February 2009

Why 2009 should be better.

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I wrote this, after
reading Josh Hamilton’s book in October 2008:

 

Jon Daniels commented late last week, in the
context of what the club might be looking for in its new pitching coach, that
one thing he’d like to see is a coach who might be able to help Texas pitchers
develop the same confidence — even swagger — that the hitters always have
here. 

 

I thought about Hamilton, and the
Kinsler/Young/Blalock triumvirate that sat in the back of the room as he was
introduced to the Rangers press in February. 
They all have that swagger, but it’s a quiet confidence that stops short
of arrogance, or self-importance. 

 

I
wrote this a year before that, after seeing Elvis Andrus at Fall Instructs
after the 2007 season:

 

For some players, the
ball just sounds different coming off their bat.  Some can spin a breaking ball in such a way
that you know the hitter has no chance before the pitch is halfway to the
plate.  There are others, like Andrus,
who you can tell are different simply by how they carry themselves.  I’m struggling as to how to explain it.  It’s not really a swagger that Andrus
has.  It’s more of a comfortable
magnetism.  He reminds me of a feature
tailback, or a really good cover corner, with that smile that says he knows
he’s going to beat you more often than not. 
He’s going to be a leader.

 

This
came from part of the local media contingent on hand this weekend as pitchers
and catchers – and a good number of others, including Andrus – reported to
Surprise:

 

Andrus didn’t show any
signs of cockiness Saturday, but he is confident.  That’s one reason why the Rangers are
confident he’ll be able to handle the jump to the big leagues.  Andrus stood in front of his locker Saturday
morning and addressed a quaint gathering of media as if he had been doing it
all of his life.  He’s all of 20 years
old and about to become the starting shortstop for the Texas Rangers.  So, fielding questions — even in his second
language — should be no big deal, and it wasn’t. . . .

 

But don’t mistake
confidence for a sense of entitlement or a know-it-all attitude.  Andrus admits he has much to do this spring,
and he is ready to pick the brains of his All-Star teammates to ease his jump
from Double A to the big leagues.

 

Want
some really interesting organizational insight on Andrus?  And Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz, and
Chris Davis and Justin Smoak, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden, and
Michael Main and Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre and more?  Don’t miss the interview
that Baseball Prospectus’s David Laurila did with Rangers Director of Player
Development Scott Servais
.

 

BP’s
Joe Sheehan adds this:  “Get thee to
Surprise early, for no team in the majors has a system quite like the Rangers,
who have invited Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Justin Smoak to camp.  None will be around the major league camp for
too long, but all are worth the trip–the long trip–out to see them if you’re
down in Arizona.  To see Feliz and Holland throw intrasquad innings in March of
2009 will be a bit like watching Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna share a desk in the
summer of 1940.”

 

Consider
that Rangers special advisor Mel Didier has more than 50 years of scouting experience
when absorbing his comment about Smoak, relayed by Jim Reeves: “He’s the best
young player from both sides of the plate that I’ve ever seen.” 

 

Righthander
Brendan Donnelly wasted no time opening eyes. 
The Rangers held their first pitchers’ workout yesterday, and the
veteran reliever prompted Nolan Ryan to ask, in the presence of reporters: “Has
anybody ever made the team the first day of camp?”

 

Many
position players have already reported to Surprise, in advance of Wednesday’s date
to do so.  The first full-squad workout
will be Thursday.  Jon Daniels expects everyone
in camp on time, with the possible exception of infielder Jose Vallejo, whose
wife is still waiting on her visa paperwork to go through.

 

The
club has scheduled an intrasquad game for a week from today, by which time
pitching coach Mike Maddux expects all pitchers to have thrown four or five
bullpen and live batting practice sessions.

 

Eleanor
Czajka has formatted Ryan
Tatusko’s two “Back Field Diaries” entries
on her Minor Details page.

 

Seattle designated infielder Tug
Hulett for assignment.

 

Two
readers confirmed that first baseman Nate Gold has in fact signed with the La
New Bears of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan.  One, in fact, advises that Gold has already
been dubbed with the nickname “Handsome Gold.”

 

I’m
not here to tell you that 2009 is the Rangers’ year, but since there are local
columnists out there trying to tell you that there’s nothing worth looking
forward to, let me suggest that there are plenty of realistic reasons to
believe that 2009 can be meaningfully better than 2008′s 79-win, second-place
finish:

 

1.
Despite all the pitching injuries, Texas
was on an 85-77 pace when Ian Kinsler and David Murphy were last in the lineup
together early in August.  Even an
average season from a team health standpoint has to be worth a few wins.

 

2.
Mike Maddux.

 

3.
Kevin Millwood is pitching to vest a 2010 contract that he’ll never get on the
open market, and if he doesn’t reach 180 innings, he’s in the same boat as
Vicente Padilla, pitching for what should be the final multi-year contract of his
career. 

 

4.
A full year of Chris Davis.

 

5.
Nelson Cruz hit .356/.448/.667 in September. 
Hank Blalock hit .337/.385/.695 in September (prompting one scout to
tell Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Heyman that
he was “the best hitter I saw in the second half”).  They had the top two OPS figures in the American
League among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances for the month.  A full season from Cruz and a healthy one
from Blalock could be big.

 

6.
Guess who led the league in batting average in September (among hitters with
100 plate appearances or more)?  Would you
believe Josh Hamilton, who local columnists decided from the Cowboys press box had
a terrible second half?  Hamilton’s home run total dropped off after
his momentous All-Star Break (22 before, 11 after), but after his explosive
.310/.367/.552 first half, he did hit a healthy .296/.376/.498 in the second half,
boosted by his .366/.443/.516 September. 
That September clip was his best monthly batting average of the season.

 

There’s
probably a way to create splits that will show what Hamilton’s output was in the 114 games that
Milton Bradley hit fourth, as opposed to the 48 games he didn’t.  I bet the disparity was significant.  Answering the question of who will fill the
cleanup void is high on the list this camp, but if Cruz or Blalock can produce
the way he did at the end of the season, we’re talking.  (Yes, you’d prefer to go left-right in the
three-four spots, but Hamilton
hit .288/.342/.459 and Blalock hit .277/.337/.566 against lefties in 2008.  Not terrible.)

 

As
for Hamilton, a
year without all the draining road trip press conferences, without a book to
write, with a better idea of how to condition himself for the duration?  (Chances are he’ll also have a long-term deal
in place before the season starts.)  It’s
reasonable to think he’s set up to approach the production he gave this team in
2008.

 

7.
The defense will be better at first base. 
I believe it will be better at second base.  I have enough faith in Michael Young’s skill
set and how he’ll attack his program for the next six weeks to believe that
Young and an Andrus/Omar Vizquel tandem at shortstop will mean better defense
on the left side than the combination of Young and eight third basemen were in
2008.

 

8.
Young at the plate?  Ten unbroken fingers
rather than eight.  Bet on the numbers bouncing
back.

 

9.
Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jon Garland out.  Bobby Abreu, Brian Fuentes, and Dustin
Moseley in.

 

10.
The bullpen?  Frankie Francisco started
last season in AAA.  He starts this
season coming off 13 straight dominant appearances (1-0, 0.00, five saves in
five chances, 21 strikeouts and four walks in 12.2 innings, four hits [.093
opponents' batting average]). 

 

C.J.
Wilson wasn’t healthy.  Now he is. 

 

Does
Eddie Guardado have anything left?  It didn’t
look like it a year ago, and all he did for four months was get outs.  Derrick Turnbow?  Scott Eyre? 
Don’t know, but it’s not as if Joaquin Benoit gave this team much in 2008.

 

Worried
about filling the void created by the departure of Jamey Wright?  In two of his final three months last season
his ERA was over 8.00.  No reason
Donnelly, who is here on a non-roster deal (just like Wright was in each of his
two Rangers seasons), can’t come in and give this team as much as Wright did in
the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008.

 

More
innings out of the starters would mean a less brutal workload than Wright and
Josh Rupe were put through last year.  That
would be good news for Rupe, who was as good as anyone in Rangers relief in May
and June (2.12 ERA) but struggled in the second half (6.44 ERA).

