September 2008

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.

Cruz altitude.

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Milton
Bradley needs 28 more plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.  He’s fourth in the league right now, hitting
.32375 to Dustin Pedroia’s .32637.

 

Bradley’s
.442 on-base percentage laps the current qualified league-leading mark, Joe Mauer’s
.413.

 

Bradley’s .577
slugging percentage trails only Alex Rodriguez’s .588 slug.

 

Now consider
this.

 

Nelson Cruz
has been around for less than a month.  He’s
played in every one of the Rangers’ 22 games since arriving on August 25.

 

Other than
Cruz, no player who has stepped up to the plate for Texas in 2008 has more walks than strikeouts.  In fact, very fewer hitters in the league
ever do that – of the top 70
walk-drawers in the American League this year, only Mauer walks more than he
fans.  Cruz – who came into the season
with 30 career walks and 121 career strikeouts – has drawn 15 bases on balls
for Texas this year, and struck out 13 times.

 

Yes, 76
at-bats raises a sample-size issue, but this is what Cruz has done with those
76 at-bats:

 

.329/.446/.592

 

This is
Bradley’s line for the year, which would be MVP-esque if not for his inability
to stay on the field:

 

.324/.442/.577

 

Cruz is not
as young as Chris Davis or Taylor Teagarden – in fact, at age 28 he’s only two
years younger than Bradley – but he plays a position at which Texas needs an answer, and he’s
unquestionably produced in a way that fits perfectly in this lineup, even when
everyone under contract for 2009 is healthy.

 

And speaking
of health, it’s never been an issue for Cruz.

 

Never.

 

He’ll make
about $400,000 in 2009.  And slightly more
than that in 2010.  He won’t be
arbitration-eligible until 2011.

 

What if Cruz
didn’t clear waivers in April and was doing this for someone else?

 

What if
someone made a decent trade offer for him in July?  (Maybe someone did, and we resisted moving
him for whatever was offered.)

Shouldn’t
we be a little more interested in what’s going on here?


 

NelsonCruz2.jpg

                                                                                                 AP

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

 

High-yield CD.

Since Chris Davis’s big league career began on June 26, these are the American League hitters who have more than his 48 RBI (a total that would extrapolate to 110 RBI over 162 games for the rookie):

Four-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera (74) – making $11.3 million in 2008
Two-time All-Star Justin Morneau (67) – $8.4 million
Aubrey Huff (62) – $8 million
Two-time All-Star Melvin Mora (61) – $7.8 million
One-time All-Star Kevin Youkilis (59) – $3 million
Raul Ibanez (59) – $5.5 million
Twelve-time All-Star Alex Rodriguez (59) – $28 million
Carlos Pena (54) – $6 million
Jhonny Peralta (52) – $2.5 million
Nick Markakis (50) – $455,000
Five-time All-Star Jason Giambi (49) – $23.4 million

Good win for Texas, who pulls back to within two games of .500 and maintains a 4.5-game lead on Oakland for second in the West.  

And a great moment for Davis, who capped off the Rangers’ eighth walkoff victory of 2008 (their most in any season this decade), and who will earn something like $200,000 this year.

Thumbnail image for cdaviswalkoff.jpg                                                                                                               AP

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

 

Never boring.

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Throwbacks:

 

teagrden.jpg

 

His
actions remind me of Jim Sundberg.

 

witten.jpg

 

His
actions remind me of nobody.

 

That
was shaping up to be a real bad sports night for me. 

 

Until
Jason, Marion, Tony & Terrell, Greg & DeMarcus, Felix, Nick, and the
offensive line turned things around, and Taylor and Michael and Marlon and Travis
did the same.

 

Neftali
Feliz’s and Frisco’s season ended on a disappointing note last night, but hopefully
Brandon McCarthy’s didn’t.  Early diagnostic
reports on the strained flexor tendon in his middle finger could have been
worse.

 

Two
things that will get lost:

 

1.
If you have the chance to watch Felix Jones’s touchdown return again, watch Isaiah
Stanback from the start of the play to the finish.  He may have as much football speed as Jones.

 

2.
Nelson Cruz adding two walks to his single. 
He’s not only in the top 10 in the league in slugging (.614) since his
return to Arlington
– he’s also in the top 10 in reaching base (.440).  Not to mention fourth in RBI.

