Wipe that Smiley off.

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I’ve been thinking
about the bullet the Rangers seem to have dodged by losing out to the Nationals
three July’s ago when they were reportedly on the verge of signing Dominican shortstop
Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez for $700,000 (outbidding, among others, Boston,
which paid outfielder Engel Beltre $600,000 that same summer), only to lose him
when Washington swooped in and paid the slick-fielding switch-hitter $1.4
million to sign. 

 

When news broke this
week that Gonzalez had falsified his identity and age – and not just by a
little – he instantly transformed from a 19-year-old whose breakthrough 2008
put him back on the map to a 23-year-old non-prospect named Carlos Alvarez
Daniel Lugo, a player whose two-month, .343/.431/.475 numbers in a second Gulf
Coast League stint have basically become empty.

 

I’m probably overthinking
this, but I wonder if, in May 2007, when Jon Daniels and Thad Levine made the
decision to set the Rangers franchise on a new course, one that would start
with the trade of Mark Teixeira, the blueprint might have looked different had
Gonzalez been at the head of the previous summer’s international haul, which included
Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan, Kennil Gomez, Carlos Pimentel, Geuris Grullon,
Leonel De Los Santos, and Emmanuel Solis. 
Gonzalez would have gone through Fall Instructs the previous October and
would have been on the verge of debuting in the Arizona League when the Rangers
decided that trading Teixeira was going to be step one in a large-scale effort
to build from the bottom up.  He would
have unquestionably been the franchise’s shortstop of the future at that time.

 

There was an October
2007 report in Baseball America suggesting
that when the Rangers engaged Atlanta – one of a
few carefully selected targets – in mid-season trade talks regarding Teixeira, the
Braves told Texas
that they would make 18-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus or 20-year-old center fielder
Jordan Schafer available.  But not
both.  (The report was disputed by Baseball
Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein, who said Schafer was unavailable.)

 

In the spring of 2007,
as thin as shortstop was in the Rangers system (Joaquin Arias was out the first
half and missed nearly the entire season with a shoulder injury), center field
was in worse shape.  The top hope on the
farm for a club that was running Kenny Lofton out to center every day was probably
Anthony Webster, who was regressing in his second AA season.  Marlon Byrd didn’t make his Rangers debut
until the last week of May.  In June, Texas would draft Julio
Borbon, and in July the club would trade for David Murphy and Beltre.  But in May 2007, the center field cupboard was
bare.

 

Assuming the BA story was accurate, if the Rangers had
Gonzalez in the system would they have chosen Schafer (who hit .372/.441/.636
before an early May promotion from Low A to High A, and was on his way to
leading the minor leagues that year with 176 hits) over Andrus, who was thought
to be one year older than Gonzalez (rather than three years younger than
Gonzalez, as we now know)?  Would they
have gone a different direction with the pick they used on Borbon or the return
they demanded from Boston
for Eric Gagné? 

 

Schafer was
suspended in 2008 for 50 games after testing positive for human growth hormone,
though he did come back with a solid second half and remains a legitimate prospect.  Still, what if Texas ended up with Carlos
Alvarez Daniel “Smiley Gonzalez” Lugo and Jordan Schafer, and had no Elvis
Andrus and maybe, having spent all that cash on Gonzalez, an international class
that ended up including fewer than all of Wilmer Font and Wilfredo Boscan and Kennil
Gomez and Carlos Pimentel?

 

Maybe the Nationals
saved us.

 

Questions surrounding
Byrd’s left knee and Brandon Boggs’s right shoulder make the Andruw Jones audition
a little more understandable.  While Byrd
expects to be ready for Opening Day and Boggs had a good MRI reading, both will
probably be limited as exhibition play gets underway next week.  That development, along with Nelson Cruz’s
addition to the Dominican Republic roster for in next month’s World Baseball
Classic (he was invited Wednesday once Melky Cabrera withdrew from the tournament),
will open up plenty of at-bats for Jones. 

 

Here’s the
audio from Jones’s interview with Ben & Skin
on 105.3 The Fan
yesterday.

 

Lefthander Matt
Harrison is expected to get the start on Wednesday when Texas
opens its Cactus League schedule against Kansas
City.  He begins
camp as one of the members of the club’s penciled-in rotation, along with Kevin
Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Scott Feldman, and Brandon McCarthy.

