July 2008

Derby.

Courtesy of the great Grant Smith (whose renowned baseball artwork
can be seen at http://www.grant9smith.com/),
take a look at Josh Hamilton’s 90 games with Cincinnati
last year and his 93 with Texas
in 2008:

 

SEASON

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

TB

BB

SO

SB

CS

OBP

SLG

AVG

2007

90

298

52

87

17

2

19

47

165

33

65

3

3

.368

.554

.292

2008

93

377

60

117

22

3

21

95

208

37

65

7

0

.367

.552

.310


Remarkable similarity, other than in the RBI column, which is
easily attributable to the fact that he’s generally been hitting behind Ian
Kinsler and Michael Young this season, as opposed to hitting behind Dave Ross
and Aaron Harang like he did in 2007. 

Hamilton,
stunningly, hit in the leadoff spot more than in any other spot in the Reds’ order.

Of the pitchers Hamilton
has stepped in against more than a couple times in his two seasons in the big
leagues, he has a slug of 2.000 or higher against six of them. 

It’s safe to say that he’s not going to slap a 4.000 on 71-year-old
Clay Council tonight as he’s done against 27-year-old Tom Mastny (one home run
and two intentional walks in three trips), but maybe he can finish in that
2.000-2.250 territory that Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook, Danny Haren, Kyle
Kendrick, and Tyler Yates find themselves in.

Count me among those who cringes a bit at the thought of Hamilton
(or any Rangers hitter) participating in the Home Run Derby because of the deleterious
effect it has had in the past on some power hitters coming out of the Break, but
I’m also in the camp that believes that Hamilton can overcome just about anything.  If he wants this, and he clearly does, I want
it for him.

Have fun tonight.

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

Bad break (and tonight's NBC 5 Sports Extra).

Fifty wins at the Break, despite losing 16 of the first 23 games of the season.  Despite its players spending over 700 games on the major league disabled list so far, which is responsible in part for suiting up a phenomenal 46 players, and counting.  

The Rangers have played 23 series since those first 23 games.  Of those 23 series, they’ve lost only three.  

This club features the player who, after two months, most considered the frontrunner for American League MVP, but who, according to ESPN, is only the runner-up at this point: Jayson Stark believes Josh Hamilton has ceded the honor at this point.

To Ian Kinsler.

The transformation that Kinsler has made this year, on the field and as a leader on this team, has been as adrenalizing as any Rangers development this season.

His 25-game hit streak, best in the league this season, is second in franchise history to Gabe Kapler’s 28-game run in 2000.  

Kapler’s line during his streak was .375/.408/.652.  

Kinsler’s during his is .425/.508/.717.  

Milton Bradley is hitting .316/.440/.610 in 269 at-bats, with 19 home runs, 41 extra-base hits, 57 RBI, 164 total bases, 56 walks, and 55 runs.

Alex Rodriguez is hitting .312/.392/.581 in 279 at-bats, with 19 home runs, 37 extra-base hits, 53 RBI, 162 total bases, 33 walks, and 53 runs.

Michael Young hit .339 during his 23-game hit streak from May 14 through June 10.  During his current 15-game run, he’s hitting .429, averaging a multi-hit game (30 hits in 15 games).  All of a sudden, he’s on pace for 199 hits.

Hamilton had driven in runs in eight straight games before failing to do so in today’s win, and he sits at 95 RBI in 93 games as he boards a flight, with Kinsler and Bradley and Young, to New York to be where they belong the next few days.  

Not sliding on the Shea Stadium tarp, as they did four weeks ago in another unusually defining moment for this club, but suiting up as the choice of their peers, if not the fans, to represent the league as the best it has to offer right now.

There’s something really good happening here, especially when you consider the massive influx of rookies who are contributing to this team and the multiple waves of prospects marching behind them, and as much as I know the pitching staff desperately needs this break – and yet still managed to help this club win two games in each of the last five series – I’m already bothered that it will be five days before Texas takes the field again.

There’s nothing about 2008 that looks remotely like 2007 for the Rangers, but that’s not stopping Newy Scruggs from re-airing the story he did on the Newberg Report a year ago.  If you’re interested, the five-minute feature will run on tonight’s NBC 5 Sports Extra program, which starts at 10:30.  

As optimistic as I appeared to be in that story, it was nothing compared to how fired up I am now.
 
 

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

Duh.

Two observations from Saturday night’s loss, neither of which qualifies as particularly insightful:

This is the most resilient Rangers club I’ve ever seen.  They don’t do pack-it-in.  You can start to see that other teams, as Texas continues to make their comfortable leads unstable, are moving from annoyed to nervous.  This is a really good thing going forward.

John Danks was a really, really good draft choice.

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

Crush.

Chris Davis as the Rangers’ first baseman: six home runs, 12 RBI in 61 at-bats.