 

What
won’t get lost, and shouldn’t, is Jason Witten doing what he did, and what he
does, through a separated shoulder, and Taylor Teagarden turning another game
around at the plate, improving his numbers to .361/.425/.972, and continuing to
be what they look like behind the plate. 

 

Never
boring around here.

 

 

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

Salt talks?

Judging by the amount of email I’ve gotten about Nick Cafardo’s column in Sunday’s Boston Globe, it’s apparent that the Globe must have a huge subscribership in the Metroplex.  For the couple of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the note that has grabbed everyone’s attention:

“The Sox are intrigued by Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the 23-year-old switch-hitter who has been shut down with a sprained elbow but will play in the Dominican this winter. The Sox would have to trade a top pitching prospect to land him.  Reviews of his catching prowess are mixed, but one scout thinks Saltalamacchia looks very much like Varitek did at a similar age. Varitek wasn’t always the accomplished defensive catcher he is now. ‘If [Saltalamacchia] catches every day, he’s going to be fine,’ said an American League scout. ‘He’s got a good arm. He’s had his moments when he gets crossed up, but experience will help rectify that.'”

If the time is right for another team to go get Saltalamacchia, it may also be the right time to go get Clay Buchholz, the 24-year-old righthander who was great again in the minor leagues this year (5-2, 2.30 in 11 starts between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket, more than nine strikeouts per nine innings, fewer than three walks per nine innings, .209 opponents’ average) but struggled in 15 big league starts and a relief appearance (2-9, 6.75, with 8.53 K/9, 4.86 BB/9, and a .299 opponents’ average), far less effective than he was in four Red Sox appearances last summer, one of which was a no-hitter of the Orioles.  

The thing is, Saltalamacchia for Buchholz is probably the kind of trade neither Texas nor Boston would do straight up, concerned that they’d be selling low and running the real risk of seeing the guy they traded exploding after the trade – imagine the Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez and Danny Ray Herrera deal if either Hamilton or Volquez (but not both) didn’t have the season he was having.

There’s also the matter, particularly in the Rangers’ situation, of deciding whether this would be the best deal out there.  Would Texas be better off moving Gerald Laird for a Marlins pitcher?  Would the Rangers do better to include Saltalamacchia as part of a bigger trade for a more established young arm than Buchholz’s?  There a dozen other possibilities.

If these are the players that both teams have zeroed in on, I think it might be the type of trade that has a better shot of getting done if both sides add a player (like Texas and Chicago did when Nick Masset and Jake Rasner and David Paisano were added to the John Danks-Brandon McCarthy deal).  Give Boston a young arm to hedge against Buchholz turning into a star, give Texas another position player to add to the system.

Clay Buchholz and 20-year-old shortstop Yamaico Navarro for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and 20-year-old righthander Omar Poveda.

Poveda is Rule 5-eligible this winter.  Navarro is a year away from eligibility.

Who says no?

Mr. Holland's (latest) opus.

It wasn’t until the third inning tonight that, while watching Derek Holland pitch, I thought of C.C. Sabathia, who weighs about two derekhollands and thus hasn’t exactly been evoked for me before while Holland was on the mound.

I thought of Sabathia after Holland had punched out the first two Arkansas batters in the top of the third and then, after walking leadoff hitter Nate Sutton, coaxed an inning ending fielder’s choice, shortstop to second, to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.

I thought of Sabathia because, at that point, Holland had allowed just one hit – a bunt dropped by Sutton down the third base line, leading off the game, that Holland fielded, double-clutched on, and fired to first, only to have the ball deflect off first baseman Emerson Frostad’s glove, allowing Sutton to scamper to second (where he’d be stranded after two flyouts and a strikeout of cleanup hitter Corey Smith, who flailed away at a spectacular 81-mph change).  The scorekeeper, much as Bob Webb did when Sabathia mishandled a swinging bunt in the fifth inning of his August 31 start against Pittsburgh, ruled the play a single, charging Holland with an error to account for the extra base Sutton got.

