Perspective on the loss of Eric Hurley.

Righthander
Robb Nen went 7-4, 2.41 for Low A Gastonia in 1989, striking out 146 batters in
138.1 innings, which catapulted him from number eight in Baseball America‘s ranking of the Rangers’ top 10 prospects going
into that season all the way to the number two spot going into 1990.

 

Arm
troubles limited Nen to 80.1 innings in 1990, but he held the number two spot
on BA‘s Rangers list going into
1991.  More arm troubles in 1991 resulted
in just 28 innings pitched that season, and he was off the list going into 1992
(when he managed only 25 innings pitched), ultimately traded in 1993 with
fellow fallen prospect Kurt Miller to Florida
for reluctant reliever Cris Carpenter.

 

Righthander
Jovanny Cedeno, according to BA, was
the Rangers’ number nine prospect going into the 2000 season, coming off a
stateside debut in which he posted a 1.12 ERA in seven starts between the Gulf
Coast League and High A Charlotte, fanning 37 and walking five in 32.1 innings
of work.  After a dazzling 11-4, 2.42
mark for Low A Savannah in 2000 (153 strikeouts, 53 walks, and one home run
allowed in 130 innings), Cedeno earned BA‘s
number two Rangers nod going into 2001. 

 

It
was Cedeno’s last suggestion of the limitless ceiling he promised, as he was
limited by injury to 9.2 innings in 2001, five frames in 2002, and 32.2 innings
in 2003 before fading out of professional baseball – taking with him, just as
Nen had done when he couldn’t stay healthy, what at the time was a sizable
chunk of the organization’s minor league pitching hopes. 

 

When
Nen first appeared on the Rangers’ top 10 ranking, he and Kevin Brown and
Darren Oliver were the only pitchers on the list.  In the ensuing two years when Nen was the
team’s number two prospect (behind Juan Gonzalez in 1990 and Ivan Rodriguez in
1991), he was by far the system’s brightest pitching prospect, joined on the
top 10 list only by Brian Bohanon and Eric McCray in 1990 and by Dan Smith,
McCray, and Brian Romero in 1991.

 

When
Cedeno soared to number two, trailing only Carlos Pena, the other pitchers in
the Rangers’ top 10 were Joaquin Benoit (coming off arm trouble), Colby Lewis,
Aaron Myette, and Andy Pratt.

 

Nen
and Cedeno, who each landed a spot on BA‘s
top 100 prospects list one time (Nen was number 86 in 1991, Cedeno was number
65 in 2001), were huge losses because the Rangers, in those days (which can
essentially be restated as “at all times in franchise history”), had no more
than two or three legitimate pitching hopefuls coming up on the farm.

 

Righthander
Eric Hurley was BA‘s number 68
prospect going into 2007, judged at the time to be the top prospect in the
Rangers organization.  He was number 77
in 2008.  Nen and Cedeno earned their
status with huge performances in Class A. 
Hurley, on the other hand, was terrific at every level up to AA, and
good enough in AAA to earn a big league look at age 22. 

 

And
yet Hurley isn’t on BA‘s list of the
Rangers’ top 10 prospects this off-season, nor ESPN’s.  I have him at number 14 myself. 

 

That’s
not to say Hurley isn’t every bit the prospect that Nen and Cedeno were.  It’s just that in this system, not only the
deepest and most highly acclaimed Texas
has ever had but one that is heavier in pitching than anything else, he’s not
nearly as alone as Nen and Cedeno were. 

 

Hurley’s
shoulder injury is brutal news, for him and for the team and for the prospects
of his baseball future.  Pitchers do come
back from arm surgeries, but recovery from rotator cuff tears and labrum frays isn’t
as predictable as it is in Tommy John cases. 
He’s certainly young enough for us to hold out hope that his shoulder
will rehabilitate well and that, maybe two years from now, when he’ll still
just be 25, he’ll turn out to be what he was on his way to becoming.

 

But
the point of this discussion is that you can never have enough pitching
prospects, because some percentage of them will always have their careers
stalled due to injury like Nen, or Jason Isringhausen, if not effectively
derailed like Cedeno or Ben Kozlowski, or Mark Fidrych.  (But there are bouncebacks, even from
shoulder surgeries – though they vary in severity: Curt Schilling, Chris
Carpenter, Jimmy Key, Orlando Hernandez, and Grant Balfour, to name a few.  John Smoltz is about to try and join the
list.)

 

Whereas
the removal of Nen or Cedeno from the mix due to injury probably would have
prompted BA or anyone else assessing
farm systems to drop Texas in the overall rankings at the time, the Hurley
injury, while it conceivably impacts the 2009 rotation picture (Jon Daniels
predicted a month ago that Hurley would win the number five spot coming out of
camp), doesn’t change the fact that BA
and ESPN each rank the Rangers farm system as baseball’s best at the moment (“far
and away the best” according to ESPN’s Keith Law).