Every other Rangers’ first baseman in 2008 (Chris Shelton, Frank Catalanotto, Ben Broussard, Jason Botts, Max Ramirez): six home runs, 27 RBI in 283 at-bats.

Davis, aside from the six home runs: three doubles and three singles.

Said Ron Washington after the game, when asked about Davis’s job security in light of Hank Blalock’s expected return in a week:

“Chris Davis is safe.  Chris Davis is safe.  Chris Davis is safe.”

Some writers who were in the room for Washington’s remarks are speculating that he was referring not to what will happen with the lineup a week from now, but rather the bigger picture.  Make of it what you will.

Luis Mendoza in 22.2 innings coming into tonight’s game: 10 strikeouts.

Mendoza in six outstanding innings tonight: eight strikeouts.

Ian Kinsler’s 23-game hit streak ties Michael Young’s — not just as the Rangers’ best in 2008, but the best in the major leagues this year.

Young, now sporting a 13-game streak of his own, has nine multi-hit games out of 12.

After a 3-for-4 night on June 30, I wrote: “Best Michael Young has looked at the plate all year?  Maybe.  When he’s locked in, he drills lasers to right field, and when he starts drilling lasers to right field with a little consistency, you know he’s about to go on a tear.”

Young is 22 for 44 since then.

Texas will face John Danks — who has five straight quality starts (2-0, 1.11) — on Saturday night, hoping to get to five games over .500.  

Can’t wait.

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

Many things.

Many, many things:

1. We have four new auction items for Newberg Report Night:

* Four tickets (Section 223: which is in the Lexus Club Level, just beneath the press box) and a reserved parking spot for Rangers-Yankees on Tuesday, Aug. 5, plus four Hello Win Column Fund T-shirts (XL) and four Rangers caps, courtesy of Cindy & Jeff Kuster

* Same package for Wednesday, Aug. 6

* Eight dozen cookies from the renowned Cookie Lady (two dozen each of her Snickerdoodles, Pineapple/Pecan with Caramel Icing, Oatmeal/Raisin, and Chocolate Chip, made famous by the Rangers players and broadcasters who have been her regular beneficiaries)

* An inning in the TV booth with Josh Lewin & Tom Grieve, courtesy of Josh

2. For the third straight year, I join 49 actually worthy recipients on the Dallas Observer’s “Fab 50″ list of the “Most Powerful People in Metroplex Sports.”  You can check the list out at http://www.dallasobserver.com/2008-07-10/news/the-fab-50/

3. I was surprised by half a dozen of you today to learn that Number 31 on the list, Voice of the Cowboys and So Many Other Things Brad Sham, did a segment about my son Max on ESPN Radio this morning.  In the unlikely event that you care to listen, the audio file is attached.  (Forward about 03:30 in for the part about Max.)

4. The latest episode of Fox Sports Network’s “In My Own Words” series debuts Sunday night, this time featuring Chuck Morgan.  The half-hour show will include rare footage of Chuck doing the P.A. in Yankee Stadium in 1979 and a bunch of other cool stuff about the life of one of the truly great people in this organization.

5. I was interviewed recently for a few segments that will air on Fox Sports Network’s “Rangers Insider” program, the first of which will air on tomorrow morning’s episode.  I’ve heard that the show will air at either 11:30 a.m. or noon tomorrow, so it’s a bit of a moving target.  Not sure which portion of our interview will run tomorrow, but our focus for most of it was the young players who have arrived in the big leagues for Texas.

6. Speaking of those players, it occurred to me last night, watching Chris Davis hit a missile and Brandon Boggs throw a missile (as they’ve both done again tonight), and watching Max Ramirez absorb a massive collision at the plate (again) and inflict a massive collision on a seventh-inning Scot Shields pitch (just after a Davis double that was nearly more and a Boggs single) to tie a game that the Rangers had trailed 10-4 just 45 minutes earlier, after watching German Duran and Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison (and at times, Luis Mendoza, absolutely including tonight) make the contributions to this team that they’ve made this season, that those guys just don’t know any better.  

It’s a difficult game and a grind to play it at the big league level, but we’ve got a whole lot of rookies, unfazed and energetic and consistent and skilled, who are proving, to their credit and to the credit of this organization’s scouting effort and development effort, that they are ready.

The next few years are gonna rock, just as much as this summer has.

Pitching moves.

According to multiple local reports, the Rangers have optioned Scott Feldman to Frisco and Wes Littleton to Oklahoma, recalled Kameron Loe from the RedHawks, and purchased the contract of Joselo Diaz from the RoughRiders.

Feldman and Littleton must spend at least 10 days on the farm but in Feldman’s case, that’s less of an issue than usual given the imminent All-Star Break.  He’ll make a start for Frisco during the Break and be eligible to return to Texas on July 21.  Interestingly, it’s reportedly undecided whether he’ll return as a starter or reliever, but I’d be surprised if he’s shifted to the bullpen.