The play was close enough at first – with or without the Holland double-clutch – to have ruled it a two-base error, and no base hit.  And when Holland had completed three, having struck out four with a balanced array of nastiness, even if his velocity sat at 91-93 rather than a few ticks higher, I began to think that he might have been on his way to a Sabathia-esque one-hitter that could (should?) have been a no-no.

No exaggeration: More than two or three players in the Travelers dugout were cheering when the second hitter of the game, Wilberto Ortiz, fouled off a couple two-strike pitches in a row.  Getting fired up when a teammate fouls off a couple fastballs.  In the first inning.  It was the kind of reaction you might expect to see from a high school or college team facing an All-American that nobody was supposed to beat.  Not from a minor league team who had the other team on the brink of elimination.

They knew they weren’t supposed to beat Holland.

In the fourth, Arkansas managed its second hit off of Holland, a badly mis-hit looper over first base off the bat of the right-handed-hitting Smith that had no more life than a tossed horseshoe, checking up as soon as it landed 20 feet or so over Frostad’s head.  A legitimate hit that no scorekeeper could have taken credit for, but a crummy hit nonetheless.  

That was it.  

Two hits off Holland in six innings of work, one on a bunt that could have been ruled an error and another on a lob over first.  One walk.  Six strikeouts, two coming on great-looking changes.  Only 71 pitches needed to get through six (just under 12 pitches per inning), a cool 70 percent of which went for strikes.  While Holland pitched brilliantly as usual, he took a no-decision as Frisco didn’t break the scoreless tie until pushing three unearned runs across in the bottom of the seventh and holding on for a 3-1 win.

So Neftali Feliz takes the ball tomorrow night, as Frisco and Arkansas play Game Five, with the winner piling on the mound.

As for Holland, his season ends with a 13-1, 2.27 regular season record (between Clinton, Bakersfield, and Frisco) and a ridiculous 1-1, 0.44 mark in the Texas League playoffs that featured, over three starts, a line in 20.2 innings of one earned run on 10 hits and four walks, with 18 strikeouts.

Combine the regular season with the post-season and Holland’s numbers look like this: 14-2, 2.05 in 29 starts, with 121 hits (.201 opponents’ average) and 44 walks allowed in 171.1 innings, and 175 strikeouts.  Only four home runs allowed, one of which bounced off the outfielder’s glove.

And consider this:

In Low A this season, opponents hit .228 off of Holland.

In High A, opponents hit .185.

In AA, opponents hit .163 in the regular season.

In AA, opponents hit .141 in the playoffs.

Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t so strange for the Travelers to be cheering foul balls.

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

A question, for starters.

I ask this not under the influence of Kool-Aid.  

There’s no question that priority one (and two and three) is to fix this club’s pitching, whether that’s done internally or via trade or through free agency.

The defense needs improvement as well, but that’s not nearly as imperative.

The main questions as far as the lineup is concerned, really, have more to do with how and where to fit everyone in a limited number of spots than anything else.  It’s not so much a matter of wondering where we’re going to find someone to fill a trouble spot.

Like it is with the pitching staff.

But here’s the question.

And again: Not Kool-Aid-induced.

Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla will be back, and both playing for contracts, essentially.

Scott Feldman has made four fewer starts than Millwood or Padilla.  Feldman has more quality starts than either of them.  He’s getting one more chance this afternoon before he’s removed from the rotation for the final two weeks, as a concession to his workload.

Matt Harrison has basically been alternating between strong efforts and subpar ones, but when he’s been good, he’s been really good.  Last night’s complete-game shutout was the first by a Rangers rookie since R.A. Dickey in 2003, and the stingiest (five hits) since Edwin Correa (three hits) in 22 years.  The 22-year-old is 6-1, 3.93 ERA in his last eight starts.

Dustin Nippert, in the last three of his four starts since a mid-August transition to the rotation, has a 2.08 ERA.  He’s commanding his formidable stuff more often that not.  And he’s out of options.

Brandon McCarthy, in the first three of his four starts since returning, posted a 2.25 ERA.  He’s obviously going to get a thousand chances, and his work in the last few weeks has been more encouraging than at any time in 2007.

I’m not saying that we can expect five of those six to make up a contending rotation.  Far from it.

My question to you is, if Texas adds a starter to the top of the rotation this winter, which two of those six, at this rate, are you looking to replace?