 

Dating
back to 1990 (which is as far back as I can get data), Texas has had pitchers
land among the top 40 players on BA‘s
annual top 100 prospects list four times. 
In 1992 and 1993, Miller (who been acquired from the Pirates late in the
1991 season) finished 14th and 11th.  In
2000, Francisco Cordero (two months after he’d been acquired from Detroit) was number
29.  In 2003, Lewis was number 32.

 

BA‘s 2009 list isn’t out
yet, but Law’s ESPN list is, and he has three Rangers pitchers in the top 40:
Neftali Feliz at number four, Derek Holland at number 21, and Martin Perez at
number 37. 

 

Four
in a span of 19 years.

 

And
three at the moment.

 

Law,
incidentally, ranks the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows:

 

1.
Feliz

2.
Justin Smoak, 1B (number 15 in baseball)

3.
Holland

4.
Perez

5.
Elvis Andrus, SS (number 39 in baseball)

6.
Michael Main, RHP (number 64 in baseball)

7.
Taylor Teagarden, C (number 70 in baseball)

8.
Max Ramirez, C (number 77 in baseball)

9.
Julio Borbon, OF (number 85 in baseball)

10.
Engel Beltre, OF

 

With
Hurley now out of the mix, the number five man could come from a competition
between Scott Feldman and Dustin Nippert, with Holland and Feliz and Luis Mendoza and Thomas
Diamond candidates as well, not to mention the possibility of a non-roster
addition like Jason Jennings.

 

All
that changes, of course, if Texas
signs Ben Sheets, which Peter Gammons suggested on ESPN Radio could be a
probability.  One league official told
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports this week that Sheets’s market value might end up
somewhere in the range of $6-8 million for one year (possibly attaching a club
option for a second season), with significant workload incentives that could
push it past the $14 million level. 

 

Meanwhile,
Sheets reportedly told the Mets he wanted two years at $18 million with an
option for a third year (that would surely include a sizable buyout).  New York, on
the other hand, is apparently hoping the 30-year-old would take a deal not
unlike the one-year contract Boston
gave Brad Penny, which will pay a guaranteed $5 million and could escalate to
$8 million if he contributes 200 innings.

 

I’m
into the idea of bringing Sheets in here, but my concern about the idea that
he, like so many other free agents in this winter’s unusual market, might be
inclined to take a heavily incentivized one-year contract so he can hit the
market again next off-season is that Arlington may not be a place that a
starting pitcher would choose for a one-year audition in front of the league,
particularly a year before contention seems more like a solid bet for this
team. 

 

Rosenthal
adds that the Rangers have zero interest in Oliver Perez.  He’s one of my favorite pitchers to watch,
but even I’ll admit he’d be a bad fit here, given his inconsistency even in
pitchers’ parks and his flyball tendencies.

 

Kris
Benson throws for Texas
and a host of other clubs tomorrow.

 

Texas will unveil new home,
road, and alternate uniforms at 11:30 this morning.

 

Omar
Vizquel’s non-roster deal converts to a $1 million contract (plus incentives)
if he makes the team.  San Francisco paid him $300,000 this winter
to buy him out of a $5.2 million club option.

 

Such
a smart move, from so many angles. 
Dependable glove should Andrus need a little more seasoning on the
farm.  Off-the-charts makeup, a surefire
mentor for Andrus not only on shortstop play but preparation and mindset and
big league responsibility.  A teacher that
allows Michael Young to concentrate on his crash course at third base rather
than worrying about bringing Andrus along (which of course he’ll still do to an
extent).  A future coach at the end of a
long, illustrious, potential Hall of Fame career who is motivated to work with
young players.  Inexpensive, and potentially
versatile; the 11-time Gold Glove shortstop has virtually no experience
anywhere else (nobody has played more games at shortstop in major league
history) but he’s prepared to add second base and third base to his repertoire
- though of course Young and Ian Kinsler almost never rest, so the ability to
play second and third is essentially just an emergency need. 

 

Stated
another way, the key for this team’s utility infielder at this point is to be
able to play a solid shortstop.  The
Rangers have filled that role well.

 

Nolan
Ryan will be featured on Fox Sports Southwest’s 30-minute program “In His Own
Words” at 10 p.m. Sunday night. 

 

The
Aaron Thompson whom BA recently
reported that Texas
signed to a minor league deal is an Australian teenaged righthander with no pro
experience.

 

San Diego is the latest club to
designate righthander Virgil Vasquez for assignment.

 

The
Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League signed righthander Bear Bay.

 

I
will send a separate email out later this morning detailing autograph, Q&A,
and clinic times for tomorrow’s FanFest festivities at Rangers Ballpark.  See you tomorrow, if not tonight at the
Awards Dinner.

 


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

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