 

Don’t
rule out a surprise emergence from someone like lefthander Joe Torres.  Ron Mahay and Brian Shouse were longshot
journeymen brought to camp on non-roster deals once upon a time, too, and look
at them now.

 

I’m
not ignoring Warner Madrigal or Dustin Nippert or Kason Gabbard.  Thomas Diamond or John Bannister could figure
in at some point as well.

 

11.
I have more confidence in the 23-year-old Saltalamacchia than I did the
22-year-old version.  And I love the idea
of Teagarden growing with, and helping shepherd, the young pitchers who have
arrived or are on the way.

 

12.
It can’t get worse for Brandon McCarthy. 
He’s the poster child for the organization’s new expectations of its
pitchers.

 

13.
Matt Harrison in his nine wins (over only three months): 2.75 ERA, opponents’
line of .241/.299/.382, nearly twice as many strikeouts (33) as walks (17).  In his six losses and no-decisions: 12.04
ERA, opponents’ line of .416/.469/.788, more walks (14) than strikeouts (nine).  He’ll be just 23 almost all season.  Some more consistency from the lefthander
could mean big things.

 

14.
Holland will be
here at some point in 2009.  Feliz might
be, too.

 

15.
Ben Sheets?

 

16.
This is going to be true this summer, and next winter, and every summer and
winter in the foreseeable future: If this club is in the hunt, or feels it’s
one or two impact players away from making serious noise, no team is better positioned
to offer high-end prospects to get a major trade done. 

 

17.
I won’t put Andruw Jones on this list, because I suggested at the top that these
were realistic expectations for improvement. 
Never know, but I’m not counting on Jones making this team, or making a
big impact if he does break camp on the roster.

 

18.
This team simply has to have a better April.  Its record through the end of the first month in
the two Ron Washington seasons is 20-33 – which is a .377 win percentage, or a
61-win pace. 

 

Why
does that change in 2009?  Several factors
to consider: (1) Texas opens at home this year, after opening on the road the
previous two; (2) Texas plays more home games than road games this April, after
the opposite the previous two; (3) of the 22 games on the club’s April schedule,
three are against a team that had a winning record in 2008.  And that team’s winter has been highlighted by
the loss of A.J. Burnett and the addition of Keith Millar on a minor league
contract.

 

But
the biggest reason to realistically believe that April 2009 will be better is
that is has to be.  The Rangers showed
some character when their backs were against the wall in May last year, with
major changes reportedly imminent, and in any number of games throughout the
season when they came back to win in dramatic fashion.  In a sense, their backs are against the wall
coming right out of the gate this year.  Another
bad April will mean a new manager in May. 
These guys love playing for Ron Washington.  They know he’s got to have a good start to
survive, and that’s on the players.

 

Better
defense in April is imperative.  Better pitching
is, too, obviously, and we can hope that one offshoot of the stricter off-season
conditioning programs and the more challenging spring training regimens will be
that the starting pitchers in particular will break camp ready to roll.  Even the offense is responsible for a better
start: April was the Rangers’ worst month in terms of OPS last year, and their
second worst in 2007.

 

Hamilton is saying 90 wins is
within reach.  Ryan suggests this team
should win at least 87.  But those are just
numbers.  You don’t run out of the dugout
on April 6 or April 17 or June 8 thinking, “We’re playing like an 87-win team
tonight.”  You go to war with a mindset
like the one Hamilton
articulated this weekend: “We know we have to start off better.  It’s about starting with intensity from the
very beginning, not wait until you get down and get the fire in [you].”

 

Does
a better April mean a better season?  Not
by definition, but it sets a tone, and forges a momentum.  In the last seven seasons, Texas has had two winning Aprils, in 2004
and 2006.  Those were the only years in
that stretch when the Rangers won at least 80 games.

 

Again,
I’m not counting on a playoff berth in 2009. 
But for the four local TV sportscasts, three of which apparently won’t
even send a crew to Surprise in the next six weeks, and some of the Metroplex’s
general columnists, the Rangers are a handy punch line.  Given how uninformed (and disinterested) those
opinion-makers are, the joke to me is not the subject matter, but the messenger.

 

Everyone
who pays attention agrees that this organization is headed in the right
direction, though not everyone agrees on the timetable.  Even if 2009 doesn’t extend past October 4, there’s
a very real chance that this season will be better than the last, and that
shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

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

 

Happy Holidays.

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Baseball Prospectus’s
Kevin Goldstein places six Rangers on his Top 100 Prospects list: Neftali Feliz
(6th overall), Justin Smoak (22), Derek Holland (40), Michael Main
(66), Engel Beltre (68), and Elvis Andrus (73). 
No other team had as many.

 

Andruw Jones’s $500,000
base has these added incentives, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post and Jeff Euston of Cot’s Baseball
Contracts: $75,000 each for reaching 340 and 380 plate appearances; $125,000
each for 420, 460, 500, and 540 plate appearances; and $175,000 each for 580
and 620 plate appearances; $200,000 for winning Comeback Player of the Year, $100,000
for winning MVP; $50,000 for earning All-Star selection or winning World Series
MVP; and $25,000 for winning a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, or LCS MVP.  So yeah, if he’s the best player in baseball
this year, Texas
will pay him $1.975 million.

 

(Unlike the typical
situation, in which the Dodgers would get an offset for 100 percent of Jones’s
pay from the Rangers [including incentives], Jones and Los Angeles agreed at
the time of the restructured buyout that the Dodgers would only get half.)  Jones can request his release if not on the
roster by March 20. 

 

Jason Jennings
(according to Troy E. Renck of the Denver
Post
as well as Euston): $800,000 if on roster; $100,000 each for 110, 120,
and 130 innings pitched; $200,000 each for 140 and 150 innings pitched; $150,000
each for 160, 170, 180, 190, and 200 innings pitched.  He can request his release if not on the
roster between April 1 and April 25.  If
released before April 30, due $15,000 in termination pay.

 

Eddie Guardado: $1
million if on roster; $100,000 each for 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65 games pitched;
$200,000 for 35 games finished; $300,000 for 40 games finished; $400,000 for 45
games finished; $500,000 for 50 games finished; $600,000 for 55 games finished;
there’s not a no-trade clause, but Guardado gets a bonus of $500,000 if traded
to one of four clubs he designates; $250,000 if traded to an AL East or NL East
club; and $100,000 if traded to an AL Central or NL Central club.

 

Brendan Donnelly: $950,000
if on roster.  He can request his release
if not on the roster on March 27 and April 27. 

 

By the way, Donnelly
was an original Hickory Crawdad, suiting up for the Rangers’ new Low A
affiliate in the club’s inaugural 1993 season (but not pitching due to injury).

 

First baseman Ben
Broussard signed a minor league deal with a non-roster invite from the White
Sox, and righthander Jamey Wright got one from Kansas City. 
Infielder Ryan Roberts has the same arrangement with Arizona,
and lefthander Randy Flores with Colorado. 

 

And I missed this
somehow: lefthander Bill White landed a non-roster invite from the Cubs in
January.  

 

Drew Meyer signed a
minor league contract with Houston.  No invite. 

 

Not sure where Nate
Gold landed, but a Google News search produced this:

 

打線進化
壹蘋果網絡, Taiwan - Feb 12, 2009
(楊逸民) 面對牛隊今年預期的暴力打線,過去被稱為暴力熊的La New也找來重砲戈登(Nate Gold,見圖)。他出身打擊見長的遊騎兵農場,今年才滿29歲,過去2年在遊騎兵3A共

 

From that I’m going
to guess he has signed to play in Taiwan.

 

The “Extreme Makeover:
Home Edition” episode from Keller,
Texas, the one in which Kevin
Millwood and the Rangers participated, has apparently been pushed on ABC’s
schedule from tomorrow night until March 1.

 

Free agent Ben
Sheets had successful elbow surgery Tuesday, and he’s shooting for a
second-half return to a big league mound. 

 

I’d very much like
for that mound to be in Arlington.  With Sheets wearing a home jersey.