There are others to consider as well.  But Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza and Kason Gabbard and Doug Mathis and Tommy Hunter and A.J. Murray, all of whom made starts for Texas this year, have options remaining and could use more seasoning.  Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz lead a wave of young starters that are going to enter the picture soon, but certainly not in April.

Chances are, as long as they’re healthy, Feldman and Nippert and McCarthy will be on the big league staff when the 2009 season begins.  And is there any way at this point to imagine Harrison starting the season on the farm?  Since his call to the big leagues on July 8, the only pitchers with more big league wins than Harrison’s eight are Cliff Lee (11), A.J. Burnett (nine), and C.C. Sabathia (nine).

Don’t misunderstand me.  The reason I devoted entire reports to Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez over the last few weeks is that I’d like to see Texas trade for a starting pitcher that would settle in as this team’s number one, if the price is right.

I’m not averse to the philosophy that worked here 10 years ago, when the Rangers relied on a rotation of workhorses without a true number one, and reached October three years out of four.  I’d buy into that strategy before throwing something approaching nine figures at a pitcher on the wrong side of 30.  

But give me a Matt Cain, let me imagine four behind him a couple years from now that could include the best of Holland and Feliz and Harrison and Hurley and McCarthy and Feldman and Nippert and Mathis and Hunter, with a wave moving into the upper levels of the farm system featuring Michael Main and Blake Beavan and Neil Ramirez and Omar Poveda and Martin Perez and Wilfredo Boscan and Kasey Kiker and Robbie Ross and Thomas Diamond and Fabio Castillo and Tim Murphy and Kyle Ocampo and Wilmer Font and Carlos Pimentel and Kennil Gomez, minus a few who were traded in deals for Cain and whoever else, and then, yeah, you can serve me up a tall, ice-cold pitcher of Kool-Aid.

But as for 2009, I’m not sure who out of Millwood, Padilla, Feldman, Harrison, Nippert, and McCarthy I expect not to have jobs to lose in camp.  

Think Atlanta might regret trading Mark Teixeira?  Casey Kotchman is hitting .183/.306/.237 for the Braves.  Stephen Marek has been OK, not great, for AA Mississippi (3.21 in 10 relief appearances, 11/6 K/BB in 14 innings), and he’s 25 years old.  Would the Braves have been better off with the first-round pick (or a second if Baltimore ends up signing him) and supplemental first-rounder that they would have gotten by keeping Teixeira for the balance of the season and then losing him to free agency?

Meanwhile, think about how much more we all think of Harrison, Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and Beau Jones today than we did just six months ago.  Even if Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn’t progressed quite as much, he’s certainly a much better bet going forward than Kotchman.

If I could add any position player this off-season, and availability weren’t an issue, I think my number one priority would be Mark DeRosa.  He could play third base for a year and then settle in as a 450-at-bat player all over the field after that, and add another tremendous leader to the clubhouse.

But there’s no chance he’s available.  DeRosa is second on the Cubs with 83 RBI, has an OPS over .850, and has 20 home runs after going deep 10 times for Chicago in 2007.  He’s under contract for $5.5 million in 2009, the final season of his three-year, $13 million deal with the Cubs.

Nobody in 53 years has had more than the five home runs Taylor Teagarden has hit in his first nine big league games.  Others to hit five in nine: Graig Nettles (1967-68), Sam Horn (1987), Carlos Delgado (1993-94), Mark Quinn (1999), and Shelley Duncan (2007).  

Michael Young said yesterday he expects to have at least one surgery on his right hand in the off-season.  He’ll have an MRI next week on his right ring finger (he suffered a broken bone on his knuckle on July 28) and his right wrist (a cyst that surfaced last year is reportedly no longer responding to cortisone injections).

Joaquin Benoit is still experiencing shoulder soreness.  It’s unclear whether he’ll pitch again this season, but the club hasn’t shut him down yet.  He’ll reportedly see a doctor when the club gets back to Texas next week.

Milton Bradley is back in today’s lineup, as Texas has just gotten underway, hoping to wins its sixth out of nine.  Scott Feldman takes the hill for the final time in 2008, at least as a starter.

