you are; and number two, please re-read number one
— you’re probably not as good-looking as you think you
are.

I
maintain a great reverence for the mystery and wonder of our existence, and my
cynicsm is a tolerant cousin to my curiosity.  Plus, penne pasta isn’t penne
pasta until the two sides meet. – Sting

 

September
13, 2004

Two nights ago I fell
asleep with the clock radio tuned into the game, and it reminded me of when I
used to do that when I wasn’t much older than Erica.  I remember one game that
Steve Busby pitched against Texas, and it seems like Freddie Patek hit a
couple home runs that night, which of course is virtually impossible and makes
me think I had to have dreamed that part of it. 

These are other things I
remember.

Football cards and
baseball cards at Schepps with Dad on Saturday morning.  Manilow in the house on
Sunday morning, or Peter, Paul & Mary.  Nanny’s banana cake.  Papa’s LTD. 
Aunt Sandy’s laugh.

Watching Mom and Dad
play a board game called Probe with Richard and Janice, when I was
three.

The home run that Plano
East’s Reggie Green hit — no, pulverized — off me in the Sherman Tournament. 
Lincoln’s star
running back trying to score from second on a single hit to me in right field,
which I saw in slow motion then and still do.  The home run I hit off the Fort
Worth Southwest High southpaw, called back because he balked.  Twenty-nine, in
my first 14 innings.

Ray Corbett calling me a
“57” and not yet knowing what it meant. 

Finding out what it
meant.

Continuing as a teenager
to second-guess myself every time I wanted to use the word “condone,” probably
because I wanted it to mean “condemn” even though I was pretty sure it meant the
opposite.

Similarly, hesitating to
use “drop a line” because I’d go back and forth trying to decide whether it
meant writing, or calling.

Roger Staubach at
Sanger-Harris.  Jim Fregosi and Bill Fahey and Roy Smalley at Northaven Field. 
Verne Lundquist at Sonny Bryan’s.  Drew Pearson and his family at Pennywhistle Park.

Filling out “My Book
About Me.”  Buying a new copy 27 years later.

Deciding as a kid that
if I were ever hired to write a TV spot for Froot Loops, I’d go with: “Precious
and few are the moments we, Toucan, share.”

Not knowing Ginger
(though I don’t remember what it felt like to be me when I didn’t know Ginger). 

Recalling not knowing
Erica and Max?  Getting tougher.

Erica telling us what
Max’s name would be.

Those Who Dig at
Rizano’s, I bet 20 times.

Almost every moment of
that first week in Austin, at
Disch-Falk.

Cowboy games with either
broasted chicken or Halleck’s, plus El Fenix queso.

Scorekeeping Ranger
games on the radio, and afterwards drawing my Star of the Game on the
scoresheet.

Alternately thinking it
was both cool and unfortunate that Scott Harris wore a house key around his neck
in first grade.

Bob Gooding and Mike
Shapiro, Taco
Plaza or Hungry-Man.  Those
little wax bottles full of fruit punch.  Shasta.

Dr. Haledjian and the
“Two-Minute Mystery” every morning in TAG.  Tony Sangchompuphen, my worthy
adversary.  “Bungalow” at the Spelling Bee at Old City Park.

How Robin Yount and Paul
Molitor made me want to be a baseball player.

Batman and Spider Man
foamy bath soap.  “Shazam,” on Saturday mornings.  That amazing show hosted by
Bill Cosby one night every September where he’d help preview an entire network’s
new fall lineup, including all the Saturday morning
programming.

“The Rookies” (a cop
show, not a baseball movie).  “The Six Million Dollar Man” (“Six,” at seven, on
8).  “Sports Night.”  “Wonderland.”

Streetball in the
***-de-sac next to the Chocolate House.  A thousand games.  Ten thousand. 

Bar Exam prep at the Red
Lion.

That wretched Billy Joel
song Rob would play over and over, and over, while we prepped for the
LSAT.

Thinking too highly of
Dan Peltier, John Dettmer, Bobby Reed, and Cameron
Drew.

A fascination with
George Blanda, not only because he was in his mid-40s, but also because he was
both a quarterback and a kicker.

Writing my parents from
summer camp at age 12, asking if I could spend half my savings on a Mike Schmidt
rookie card.  Because I had a feeling.

