June 2008

Max.

Roy Oswalt
Hates to Face:

Barry Bonds…….444/.667/1.222
Ryan Braun……..375/.500/1.125
Gabe Gross……..545/.615/1.000

M.Ramirez………667/.667/1.667

No, not that M.Ramirez.

This one:

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First major league start behind the plate.  Catches a win.

A win that probably doesn’t happen if he doesn’t take Oswalt very, very, very deep with a runner on and two outs in the fourth inning, accounting for the final runs scored in the game.  (They said 408 feet, but considering the ball cleared the 404-foot sign and landed on a walkway 20 feet up, I’m guessing closer to 440.)

The future is arriving.

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

 

Hamilton and Sheets.

The Rangers are describing Josh Hamilton’s status as day-to-day after he left last night’s game after four innings with inflammation in his left knee.  Hamilton had that knee scoped twice in 2006, but there’s apparently no structural damage now.  Hamilton dinged it a bit in the Atlanta series last week and had it flare up when walking up the dugout steps in the first inning last night, shortly before diving for a ball in center field.

Hamilton, winner of the American League Player of the Month award in April and May, is hitting .265/.315/.482 with five home runs and 15 RBI in June.  He already has more strikeouts in the month (24) than he had in either of the first two months of the season.  He has driven in runs in just one of his last six games, and yet still leads the major leagues comfortably with 76 RBI (National League leader Adrian Gonzalez is next with 65 RBI).

The third-best RBI total in pro ball belongs to Chris Davis, who has driven in 73 between Frisco and Oklahoma.  (Rockies AAA first baseman Joe Koshansky — four years older than Davis and just a year younger than Hamilton — has 76 RBI.)

Max Ramirez is expected to start tonight behind the plate in Houston, and tomorrow at first base.

The answer to yesterday’s query: Cincinnati, Oakland, and Texas.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ben Sheets is telling the Brewers that he will test the free agent market this winter.  His complete-game four-hitter (one run, no walks, seven strikeouts) against Atlanta on Monday raised his record to 9-1, 2.59 through 15 starts.  Sheets, who turns 30 in three weeks, averages seven innings a start and leads the National League with three complete games.

Just thought I’d toss that note in about the Baton Rouge native who now lives in Dallas.

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

Three-peat.

What do these two have
in common?


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Vicente.

AMERICAN LEAGUE VICTORIES LEADERS

Joe Saunders, LAA 11
Vicente Padilla, TEX 10
Cliff Lee, CLE 10
Mike Mussina, NYY 10

If Padilla (3.74 ERA) doesn’t get an All-Star Game nod, won’t it have to be
a function of the Sharperson Effect?

It’s been well documented that Texas has been terrible (4-15) in games it
entered with a .500 record.

But the Rangers are 17-4 when a game under .500.

How ’bout we freeze that second mark and not revisit it until 2009?

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

Absolute Max.

From this morning’s Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Unemployed outfielder Kenny Lofton played golf at Stonewater Country Club in Highland Heights on Friday.  After his round, the guy who cleaned his clubs at the pro shop said, “This team [the Indians] could use you.”

Replied Lofton, “Tell them to call me.”

When Texas traded the .303/.380/.438-hitting Lofton to the Indians in July, in exchange for Class A catcher Max Ramirez, even the most Rangers-centric among us probably didn’t expect that, 11 months later, Lofton would be the one waiting for a big league call, while Ramirez was the one getting it.

Here’s something to worry about: As a pinch-hitter this season, Ramirez is hitting .000/.000/.000.

Of course, that’s in one at-bat.

Plus, Ramirez isn’t being called up merely to give Texas someone to bat for the pitcher in Washington and Houston.  Gerald Laird is expected to miss about a month, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia won’t catch every day.

Said Ron Washington after last night’s game: “Ramirez is going to play.  We’ll just wait and see when he gets here how much he’s going to play.”

Ramirez’s pinch-hitting split is the anomaly.  Here’s what the Texas League’s leading hitter (.363) and leading base-reacher (.457) and leading slugger (.662) and leading home run hitter (17) has done in other situations:

vs. lefties:  .406/.513/.750
vs. righties:  .356/.449/.649

Home:  .370/.473/.750
Away:  .357/.444/.589

Day:  .341/.400/.682
Night:  .368/.470/.658

Catcher:  .386/.483/.669
First base:  .259/.444/.556
DH:  .359/.408/.703

Bases empty:  .308/.423/.600
Runners on:  .430/.500/.738
RISP:  .394/.440/.652

It won’t be until Friday that most of us will get the chance to see Ramirez wearing Rangers white, but for the next five games we have the chance — along with Kenny Lofton — to grab a couch, tune in, and watch the big league career of one of the most exciting hitters in the minor leagues get underway.