Whether his next start will come in the first week of April would seem to be a lock, but the way a few others have stepped up the last few times through the rotation, I’m having a hard time getting a gut feel on what the starting five might look like when the 2009 season begins — whether Texas adds a premium starter to the mix or not.

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

Frisco Game Four postponed.

The Frisco RoughRiders announced on their website this afternoon that tomorrow night’s scheduled Game Four of the Texas League Championship Series has been preemptively postponed due to the severe weather that’s expected to descend on the Metroplex.  Game Four is now scheduled for Sunday at 6 p.m., with a decisive Game Five (if necessary) slated for Monday at 7 p.m.  Any tickets purchased for tomorrow night can be redeemed for Sunday’s game (call the Riders at 972/731-9200 if you have questions).

One aspect of this scheduling adjustment, as I touched on in this morning’s report, is that lefthander Derek Holland’s day to pitch would be Sunday.  Without this change in plans, Holland would have been in line to pitch Game Five, with Jared Hyatt slated to go in Game Four.  If the decision is made to keep Holland on regular rest and he is given the Game Four ball, that would put Neftali Feliz on schedule to pitch Game Five on Monday, if that game is needed.  

The 24-year-old Hyatt has had a strong season himself (11-8, 3.58 between Bakersfield, Frisco, and Oklahoma, .240 opponents’ average, 113/47 K/BB), but the thought of sending Holland and possibly Feliz back to the home hill to try and help nail down a title, after Michael Schlact pitches tonight’s Game Three, is pretty hard to resist.

Stay tuned.

Late auditions.

Dustin Nippert’s last two starts: 12 innings, one run, 11 hits, four walks, 11 strikeouts.  He should get three more starts. 

Like Nelson Cruz (.316/.409/.614), Nippert is out of options and making a strong case to be in the plans for 2009.  Neither would clear waivers again, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have to accept an outright assignment.  But if Cruz and Nippert keep this up, there’s no question that they’ll still be on the 40-man roster when the team shows up in Surprise in February, barring a trade.

The bullpen last night: 12 up, 12 down.  No hits, no walks, three strikeouts, 33 strikes (72 percent) out of 46 pitches (10.5 per inning) for Jamey Wright, Bill White, and Frankie Francisco (who celebrated his 29th birthday in what probably feels to him like a haunted house).  Solid.

With 15 games to go, the Rangers are three games short of a .500 record, and 4.5 games ahead of Oakland in their effort to hang onto second place in the division.

What do Wright, Vicente Padilla, Josh Rupe, Frank Catalanotto, Ramon Vazquez, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, and Milton Bradley have in common?

They’re the only eight players out of the Rangers’ 29 active big leaguers who didn’t play for Oklahoma or Frisco this year.  One local journalist points out that the rest could be in line for championship rings in the next few days, as the RedHawks and RoughRiders are each knotted at 1-1 in their best-of-five league title series, each coming home for tonight’s Game Three and the balance of their series.

In fact, Davis, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Harrison, Warner Madrigal, Luis Mendoza, Taylor Teagarden, and Hank Blalock suited up for both Oklahoma and Frisco this season.

But Benoit and Blalock and several others may have to campaign hard to land the bling, as director of minor league operations John Lombardo notes that service time with the club and “significant” contributions will be key factors in the determination of who gets rewarded — though the organization will err on the side of the player.

RedHawks righthander Tommy Hunter will face Sacramento in Oklahoma City tonight, while RoughRiders righthander Michael Schlact is set to face Northwest Arkansas tonight in Frisco.

Should Frisco’s series go the distance, lefthander Derek Holland would apparently get the decisive Game Five start on Sunday.  However, if Game Four gets washed out on Saturday, as expected, the Riders could theoretically throw Holland in the rescheduled Game Four and come back with righthander Neftali Feliz in a Game Five.

According to at least one local report, it’s possible that Hunter, Wes Littleton, Max Ramirez, and Travis Metcalf could join the big league roster once Oklahoma’s playoff run ends.

Hunter, in his first full pro season, is already up to 180.2 innings pitched, counting his playoff work.  The regular season leader in the minor leagues, Tulsa lefthander Keith Weiser, threw 179.2 innings.