Handing the guy a dime
at the coin and stamp shop register, and hoping through my sweat that he didn’t
realize that the 1982 John Littlefield wasn’t exactly worth a dime.  Flipping
the card a month later for about a dozen Boggs, Strawberry, Gwynn, and Mattingly
rookie cards.

Cracking the 1985 Fleer
cellophane sequence, and making it pay off at
Revco.

Duck and cover when the
tornado hit in second grade, and Kerry crying and praying to The Force that we’d
live through it.

Those first 45 minutes
each day after waking up in Anghiari.

The 10 p.m. jogs to the
Hillcrest baseball field.  Sitting in the bleachers for 20 minutes, to
think.

Arapaho.  Pharaoh. 
Arapaho.  Pharaoh. 

Coach Shor breaking his
watch in anger at halftime in Phoenix.

Being grateful to Don
Majkowski and Scott Boras for effectively putting Troy Aikman and Mark Teixeira
on my teams.

The episode of
“Unplugged” that inspired my favorite Newberg Report ever, and one of my
favorite memories.

The Farmers Branch watertower, which was as creepy at age six
as the statue of Sam Houston along I-45 is today.

Swensen’s by bike, for
phosphates.

“My Sharona” and “Don’t
Bring Me Down,” on 45.

“Murmur,” from Paul, on
33 1/3.

“Bellybutton,” on Rod’s
recommendation, on CD.

Pickup games at the
Viroslavs’ on July 4th, even though most years I had to play a real game later
that night.

Fleisher, left center
field.  Danny Heep.

My twenty-minute
interview with Vial Hamilton (Mark Hansen and Janice Davis) in a room at UT no
bigger than a Jeep.  And the embarrassing reason I really wanted that
interview. 

My first day practicing
law, which was 10 years ago yesterday.

My first closing
argument, and then the 15 seconds that felt like 15 minutes as the jury filed
back into the courtroom after deliberations.  (Though I don’t remember hearing
the verdict.)

My Wilson A2000
XL.

The adrenaline triggered
whenever a Cowboy or Maverick first-round pick was about to be announced, or
whenever breaking news hit that the Rangers had made a trade, right before they
actually said who was involved.  Similar adrenaline right when the lights went
down for most concerts I’ve been to.  Similar adrenaline last night on “Six Feet
Under” when Michaela said, “You should talk to my dad.  He’s in the
office.”

Permian Records and Ron
Kittle.

Introducing Mandy to
Subway, and Barry to Tin Star. 

The run-in with Griffey
after the game. 

The therapy of teenaged
free throws, outdoors.

And the feeling those
last few weeks in 1996, 1998, and 1999, when it felt like the Rangers were
rewarding me for hanging in there for more than 20 years, as they headed into
season-ending strings of games in the division with every pitch meaning
something.  It’s going to feel like that again starting late tonight, and I will
love it, and hate it.  And remember it.

Bah,
schmemories.  Our survival can only be a collective effort.  We can’t do this
alone.  Why else do you think Gerald Alexander’s curve ball wasn’t enough? How
else do you explain (1) the fact that David Murphy was a .273/.343/.407 hitter
in the minor leagues, (2) Mike Macfarlane’s hair helmet, and (3) Nickelback?  -
Sting

 

November
20, 2004

This JACK-FM phenomenon
has me hooked. Driving last night, I heard an old Asia song and an old Toad the
Wet Sprocket song back to back, and I was thrown back to my pre-teens, thinking
of nights playing 2-on-2 hoops with Paul and Alan and Patrick until it was too
dark to see the basket any longer, which reminded me of “Taps,” the first
non-kids’ movie I ever loved. I thought about “Time Zone” and “Zork” and
“Deadline” and those other computer adventure games that I phased in and out of
for a few years. I thought about going through the toy and sporting good
sections of the Sears catalog about this time of year, over and over and over,
when I was a little older than Erica. I thought about salt maps in first grade,
taking the time to draw every United States President in second grade, making a
list of every homonym I could think of in third grade. (Maybe I should have been
paying closer attention to the road.)

