May 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 7, 2008

Last
night’s story:

 

ponson.jpg

         

Knight.
                                                           

hamilton5608.jpg

And
dei.

 

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


THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 6, 2008

Two things:

1. We’re changing up our Player and Pitcher of the Month feature
this season.  Eleanor Czajka and Rob Cook
have tabbed four position players and four pitchers on the Rangers farm for
April honors, setting up polls on the Newberg Report website so you can vote on
who you think should get the nod.

Go to http://forum.newbergreport.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=4299
to vote for Max Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Ian Gac, or Steve Murphy as the April Player
of the Month, and http://forum.newbergreport.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=4312
to vote for Doug Mathis, Kennil Gomez, Warner Madrigal, or Tommy Hunter as the April
Pitcher of the Month.

2. The fourth installment of
Rangers Podcast in Arlington
is now up.  Go to http://rangerspodcast.blogspot.com/
to listen to the 45-minute show, or you can pull it up on iTunes at http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=277027197.
 You can subscribe to the Podcast at
either spot so that each new installment automatically finds you when it’s
uploaded.


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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 6, 2008

With the amazing first month that
the Rangers farm system has had, led by scores of explosive hitting lines and
big starts by a number of starting pitchers, right-handed relievers Warner
Madrigal and Andrew Laughter haven’t gotten nearly enough mention. 

To avoid the risk of burying it in
the next Newberg Report, I thought the news that the 24-year-old Madrigal and
23-year-old Laughter have apparently been promoted, to AAA and AA respectively
(according to the farm rosters posted on MILB.com), warranted its own
mention.

Madrigal, craftily pilfered from the
Angels this winter, put together a 1-0, 1.72 mark for Frisco, saving 10 games
while striking out 18 Texas Leaguers in 15.2 innings.  The stocky converted
outfielder allowed 11 hits (one home run) and eight walks as the RoughRider
closer, with a groundout for every flyout.

Laughter, who pitched for Spokane last summer after Texas found him in the 10th round, leapfrogged
Clinton this spring and was assigned to Bakersfield.  He gave up
no more earned runs for the Blaze than he did by never suiting up for the
LumberKings.  In 16.1 innings, Laughter has scattered 13 hits and two walks,
fanning nine (after sporting a 32/4 K/BB ratio in 31 Spokane innings in 2007). 
The one 2008 run that the big righty has allowed was unearned, and he induced
2.14 Cal League groundouts for every flyout.  In 47.1 pro innings over his two
seasons, he has yet to be taken deep.

Madrigal and Laughter are
unquestionably on the radar, and coming fast.


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

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.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 3, 2008

Saturday…A.J.’s first win as a big league starter:

AJMurray.jpg

 

…Chris’s
first hit as a Ranger:

shelton.jpg

 

…and
Max’s first hit as a Ranger:

maxfirstgame2.jpg

 

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

 

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 2, 2008

From page 243 of your 2008 Bound Edition:

 

 

The Rangers once drafted a 6’3″, 220 masher out of college,
developed him as a third baseman, and moved him to first base once he arrived
in the big leagues, which was after just one full season on the farm. 

Mark Teixeira hit 153 home runs as a Ranger, one short of the most any
player drafted by Texas
has ever hit for the team.  But Dean Palmer’s 154 came in eight seasons, while
Teixeira was here for only five.

Another Scott Boras client, Chris Davis, is also 6’3″, 220,
also drafted out of college, and is playing third base for Frisco right now,
though there’s a good chance he’ll move across the diamond and play
first base as a major leaguer, just as Teixeira did.

Teixeira was drafted fifth overall in 2001, three years after
Boston failed to sign him
as a high school pick.  Davis was drafted in the fifth round in 2006, two years
after the Yankees failed to sign him as a high school pick.

*          *          *

Don’t assume that the Rangers have found their next Mark
Teixeira
.  Or even their next Dean Palmer.

But you can bet they’ve found their next pure power hitter in the
21-year-old from Longview .

 

 

Fast forward to the present.  Let’s go ahead and add this:

TEIXEIRA

Class A numbers (age 22):  .320/.411/.593

Class AA numbers (age 22 plus a couple subsequent rehab stints): 
.307/.413/.574

DAVIS

Class A numbers (age 20-21):  .290/.341/.557

Class AA numbers (age 21-22):  .306/.367/.641

Tick tock.