 

Lefthander
Broc Coffman signed with the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks and infielder-outfielder
Wally Backman Jr. signed with the Joliet Jackhammers, both of the independent
Northern League. 

 

Coffman
and Backman were teammates in Spokane (2005) and
in Clinton (2007).  Their teammates in 2005 included righthander Doug
Mathis and catcher Taylor Teagarden, and in 2007 included righthander Omar
Poveda and catcher Manny Pina, two 25-year-old’s and two 21-year-old’s who probably
woke up a little bit ago to report for duty at the complex at Surprise, to
embark on a seven-and-a-half-month path that, at least today and for the next
six weeks, they might imagine could, if things break right, approach eight months,
if not a little more.

 

One
last thing:

 

Happy
Holidays.

 


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

 

bb_on_grass.jpg

Two sleeps.

Patience pays off for Angels.

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Milton
Bradley hit .321/.436/.563 in his career year in 2008. 

 

Bobby
Abreu hit .296/.371/.471.  Just about what
he does every year.

 

Yes,
Abreu is 34, while Bradley is 30.  But Abreu
played in 156 games in 2008, his lowest total in the last eight seasons.  Bradley appeared in 126 games – his high in
the last four years. 

 

Over
those four years, Bradley has hit .299/.394/.510, playing in 358 games.  He had eight stints on the disabled list (torn
finger ligament, torn tendon in left knee, right knee sprain, left shoulder
strain, left hamstring strain, left hamstring strain again, right calf strain, oblique
muscle strain) – and that includes no disabled list time with Texas despite an
injury-marred second half in 2008. 

 

Abreu:
.290/.392/.463, 632 games.  No disabled
list time.

 

Stated
another way, if age is theoretically a factor in terms of committing to a free
agent hitter, then projected health has to be, too, and Abreu’s baseball age
has to considered less of a risk than Bradley’s.

 

Abreu,
a left-handed hitter, is reportedly about to sign a one-year, $5 million
contract with the Angels.  Incentives can
apparently kick it higher.

 

The
Cubs – coveting a left-handed-hitting middle-of-the-lineup presence – are giving
Bradley $9 million in 2009 ($4 million signing bonus plus $5 million base).  They’ve also guaranteed him, despite his
health history and an inability to preserve him a bit at designated hitter, $9
million in 2010.  He’s also in line to
make $12 million in 2011 – though it converts to a club option (with $2 million
buyout) if he doesn’t reach certain playing time levels beforehand. 

 

So
Bradley, a very good baseball player but a massive health risk, is guaranteed $20
million over two years by a DH-less team. 
If he stays as healthy as the Cubs need him to, he’ll be guaranteed $30
million over three years. 

 

And
Abreu, a very good baseball player, is guaranteed $5 million over one.

 

Strange,
strange winter.

 


 

Light.

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asteroids.jpg

 

San Diego gave righthander Edwin
Moreno a non-roster invite to big league camp.

 

The
Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Golden Baseball League released
righthander Dan Touchet.

 

The
Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association signed catcher Kelley Gulledge,
son of Rangers Vice President of In-Park Entertainment Chuck Morgan.

 

The
Yomiuri Giants signed infielder Edgardo Alfonzo.

 

Marlins
General Manager Michael Hill was the Rangers’ 31st-round pick in
1993.  The outfielder-first baseman out
of Harvard (where he was the football team’s leading rusher) was an Erie Sailor
in 1993 and a Hudson Valley Renegade in 1994, hitting .223/.323/.330 in those
two seasons.

 

Yeah,
I did it.  I Facebooked
“25 Things.”
  (I discovered the Hill
note while researching number 5 on my list.)

 

The
same year that Texas took Hill with the draft’s
871st selection, Seattle used a pick 870
slots earlier on a 17-year-old shortstop from a Miami high school.  Ten years after that, Hill was Florida’s assistant general
manager, while the shortstop was a Texas Ranger, and baseball’s best player, when
he says he told his wife of less than a year: “I just don’t see the light.  Where is the light?”

 

Today,
the answer to that question is easy for me.

 

Rangers
pitchers and catchers report in four days.

 

It
can’t come soon enough.

 

 

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Alex Rodriguez: In his own words.

Seemed like a decent
time to lift these from page 46 of the 2005 Bound Edition (“Top 10 Alex
Rodriguez Quotes”):

 

 

From A-Rod’s infamous
April 2004 ESPN The Magazine article, written shortly after he’d engineered his
way out of Texas and to New York:

 

“I hit rock bottom in the middle of the [2003]
season.  I remember driving home with my
wife, Cynthia, after a game and telling her, ‘I just don’t see the light.  Where is the light?  What am I in this for?’  I would have never gone to Texas if they had told me, ‘Alex, it’s going
to be you and 24 kids.’  Never.” 

 

“Rock
bottom in the middle of the season.”  Do
we know when the positive 2003 test was?

 

 

Date
unknown; date unnecessary:

 

“There is a difference
between image and reputation.  Image is
nice; reputation is developed over an entire career.  Reputation is what I’m searching for.”

 

Whoops.

 

 

Upon
being named captain of the Rangers in January 2004:

 

“I definitely think I’m
going to be here for a long time.  I’m
probably pretty sure it will work out for the best.” 

 

Had
to throw this one in because it’s one of my favorite [well, least favorite] sports
quotes ever.  “Probably pretty sure.”

 

 

Also
in April 2004:

 

“I’ve had kind of a
weird ability that the more chaotic things are around me, the better I
play.  My comfort level is probably in
the eye in the storm, perhaps.” 

 

Guess
we’re about to see.

 

 

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

Ben Sheets: I'm not finished.

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This is the Newberg Report I’d been dying to
send for the past few weeks:

 

 

What do July 15, 2008 and April 6, 2009 have in
common?

 

bensheets4.jpgclifflee01.jpg

    

All of a sudden, a lot.

 

 

After hours of afternoon sports talk radio air
devoted yesterday to Dan Reeves and barely a mention of Ben Sheets, it occurred
to me that as parallel as the two stories appeared to be on the surface – a
couple guys with local ties brought to the doorstep by the Cowboys and Rangers,
with deals nearly done that would have brought an instant injection of
integrity and leadership, only to be scuttled at the last minute – the big
difference was that what happened with the football team was a big old bag of
good grief, whereas with the baseball story there were a couple things to feel
good about:

 

1. The Rangers proved, as they have done a
number of times in recent years, that payroll budgets are subject to exceptions
when the right opportunity is there.  They
got a deal done with Sheets.  The deal didn’t
survive the physical, but that’s a legitimate ace, the first number one Texas had agreed to
terms with since Nolan Ryan, and the Rangers got the second year that they’d
been negotiating to get.  That in itself
is encouraging.

 

2. The Rangers’ medical team, headed by Team
Physician Dr. Keith Meister and Medical Director Jamie Reed, did what you want
them to do, and that is help the team dodge a bullet by stepping up and telling
ownership and management that the deal they’d worked so hard for weeks to
strike was a bad risk.  The Yankees can
outspend their mistakes (and there have been plenty), and so can the Red
Sox.  Other teams generally can’t, Texas included, and
whether the medical evaluation saved the Rangers $5 million or $10 million (according
to multiple local reports this morning) or $20 million in guaranteed dollars,
it’s a significant amount of money that would have hamstrung the club to some
extent.  Good work by the medical team.

 

A few things:

 

1. No, Sheets and his agent Casey Close weren’t
perpetrating some sort of fraud on the Rangers, trying to land a big contract
knowing that surgery was inevitable.  If
they knew he wasn’t going to be able to answer the bell this spring, they would
have accepted Milwaukee’s
December arbitration offer, which surely would have produced a 2009 salary in
excess of the $11 million Sheets made in 2008. 
Sheets knew he would have to pass a physical to get a free agent
deal.  He clearly thought he could pass
it.

 

2. Further evidence of the above is the fact
that Milwaukee
offered arbitration in the first place. 
If the Brewers (who obviously knew his health situation better than
anyone else) believed Sheets was such a health risk that his 2009 season was in
serious question, there’s no chance they would have dangled the arbitration
offer.  What would have been worse than owing
Sheets something like $15 million over two years?  Owing him $12 million for one season, spent
entirely on the disabled list.

