"In Their Footsteps": Completing the rosters.

With this week’s installment of “In Their Footsteps,” we’ll wrap up the feature by completing the rundown of my all-time favorite Rangers at every position on a 25-man roster, and by pegging a current prospect who could develop into that roster spot in the years to come.  Starting next week, we’ll transition this column to take a weekly look at the system’s top 20 minor league prospects.

In the last four months, we’ve filled the bench and most of the bullpen.  All-timers Bill Haselman (catcher), Mark DeRosa and Frank Catalanotto (infield), and Ruben Sierra and Roberto Kelly (outfield) man the bench, and Jeff Zimmerman (right-handed set-up), Mitch Williams (left-handed set-up), Tim Crabtree (middle), Mike Venafro (situational left), and Danny Darwin (long) hold down all but the chief relief role.

Their future counterparts are Manny Pina, German Duran and Joaquin Arias, and Brandon Boggs and John Mayberry Jr. on the bench, and Fabio Castillo, Beau Jones, Andrew Laughter, Ryan Falcon, and Doug Mathis or Michael Schlact in the bullpen.

My number five starter from the past is Doug Davis, while Zach Phillips gets the future nod.  Chris Young and Tommy Hunter are the number four starters.  At designated hitter, my picks are Julio Franco and Max Ramirez.  In left field are Rusty Greer and Cristian Santana.  Manning the infield corners are four onetime third basemen: Mark Teixeira and Buddy Bell in the past, Chris Davis and Johnny Whittleman going forward.

That leaves five spots in the lineup and four roles on the staff to fill.

In the middle infield, former teammates Alex Rodriguez and Michael Young make my team as the all-time shortstop and second baseman, while current Frisco teammates Elvis Andrus and Jose Vallejo figure in as the system’s best bets down the road.

In center field, there’s no looking to the past.  Josh Hamilton is the best who has ever suited up for this franchise.  Julio Borbon is the system’s best prospect among center fielders who stand to remain at the position.

Eighteen-year-old Engel Beltre mans center field now but he has the arm and the power potential to move to right field, a shift Juan Gonzalez made early in his career.  Gonzalez (who took a couple pro seasons to exhibit the power numbers that would eventually define his career) and Beltre are my right fielders.

Behind the plate I wish I could go with two all-time catchers and two future standouts at the position.  But needing to settle on one each, I’ll go with a couple guys who broke into professional ball as defensive geniuses with questions at the plate — questions that were quickly erased.  My catchers are Ivan Rodriguez and Taylor Teagarden, who idolized Rodriguez as a young Rangers fan growing up in Carrollton, Texas.

At closer, there are several worthy candidates, but for me the all-time nod goes to John Wetteland, who not only has the most saves in Rangers history but also logged the club’s most important saves.  The best closer prospect in the system right now — at least among those who are certain to pitch in relief in the Major Leagues — is Warner Madrigal.

My number three starters are two former Florida high school outfielders: lefthander Kenny Rogers (a 39th-round pick in 1982) and righthander Michael Main (a first-rounder in 2007).  Stuff, athleticism, and savvy: I might be selling both short by calling them number threes.

When the Rangers chose Georgia Tech righthander Kevin Brown with the fourth overall pick in the 1986 draft, he was expected to be a number two starter, if not better.  Expectations weren’t quite the same for Wallace State Community College lefthander Derek Holland, taken by Texas with the 748th pick in 2006.  But Holland’s my choice from this system to develop into a big league number two.

And my number one starter?

You’d be right to point out that Nolan Ryan was 42 years old when he threw his first pitch as a Texas Ranger, that the most dominant stretch of his career might have been 15 years before he got to Arlington.  But no pitcher ever took the mound for this franchise with better stuff, with a stronger mental approach, with as much potential to do something huge on any given night.  

In Ryan’s first two years with Texas, he posted the greatest strikeout season in franchise history, and the second greatest.  And Ryan’s 3.43 ERA is the fourth-lowest a starter has ever compiled in his Rangers career, trailing three pitchers whose work was done at least a decade earlier, when pitching numbers were markedly shinier across the board.

It’s hard to believe in retrospect that the Mets traded Ryan at such a young age.  If the Rangers — including Ryan, the club’s President — are right about 20-year-old righthander Neftali Feliz, one day soon people will ask how Atlanta could have ever parted with the young hurler.  It’s not just the triple-digit velocity that Feliz effortlessly fires.  It’s his command of the high-octane arsenal.  His makeup.  His unflappability.

Feliz has caught the attention of the generally understated Ryan, who recently commented on a national broadcast that the young Dominican, with his live arm, easy motion, and advanced polish, is someone who could put himself in a position to join the big league rotation sometime in 2009.

Ryan, who debuted for the Mets at age 19, was in the Major Leagues to stay at age 21.  Feliz will turn 21 in May, and at the rate that he’s punishing AA hitters, nothing can be ruled out for 2009.

But this exercise isn’t about 2009.  It’s about a bigger picture than that, and Feliz is the most exciting pitching prospect the Rangers have had in years, a legitimate number one candidate for a franchise that hasn’t had many.

There’s never been a time in Rangers history when the club has had the kind of depth to put together a legitimate future 25-man roster like there is now, let alone to have to leave off a significant number of worthy candidates.  Next week I’ll start to rank the players that make this one of the most formidable farm systems in all of baseball, and in Rangers history.  

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.

2 Comments

For the position players, I agree with you. But you’ve got a starting rotation of: Nolan Ryan, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers and Chris Young. I think I’d rather go with:
1. Fergie Jenkins
2. Gaylord Perry
3. Nolan Ryan
4. Bert Blyleven (or Charlie Hough)
These guys were fun to watch!

ASK

A.S.K.,

Although it was an awkward task, what I tried to do was pick a legit #1, a legit #2, a legit #3, a legit #4, and a legit #5 for my all-time team (and my future squad).

I essentially picked Ryan over Jenkins for my #1, and Brown over Blyleven and Hough for the #2. Perry was probably a #3 here — give me Rogers over Perry.

Thanks for the comment.

Jamey

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