 

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — May 1, 2008

 

Sidney
Ponson last won a big league game on May 1, 2007, one year ago today.

Since that
date, Zack Greinke has gone 9-4, 2.76.

And yet,
today, Sir Sidney was better.  He fired
eight brilliant innings, scattering six singles and two walks, punching out
five and inducing a pair of double plays. 
Working swiftly and efficiently (a tidy 108 pitches), Ponson earned the 2-1
victory on the anniversary of his last.

If this
were a hockey game, the Aruba native would have skated out as the game’s number
one star, flanked by Ramon Vazquez, whose single and decisive sixth-inning home
run made him a lifetime 3 for 5 hitter off Greinke, and Ian Kinsler, whose
leadoff homer in the first staked Texas to an early lead.  

The flight
to Oakland is
going to be a good one.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 1, 2008

Mike Lamb was an accomplished minor league hitter, a
doubles machine with a career line of .310/.372/.495 on the farm.  He broke into the big leagues at age 24, the
first of four straight seasons that he would split between Texas
and Oklahoma. 

The third of those seasons was 2003, the first full year
of Hank Blalock’s big league career and of Buck Showalter’s tenure as Rangers
manager.  After averaging more than 360
big league at-bats in 2000, 2001, and 2002, Lamb got only 38 at-bats with Texas in 2003, when he
spent the majority of the year in AAA on his final option.  In those 38 at-bats, he hit a punchless
.132/.190/.132.

With Blalock entrenched at third base, Mark Teixeira at
first, Herbert Perry under contract, and Adrian Gonzalez getting close, Lamb’s
fate was virtually sealed following the 2003 season.  About two weeks before pitchers and catchers
were to report in 2004, the Rangers designated the 28-year-old Lamb for
assignment so that they could put righthander Carlos Almanzar on the 40-man
roster to prevent him from taking an offer to pitch in Japan. 

Seven days later, Texas
traded Lamb to the Yankees for minor league righthander Jose Garcia.  Lamb didn’t even finish spring training with New York, which traded him late in March to Houston for an equally
forgettable minor leaguer named Juan DeLeon. 

It was at that point that Lamb carved out a meaningful
major league career, averaging 12 home runs in just 323 at-bats annually over
four years with the Astros.  He’s not
Wade Boggs, but he’s now in his ninth season as a major league ballplayer and
has been a factor in the post-season (slugging .675 in 40 at-bats). 

Jason Botts probably won’t be Travis Hafner — but then
again Hafner wasn’t supposed to do what he has done, either — but he doesn’t
need to be.  If he’s Lee Stevens or Jack
Cust, that’s fine.  Maybe he’s even Lamb,
a selective, professional hitter who hasn’t nailed down a defensive position
and who hasn’t slugged at the big league level the way he looked like he might
as he was coming up, but who could contribute for a long time. 

What I don’t understand is why the 38 at-bats Botts got in
April were considered conclusive.  Yes, he
has had 282 big league at-bats and hasn’t been productive enough with them
(.230/.325/.344), but that half-season equivalent has been spread out over four
years, with the at-bats coming in fits and starts.  It stands to reason that a hitter whose game
is built on the handling of the strike zone probably depends on rhythm and consistent
work more so than a see-it, rake-it type would. 

Has Botts been too selective, letting too many strikes go
by?  Unquestionably.  But why commit to giving him regular work for
just two weeks and then decide the audition isn’t worth continuing?  That aspect of this move resembles Lamb less
than it does Doug Davis, who was designated for assignment at age 27 (to make
room for bullpen lefty Erasmo Ramirez) after one ineffective emergency start in
April 2003 — with the team four games under .500, five games out, and in last
place — that had followed four years of ups and downs with Texas (along with
very good results in Oklahoma).  In each
of the four seasons after Texas dumped Davis, he has won in
double digits, on teams that had only one winning record in those four years.