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

Catchers

Fact: Gerald Laird was assisted off the field in the top of the fourth tonight (10 innings ago as I write this), suffering what’s been reported as a right hamstring strain as he legged out a bunt single.  If that’s all it is, it’s not a lock that he lands on the disabled list, but from the looks of things as he left the field, it certainly can’t be ruled out.

Fact: Oklahoma catcher Taylor Teagarden sat out Tuesday, played Wednesday, sat out Thursday, and sat out tonight.  He must be dealing with some sort of injury.

Fact: Frisco catcher Max Ramirez, after hitting his 17th home run of the season and striking out, was lifted tonight for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning of what was then a 6-4 RoughRiders lead over Corpus Christi.  Nothing in the in-game recaps suggest Ramirez was injured.

Draw your own conclusion.

Hot Sheet.

Baseball America publishes
a “Hot Sheet” each week, which the publication describes as “a snapshot of who are the hottest prospects in baseball right
now, with stats from the past week (June 13-20) getting the most consideration.”

This week’s number five entrant: Clinton righthander Neftali Feliz.

This week’s number one entrant: Oklahoma first baseman Chris Davis.

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What is Jarrod Saltalamacchia?

Scott Feldman has more quality starts (seven) than not (three) and has gone at least six innings nine of 10 times out, and yet he sits at 1-3, 4.61 for the season, needing to keep Oakland off the board altogether in order to log his one victory.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has caught Feldman six of his last eight times out.  I’m not here to suggest that Feldman would be 6-2 if he’d been paired with Laird more often, but Saltalamacchia really looks out of sync behind the plate (and lately, at it as well).  

The Braves came into the Rangers series with only 25 stolen bases all year, in 35 attempts.  Only two teams had fewer steals, or fewer tries.  They didn’t run at all on Laird, who caught the first two games of the series.  They ran twice on Saltalamacchia yesterday, succeeding both times — including once, incredibly, on a pitchout that Saltalamacchia sailed into center field.

And of course, Atlanta knows Saltalamacchia better than anyone other than his current employer.

Maybe he’s the position player equivalent of Edinson Volquez, a young player whose value to Texas might be greater as a trade chip than as a piece.  Given the makeup of the Rangers in the big leagues and the upper levels of the farm, I’m no longer sure he has an obvious place here, either at catcher or first base or DH.

Which team says no: Saltalamacchia, Eric Hurley, John Mayberry Jr., and Warner Madrigal to Kansas City for Zack Greinke?

(How about Mayberry for Ramon Ramirez?  Who refuses?)

I don’t understand why you don’t send Laird up to pinch-bunt for Frank Catalanotto in the bottom of the ninth, rather than Chris Shelton.  If you do that and the Rangers end up not scoring in the inning, Laird stays in the game at catcher (which is a sound defensive move anyway), and Shelton enters for Catalanotto, taking Saltalamacchia’s spot in the order.  Laird’s easily the best bunter on the team, so why leave him on the bench if the bunt is the play?

Jamey Wright has more professional home runs (two) than saves (zero), but I wonder if that’s about to change.  Despite C.J. Wilson’s slump, I don’t think he should be stripped of the ninth inning, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wright utilized situationally in the ninth, like he was yesterday, while Wilson gets himself straightened out.  Wilson is tougher on right-handed hitters than lefties, so it’s not so much a matchup issue, but Wright’s extreme groundball tendencies may put him in a position to come on in relief of Wilson if the situation begs for a ground ball.  For now.

Or Eddie Guardado could get some ninth-inning chances of his own — though right now, I can’t bear to imagine not having him pitch the eighth.

Boy, is yesterday’s home plate umpire Jim Wolf in love with his arm . . . the brother of San Diego lefthander Randy Wolf, he played burnout with Braves starter Charlie Morton each time Morton ran out to the mound to start an inning.  A right-handed thrower, he also tossed at least one ball (as Brandon Jones stepped in with one out in the top of the seventh) back to the pitcher (Feldman, in this case) left-handed.  I thought Wolf called a good game, but you know his golf stories are more about how he threw on a given day.