Toad
was conceived in Santa
Barbara, which is the collegiate home of Michael Young,
who, if he played for the Yankees or Red Sox, would be the international
spokesman for sliced bread.  Josh Hamilton, on the other hand,
is sliced bread. – Sting

 

January
29, 2005

Sammy Sosa and Rafael
Palmeiro have appeared in 25 games as teammates, back in 1989 when Sosa broke
into the big leagues at age 20 and the 24-year-old Palmeiro was in his first
season as a Ranger. Oriole fan Mark Teixeira was nine.

Now in Baltimore together, Sosa
hit .238 (20 for 84) in those 25 games 16 years ago and Palmeiro hit .242 (24
for 99). Sosa had only four extra-base hits (three doubles and a homer) in that
span and Palmeiro had just three (two doubles and a bomb), and, interestingly,
two times they collected them in the same game, including Sosa’s major league
debut on June 16, when both players doubled in an 8-3 Ranger loss in Yankee
Stadium.

Their doubles came off
future Ranger minor league coach Andy Hawkins, who got the win.

Sosa would hit his first
big league homer and Palmeiro would double on June 21, in a 10-3 win in
Boston.

Their extra-base hits
came off Roger Clemens, who suffered the loss.

Clemens lives in
Katy, Texas.  Hawkins has a daughter named Katy.

Hawkins pitched one more
no-hitter than Clemens has.

But they have the same
number of no-hitter victories.

Sosa and Palmeiro’s
Orioles host the Astros and Clemens this June. It’s unlikely that Baltimore, however, will
face Class A High Desert, where Hawkins now coaches after four distinguished
years in the Ranger system.

And there’s your dose of
consequential Rangers news for the day.

Huh?
– Sting

 

March
13, 2005

Slightly off-topic: Was
Purina that smart when they settled on the genius of that checkerboard logo, or
did they luck into its impact? You can be sure that if I were running a pet
store, a grocery store, or a store anywhere near a pet store or grocery store,
I’d be in touch with Nestle Purina to see how much it would be worth it to them
for me to tile the store’s bathrooms and walls with a simple square pattern.

Message to radio, TV,
and print journalists: One person cannot make a “concerted” effort.

De
do do do.  De da da da. – Sting

 

March
15, 2005

Righthander Todd
Ritchie, trying to come back from a shoulder injury, has told the Pirates that
he’s retiring. The announcement comes less than a week after righthander Todd
Van Poppel told the Mets he was hanging it up.

The greatest high school
game I ever saw was in June of 1990, when Duncanville’s Ritchie faced Arlington Martin’s Van Poppel
in the Class 5A state semifinals at Disch-Falk Field in Austin. Van Poppel, who
threw a one-hitter as I recall, lost the game, 1-0, a few days after Oakland had used the 14th
overall pick in the draft on him. (I think future Reds prospect Steve Gibraltar
drove in the lone run.) Duncanville went on to beat Deer Park for the Class 5A
title game the next day; Deer Park — behind ace Andy Pettitte — had defeated
Austin Westlake the same day that Duncanville downed Martin.

Most of us who were at
UT at the time were sure that Van Poppel was going to be a Longhorn within
weeks, having cautioned big league teams that he wasn’t interested in signing a
pro contract yet (he reportedly might have gone number one instead of Chipper
Jones had he not issued that warning). Instead, the rumor around campus was that
Oakland drafted UT ace Kirk Dressendorfer in the supplemental first round of
that same draft with more than just Dressendorfer’s upside in mind; the
speculation was that the A’s were able to use Dressendorfer to convince Van
Poppel to sign pro, luring him away from his Longhorn commitment by disparaging
UT coach Cliff Gustafson’s handling of pitchers. Roger Clemens, Greg Swindell,
and Calvin Schiraldi were all examples of first-round picks who had experienced
serious arm problems soon after leaving Gustafson’s program for pro ball.

Many say that Van
Poppel’s decision to sign with Oakland — particularly signing a major league
deal that caused his options clock to begin running immediately — doomed his
career before it really got started, maybe more so than three years at UT would
have. And it’s true that he was rushed to the big leagues because of the options
problem (check out his walk totals on the farm before he was in the majors to
stay), and that he bounced around a bunch, pitching for six major league teams
in his career.  The Mets would have been the seventh.