 

No pitchers have impressed
Ron Washington more in camp, according to reports, than McCarthy and C.J. Wilson,
and that’s very encouraging, given how the 2008 season ended for each.  Both have a lot to prove.  According to Washington, “C.J. is really overmatching our
hitters.”

 

Rumor has it Arias’s
arm strength is coming back, though he hasn’t yet been asked to make throws to
first from the left side of the infield. 
If true, it would significantly increase his value as a utility player
candidate (here or in trade).  The reason
he played in only two games in winter ball was reportedly not a physical one,
but rather a family issue.

 

Scott Lucas digs into the numbers to test my theory
that Josh Hamilton fared significantly better when Milton Bradley was next to
him in the lineup last year.

 

Sometime during camp,
the Rangers and Hamilton are expected to discuss a long-term contract.

 

Texas reportedly sent a representative to California for reliever Chad
Cordero’s Wednesday throwing session (his first off a mound since shoulder surgery
last summer).

 

According to one
local report, lefthander Joe Beimel turned down a non-roster deal to join Texas about a month ago.  The solid 31-year-old reliever (who was
drafted by the Rangers in 1996’s 26th round but didn’t sign) remains
unemployed but won’t for long, and you’d expect that his interest in coming
here has probably diminished, if anything, since Eddie Guardado has signed
since Beimel declined the Rangers’ first offer.

 

The same local
report notes that Jerry Narron won’t resume his consulting role with Texas this season.

 

Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis made Neftali Feliz
the number one starter and Andrus the shortstop on his Prospect All-Star Team
including players signed internationally; Justin Smoak the first baseman on the
college version; and Derek Holland as the number two starter on the junior
college version.

 

BA‘s Top 100 Prospects list isn’t out yet, but Callis confirmed that seven
Rangers will show up, and although Beltre missed the cut, he was “number 101.”

 

Goldstein, asked during
a Baseball Prospectus chat to identify prospects on his own Top 100 list who
could shoot up the chart a year from now, said that of the players he ranked
between 51 and 75, Michael Main is the top candidate for a big jump.  Goldstein added that Martin Perez “might be
the guy not on the Top 100 who could make the highest jump.”

 

Kansas City claimed infielder Tug Hulett off waivers from Seattle.  Florida
signed infielder Dave Matranga to a minor league deal.  The Dodgers signed shortstop Johnny Washington
to a minor league deal.

 

Need a 2009 Bound
Edition
to help get you ready for the season?  I can ship you one immediately.

 

In 1989, my sophomore year of college, some UT buddies and I spent Spring
Break on the ASU campus.  We went to
spring training games nearly every day.  We
happened to see two or three Mariners games that week.  Seattle
ran a 22-year-old (who looked 14) out to shortstop each time, a minor leaguer named
Omar Vizquel. 

 

I filled one of those cheap little spray bottles with ice water as we
headed out each morning . . . .

 

water_bottle.jpg

 

. . . to help keep cool while getting a tan.  By the third inning of the first M’s game we
were at, Vizquel would jog our way at the end of every defensive inning on his
way to the dugout, grab the bottle, and douse himself.  Same thing at the other game or two.  Met him after one of the games, and we’d
later joke that it would be cool if that kid, the happiest guy to play spring
training innings you’ve ever seen, eventually made it all the way to the big
leagues, even for just a day or two.

 

A few months later, that kid was starting in Seattle,
and when the Mariners visited Texas
in June, we met up with Vizquel after the game (minutes before we very nearly
got into a physical altercation with Junior Griffey).  He showed us the bat he’d used to get his
first big league hit (off Oakland’s
Storm Davis, three days after Dave Stewart had scared the tar out of him when
he stepped to the plate on Opening Day). 
We all planned to get lunch the next day. 

 

I called Vizquel a little before noon the next morning.  Pretty sure the phone call woke him.  He mumbled, “Who?”  I reminded him who it was.  He hung up. 
I remember thinking then that we’d been bigtimed by a kid who would be
in The Show for two years, maybe three. 

 

I’ve forgiven the future Hall of Famer since, so I’m not going to get mad
at him for getting his dates wrong and reporting to Surprise today, a day later
than he was supposed to.

 

 

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

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