Wolf, incidentally, throws a lot better than Braves backup backstop Corky Miller.  Watching Miller’s throws down to second as the bottom of each of the first eight innings were about to get underway was painful.

Speaking of umpires, I didn’t like how Ed Montague, working the plate Wednesday night, telegraphed (with several quick turns of his head) to a confused Brian McCann where a Jo-Jo Reyes wild pitch had bounded off to.  German Duran scampered from second to third and might have had a chance to score if McCann didn’t read Montague’s eyes and find the ball near the Rangers’ on-deck circle.  Duran did end up scoring on a Laird single.

I love how quiet Ramon Vazquez’s throwing mechanics are.  

Why do teams continue to feel like they can be the first to successfully start Josh Hamilton off with a fastball?  Or throw him fastballs at all, for that matter?

And how do you decide to throw Michael Young — slump or not — a fastball low and outside with the game on the line?  Isn’t that the last place you serve it up?

Gregor Blanco can play for my team.

Atlanta set a new major league record yesterday by losing its 22nd straight one-run game (dating back to August 10, 2007).

Watch Out for Martin Perez.  Having just turned 17 in April, the Venezuelan was given the extraordinary task by the Rangers of starting his pro career in the Northwest League, where much of his competition is three to five years older.  The 6’0″ lefthander debuted for Spokane Wednesday night and was remarkable, holding Everett to three runs (one earned) on three singles and no walks in five innings, and fanning five.  Of the ten outs that were put in play, nine came on the ground.  Perez (whom Baseball America called the top lefthander available on the international market last summer) commands his fastball in the low 90s and touches 94, complementing it with a very good curve and developing change.

Scott Lucas points out that Perez is not only the youngest player in the eight-team league — he’s 17 months younger than the next-youngest player (which happens to be his teammate, righthander Carlos Pimentel).

I’m telling you: Watch Out.

The Yankees added Sidney Ponson to their AAA pitching staff.

Buck Showalter’s name is starting to show up in stories about the Blue Jays.

Oakland designated righthander Kiko Calero for assignment yesterday.  He’s 33 and coming back from a rotator cuff tear, but I’ve always thought that guy had something.

Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine shows up at number nine on Will Carroll’s Baseball Prospectus list of the top 10 GM candidates in the game.

The Rangers will visit wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. today, prior to tonight’s series opener with the Nationals.

Texas will try to improve tonight on its 3-14 record in games it enters at .500.  With 12 of the next 15 games on the road, it would be cool if we could make it 4-14 tonight, start moving the record north in order to put the “record in games while at .500″ stat to bed, and open the four-game series here against the Angels on July 7 with a smaller division deficit than the current 6.5 games.

It would also be cool if Scott Feldman, slated to pitch in Houston (against the team that drafted him a year before the Rangers did), New York, and Baltimore over the next two weeks, can tack on a couple well-deserved wins in that stretch.  

Or, to even things out, maybe even one or two that he doesn’t necessarily deserve.

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

In Their Footsteps: The left fielder

Aside from the fact that both come from a town with a population that couldn’t fill a Class AA ballpark, there’s almost nothing that Thurman Clyde “Rusty” Greer III and Cristian Santana have in common.  But the 19-year-old from Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic may be the Rangers’ top candidate in the farm system to make an impact in left field one day that approaches the one that the 39-year-old from Fort Rucker, Alabama made in his nine-year Rangers career.

When the Rangers signed Santana in July 2005, they prevailed over a group of teams that included the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Braves, and Cubs, some of whom envisioned the 16-year-old as a center fielder with plus power and a right fielder’s arm.  Texas saw Santana as a catcher, however, signing him for a reported $325,000 at a time when the catching depth in the system was below average.  That summer’s third-round pick, Taylor Teagarden, was still three weeks away from signing.  Eighteen-year-old defensive whiz Manny Pina had made his pro debut just two weeks earlier.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Max Ramirez were Class A players in the Atlanta system at the time.

Santana was supposed to burst onto the scene in 2006, but a torn muscle in his shoulder led to season-ending surgery before he was able to make his debut.  Assigned to the Arizona League in 2007, he homered in his first two pro games but then broke a thumb in his fourth game, causing him to miss a month.  Once he returned to action, he had 13 passed balls in 28 games behind the plate and caught just seven of 51 baserunners attempting to steal.  The injuries and the defensive issues and the dramatic influx of catching prospects in the system prompted Texas to move Santana to the outfield in 2008.  Ever since the day he signed, the consensus was that he had the type of potential with the bat that would play at any position.