But at the same time,
Van Poppel spent 15 seasons in professional baseball, earning more than $9
million to do it and never throwing in the towel just because he didn’t become
what everyone expected him to become. He’s married with two kids, and at age 33
has more than enough time to do whatever he wants with the rest of his life.
There’s not one person who was at Disch-Falk that day in June of 1990, on the
field or in the stands, who wouldn’t have gladly accepted that fate. But as for
how many would have handled the adversity of failed expectations that Van Poppel
faced, that’s another question.

Next time I write, I’ll
be busy watching more than 100 Ranger minor leaguers who, though they would
never acknowledge it now, will be fortunate to have a Todd Van Poppel career.

The
line between genius and homogeneity is blurry.  Still, neither camp will embrace
Herb Scott’s catch of Roger Staubach’s final pass.  Or Nickelback. – Sting

 

November
27, 2005

I didn’t realize until
having kids that bananas divide vertically into 120-degree
wedges.

Why did those network
After School Specials always seem like events, even though they were never any
good?

I miss having a real
cookie jar.

I thought the opening
credits to the syndicated, mid-’70s Tarzan series were the best part of that
show.

The band’s decision on
how to order songs on a CD fascinates me.

I’m not going to look
this up because I’m sure I’m wrong, but I bet the word “Daddy” was coined by a
male.  “Mama” and “Mommy” make sense as shortened versions of “Mother.”  But how
did “Father” become “Daddy”?  Probably because babies can say “Da-da” long
before they can make an “F” sound.  So some jealous father decided: “‘Da-da’ it
is.”

The Paul McCartney show
was good, but I really wish I saw it three weeks before the U2 show, rather than
the reverse.  The U2 show was a top five “experience” for me . . . and the
McCartney show drove that home.  The latter — which I’m still really, really
happy I was at — had the effect of making me appreciate the U2 show even more,
which I didn’t think was possible.

My
certainty that Mom and Dad knew everything faltered when neither could tell me
what rack and pinion steering was. – Sting

 

February
26, 2006

Seeing Ohno shred the
track reminded me of a hypothesis I advanced several Bound Editions ago, about
Deion Sanders being a more effective punt returner to his right than to his
left, because of the counterclockwise motion running the bases all those years. 
(Try running to second base by rounding third instead of first; see which gets
you there faster.)

Prime
Time was the inspiration for “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” (a title that
suffered from improper noun/number agreement).  Perhaps the highest compliment
you can pay to a partner is “I don’t own you–you’re free.”  If you were to try
to possess them in the obvious way, you could never appreciate them in the way
that really counts.  I delivered copies of the song to the Falcons, Niners,
Cowboys, Redskins, Ravens. Yankees, Braves, Reds, San Francisco Baseball Giants, and Blue Jays. 
Gave one to my beloved Newcastle United, too.  Just in case. – Sting

 

June
28, 2006

That was a disgusting,
pathetic, sickening display of umpiring incompetence that I would expect to have
consequences of some sort, if I didn’t have exactly zero faith that the league
had any freakin’ clue on how to handle it. 

I hope JD didn’t have a
television feed in Oklahoma
City.  As furious as I am, I can’t imagine what he must
feel like.

I’m not going to sleep
well tonight. 

Tonight’s home plate
“ump” (Larry Young) and tomorrow night’s home plate excuse (Tom Hallion), who
are basically bulletproof and not held accountable for their pathetic
ineptitude, will probably sleep like babies.

What a
disgrace.

I
can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing. – Sting

 

September
24, 2006

Seeing that big smile on
Carlos Lee’s face today as he stepped into the box to a chorus of boos with one
out in the bottom of ninth, down five runs, it occurred to me that the parting
of ways between Lee and the Rangers this winter will probably be exceedingly
mutual.

Love the trade, but
there’s no way we can bring that guy back for anywhere near the money he already
turned down from the Brewers.  Whoever pays Lee to play left field for multiple
years, in a decent-sized park, is going to be
disappointed.

The dribbler to the
mound to end the game was sort of a fitting way to end the home season.  Only
Texas and Kansas City were on the wrong side of .500 in
their own yard among American League teams this year.  Very
frustrating.

As far as Lee is
concerned, let’s hope the CBA provision that governs draft pick compensation
survives at least one more winter. 