After logging 117.1 innings as a University of Alabama freshman, Hunter threw 124.2 innings last year (107 for the Crimson Tide and 17.2 with Spokane after signing).  He’s a horse.

This was buried in a blog this morning by a local reporter, but is worth noting: the Rangers will return bullpen coach Jim Colborn to his Pacific Rim scouting position on a full-time basis.  Texas will have a new bullpen coach in 2009. 

Teagarden in three weeks with Frisco: .169/.279/.305, four extra-base hits and six RBI in 59 at-bats.

Teagarden in two weeks with Texas: .385/.429/.962, seven extra-base hits and 11 RBI in 26 at-bats.

From Wednesday’s report, on the subject of Teagarden’s hot streak: “[E]ven when that .350/.350/.850 line comes back to earth, Teagarden will probably start to add some walks to the ledger, as he always does.  He’s going to reach base.”

Last night: two walks and a double in four trips. 

This stunned me: When Brandon Boggs logged his seventh assist on Saturday, it was the club’s 29th outfield assist of the year — but Texas had 35 last year.  That has to be a function of far fewer baserunners trying to take an extra base off Rangers outfielders this season.  Big difference between the strength and accuracy of the arms Texas has in the outfield this year, compared to 2007.

Madrigal is getting the chance this month to audition for the Rangers’ eighth-inning role.  In his last five outings, the 24-year-old has thrown 4.1 scoreless innings, scattering two hits and no walks while fanning one.

Ian Kinsler’s sports hernia repair procedure was conducted yesterday and went well.  Doug Mathis had surgery on Wednesday to remove an inflamed bursa sac from his throwing shoulder.  Both are expected to resume baseball activities in six to eight weeks.

Bill James predicted in the winter, while Hamilton was still with Cincinnati, that he would hit .305/.382/.598 with 31 home runs and 71 RBI in 410 at-bats in 2008.  (Regarding that RBI projection, remember that Hamilton primarily led off for the Reds last year.)  Hamilton is now hitting .306/.374/.546 with 31 home runs and 124 RBI in 562 at-bats. 

Bradley needs 32 plate appearances over the Rangers’ final 15 games to qualify for the American League batting title.  He’s currently hitting .32718, trailing only Dustin Pedroia’s .32831.  Bradley has played twice in the last six games, but didn’t finish either game.  His latest maladies have been a lower back strain and a sore left wrist, but he’s expected to play tonight.

Only 11 rookies with at least 250 plate appearances have had a higher slugging percentage this decade than Davis’s .538.  Hard to imagine someone topping the .634 slug that Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun compiled in 2007.

Eighteen-year-old Korean righthander Tae-Kyung Ahn threw a bullpen session for Colborn and pitching Andy Hawkins in Seattle on Tuesday.  Ahn, whom Texas signed in August, will report to Instructs in Surprise this month.  So will I.  Can’t wait.

Baseball America named outfielder Mike Bianucci the number 19 prospect in this summer’s Cape Cod League, where the Auburn product was tied for second in the league with five home runs and 19 RBI at the time that he left the Cotuit Kettleers to sign with the Rangers for $175,000.  The eight-rounder went on to hit .316/.386/.535 for Spokane before breaking his hand shortly before the Northwest League champions got their playoff run underway. 

Reuters ran a story on Monday titled “Lehman meeting with buyers for Neuberger: Report.”  The phone never rang.

I took 102.1 FM (“The Edge”) off of my radio presets in the car because the afternoon drive DJ talked over the final 15 or 20 seconds of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” one of the great song endings ever recorded.  Irredeemable.

Dominican Summer League righthander Cristian Zapata was among 12 minor leaguers suspended 50 games by the league a week ago after testing positive for steroids.  The 19-year-old was 0-2, 7.44 in two starts and 18 relief appearances for the DSL squad this season, with 45 walks in 52 innings.

Former Rangers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit his 30th and 31st home runs of the year last night.  His teammate and brother, former Rangers farmhand Edgar Gonzalez, hit his sixth homer.  It was the first time the two had ever homered in the same pro game. 

Adrian (age 26) and Edgar (age 30), both of whom entered pro ball in 2000, played on different teams in the New York-Penn League in 2000 and in the Pacific Coast League in 2005, but never against each other.  They’d never played in the same game until the Padres purchased Edgar’s contract in May, and last night was obviously a big one for the brothers.