Greer, on the other hand, arrived in pro ball with no fanfare whatsoever.  A 10th-round pick in 1990 out of the University of Montevallo – a school that had never produced a big league player before Greer and hasn’t since – Greer was anonymous on Draft Day but made a name for himself right away, hitting .345 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI in 62 games for the rookie-level Butte Copper Kings.  In 1991, his first full pro season, he was challenged with an assignment to High A Charlotte.  He responded by earning a late-season promotion to AA Tulsa.  

The Rangers made a position switch with Greer in 1992, shifting him to first base on a Drillers club that had David Hulse, Donald Harris, and Kevin Belcher in the outfield.  He manned first for Tulsa again in 1993, and was promoted to AAA Oklahoma City once the AA season ended.  Texas returned Greer to Oklahoma City in 1994 – though he was put back in the outfield since he was on the doorstep to the big leagues – and seven weeks into the season he got the call to Arlington.  Greer would go on to hit .314 for Texas in 1994, the highest average of any rookie in the major leagues.

But the quintessential moment of Greer’s rookie season was the diving catch he made in center field to rob Rex Hudler of a ninth-inning hit and preserve Kenny Rogers’s perfect game on July 28.  Greer would also squeeze the final out that night, and a love affair between the highlight shows and Rusty Greer the defender was born.  While his reckless style gave Rangers fans diving grabs and catches that the outfield wall couldn’t prevent, it also took a severe toll on Greer’s body.  He would have surgery on his right ankle, his back, his neck, his throwing shoulder, and his elbow before his playing days ended, and he opted against right knee and right hip operations that he probably needed.  Greer’s career ended too quickly, at age 33.

Though injuries limited Greer to just 1,027 games (most of which were played in left field) in his nine big league seasons, he was one of those rare players who unquestionably got everything out of his ability, and then some.  A career .287/.385/.435 hitter in the minor leagues, Greer was a .305/.387/.478 hitter in the big leagues.  He sits in the top 10 of every meaningful offensive category in franchise history, and was a slam dunk inductee into the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2007.  

Greer’s induction ceremony took place on August 11.  On that same day, Santana kicked off an Arizona League stretch in which he hit safely in 12 of 13 games and prompted a promotion to Spokane to end the season.  Between the two stops, Santana hit a robust .306/.413/.529 in 2007, and even though he amassed only 96 AZL at-bats (and 121 at-bats overall), league managers and scouts voted him as the circuit’s top catching prospect and number nine prospect overall.  

Still dealing with shoulder issues, however, Santana played very little defense during Fall Instructional League after the 2007 season, and the Rangers decided in spring training to move him to the outfield for the 2008 season.  Playing left field for Low A Clinton (plus a good amount of DH), Santana was hitting .429/.529/.643 eight games into the season but has slumped since, falling to .221/.305/.398 before an ankle injury sidelined him in late May.  He just returned to action over the weekend.  

There is no question about Santana’s offensive potential.  Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger said before the season that he expects Santana (who turned 19 yesterday) to eventually hit for more power than Frisco catcher Max Ramirez – who currently leads the Texas League in home runs.

If that happens, Santana will develop into a player quite a bit different from Greer, whose game was built on tenacity more than tools, on being a tough out more than a feared slugger.  

It will suit Texas just fine if Santana turns into a left fielder that doesn’t necessarily bring the same things to the table that Greer did, just as long as his early tendency to have various injuries keep him off the field doesn’t end up resembling the physical breakdown that cut short Greer’s remarkable Rangers career.

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.

CD Universe.

Oklahoma is in Nashville today for an afternoon showdown.  The Sounds sent righthander Steve Bray, a 27-year-old who went 5-2, 1.62 for Nashville in 2007, to the hill.  

Through three innings today, the 2007 Pacific Coast League All-Star has given up as many home runs as he surrendered in all of 2007.  Drew Meyer has one.  Taylor Teagarden has one.

And Christopher Lyn Davis has two.

The 22-year-old now sits at .344/.391/.663 for the season, with 22 home runs and 69 RBI – in just 70 games.

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Jamey

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