 

(And if your baseball brain is taking the next
step and thinking that if Milwaukee were to lose to Sheets in arbitration, the
club could just release him and owe him only a sixth of his contract, a few problems
there: (1) If the two sides were to settle in advance of a hearing, which typically
happens, the base would have been fully guaranteed unless Sheets were to consent
to a non-guaranteed deal – no chance; (2) the Players Association has successfully
grieved past situations in which a club has released a player it lost to in
arbitration; and (3) releasing an injured player in hopes of owing less than
the full contracted amount is a losing position to take.)

 

3. Many of you emailed me yesterday afternoon suggesting
that we hold off until after the June draft and try to sign Sheets then to one
of those Jon Lieber contracts that I talked about in yesterday morning’s
report, so that we wouldn’t forfeit this year’s second-round pick.  Smart enough in theory, but here’s the
problem: Let’s say Sheets has surgery in the next few days, it goes well, and
the prognosis is that he could be back on a big league mound in
mid-August.  What happens when the
Yankees lose Andy Pettitte in May or the Red Sox lose A.J. Burnett in June, and
decide to throw silly money at Sheets as a second-half reinforcement?  If there’s a multi-year Lieber deal to be
made, and Sheets and the Rangers agree on the structure of it, don’t mess
around.  Get it done.

 

4. Renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews is
expected to perform the flexor tendon repair, which reportedly would have
already taken place if there weren’t insurance issues (regarding who will be
responsible for the costs) holding it up. 
(So the Brewers weren’t only stripped, at least for now, of a
supplemental first-round pick and the Rangers’ second-rounder when last week’s
deal fell through, they may also be on the hook for Sheet’s surgical and rehab
expenses.) 

 

5. As far as how long after surgery it could be
before Sheets is pitching again, I’ve seen estimates of as few as four months
and as many as 10.  This isn’t Tommy
John, which usually means 12-18 months.  But
realistically, he can’t be counted on in 2009. 
But even those who believe Texas
has a chance to compete this year will admit that the outlook is even better in
2010, when Sheets should be ready to go. 
Texas will be free of its commitments to Kevin Millwood (probably) and
Vicente Padilla a year from now, and the thought of having a number one warrior
like Sheets, back with his longtime pitching coach and leading a young,
talented pitching staff, fires me up, even though 2009 is probably a lost year
for him.

 

6. On that subject, it’s too bad Sheets didn’t
have the procedure done once he was shut down late in September.  Again, he obviously didn’t think he would
need surgery at all, but if he’d gone ahead with it after last pitching, it’s
conceivable that he’d have been ready to go in 2009, if not at the outset then
sometime around mid-season.

 

7. But he didn’t, and once the insurance issues
are cleared up, Sheets will be operated on. 
And then there will be months and months of intense rehab work.  Wouldn’t it make sense for him to be able to
stay home in Dallas and do his work in Arlington, not only a convenient
arrangement logistically but one that would allow him access to the Rangers’
medical staff and trainers and state-of-the-art facilities, with Mike Maddux
around as a confidant (and overseer of his throwing program late in the rehab
process) and Nolan Ryan, a warrior legend in his own right, around as well -
and, as a team-centric side effect, any number of young Rangers pitchers around
to see a major league ace work his tail off to be able to climb the hill again
and help his teammates win big league baseball games?

 

The counter-argument, of course, is that Sheets
will be positioned better a year from now to land the deal he wants, when he’ll
be healthier, baseball’s economy might be better, the free agent starting
pitcher class will be weaker, and more teams will be looking for a starter than
there are now.

 

But if he wants to pitch here, at home and with
Maddux and Ryan and for a team that was prepared to step up for him this winter
when nobody else would, contract incentives can presumably go a long way toward
covering some of those issues. 

 

Do I surrender my second-round pick, which will
sit at around number 60 overall, for a chance to have Ben Sheets rehab as a
Texas Ranger in 2009?  You bet.

 

The equipment trucks will pull away from Rangers
Ballpark and head west for Surprise a few hours from now, and there won’t be a Sheets
number 15 jersey in tow.  It’s
disappointing in one sense, a relief in another, but the fact that there was a
time last week when everyone in the room agreed that the player was going to be
a Texas Ranger for two years, at mutually agreeable terms, gives me some hope that
this story may not be completely finished.

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

 

Sheets reportedly needs surgery.

According to Adam McCalvy and T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com:

 

·       
Ben Sheets may need surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his
elbow.

 

·       
Texas and Sheets had
an agreement “late last week” on a two-year contract, but when the tendon tear
was discovered during Sheets’s physical, the deal was called off.

 

·       
The Rangers could still explore a deal with Sheets that would
allow him to rehab with the club (sounds like the Jon Lieber scenario I proposed
this morning), but Jon Daniels is “not optimistic at this point.”

 

·       
There’s an issue as to whether Milwaukee would be on the financial hook for
Sheets’s medical costs going forward since he was employed by that club when he
suffered the injury.  The Brewers will probably
argue that surgery was not objectively indicated when the season ended or else
they wouldn’t have offered the righthander arbitration (which I suspect he
regrets declining at this point).

 

I’m still hoping for a Lieber deal, with even more conviction now
than before, since Sheets – apparently – no longer has the leverage of negotiating
on the basis that he might not be sidelined at all in 2009. 

 

But this is a bad development, for everyone concerned.

 

Your long-awaited Jon Lieber report.

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T.R. Sullivan blogged
last night about the Ben Sheets saga
, titling his entry “Don’t Expect
Sheets,” and, although acknowledging that he’s merely speculating (“Hard evidence?  None to offer.”), he finishes with this: “Something
just doesn’t feel right.  This just isn’t
going to get done.”

 

This is clearly all about the righthander’s health, particularly projecting
forward.  I’m not nearly as plugged in as
Sullivan, but I’m holding out hope that something does get done, maybe a deal reminiscent
of the one the Yankees gave righthander Jon Lieber six years ago yesterday – knowing
he would miss an entire season at the outset of the contract.

 

Lieber, who’d gone 20-6, 3.80 for the Cubs in 2001, was a 6-8, 3.70 pitcher
in 2002 when he came out after the seventh inning of a 2-2 matchup against Jake
Peavy on August 1.  He’d scattered five
hits, walked nobody, fanned six, thrown 75 percent of his pitches for strikes,
and even hit his first double of the year and scored his second run.  Bothered all season with elbow tendinitis, however,
it was determined after that game (with the Cubs 14.5 games back in the division
and 24 games out of the Wild Card spot) that Lieber’s worn ligaments needed
surgery, and the Cubs shut him down, operated on him a week later, and declined
a $6.25 million 2003 option on the 32-year-old two months after that.  He wouldn’t pitch for another 21 months.

 

Six months after the Tommy John procedure, Lieber sat on the free agent
market and, unsurprisingly, nobody would touch him. 

 

Until New York
got creative and, on February 4, 2003, signed Lieber to the following terms:

 

·       
$500,000 signing bonus (half payable at signing, half in
January 2004)

·       
$300,000 in 2003 (league minimum)

·       
$2.45 million in 2004 (he would also earn another $4.75
million in bonuses, during a season in which he went 14-8, 4.33 and made three
playoff starts)

·       
$8 million club option in 2005 (which the Yankees would
eventually decline and buy out for $250,000 in November 2004)

 

The dollars aren’t important to focus on, other than to the extent that
New York agreed to pay Lieber the minimum for the season during which they knew
he wouldn’t pitch, and loaded the deal with enough incentives that he basically
tripled his salary the second year by pitching healthy.

 

Is that sort of deal possible with Sheets?  No idea. 
First, there’s been no indication that Sheets is going to miss the 2009
season, or even need surgery – which is not to say that those aren’t
possibilities; we just don’t know.  Second,
while there are health issues, they’re not as concrete as Lieber’s were, as he’d
already had surgery when signing the Yankees contract.  So there’s less reason, arguably, for Sheets
to accept a deal that presumes he won’t contribute meaningfully in 2009.  The 2009 incentives would have to be as meaningful
as the 2010 incentives.

