THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 5, 2008

From Jon Daniels: “We’ve played well after what was
basically a Murphy’s Law start to the season: injuries, poor performances, some
critical pieces written (some deserved, some not).”

Daniels said that in the summer of 2007.

Four weeks into the 2008 season, things seemed even more
cursed, if that’s possible.  Rock bottom came
at the conclusion of the late April series in Detroit, a second straight sweep loss on the
road that lowered the Rangers’ record to 7-16. 
Since that trip, Texas placed its number four starter (Jason Jennings)
and number six starter (Luis Mendoza) on the disabled list, where they joined
the club’s number three (Brandon McCarthy) and number five (Kason
Gabbard). 

Texas
is basically going with its number one (Kevin Millwood) and number two (Vicente
Padilla), followed by numbers seven, eight, and nine (Sidney Ponson, Scott Feldman,
and A.J. Murray).

Those three guys: Five starts, three qualifying as
quality starts (the other two times coming two outs short of achieving the
feat), with a composite line of 2-1, 2.90, 33 hits (one home run) and eight walks
in 31 innings, 19 strikeouts, and an outstanding 1.92 groundout-to-flyout rate.

It may be counterintuitive to look at this club’s 13-19
record and hand out a whole lot of praise, but credit the Rangers for finding an
unsigned veteran that nobody would hire, taking a guy who had a lot of success
as a reliever in 2007 and converting him back to starter, and seeing in a third
guy not only a starter where before there’d only been a relief pitcher but also
a three-quarters guy where before there’d only been a sidewinder.  Kudos to Ponson, Murray, and Feldman for
getting results, but the scouting and development operations deserve some
recognition as well.  That’s three straight
series wins for Texas,
with lots of unexpected contributors on the roster.

Josh Hamilton’s catch in right center field Friday night was
unquestionably the Rangers’ defensive play of the year, but Jarrod
Saltalamacchia’s throw to second Saturday night to complete a strikeout-caught
stealing double play was top five for me, even though it won’t show up on any lists.  It was an absolute strike, Pudge-esque in its
arrival right on the bag, with the runner still a good five feet from the bag.  That guy is a catcher.

There’s a new plan in place as far as allocating playing
time between Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird is concerned.  Sort of. 
The general idea is for each catcher to start two straight games, then
sit two straight, and so on.  But Ron Washington
wants to keep Laird paired up with Millwood, and Saltalamacchia with Ponson, so
we’ll see what the game logs ultimately look like.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the Yankees, Reds, and Brewers have passed on dealing for Laird for the moment.

Gabbard retired the first nine batters he faced in a
rehab outing for Frisco on Saturday, allowing one run on one hit and three
walks with six strikeouts but needing 65 pitches to get through four innings.  Gabbard should be activated in time to make
Thursday’s start against Seattle.

Dustin Nippert fanned five and walked none in a rehab
start for Oklahoma
on Friday, scattering two hits over five scoreless frames.

When German Duran hit his first big league home run
yesterday, Max called him, “Man Duran.” 

Yep.

Man, the Rangers looked right in red yesterday.

Jamey Wright, with all his moving parts, seems to be a
great example of a guy who appears to be monumentally better out of the
stretch, mechanically.

If you’re expecting Chris Shelton and Ben Broussard (or
Frank Catalanotto) to settle into a platoon at first base, you should realize
that the right-handed-hitting Shelton
has reverse splits, hitting righthanders at a better clip (.286/.342/.498) than
lefties (.269/.363/.420) in the big leagues coming into 2008.  The disparity was even more pronounced in Shelton’s big 2005 season
(.306/.364/.536 vs. .278/.345/.433).  (Shelton was also slightly better at Oklahoma against righties [.357/.429/.643] than
against southpaws [.333/.429/.500] but the sample was not a reliable one, given
that he had only six at-bats against lefthanders as a RedHawk).

John Mayberry Jr. was promoted to Oklahoma
once Shelton was summoned to Texas, leaving behind a Frisco line of
.268/.322/.512 in 82 at-bats (21 strikeouts, four walks).  In his first six RedHawks games, the
24-year-old is hitting .480/.519/.840, with only one strikeout (two walks) in
25 at-bats. 

RedHawks outfielder Nelson Cruz and Clinton first baseman Ian Gac (who went deep
twice yesterday) share the minor league lead in home runs with 11.  Frisco first baseman Chris Davis isn’t far
behind with nine. 