Pull
up a wingback, Blake Beavan and Julio Borbon.  Welcome, David Murphy.
 Synchronicity III. – Sting

 

March
27, 2007

There’s a batch of punch
lines ripe for the picking as far as today’s 24-7 score is concerned, and none
of them are good.

But that’s the thing
about the Great Game.  San Diego 24, Texas 7 is now a thing of
Baseball Past, no more relevant to the imminent Rangers season
than:

*  Bill Caudill’s
half-beard

*  John Pacella’s
flyaway lid

*  Oddibe McDowell’s
butter knife

*  Todd Burns’s
OCCD

*  Mark
Lemongello

*  The Peterson-Kekich
wife swap

Especially since it’s
spring training.  Even if this were June, a loss is a loss when they figure out
on September 30 which teams get to keep playing, whether it’s a 17-run drilling
or a 2-1 squeaker.  But in spring training, a loss isn’t even really a loss, and
statistics (especially for veterans locked into roster spots) don’t scare up a
whole lot of significance.

Then again, if I’m going
to go on and on about Joaquin Benoit’s dirty 7.1 camp innings and dare to invoke
the words “Mark DeRosa” when talking about Matt Kata’s work in Surprise, it
would be sorta hypocritical to ignore what happened to Kevin Millwood and Ron
Mahay and Eric Gagné today.

But just as spring
training win-loss records and player stats don’t really have a lot of meaning,
blogs don’t really have a lot of rules, and so you’ll either forgive me when I
elect to spend no more time discussing today’s box score than I’d spend waxing
nostalgic about Greg Harris’s reversible Mizuno, or you can spare yourself the
email demanding further analysis of today’s drubbing and use that time to Google
“Roger Moret’s catatonic trance.”

Alas,
poor Rogelio.  Alas.  Dreaming of blue turtles, I suspect. 
Incidentally, when I changed my name from Gordon Sumner to Sting, “Lemongello”
was a close runner-up. – Sting

 

June
26, 2007

Stewart Copeland was no
different from Greg Maddux, killing not with power but with precision.  The
left-handed grip was as unmistakable as Yastrzemski’s stance, or Tekulve’s
delivery.  But above all, like Maddux, he was consistently dominant, if
bespectacled and in all other respects just as
unimposing.

Sting was Roger Clemens,
holding forth with a confidence that has morphed into arrogance, in age-defying
physical shape and still able to do on his own stage what very few 20 years his
junior can do.  A sellout?  Maybe.  But still worth paying to see.  (And like
Koby Clemens, I had low expectations for Joe Sumner, figuring his opportunity
was merely a nepotistic instance of waking up on third base, so to speak.  But
like the younger Clemens, Sting’s kid might actually have something ― Fiction
Plane was pretty good, in a Soundgarden/Killers kind of way, with hints of U2
and Nirvana.)

Andy Summers was Mariano
Rivera.  (Ya know?)

I was driving home,
feeling pretty sure that when I wake up Wednesday morning, the newspaper experts
will proclaim their super-turbo-intelligence and tell me that the concert I was
at was lousy, that the Police are nothing at this point but shadows (on the
door? in the rain?), exploiting a susceptible fan base.  That I was essentially
wrong for having a kick-*** time at a kick-***
show.

Then I learned that the
Rangers did it again, winning improbably in Detroit.  Like the rest of this stretch of good
baseball, it will probably be nothing but a footnote for many in the local
sports media, if not an opportunity for some of them to chastise those of us who
continue to give everything we’ve got to this team, to condemn us for sticking
with it.

I probably won’t read
the concert reviews in the morning, and with a few exceptions I’ll continue to
skip the columns and the talk show segments that zero in on the
Rangers.

If I’m wrong to have had
a blast at the Police concert, or to forget about the standings the minute the
first pitch is thrown each night, don’t bother telling
me.

You make the best of
what’s still around.

Whatever,
Newberg.  Got 10 more in ya? – Sting

 

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 25, 2008

The Rangers, according to several local reports, have promoted first baseman Chris Davis from Frisco to Oklahoma.  He departs the Texas League with a .333/.376/.618 line, plus 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 43 runs, and 42 RBI in 46 games.  He was leading the league in homers and runs and was sixth in hitting, second (to fellow RoughRider Max Ramirez) in slugging and in total bases, second in RBI, third in hits, fourth in doubles, and third in OPS — behind Ramirez and Frisco outfielder Ben Harrison.