The last time brothers homered as teammates in th
e same big league game was September 18, 2000, when Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero did so for Montreal.  Bengie and Jose Molina homered in the same game as opponents on July 31, 2005.

Milwaukee signed Mike Lamb, though he won’t be eligible for the playoffs if he helps the Brewers get there.  The club also designated Laynce Nix for assignment — to clear space for a successful waiver claim of reliever Todd Coffey — but if Nix clears waivers, he’ll have the right to decline an outright assignment since he was outrighted before (by the Brewers in December).

The Grand Prairie AirHogs of the independent American Association traded infielder David Espinosa (who would have been a Ranger if Kenny Rogers hadn’t vetoed a trade to the Reds in July 2002) to the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League for a player to be named.

My final weekly MLB.com Top 20 Rangers Prospects column of the season is at http://tinyurl.com/6ohssq.  I’ll update the rankings monthly between now and April.

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

Teagarden supplies.

Taylor Teagarden likes major league pitchers.  Some seem to have taken a particular liking to him as well, but only those wearing the same uniform.

The 24-year-old, who hit .315/.448/.606 for Bakersfield and .294/.357/.529 for Frisco in his breakout 2007 season, with a combined 28 doubles, 27 home runs, and 83 RBI in just 110 games played, hit just .211/.319/.374 between Frisco and Oklahoma this year, with seven doubles, nine home runs, and 22 RBI in 73 games.  He hit .188/.381/.313 for Team USA in Beijing, with two doubles among his three hits in 16 at-bats.

There’s no reliable trend in those numbers, other than Teagarden’s proven ability to reach base even when he’s not hitting.  He’s a walk machine.

That is, until you look at his big league statistics, which include zero bases on balls in 20 at-bats.

Then again, a .350 on-base is a .350 on-base, and you’d gladly take three home runs, a double, and three singles in those 20 trips, knowing that even when that .350/.350/.850 line comes back to earth, Teagarden will probably start to add some walks to the ledger, as he always does.  He’s going to reach base.

But as Teagarden’s manager said, after his latest effort, which included a run-scoring single off Feliz Hernandez and a two-run double off Randy Messenger last night: “The catcher’s job is to have a positive impact on the pitcher, and Taylor Teagarden is doing a good job of that.  He’s been in sync with the guys on the mound.  What he hits is not important to me.  It’s how he gets his pitchers through innings is important.”

Starting pitchers, in Teagarden starts, have a 3-2, 3.16 mark in five games, which included, on one hand, two bad lines — one from Kevin Millwood (Teagarden’s debut, which was also his only hitless game in the bigs) and one from Brandon McCarthy — and on the other, three efforts (Vicente Padilla, Dustin Nippert, and Padilla again) in which the starter gave up no earned runs.

Weighing in on the catcher situation a week ago, I suggested that if it were me, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s elbow progresses enough this off-season to attract the kind of starting pitching offers that Texas is looking for, I’d trade Saltalamacchia and go with Gerald Laird and Teagarden as my catcher duo next year, and possibly in 2010, Laird’s final season before free agency.  

I’m not going to get carried away with .350/.350/.850 yet, but Teagarden’s work behind the plate — which, unlike the production at the plate, meets squarely with expectations set for the University of Texas product since his third-round arrival in 2005 — is doing nothing but strengthening my conviction on that idea.  

Teagarden probably isn’t ready to catch 140 games in the big leagues, but he’s absolutely ready to catch big league pitchers, manage big league game plans behind the plate, and run into his share of home runs and reach base while at the plate.  We may decide next summer or next winter that he’s ready to step in fulltime, making the idea of trading Laird at that point more palatable, and maybe Ramirez or Manuel Pina will give the Rangers confidence that they’re ready to catch once a week to smooth that transition.

But for now, at a time when Teagarden was expected to be rounding out a minor league season en route to a November addition to the 40-man roster, he’s been one of the really good, really encouraging stories of the Rangers’ second half, and I’m all but certain at this point that he’s the least likely of the Rangers’ four major league-ready catchers to be traded this winter.

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

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