Instructs underway.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this:

“[Johan] Yan, in two days of watching him take reps at third base and at the plate, reminded me of Joel Guzman.  He’s very long, both in physique and in actions.  The ball comes out of his hand differently (Tony Fernandez whip and Adrian Beltre strength), and at times comes off his bat differently.  Like Guzman, he appears to do every single thing on a baseball field well, but the results haven’t shown up in games yet. 

“Wouldn’t surprise me to see Yan tried on a mound one day if the offense doesn’t come together.”

That day has evidently come.

Of the 53 players who reported to the Rangers’ Fall Instructional League program in Surprise on Sunday (up from 44 last year), 31 are pitchers, and among those 31 is Yan, the 19-year-old Dominican who, in three minor league seasons since signing for a reported $400,000 in July 2005, hit .207/.281/.318 with 176 strikeouts in 425 at-bats (all in the short-season leagues).  A 6’4″ specimen with the wingspan of a player even taller, he’s about to take that Beltre arm to the mound, after playing 96 pro games at third base, 12 at shortstop, nine at second base, three at first base, and two in right field. 

I’ll be in Surprise next week, and I’m looking forward to a chance to see if Yan gives a glimpse of “what they look like” on the mound.

These days, it’s sort of silly to try to pick out four or five names from a group 10 times that size in trying to list who I’m most eager to see at instructs.  Last year, the marquee names were more clear: the draft class that included Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, and Tommy Hunter; the trade acquisitions from two months earlier that included Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Max Ramirez, and Engel Beltre; and the latest wave of Latin American pitchers that included Wilmer Font, Martin Perez, Carlos Pimentel, and Wilfredo Boscan.

And then there was Derek Holland, who jumped out, too.

This year, in looking over the list of 53, there are twice as many players who I’d circle going in, but there’s no point in doing that here.  So here’s the whole roster:

PITCHERS

Ahn, Tae
Beavan, Blake
Bermudez, Reinier
Boscan, Wilfredo
Castillo, Fabio
De Leon, Kelvin
De Los Santos, Miguel
Escobar, Edwin
Feliz, Neftali
Font, Wilmer
Grullon, Geuris
Gutsie, Justin
Hamburger, Mark
Henry, Benjamin
Kiker, Kasey
Main, Michael
Mendoza, Anyenil
Murphy, Tim
Nevarez, Matt
Ocampo, Kyle
Perez, Martin
Phillips, Zachary
Pimentel, Carlos
Poveda, Omar
Ragsdale, Corey
Ramirez, Neil
Ross, Robbie
Thompson, Matt
Wieland, Joseph
Yan, Johan
Young, Corey

CATCHERS

De Los Santos, Leonel
Felix, Jose
Hogan, Douglas
Pina, Manuel
Telis, Tomas

INFIELDERS

Garcia, Edwin
Garcia, Leury
Lemon, Marcus
Martinez, Edward
Moreland, Mitch
Smoak, Justin
Solis, Emmanuel
West, Matt

OUTFIELDERS

Abreu, Esdras
Beltre, Engel
Bolden, Jared
Butler, Joey
Fry, Eric
Murphy, Clark
Paisano, David
Pimentel, Guillermo
Santana, Christian

I’m obviously intrigued to see Ahn, the 18-year-old recently signed out of Korea, and Ross, the 19-year-old second-round pick, neither of whom has thrown his first professional pitch.  Abreu, a 6’3″, 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, and Escobar, a 16-year-old Venezuelan lefthander, signed this summer for a reported $550,000 and $350,000, respectively. 

Bermudez, a 23-year-old Cuban righthander, allowed only 18 hits (.114 opponents’ average) in 46 Dominican Summer League innings this season, racking up an amazing 67 strikeouts while walking 24.  Miguel De Los Santos is a 20-year-old lefthander coming off of 2007 Tommy John surgery who had as much upside as any southpaw in the system when he got hurt.  He fanned 54 in 34.2 innings this summer in the Arizona League.

But again, I could pinpoint another 20 players of particular interest here and won’t do that.  I’ll file daily reports from Surprise while I’m there — hopefully not arriving a day too late as I did last fall, when I would have seen Beavan, Kiker, Castillo, and Neil Ramirez all pitch in the same game if I’d planned my trip a little better.

Fascinating: Asked during an ESPN chat session this week to identify the best left-handed pitcher in the Rangers’ farm system other than Holland, Baseball America Editor in Chief John Manuel responded: “It might be Martin Perez, even INCLUDING Derek Holland.  I got a Johan Santana comp on Perez from a scout in the Northwest the other day.  He sounds extremely exciting.”

Don’t get too carried away: a “comp” in that context doesn’t mean he’s interchangeable with the Mets ace.  But the fact that the 17-year-old Perez, who more than held his own against 21-year-olds in the Northwest League this season (1-2, 3.65, 53 strikeouts and 28 walks in 61.2 innings), reminded a scout of Santana should strike home the point that Perez is unquestionably a top 10 pitcher in this system, if not top five.

It’s unclear whether Michael Young and Brandon McCarthy are done for the season.  Young aggravated his fractured right ring finger in Wednesday’s game, forcing him out after the fourth inning, and an MRI revealed a sprain in the sheath around the flexor tendon in McCarthy’s right middle finger, which chased him after seven pitches Monday night.

In the meantime, the decision to take Scott Feldman out of the rotation gets reversed again.  Feldman will reportedly take McCarthy’s turn on Sunday.