What this means for RedHawks first basemen Nate Gold and Jason Botts is unclear.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 24, 2008

Reader contributions:

1. More than a dozen of you pointed out that the RBI record Josh Hamilton set was for reaching 50 faster than anyone at the start of his American League career.  Thanks.

2. This comes from reader Kyle Manigold, who is in management with the Tulsa Drillers, regarding the home run Frisco’s Max Ramirez hit last night as part of a single/triple/homer/walk effort:  “Not to overhype him but the home run he hit tonight here at Drillers Stadium was one of the longest homers in the history of this stadium.  It traveled over the 50 ft. high net behind the outfield wall in left center and out into the intersection of 15th St. and Yale Ave.  If you have ever been to Drillers Stadium you know how far that is, somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 ft. plus.

3. To label Eleanor Czajka as a “reader” is wrong, because she’s much, much more than that.  If you’re not a regular reader of her “Girls Don’t Know Anything About Baseball” blog, you should start now: go to http://emcmlb.blogspot.com/ to read her latest excellent post.  

4. This is not an advertisement, but an enthusiastic (and completely unsolicited) endorsement:  Go to Kitchen 1924.  We went last night and can’t wait to go back.  Tucked away in the Lakewood Shopping Center, it’s got a rock’n’roll vibe and a trophy menu (with a great wine list), and it’s managed by one of you: Rangers (and Man.U./Iggy Pop) fan Michael Durkin (http://kitchen1924.com/this_food.html).  We had a great dinner and a great time, and I’m sorta bummed that we didn’t really know about it before now.

One other thing:  I’ve given up.  I’ve racked my brain and talked to a lot of bigger sports brains than mine.

There’s never, ever been another trade – in any sport – like Edinson Volquez (and Danny Ray Herrera) for Josh Hamilton.

Holding good thoughts for Tom Grieve, one of the really, really good guys.

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

ADDENDUM:

Following up on Jamey’s most recent missive where he relayed a note from Tulsa describing where Max Ramirez’s dinger landed yesterday.     I’ve been to Drillers Stadium — a lot.   And that was well over 450 feet.  Have a look.

Regards old friends….   Stop by and see me @  http://rangersfarmreport.mlblogs.com/

MJ Hindman


ADDENDUM:

If Google’s measurement bar is accurate, the 15th/Yale intersection is, at its closest, 520 feet from home plate.

Jamey

In Their Footsteps: The corner spots

As we continue to construct a 25-man roster from the Rangers farm system, trying to project who has the best chance to settle in at each spot, our bench is nearly complete.  We’ve got Manny Pina as our backup catcher, Brandon Boggs as the fourth outfielder, and German Duran as the utility infielder.  We need two more role players.

One needs to play first base, and preferably either third base or a corner outfield spot if needed.  The other needs to cover whichever of those secondary roles the first can’t.  Ideally, given who is already on our bench, one of them should be a runner, the other a guy who can do some damage with the bat late in a game.  Since American League benches aren’t quite as dependent on pinch-hitters and match-ups as they are in the National League, we’re not going to concern ourselves so much with handedness.  

Looking back, the two players who most capably served those two bench jobs in Rangers history were Roberto Kelly and Frank Catalanotto.  

Kelly was an instrumental role player on the Rangers’ playoff teams in 1998 and 1999, playing all three outfield positions in relief of starters Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer, and Tom Goodwin and hitting a robust .311/.353/.501 (including .353/.389/.556 against lefties) with 24 doubles, 24 home runs, 83 RBI, and 89 runs scored in a combined 547 at-bats.  His .560 slugging percentage in 1998 was the highest of his career.  His .323 batting average that season matched his career best.

In his age 33 and 34 seasons, Kelly gave Texas as much as you could ever expect to get from a reserve outfielder.

Catalanotto, who arrived in the blockbuster trade after the 1999 season that sent Juan Gonzalez to Detroit, played 37 games at first base, 11 games at third base, 86 games at second base, and 113 games in the outfield in his first Rangers stint (2002-2002), hitting .305/.380/.470 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.  Used primarily against right-handed pitching, the left-handed hitter didn’t embarrass himself against lefties, hitting .286/.400/.374 in 91 trips, with 14 walks and 15 strikeouts.  