 

Bottom line: I’m hoping that there’s a deal to be made here.  Everyone involved in the negotiations is
creative enough to make something work, assuming that the player wants to be in
Texas and that
the team isn’t completely warded off by the long-term assessment of the medicals.

 

That Josh Hamilton-to-right field story in one of the local papers over
the weekend?  Not happening.  Not this spring, at least, say the Rangers.

 

No comment on Jon Heyman’s new blog entry suggesting Scott Boras client
Andruw Jones would be a great fit in Texas, which “
could emerge as a possibility” for the 31-year-old
whose career has hit a brick wall and whose last team, the Dodgers, just
released him with $22.1 million still owed. 
Interestingly, the headline on the entry interprets the “could emerge”
phrase liberally: “Rangers emerge as suitor for Andruw.” 

 

I’d suggest that Heyman doesn’t write his own headlines, but there’s
this: tucked in among dozens of Heyman blog entries over the last week or so,
all but one of which have 100 percent neutral, objective headlines, is one
bearing this head: “Giants, Twins attend [Boras client] Crede’s
impressive workout” (parenthetical
added, emphasis added). 

 

I don’t need to comment further (and further and further) on the
subject because Rich
Lederer of Baseball Analysts already has
.

 

I think the episode of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” that was
recorded in Keller in December will air at 7:00 p.m. on February 15, the day after
pitchers and catchers report.  Not sure
if Kevin Millwood’s participation or the Rangers’ additional presence at the project
will be featured.

 

Boston signed outfielder Brad
Wilkerson to a minor league deal. 

 

The Mets named Robert Ellis pitching coach for High A St. Lucie.

 

This
week’s Dallas Observer cover story

is on the Rangers’ effort to return to contention by building from within.

 

It’s been a couple months since I mentioned this, but with spring
training a week and a half away, if you’re craving some Rangers reading to get
you ready for the season, the second printing of the 2009 Bound Edition is done
and I can ship books the same day I receive payment.

 

To order, you can pay by credit card at www.PayPal.com,
sending payment to the gjsneaker@sbcglobal.net account.  That should take about 30 seconds, or even
less if you go to http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp
and click the “Pay with PayPal” button beneath the image of the cover.

 

Or you can send payment by check or money order to:

 

Jamey Newberg

Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein, P.C.

2001 Bryan Street,
Suite 2000

Dallas, TX
75201

 

The specials are still in place as well: (1) if you buy at least two
2009 books, you get a free copy of any previous year’s edition (your choice);
and (2) a gift set of all ten years of the Bound Edition is available for $125
(which is a $35 discount).

 


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

 

Asked & Answered, v.1.

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Well,
here we go.  You guys buried me in
questions, and I just couldn’t get to all of them.  Apologies to those whose questions didn’t
make the cut. 

 

Thanks
to everyone who participated.  Unless feedback
dictates otherwise, I suspect we’ll do this frequently throughout the year.

 

On
to the questions:

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  My question involves Justin Smoak.  Do you see him spending this upcoming year
entirely in the minors?  Or do you see
him being called up towards the end of the year?  Like Teixeira before him? – N.S.

 

A:  More
questions on Justin Smoak than on anyone else, and it wasn’t close.  Tackling this angle: If he’s the most
productive hitter in minor league baseball and there’s a lineup need in Arlington, then yes, we
could see him this summer.  But if
there’s no room for everyday at-bats (e.g., Nelson Cruz for the first four
months in 2008 – and that was a player who was out of options and thus more in
need of a look than Smoak will be in 2009), then even a September call-up would
waste a November 2009 spot on the 40-man roster.  I expect Smoak to arrive during the 2010
season when the situation fits, though not at the outset, similar to Chris
Davis in 2008 and possibly Elvis Andrus in 2009.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Where, in your opinion, would the Rangers’
minor league system rank if you take out the players acquired in the
Teixeira/Gagne/Lofton trades?  I guess
what I am asking is where would our system rank based on JD’s drafting and
signings out of Latin America? – M.M.

 

A:  Remove
the
players Texas
added in those three July 2007 trades, and this is what my top 20 would look
like:

 

1. Derek Holland, LHP

2. Justin Smoak, 1B

3. Michael Main, RHP

4. Taylor Teagarden, C

5. Martin Perez, LHP

6. Blake Beavan, RHP

7. Julio Borbon, OF

8. Neil Ramirez, RHP

9. Wilfredo Boscan,
RHP

10. Eric Hurley, RHP

11. Kasey Kiker, LHP

12. Wilmer Font, RHP

13. Omar Poveda, RHP

14. Jose Vallejo, IF

15. Tommy Hunter, RHP

16. Joe Wieland, RHP

17. Mitch Moreland,
1B-OF-LHP

18. Tim Murphy, LHP

19. Kennil Gomez, RHP

20. Robbie Ross, LHP

 

But in the absence of
the Teixeira trade, you’d also have two more first-round picks in 2009 (the Yankees’
first-rounder – he has a higher Elias ranking than C.C. Sabathia or A.J.
Burnett – plus a supplemental first). 
(Doubt we’d have offered arbitration to Eric Gagné after 2007, so
probably no draft pick compensation lost there.)

 

Without Neftali Feliz,
Elvis Andrus, Max Ramirez, and Engel Beltre, particularly the first two, the
system looks quite a bit different, but it would still clearly be a top 10
system, if not top five.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  The Rangers have seemed to focus their
attention, in recent years anyway, on drafting pitching talent.  Will the Rangers be turning their attentions
towards a 3B or 2B prospect in this year’s draft, and can we expect to see the
Rangers start to collect a few more position prospects in the next few years,
while also continuing to add legit pitchers? – R.B.

 

A:  Never
draft for need.  Never.  If the best player on the Rangers’ board when
the 14th slot comes up in June is a first baseman, take the first baseman.  Plus, if there’s one hole in the lineup when
this team is contending, you can always go fill it by way of trade or free
agency (e.g., Tampa
Bay: Pat Burrell).  That said, a few of the infielders Texas has
signed out of Latin America the last couple years could start to show up on
prospect lists in 2009, making the depth at second and third seem less of a
problem. 

 

Another thing: with
Omar Vizquel, Travis Metcalf, German Duran, Joaquin Arias, and Jose Vallejo
around, and given who is holding down the starting job at those two positions, depth
there maybe less of an issue than at any other position for the next few years.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Do you know the status on the draft pick
we had out of Lexington
Christian Academy
this past year? – B.L.

 

A:  You’re
thinking of Robbie Ross, the high school lefthander Texas drafted in the second
round last June.  Ross signed at the
August 15 deadline and, having not pitched in three months, was kept off the
mound by the Rangers with just a couple weeks left on the short-season and
rookie league schedules.  He was invited
to Fall Instructional League in October and will return to Surprise not only
later this month but most likely will remain there all the way until June, when
extended spring training concludes, and possibly all season if the decision is
made to assign him to the Arizona League and keep him there all year.  Hopes are very high: Although Ross fell to
the second round, he signed for more than any of the Rangers’ five first-round
picks the year before.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  With regard to Golson and Mayberry being
great defensive center fielders, should the Rangers consider playing them in CF
even if they are not great bats?  I mean
the Rangers score more runs that anyone else, but our defense, particularly up
the middle, is suspect.  Would playing a
great CF who could maybe save a run or two a week be a better option than a sub
par CF like Byrd or Murphy who could maybe put up more offense?  I always hear that it’s about pitching and
defense, but we are like the Suns of baseball – and neither of us have a
championship recently. – S.

 

A:  Assuming
you meant Julio Borbon rather than John Mayberry Jr.  You’ve probably read by now that Texas is
thinking about moving Josh Hamilton to a corner, which for 2009 is not a
concession that he’s not the club’s best center fielder but instead an effort
to reduce the wear on his body by moving him to a less demanding position.  But you’re right about the franchise’s
emphasis on defense up the middle. 
Evidence: the willingness to use a first-round pick on Borbon even
knowing it could (and ultimately did) take a major league contract to sign him,
and the decision to flip Mayberry for Golson, an oustanding center
fielder.  Still, if you’re asking whether
Texas ought to break camp with Borbon or Golson as the starting center fielder
two months from now, that’s very unlikely. 