Loe (2-4, 5.59, .318 opponents’ average, 2.54 G/F) has been on the minor league disabled list with back spasms and hasn’t pitched since June 19 – in fact, he’s only pitched twice since May 30.   Diaz (1-0, 3.95, four saves in four tries, .208 opponents’ average, 1.08 G/F) was brilliant in his first seven RoughRiders’ outings since returning to the organization in early June, with an ERA sitting at 0.69 (one run in 13 innings) before he got roughed up for five runs in two-thirds of an inning on Monday.  

Given what’s transpired the last two nights, the primary reason for Loe’s and Diaz’s arrival today is so that the club has two fresh arms available in case Luis Mendoza doesn’t go deep in tonight’s start.

Diaz (who had been with Frisco and Oklahoma in 2006 before Texas shipped him to Kansas City for Matt Stairs in late July of that season) brings the 40-man roster to a full 40 members.  Chances are he will be designated for assignment following the weekend series against the White Sox, once the bullpen has the All-Star Break to get back in order.  

More Feliz-y goodness.

Five months ago,
Baseball America‘s Top 100
Prospects list featured five Rangers, the last of which was current Frisco
righthander Neftali Feliz, who figured in at number 93.  The publication
released an updated Top 25 today, and sitting at number 12 overall – and number
five among pitchers – is Feliz, about whom BA offers this
comment:

“Truly special fastball
was too much for Low A batters to handle.”

BA also identifies Clinton
center fielder Engel Beltre as one of 30 players “on the rise” who did not make
the off-season Top 100 List (which included Elvis Andrus [19], Chris Davis [65],
Eric Hurley [77], Taylor Teagarden [80], and Feliz) but are now strong
contenders for consideration.

Yum.

In Their Footsteps: The fourth starter

Tommy Hunter has progressed further than virtually every one of the 53 players chosen before him 13 months ago in the 2007 draft.  The big righthander was 21 years old when he reached AAA a week ago.  Chris Young was 25 when he reached AAA.  The differences don’t end there.

Young was Pittsburgh’s third-round pick in 2000, a two-sport star at Princeton who chose to forgo a likely NBA career to sign for first-round money ($1.65 million) and who was immediately installed by Baseball America as the Pirates’ number two pitching prospect before he’d thrown a professional pitch.  Hunter, though drafted higher than Young, was less heralded coming out of school, a sophomore at the University of Alabama who bounced between the Crimson Tide rotation and bullpen and was projected to last until the third or fourth round but instead went to Texas as a supplemental first-rounder.

Both righthanders got off to surprising starts.

Young, who signed too late in 2000 to play, debuted in 2001 for Low A Hickory and would spend two full seasons with that club (with an arthroscopic elbow procedure in between), frustrating the Pirates with a fastball that sat in the high 80s.  Pittsburgh, despite coming off three seasons in which the club averaged 94 losses, made its disappointment with Young clear after the 2002 season by making the curious decision to trade him, along with another minor league pitcher, to Montreal for 32-year-old middle reliever Matt Herges.

Herges didn’t even make it out of spring training with the Pirates.  He was released in March.

Young spent one season in the Expos’ system, faring well (9-6, 3.11 between High A Brevard County and AA Harrisburg), but he threw just five quality starts in 15 AA appearances, and Montreal decided in April 2004 that his future wasn’t too high a price to pay (along with minor league catcher/infielder Josh McKinley) for the pleasure of adding Einar Diaz as a backup to starting catcher Brian Schneider (and minor league righthander Justin Echols).

The 6’10” Young, who had disappointed two franchises in his brief pro career, was the biggest surprise of the 2004 season in the entire Rangers organization.  

Texas assigned the Highland Park product to Frisco, and as the organization deconstructed Young and introduced a longer stride and a new arm angle, suddenly he was lighting the radar gun up in the mid-90s.  Despite a 4.48 RoughRiders ERA, Young was ready for better competition in the Rangers’ estimation, and he was promoted in late July to AAA Oklahoma.  

He wouldn’t be there long.

In five RedHawks starts, Young gave up five earned runs, posting a 3-0, 1.48 record and holding opponents to a .189 average.  In 30.1 innings, he fanned 34 hitters.  He hasn’t seen the minor leagues since.

Texas called Young up on August 24, 2004, and he debuted that night, falling one out short of a quality start.  He remained in the Rangers’ rotation for the balance of the club’s 89-win season, making seven starts in all (3-2, 4.71) and giving up more than three earned runs just one time.  When the Sacramento Kings reportedly made overtures to Young that winter, Texas responded by committing a three-year deal to a pitcher who, one year earlier, had practically been given away for the second time in a year and a half.