Given where this team stands (the Rangers have the worst
record in the league), I don’t get the deference to Ben Broussard
(.173/.244/.293, zero RBI’s since the season-opening road trip, subpar defense
at first base), especially since he’s almost certain to be somewhere else next
season.  There’s a point to figuring out
what you might have in Botts, whether or not the club has decided it knows that
answer.  Is there a point to seeing
whether Broussard can break out of this slump that started in Surprise and
hasn’t let up?  (Seattle decided yesterday that it no longer
needed Brad Wilkerson and his guaranteed $3 million around.)  With Chris Shelton up in conjunction with the
Botts move, Broussard hasn’t played.  Why
keep him?

Going with Sidney Ponson rather than Doug Mathis at this
point is more understandable, because it doesn’t cost you Mathis.

I get the .158/.304/.395 Botts line.  I get that it’s not a good set of numbers and
that there might be issues with mechanics or approach or something else which might
be as convincing to a seasoned scout as they are lost on most people who aren’t
seasoned scouts.  Maybe baseball people think
that Botts not only won’t be Hafner but won’t be or Cust, either, or Stevens,
or Lamb.

The reason, I think, that the fan reaction to the removal
of Botts from the roster has been more vocal than it was four years ago with
Lamb is that Botts physically looks so much like what an impact,
damage-creating, offensive monster is supposed to look like.  (Lamb, on the other hand, some say, has the
misfortune of looking like me.)  I think
what I’d always hoped the switch-hitting Botts could eventually provide was
what the Stevens/Mike Simms duo gave Texas
in 1998: a combined line of .275/.345/.547 in 530 at-bats, with 36 home runs and
105 RBI.  But even when it started to
look like Botts projected to be something else, I was optimistic.  Partly because I wanted to be.

As diehard fans of a baseball franchise we want the
products of our own system to make it. 
Familiarity is a factor, as is the payroll containment that the influx
of young players permits, but there’s more to it.  Seeing the players that your team signed as
amateurs get to the big leagues and establish themselves is evidence.  It’s evidence that your team is skillful at developing
major league baseball players, and the more, the better.  Nothing provides more confidence to a fan,
especially of a team in a building phase, than seeing that its scouts and
coaches can find a 17th-rounder like Ian Kinsler and make him what he is today,
or a Day Two draft-and-follow like Hafner or Botts or A.J. Murray or Zach
Phillips or Derek Holland.

I’m a fan of Botts as a person.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not
objective about him (and I’ve said that in writing many times), and that if
he’d had 2,820 major league at-bats rather than 282, I’d still hold out hope
that he was just another week or two away from really locking in and doing to big
league pitchers what he’s done to AAA pitchers (.302/.401/.541 over three
seasons).  I’m biased.

I don’t know what league perception is of Botts, but I’m
not pulling for him to clear waivers.  Why?  Because even if he did clear and the Rangers
outrighted him to Oklahoma, he’d certainly be behind the unconscious Nelson
Cruz in line to get another shot in Texas, even if he were to rake like he
always does in AAA.  Plus, Chris Davis
could be a RedHawk before long.

The reality is that management here — right or wrong –
doesn’t think Botts fits or that he will, and so it seems unlikely that he’d command
a return spot on the 40-man roster later this season or immediately after it,
and if he’s not on the roster in mid-October he’ll be able to leave the
organization as a six-year minor league free agent (and, given the circumstances,
he’d obviously do exactly that).  I’d
like to see Botts traded or claimed on waivers, landing with a new team intent on
giving him a fresh start.  (That can be
short-lived, of course — Tampa Bay, for instance, claimed first baseman Dan Johnson
on waivers on April 18 after Oakland
designated him for assignment, and the Rays then designated him for assignment
just five days later.)

I don’t pretend that I see things that scouts don’t
see.  I don’t pretend that I see things
that scouts do see.  Maybe the Botts
swing is irreparably long and maybe his patience at the plate has become so pronounced
that it’s a flaw rather than an asset.  But
I’ve never been objective about that player and can’t start to be now.

I believe in the people who make personnel decisions for my
team, and I always count on the decisions they make to be the right ones –
even if at times I don’t understand them. 
But at the same time, there are a handful of other teams’ players that I
pull for who got their starts in this organization, this organization that was
smart enough to draft them and skilled enough to develop them, and Jason Botts
goes right to the top of that list.  It makes
me no less of a fiercely loyal Rangers fan to hope that wherever Botts lands, something
will click and he’ll become the player that I’d always imagined he’d become
here.

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

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