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  What has happened to Joaquin Arias?  The guy was discussed for years coming up
(maybe not always as a top of the line prospect, but people knew who he was)
and when he got here he did a very nice job. 
I’m not pushing for him to take over 2B and put Kinsler in the OF.  Or even for him to be the SS until Andrus is
ready (obviously that won’t happen now with Vizquel).  But there seems to be total radio silence
about him. – J.

 

A:  His
shoulder simply hasn’t come back, which is a real shame considering arm
strength was one of his plus tools when he came over in the Alex Rodriguez
trade.  If Arias can’t play on the left
side, he’s obviously not an ideal utility candidate, especially here, where the
utility infielder has to be able to play shortstop since he’ll be called on to
play third or second roughly as often as you or I will. 

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Wouldn’t it be a huge mistake to not make
sure Andrus gets at least the two weeks in the minors needed to get the extra
year out of him before free agency?  I
have been a big supporter of this front office and of JD, but if they blow an
extra year of him over two weeks, I will consider that unforgivable.  - S.A.F. (C.)

 

A:  It
might be overstating things to call it a huge mistake, but never underestimate
how smart the front office is here, or how divergent their thinking is.  They don’t miss things like this.  I’m not suggesting it’s a slam dunk that
Andrus spends a couple weeks in Oklahoma
City, but I’d say the organization won’t at all be
disappointed if his play in March suggests he could use a bit more fine-tuning
on the farm.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Where does the big righthander Tommy
Hunter fall in all of this?  I know he
had a tough time in his three starts with the Rangers last season, so will he
be in Oklahoma or Arlington this season? – L.

 

A:  Both.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  What do you see happening with Chris Davis
and Justin Smoak?  Will the Rangers find
a place for both of them or will one be traded? – B.

 

A:  I
suspect the Rangers will find a way to get both in the middle of the lineup
once Smoak is ready.  But anyone is
tradeable if it makes sense in the big picture. 
Remember the LaPorta theme I wrote about on Draft Day.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Is Neftali Feliz better suited for a
future closer role than a role in the starting rotation?  If you could compare Derek Holland to any
current MLB pitcher, who would it be? – M.

 

A:  You
never anoint a prospect as a closer until he makes it pretty clear that there’s
little or no hope of his repertoire developing enough variety to start.  Never. 

 

As for Holland, the popular Scott
Kazmir comp has some merit, but toss Jon Lester, John Danks, and Cole Hamels in
there as well.  The thing about Holland is he’s proven he
can get better, not only in short order but against heightened
competition.  One of the fascinations of
camp for me will be to see how he fares in his opportunities to face big league
hitters.  As humble and almost naïve as Holland is, he’s an
extraordinary competitor between the lines.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Which player has more of an MLB ace
make-up for the rest of their career, Holland
or Feliz? – J.

 

A:  Mulder
or Zito?  Smoltz or Maddux?  Kobe
or Shaq?  Lennon or McCartney?

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  If Andrus were to play 120 games in 2009,
what sort of stats do you see him ending up with? – J.

 

A:  In
his first 494 big league at-bats (spanning two years), Jose Reyes hit
.283/.307/.407 with 32 stolen bases.  In
his first 196 big league at-bats (spanning two years), Alex Rodriguez hit
.224/.257/.352 with seven stolen bases. 
I’ll say Reyes’s on-base, A-Rod’s slug, and split the difference in
batting average and steals.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  1. What does Feliz have to work on this
year to prepare for the Majors?

 

2. What does Holland
have to work on this year to prepare for the Majors?

 

3. What does McCarthy have to show in spring training?

 

4. What does Diamond have to show this year?

 

5. What does Vallejo
have to show this year to be considered more than a utility player? – T.H.

 

A:  1.
Fastball location, consistency with the breaking ball, arm slot, holding
baserunners.  And you’d like to see him
have a little adversity thrown his way (on the scoreboard, not the trainer’s
room, of course), just to see how he responds. 

 

2. Proving that his
crazy 2008 was no spike.  A dose of some
of that adversity would be good, too.

 

3. Health.  Command. 
Fight.

 

4. Command.

 

5. Patience.  (And not in the plate discipline sense.)

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Which of our upcoming prospects is most
likely to break our hearts, either because of a fragile build, fragile arm,
poor work ethic, or lack of focus? – J.B.

 

A:  It’s
not my nature to think that way, but I’ll say Wilmer Font.  Not saying it’s likely that he won’t make it,
but his upside is the kind that, if not realized, will break hearts.  And he’s a long way away, so the odds of
making it aren’t as good as they are for, say, a Holland
or Feliz or Main or Perez.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  1. What do you expect from Kiker and
Poveda in 2009 as they get their first (extended) exposure to AA hitters?

 

2. Perez, Moreland, Holland,
and Boscan all moved up at least twenty spots in your prospect rankings between
2008 and 2009 while Steve Murphy, Whittleman, Reed, and Garr all moved down at
least twenty spots.  Name five players
from your 2009 list that would not surprise you to see a similarly large change
in their prospect status by the end of the 2009 season.

 

3. In rank order, name five prospects in the Rangers system
with no major league experience who you believe are closest to being able to
compete at the major league level.

 

4.  This is recycled
from Jason [Parks's] Q&A but I so enjoyed/appreciated his answer that I
would like to get your list as well. 
Name and rank the top ten pitches thrown by Rangers pitching prospects. 

 

5. Holland
and Feliz made the two-level jump from Low A to AA in 2008 while Hunter made
the two-level jump from High A to AAA. 
Do you think that any of the projected starters on the A-ball teams
(assume Perez, Boscan, Ramirez, Pimentel, and Bleier at Hickory,
and Main, Beavan, Murphy, and Gomez at Bakersfield)
will experience a similar two-level jump in 2009? – D.

 

A:  1. I
have a very good feeling about Kiker. 
This is the year I bet we see him turned loose, given the opportunity to
face a lineup more than twice through. 
If it doesn’t go well, the idea of creating a bullpen monster could find
some traction – think J.P. Howell.  Even
though we have more of a book on Poveda, I’m less confident.  Can’t put my finger on why.

 

2. Great
question.  Gimme Carlos Pimentel, Thomas
Diamond, Richard Bleier, Tim Smith, and Juan Polanco as candidates to storm
upwards on the list.  (Smith fascinates
me: if I had to bet whether he’d be number 15 next year, or number 60, I’m not
sure what I’d say.)  As for a possibility
to drop a bunch, Chad Tracy is coming off a
great 2008 finish but could find it tough to get everyday at-bats all
season. 

 

3. Elvis Andrus, Derek
Holland, Justin Smoak, Jose Vallejo, Julio Borbon.  And I’ll add this: Candidates for a Tommy
Hunter stampede to the big leagues? 
Lefthanders Tim Murphy and Corey Young, both drafted eight months ago.

 

4. Neftali Feliz’s
fastball, Derek Holland’s fastball, Martin Perez’s curve, Michael Main’s
fastball, Omar Poveda’s change, Neil Ramirez’s curve, Wilfredo Boscan’s sinker,
Tommy Hunter’s curve, Corey Young’s curve, Mike Ballard’s change.

 

5. Best bets: Boscan, Main, and Murphy. 
And Corey Young.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  The question I have relates to Michael
Young’s move to third.  What’s Travis
Metcalf think about the organization indirectly telling him he not in their
plans for third base?  I haven’t heard or
seen anything referencing the impact to Travis. – J.M.

 

A:  I
don’t know what Metcalf’s thoughts are, but I’m betting he understands the
situation.
  He’s
important this year as a safety net in case of injury to Young, but if he has a
good AAA season (he has one option left), he’s a candidate for a trade next
winter, or possibly even in July, in a Marcus Thames-for-Ruben Sierra kind of
deal.  Flip side: If Metcalf has an
extended stretch of difficulty in Oklahoma
City, he’d be an in-season candidate for a designation
for assignment, which could have the effect of extending his Rangers career
another season.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  If Colby Lewis and Juan Dominguez were 22,
where would you rank them among our current prospects?  What is the difference (at a similar age)
between Ruben Mateo and Engel Beltre? – G.M.