Young went into the 2005 season as the leading candidate for the number four spot in the Rangers’ rotation, behind Ryan Drese, Kenny Rogers, and Chan Ho Park, and he posted a 3.86 ERA in camp to secure a job.  He proceeded to win 12 games, second only to Rogers’s 14.

But though he led the staff in starts (31), he averaged just 5.1 innings per start, and some in the organization concluded that the 28-year-old’s body would wear down annually in the Texas heat (even though he posted a 3.60 ERA in 10 August and September starts).  The Rangers traded Young that winter to San Diego, along with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Terrmel Sledge, for righthanders Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka and minor league catcher Billy Killian.

It was the third time that Young – who has a 3.46 ERA, 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and one All-Star appearance in three seasons as San Diego’s number three and then number two starter – had been traded badly.  In both of his full seasons with the Padres, Young has led the National League in fewest hits allowed per nine innings.

The evolution of Tommy Hunter may be almost as unlikely as Young’s, but in a vastly different way.  While Young didn’t develop nearly as quickly as his first two clubs had hoped, Hunter has progressed in a way that no club – even Texas – could have envisioned a year ago.

When the Rangers drafted Hunter in June 2007, they were determined to keep his load light, as he’d thrown 245.2 innings as a freshman and sophomore, including 21.1 frames for Team USA in the summer between those two seasons.  Assigning the 6’3″, 255-pound hurler to Short Season A Spokane, Texas limited him to 17.2 innings last summer, all in relief.  The strike-thrower issued just one walk, striking out 13 in his 10 appearances, posting a 2.55 ERA.

Less than a year later, Hunter is pitching four levels higher.  

And he leads all of minor league baseball in innings pitched.

In 19 starts between High A Bakersfield, AA Frisco, and AAA Oklahoma this season, Hunter is 9-7, 3.57, and in his last outing, he pitched the game of his life, needing just 94 pitches to go the distance against AAA Albuquerque and allowing two runs on seven hits and no walks, fanning three.  In 126 innings this season, Hunter has issued only 27 walks (fewer than two per nine innings), coaxing more groundouts than flyouts.

Despite the fact that Hunter was one of the youngest college players drafted last year and that he relieved more often than he started in his final season at Alabama, the Rangers suggested the day they drafted Hunter that he could move quickly as a starting pitcher.  It’s safe to say, however, that he’s exceeded even the Rangers’ expectations, just as Chris Young did when he claimed the fourth spot in the Texas rotation, even if too briefly.  

 

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.

Wake-up Call.

Courtesy of the fine folks at the Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/audio/07-08/0710rangerscall.mp3

 

Team.

With a broken finger, Michael Young picked up his third hit of the night and sixth of this series, jerking a two-out K-Rod breaking ball through the hole to drive in Ramon Vazquez and cut the Angels’ lead to 4-3.  

Sabermetricians, cover your eyes for the next four words:

Michael Young is clutch.

Josh Hamilton stepped up.  The same Josh Hamilton who wouldn’t have seen anything remotely close to a strike in that situation a month ago, especially once Young stole second.  The same Josh Hamilton who hadn’t homered in over three weeks.  The same Josh Hamilton who had two extra-base hits in his last 68 at-bats.  

Of course, all he needed was a single to tie the game.

But why settle?

hamiltonwalkoff2.jpg 

In one incredible moment that will probably be part of the Josh Hamilton movie one day, he doubled K-Rod’s home runs allowed total for the year.

Stars of the game:

Michael Young.

Josh Hamilton.

Warner Madrigal, making his first professional start, at any level.  Giving Texas three tough innings, yielding just one run.  Fanning Vladimir Guerrero, the man he was supposed to become when he was a power-hitting, rifle-armed Angels outfield prospect just a couple years ago.

Josh Rupe.  Glue.

Jamey Wright.

And without question, Dustin Nippert and Matt Harrison.  They set the table for this unconventional, unfathomable, unforgettable victory.

Sabermetricians, look away again: This isn’t the only reason why you keep Brandon Boggs up instead of going down to get Nelson Cruz, or why you stick with German Duran instead of Ryan Roberts – or take your pick of any other of four or five similar situations – but it’s among them.  

Winning builds winners.

hamiltonwalkoff3.jpg 

That look on Jamey Wright’s face is frozen on mine.  Still.  

Even though I didn’t fan Vladdy on three pitches, 93 up and in, 91 away, and a dirty yakker at 79 that Guerrero had no chance on, flailing away.

That’s right.  Vladdy – Vladdy – had no chance.

The sound in Eric Nadel’s voice, the abandon with which he unleashed that final call, is still ringing in my ears.  Music.

Ervin Santana vs. Luis Mendoza.  Joe Saunders vs. Matt Harrison.  Jered Weaver vs. Warner Madrigal.

Rangers two wins, the Second-Best Team in the American League one.

See you at the Ballpark tomorrow.

hamiltonwalkoff4.jpg 

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

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