Frisco catcher Max Ramirez may not have a clear path to
Texas, but in one way or another he gives the Rangers a ridiculous trade
opportunity, as he and Taylor Teagarden — both slightly older than
Saltalamacchia — should be ready to compete at the major league level in 2009.  Ramirez is not as accomplished as the other
two defensively, but his bat will play just about anywhere.  He could conceivably settle in as a
designated hitter option who can spot the first baseman and give the club a
third catcher on the squad.  The
23-year-old leads the Texas League with a 1.175 OPS, leads the league with a
.390 batting average, and leads the league with a .700 slug.  His 70 total bases and .475 on-base
percentage rank second and his seven home runs are third (trailing Davis by two bombs).

Meanwhile, Kenny Lofton is without a job, and not by his
own choice.

Perhaps Cleveland
felt that Ramirez was expendable because he might be another Victor Martinez.  They might be right about that last part.

Over the last couple months, the local media has propped
up the July trade that Daniels made with Boston (Eric Gagné for Gabbard, David
Murphy, and Engel Beltre) as potentially having as much long-term impact as the
Atlanta deal (Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay for Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Matt
Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Beau Jones), but Lofton for Ramirez is right
there, too.

When this brand of the Rangers returns to contention, July
27-31, 2007 will deserve as much acclaim as December 5-7, 1998, when Tom Grieve
acquired Rafael Palmeiro and Julio Franco in separate trades and signed Nolan Ryan.

Baseball Prospectus named Cruz and Gac the Hitters of the
Month for the Pacific Coast League and Midwest League, respectively.

Oklahoma’s
Joaquin Arias (.315/.344/.371) is reportedly ready to play on the left side of
the infield.  Limited thus far to second
base and designated hitter because of lingering shoulder issues, he becomes
exponentially more valuable if he shows his arm can handle shortstop and third
base again.

Clinton
is 20-6, leading the Midwest League Western Division by three games.

Bakersfield
is 17-14, six games out of first in the California League North.

Frisco is 21-8, leading the Texas League South by 4.5 games.

Oklahoma
is 20-11, leading the Pacific Coast League American South by 3.5 games.

Minor league win-loss records are not very important, but
when you look at the Rangers farm system as a whole and see a 78-39 composite
record — a .667 win percentage that would equate to a 108-win season by a big
league club — and consider the fact that the Rangers are counting on very few
journeymen in key minor league roles (fewer than at any time since I’ve been
covering the Ranger farm system), you have to feel good about this development,
a season in which Davis and Andrus and Ramirez and Warner Madrigal, and Beltre
and Feliz and Cristian Santana and Derek Holland, for instance, are learning to
win — and win together.

Blake Beavan, who debuted on Tuesday with six brilliant scoreless
innings in a Clinton win over Great
Lakes (three singles, no walks, three strikeouts) takes the hill
for the second time today.

Franco has apparently retired, theoretically about four months
short of his 50th birthday.  Fascinating player,
great career.

Independent league signings: outfielder Kevin Mahar
(Kansas City T-Bones, Northern League), righthander Kevin Altman (Joliet
Jackhammers, Northern League), outfielder Ramon Nivar (New Jersey Jackals,
Can-Am League), lefthander Nick Bierbrodt (Long Beach Armada, Golden Baseball
League), righthander Nick Casanova (Orange County Flyers, Golden Baseball
League).

Round Rock released outfielder Victor Diaz even though he
led the Express with a .296 average and .398 on-base percentage.  His power had virtually disappeared, as only three
of his 21 hits (two doubles and one home run) had gone for extra bases.

Ron Washington made this remark a few days ago on the
pregame show, about his club as it was busting out of its April malaise: “The
players did not show character.  They revealed
it.”

I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it was one of
the first things I thought of when Brenden Morrow — of course — punched in
the series-winner in the fourth overtime last night.  (Or, actually, when I learned this morning
that he scored.  I ran out of gas in the
second overtime myself.)

The year that the Stars won the Stanley Cup with Mike
Modano and Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov and Morrow’s father-in-law Guy Carbonneau
seems almost as long ago as the winter when the Rangers acquired Palmeiro,
Franco, and Ryan.  While Modano and
Lehtinen and Zubov are still huge factors on this Stars team, it’s Morrow, who
is no bigger than Max Ramirez but who might have as much heart and tenacity and
leadership quotient as any athlete who has ever played in the Metroplex, who
seems to be willing this team to a level that they weren’t supposed to reach.  On they play.

When the Rangers next win, plenty of guys on the current
roster will be part of the core of that team. 
But there is a Brenden Morrow or two on the farm right now, and even if
we don’t know for sure which of them is going to step to the front to help take
Texas to that next level, I love the fact that there’s so much winning going on
in Oklahoma City, Frisco, Bakersfield, and Clinton.  The minor league standings may not mean all
that much, but those high fives at the mound absolutely do.


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

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