 

A:  Two
cool questions.  I’d say Dominguez behind
Elvis Andrus (who I have at five on my list) and ahead of Taylor Teagarden
(six), and Lewis behind Martin Perez (seven) and ahead of Max Ramirez (eight).  Dominguez’s age 22 winter followed a very
good Low A season (2.16 ERA in 66.2 innings, .209 OBA, 70 strikeouts and 21
walks) and preceded his breakout season, when he would go 10-0, 2.83 between
High A, AA, and AAA (.208 OBA, 140 strikeouts and 40 walks in 136.2 innings)
and make six big league appearances. 

 

As for Beltre vs.
Mateo, their age 18 seasons were strikingly similar even though they projected differently.  Both played Low A at that age, and Mateo’s
.260/.309/.401 line (30 doubles, eight triples, eight homers, 30 steals in 39
tries) looked a lot like Beltre’s .283/.308/.403 (26 doubles, nine triples,
eight homers, 31 steals in 42 tries). 
While Mateo was built solid like Vernon
Wells, and Beltre is Alfonso Soriano-wiry, the two outfielders shared a plus
arm that would play in right field but stand out in center.  As Mateo developed, his slug increased while
his running game became less productive. 
A similar trend wouldn’t be out of the question with Beltre, though he’s
likely to run to some extent no matter how much his power develops.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  If Justin Smoak shows he is ready for the
Majors, what do the Rangers do with Chris Davis and Hank Blalock?  I would assume they trade Blalock, meaning
Chris Davis and Justin Smoak share first base and designated hitter.  What is your take on this? – R.D.

 

A:  Two
initial thoughts: First, you roll the balls and bats and gloves onto the field
in 2009 and let everybody play.  See what
happens this year before even thinking about how Smoak impacts the lineup.  Second, don’t rule out Max Ramirez’s place in
all of this.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  With Greinke getting a four-year, $38
million extension, wouldn’t this be a good time to go hard after him?  That is a long-term, manageable contract and
if you can do it with three top prospects, I would go for it.  Trust me, I love having the top prospects in
the league here, but this is an ace that we need and he is young.  Smoak, David Murphy, Feliz, and Beavan, maybe,
or is that just wayyyyy too much for him? – C.T.A.

 

A:  Yes,
that’s too much.  I’m pretty sure I was
the first around here to wave the Greinke flag last summer, but I’m not sure
there’s a pitcher I’d give that much up for. 
Even if I were willing to trade all of those players, I’d probably pair
Smoak with Beavan, then put a separate Feliz-Murphy package together, and see
what two starting pitchers I could get in side-by-side trades.  

 

On top of all that, Kansas City won’t trade
Greinke now.  Even for that package.  At best they’d probably say “Love the offer,
but come back with it in a year.”

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  If I’m understanding the Rule 5 Draft
correctly, next off-season the Rangers protect or risk losing, among others,
Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Pedro Strop, Beau Jones, Brennan Garr, Renny Osuna,
and Manuel Pina.  After 2010, the list
apparently includes Derek Holland, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Mitch
Moreland, Engel Beltre, Carlos Pimentel, and Kennil Gomez.  And there’s also the chance that guys will
reach Arlington
before they have to be protected (perhaps Justin Smoak, Michael Main, Tim
Murphy or Corey Young).  Since Texas has already been
scrambling with the Rule 5 each of the last two years, should the Rangers try
trading depth for more elite prospects? – A.

 

A:  You’re
right about all those names.  Add to the
2009 watch list Fabio Castillo and Cristian Santana, both of whom have the
talent to explode onto the scene at any time, and guys like David Paisano,
Johnny Whittleman, Chad Tracy, and Glenn Swanson, none of whom would be
protected today but could be on that map by the summer.  And forget about leaving Holland on the 2010 list – he’s an almost
sure bet to reach the big leagues this year. 

 

When I suggested over
the summer that Texas
consider padding an offer of Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Clay Buchholz with Omar
Poveda (who was added to the roster in November), this was a key reason why.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  WHEN the Rangers are contending for the
division title at the trade deadline this year, which prospect(s) are they most
likely trade to fill in the missing piece at the time?  What positions are the Rangers overloaded at
in any particular minor league level that may also bring the organization
additional value? – M.B.

 

A:  Interesting
question.  Justin Smoak can’t be traded
before August 15, but he can be a player to be named later (deals involving
PTBNL’s must be closed within six months). 
Teams will ask about him, figuring that unlike Derek Holland and Neftali
Feliz, Smoak might be expendable given Chris Davis’s presence.  But as the Rangers have shown this winter in
the case of their catching depth, they won’t discount their young players just
because they have a potential excess. 

 

Where the Rangers
could be tested is if teams dangle impact veterans this summer for the next
wave of high-end pitching prospects, starting with Michael Main and Martin Perez.  It’s hard to imagine Texas
making either of them available for a summer rental (as Milwaukee did when it traded Matt LaPorta in
a deal for C.C. Sabathia), but if it’s an impact player with multiple years of
control? Gut check time.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Is Feliz considered a better prospect than
Holland purely
due to velocity? – B.E.

 

A:  Not
by me.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Which pitcher below the Major League level
do you expect to make the biggest impact this season? – A.F.

 

A:  These
are my top 10 candidates for a breakout season on the mound in the 2009 Bound
Edition:

 

1. Michael Main, RHP

2. Martin Perez, LHP

3. Joe Wieland, RHP

4. Neil Ramirez, RHP

5. Tim Murphy, LHP

6. Kennil Gomez, RHP

7. Corey Young, LHP

8. John Bannister, RHP

9. Fabio Castillo, RHP

10. Kasey Kiker, LHP

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  If we don’t have a great prospect
currently at third base and Smoak is supposedly coming soon, why wouldn’t you
see if Davis or Max Ram can become adequate third basemen?  Would Davis
really be happy just being a DH at such an early age?  Wouldn’t trade value increase if they show
they can play third? – J.

 

A:  First,
there’s the matter of Texas
having its third baseman in place, you know? 
On top of that, even if the position were a question mark, Davis and
Ramirez are better where they are now. 
Hold off worries about how Davis and Ramirez and Smoak fit together
until all three are in the immediate picture.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Do you think that MLBAM taking control of
all the Minor League Baseball website operations might signal a possible end to
the perceived “value” of going to and attending minor league baseball?   Almost seems like the owners want to squeeze
that revenue stream for some additional cash by homogenizing all the minor
league websites.  Thoughts? – J.S.

 

A:  I’d
be surprised if web content or design had any impact on the loyalty of Minor
League Baseball’s fan base.  That
demographic can fight through just about anything.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Now that Davis is here and Ramirez is knocking on the
door, who is the next power hitter on the horizon? – D.R.

 

A:  Justin
Smoak, and there’s not a close second. 
Mitch Moreland may pitch, and Engel Beltre and Clark Murphy are years
away.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Can you comment on which minor league
level will have the best/worse rotation in 2009?  Who is likely to make a quick jump to Frisco
due to the abundance of starting pitcher candidates in Bakersfield? – R.

 

A:  I’d
suggest that Frisco might have the weakest April rotation of the four
full-season affiliates, but there’s precedent for pitchers who survived Bakersfield to put up better results once they get to the Texas League.  These 20 starting pitchers – Derek Holland,
Neftali Feliz, Michael Main, Martin Perez, Blake Beavan, Neil Ramirez, Wilfredo
Boscan, Kasey Kiker, Wilmer Font, Omar Poveda, Tommy Hunter, Joe Wieland, Tim
Murphy, Kennil Gomez, Guillermo Moscoso, Robbie Ross, Doug Mathis, Fabio
Castillo, Carlos Pimentel, and Thomas Diamond – could be evenly distributed
among the organization’s farm affiliates. 
Stunning depth.