The 2009 season is going to be very big for McCarthy.  You can’t blame him for a shoulder blade stress fracture or a forearm strain or a finger strain, but he needs to put together a reasonably healthy season and show this team not only that he’s turned a corner mechanically but also that he can be a dependable rotation member. 

I’m not sure how big 2009 will be for Luis Mendoza.  He’s been so ineffective that you almost wish there were a physical issue to account for this degeneration in productivity.  It’s hard to imagine he’ll be back in the plans unless he has an extended stretch of success in AAA in the spring and demonstrates that he’s regained the form that put him on the map late in 2007.

In seven appearances for the Twins, spanning 5.1 innings, Eddie Guardado has given up six runs (10.13 ERA) on 12 hits (.444/.483/.667) and two walks, striking out four.

A blog called “Detroit Tigers Thoughts” claims to have cracked the Elias code for classifying players, and as of Tuesday it has Milton Bradley as the highest-ranked Type B among American League first basemen, outfielders, and designated hitters — by the slimmest of margins.  A productive final nine games could catapult Bradley (whom the blog projects at a 73.333 score) into the Type A grouping, whose bottom member is Xavier Nady (73.896).

Type A free agents net the team losing a player a supplemental first-round pick plus the signing team’s first- or second-round pick, depending on that team’s 2008 record.  Type B’s result in only the supplemental first as compensation.

An update on 2009 draft position (and Type A forfeiture status), if the season were to end today:

Seattle        
San Diego        
Washington        
Pittsburgh        
Atlanta        
Baltimore        
Kansas City    
San Francisco    
Colorado   &
nbsp;    
* Washington (comp pick for failure to sign Aaron Crow)
Cincinnati        
Oakland        
Detroit        
Texas        
Cleveland        
Arizona        

St. Louis        
Dodgers        
Florida        
Houston        
Toronto        
Yankees        
Minnesota        
Milwaukee        
White Sox        
Mets            
Philadelphia    
Boston        
Tampa Bay        
* Yankees (comp pick for failure to sign Gerrit Cole)
Cubs            
Angels        

As a reminder, if the Rangers finish in the first grouping of 15 — they are at number 13 right now — then if they sign a Type A free agent this off-season, they’ll forfeit not their first-round pick but instead their second-round pick, which could be around the 60th slot overall.  St. Louis has a four-game edge on Texas on the other side of the split.

When Brian Gordon pitched on Wednesday, he became the franchise-record 55th player to appear for the Rangers this year.  He was the 30th pitcher used this season, matching a club record.

Ian Kinsler was moved to the 60-day disabled list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Gordon.

An MRI on second baseman Joaquin Arias’s right shoulder on Tuesday revealed residual scar tissue from his 2007 surgery.  Arias is slated to play shortstop for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League next month, but he could have surgery this winter to clean the scar tissue up.  Hard to imagine him playing shortstop at all without addressing the shoulder.

In Baseball America’s survey of Arizona League managers and scouts, Wieland (an 18-year-old righthander) was ranked as the nine-team circuit’s number 11 prospect, and Murphy (an 18-year-old first baseman-outfielder) was number 18.  Just missing the top 20 was 18-year-old catcher Leonel “Macumba” De Los Santos.

The Midwest League and California League rankings will be revealed next week.

Dominican Summer League righthander Miguel Munoz, age 20, tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and, as a result, received a 50-game suspension.  Munoz went 3-2, 2.08 in 11 starts and eight relief appearances between the Rangers’ two DSL squads this summer, with 63 strikeouts and 14 walks in 73.2 innings.

The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association traded lefthander (and former Rangers farmhand) Joel Kirsten to the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League for a player to be named.

Eric Nadel and Victor Rojas will have guest commentators in the booth for three of the next five games.  Round Rock Express broadcaster (and former Channel 8 reporter) Mike Capps will join Nadel tomorrow night, Oklahoma RedHawks broadcaster Jim Byers will join Nadel on Monday, and Frisco RoughRiders broadcaster Scott Garner will join Nadel and Rojas for two innings on Tuesday.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Brandon Boggs, Nelson Cruz, Travis Metcalf, Wes Littleton, Bill White, and Gordon, along with Executive Vice President of Marketing and Community Development Dale Petroskey, were in Dallas on Wednesday, assisting the Salvation Army in serving lunch to those displaced by Hurricane Ike.

The Rangers are giving complimentary tickets to any of the final six home games to any non-profit agency housing Hurricane Ike evacuees.  You can call 817-273-5206 for more details.

Do a Google search using the terms “Caleb Spady” and “Rangers.”  Powerful.

As part of Fan Appreciation Day this Sunday, Rangers players will be stationed at each stadium entrance from 12:30-12:45 p.m. to greet fans prior to the 2:05 game. 

It’s been one of the most fascinating minor league seasons this franchise has ever had, and Scott Lucas had another great year of keeping us all informed everyday on the happenings on the Rangers’ farm.  Big thanks to Scott, who put in some serious overtime this year since five of the Rangers’ seven farm clubs played post-season baseball.

Mercifully for Scott’s sake, there won’t be any box scores for the Rangers’ 22 instructional league games against squads from the Mariners, Dodgers, Indians, Brewers, Royals, and Padres. 

But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the work being done in Surprise over the next month, including the games in which the young players on hand will try to put in action the things they’re fine-tuning.

Or, in the case of Johan Yan, for example, learning for the first time. 

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

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