In his heyday, there wasn’t a fastball that Catalanotto couldn’t turn around.

With Kelly and Catalanotto, you have two players who could do a little bit of everything offensively, combined to cover most of the field defensively (particularly the corners), and had playable speed.  Kelly had been an everyday player before arriving in Texas, while Catalanotto has had spurts in his career in which he was one, too.  To fill our final two bench spots from the current Rangers farm, we turn to two players who, not long ago, were seen not only as future everyday players but possibly as potential stars.  

It’s not out of the question that John Mayberry Jr. and Joaquin Arias could eventually fulfill the expectations the Rangers had for them when they joined the organization.  But for now, developmentally, both have used 2008 to put themselves back on the map after disappointing 2007 seasons.

The Oklahoma teammates come from vastly different backgrounds.  Mayberry, the son of the well-known Royals first baseman, had the highest of amateur profiles.  He was a rare two-time first-round draft pick, refusing to sign as Seattle’s top draftee out of high school and then going pro when Texas chose him as a Stanford junior in 2005.  The Yankees signed Arias, on the other hand, as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for a relatively modest $300,000 – and then allegedly tried disguising him in spring training 2004 (by changing his number and shifting him to different minor league fields) so the Rangers wouldn’t select him as the player to be named in the Alex Rodriguez deal.

After his first two years in the Rangers system, Arias appeared to be on a fast track to Texas, playing highlight shortstop and hitting .300 for Stockton (2004) and .315 for Frisco (2005) before he was old enough to buy a beer.  He saw his average fall to .268 at Oklahoma in 2006 – an unacceptable mark considering how infrequently he walks – but he went 6 for 11 in his first taste of the big leagues that September.  On the season’s final day, he started at third base – something he’d never done in the minor leagues – and the idea that the athletic 22-year-old might be on the verge of seizing a major league utility role was hatched.

But 2007 didn’t go at all like it was supposed to for Arias, who injured a thumb late in spring training and then hurt his throwing shoulder, managing to get only 18 at-bats all year.  Recovering from July shoulder surgery, he’s been limited this season as well, playing primarily second base and designated hitter (both new positions for him) while he works to regain the arm strength that was one of the keys to his game.  He has regained his stroke at the plate, hitting .317/.345/.396 thus far, and he’s on pace to obliterate his career high of 30 stolen bases as he’s swiped 11 bags in 34 games.

If the shoulder bounces back, Arias can be a tremendous asset on a big league bench, an athlete who can play every infield position and possibly center field, who has the plus speed to take advantage of his ability to put the ball in play and to impact the late innings as a pinch-runner.

As for Mayberry, the college first baseman, Texas not only planned to make a right fielder out of him but also knew his Stanford-bred swing would need to be remade.  The transition has been bumpy.  Mayberry’s power has been there from the start (he’s slammed 31 home runs and 36 doubles per 162 games as a pro), but his strikeout numbers have been too high (nearly one per game) and, coming into 2008, he was just a career .251 hitter with questions defensively.

But something good has happened for Mayberry this season.  Over the first three weeks at Frisco, he hit for the highest average (.268) and slugging percentage (.512) of his career, and after a promotion to Oklahoma he’s been even better, hitting .326/.366/.593.  Even more remarkably, after arriving in AAA as a hitter who went down on strikes once every 3.9 at-bats as a pro, he’s fanned only 10 times in 86 RedHawks at-bats.  

He even made an appearance at first base a week ago, his first since starring at that position collegiately.  

While Arias has been surpassed by Elvis Andrus as the organization’s future hope at shortstop, Mayberry remains the Rangers’ top power-hitting outfield prospect.  If he really has figured something out at Oklahoma, there will be no envisioning a bench role for the physical prototype.  He’ll be a player who projects to settle in somewhere in the middle third of the lineup.

But it’s also possible that Mayberry and Arias could develop into tremendous bench weapons, a tandem that offers power, speed, and the ability to cover seven positions.  Good teams have players, like Kelly and Catalanotto, who are capable of starting but who accept their roles and give their team different ways to beat the other guys late.  There are worse fates for Mayberry and Arias.

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. 

 

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