 

Give me Boscan, Main, and Murphy as candidates to get to Frisco quickly.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Is there any chance that the Rangers will
give Beau Jones another chance at starting? 
He started in six of his seven appearances with Clinton
after being acquired in 2007, and then four times with Bakersfield early in 2008.  I know that he suffered an injury while
starting last season, and that he was more effective out of the bullpen in
2008, but Jones doesn’t turn 23 until August 25th, and although there wouldn’t
be anything wrong with him turning into a reliever similar to C.J. Wilson in
2006 and 2007, it’s hard to imagine that Texas would so easily concede that a
left-handed pitcher who can hit the mid-90′s with his fastball can’t be a
starter. – A.

 

A:  A
chance?  Sure, but with the number of
starting pitcher prospects knocking on the door, and the lack of depth in
left-handed bullpen candidates, the likelihood is that Jones is right where the
organization wants him, being groomed for a relief role.  The 2008 season was Jones’s first full year
with Texas -
he posted a 5.30 ERA and .286 OBA in four High A starts (18.2 innings), but a
1.11 ERA and .202 OBA in 13 relief appearances (24.1 innings).  After his July promotion to AA, he pitched
strictly in relief, with an ERA of 4.02 but a .200 OBA.  He could come quickly as a reliever.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Other than Smoak do we have a good first
baseman in the minors? – O.B.

 

A:  Mitch
Moreland and Clark Murphy lead the pack, though Moreland’s versatility and the
presence of Smoak could limit his first base reps.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  The Lone Star Ball message board has been
talking about where Salty and Chris Davis would be ranked in the Rangers
organization if they were still prospects. Got any ideas? – R.

 

A:  For
me, Davis would
be number one, Saltalamacchia somewhere around eight.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Is Mitch Moreland more likely to stick in
the big leagues as a pitcher or hitter? – M.

 

A:  He’s
more accomplished as a hitter but the answer to your question, in my opinion,
is pitcher.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  I find I am having trouble getting my head
around the impact that the number of quality prospects the Rangers now have
will have on the big league team in the next five years.  Could you try and place your top 72 prospects,
on a percentage basis, into the following four categories.

 

1. Percentage of the prospects who you estimate will play
for the Rangers for one or more seasons.

 

2. Percentage of the prospects who you estimate will play
for another major league team for one or more seasons.

 

3. Percentage of the prospects who you estimate will become
regular AAA players who might play minor roles with a major league team.

 

4. Percentage of the prospects who you estimate will never play
regularly above AA.

 

I know that it is impossible to do this on a individual
player basis but I am hoping that your experience with minor league players can
allow you to make these “guesstimates” and help me get a better feel
for where the Rangers are headed in the next five or so years. – F.H.

 

A:  Looking
back at my 2004 rankings, the four categories were roughly as follows: 18
percent; 10 percent; 22 percent; and 50 percent.  It’s all guesswork, but I’d say with this
Rangers system, which is significantly deeper than it was five years ago, you
can arguably add five percentage points to each of the first three categories,
dropping category four to 35 percent.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Because of Elvis Andrus, we hardly hear
about infielders Joaquin Arias or Marcus Lemon.  With Andrus and Ian Kinsler set to be
patrolling the middle infield in Arlington for years to come, will guys like
this become trade bait or just have to settle on serving as utility players? -
G.W.

 

A:  Neither
is trade “bait” but I would judge both as potential utility infielders who would
be available as sweeteners in the right deal.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Jamey, sometime back I read that Nolan has
taken to Joe Wieland quite a bit.  Is it
his ability, pitching style, or make-up that piqued his interest?  Since he’s one of the high schoolers, could you
give us an optimistic view on how these high-upside youngsters should progress
through the system with advancement criteria for the different levels? – T.

 

A:  Yes.  Yes. 
And yes. 

 

As for his promotion track,
Jon Daniels likes to say about any of his club’s prospects, “The player will
tell us when he’s ready for the next level.” 
An optimistic projection?  Wieland
starts the season in Hickory and ends it in Bakersfield.  Reaches Frisco in 2010, a year when he’ll
pitch all season at age 20.  Gets a
non-roster invite to camp in 2011, and at some point during that season reaches
Arlington if
there’s a natural opening and he’s in rhythm with the RoughRiders or
RedHawks.  A 2012 or 2013 debut is more
likely, but you wanted optimism.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  I was just wondering if there were perhaps
any regrets over not taking Rick Porcello instead of the hometown product in
Beavan, since I noticed he was not in BA’s top 10.  I know Rangerland is giddy over the young ones
to come and I can only imagine the hype we have if we could boast Feliz, Holland, and Porcello.  - B.J.S.

 

A:  It’s
tricky.  Would you trade Beavan for
Porcello today, player for player? 
Yes.  But would you trade Beavan
(10-6, 2.37 in Low A last year, 73/20 K/BB in 121.2 innings, .234 OBA) and
about $9.165 million right now for Porcello (8-6, 2.66 in High A last year,
72/33 K/BB in 125 innings, .244 OBA), who has now exhausted the first of his
four options?  What if drafting Porcello
also meant you wouldn’t have committed out of slot in that draft to Julio
Borbon and Neil Ramirez?

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  With all the injuries that the Rangers
have had to their pitching staff, both starting and relief, what is your
prediction as to the starting five? – R.B.

 

A:  Ben
Sheets, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman.  Texas
uses an option on Brandon McCarthy (he has two remaining) but he ends up
winning 10 big league games in 2009. 

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  1. Percentage chance that Feliz ends up
being a starter versus a reliever in the long run in the majors?

 

2. Date that Borbon takes over permanently in CF for the
Rangers?

 

3. Where would Bucholtz rate in our top 10 prospects, if we
acquire him?

 

4. Where would Ryan Tucker rate on our prospect list, if we
acquire him? – M.H.

 

A:  70 .
. . June 6, 2010 . . . first . . . ninth.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  What is the deal with Blake Beavan?  I know he lost some velocity last year as his
delivery was re-tooled.  Will he ever
gain that velocity back as he becomes used to the rigors of big league
pitching? – M.R.

 

A:  Bet
on it.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  When compiling your prospect rankings, how
are you able to separate your personal feelings for a player in order to form
an objective evaluation? – J.P.

 

A:  It’s
tough.  I try actually to err on the side
of underselling the players I’ve gotten to know, to try and avoid the
appearance of rooting for them at the same time as I’m evaluating them.  But it’s a fine line.  Without understanding what makes Michael
Young tick, as an up-and-coming prospect you couldn’t fully appreciate what he was
and what he was bound to become.  I can’t
wait for Michael Main to arrive.  And based
on what Jason Parks (whose question this is) has said and written about his
dealings with Martin Perez – who happens to be the Jerry West of the Newberg
Report email logo – I’d suggest that any “objective” evaluation that fails to take
into account the player’s makeup and drive is an incomplete evaluation.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  I am curious on your thoughts on Ian
Gac.  He is currently in High-A, and
split time last year in Low-A.  He had
almost a 1.000 OPS in Low-A, but struggled a bit in Bakersfield, hitting below
.250, but still showing a little pop (13 HR,.760 OPS).  Even though he was a little old for the
class, I though he showed signs of possibly being able to eventually get a
call-up in a few years, but with his struggles at the end of the season, and
his “older” age (he will be 25 this year), do the Rangers expect anything out
of him, or is he going to always be that AA All-star type guy? – R.T.S.

 

A:  Gac
could become a legend in Japan.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  If you were to rate the Rangers’ top 10 prospects
for future major league performance among players 25 and under, including both
minor league and major league players, how would you rank them? – B.R.

 

A:  1.
Chris Davis

2. Derek Holland

3. Neftali Feliz

4. Justin Smoak

5. Michael Main

6. Elvis Andrus

7. Taylor Teagarden

8. Martin Perez

9. Jarrod
Saltalamacchia

10. Max Ramirez

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Number one farm system – what year will that pay off? – M.

 

A:  If
the team is in the hunt this summer, maybe right away.  Some of the key players who help make this
system number one will be traded for players who will help Texas get back to the playoffs.

 

*         *          *

 

Q:  Most prospect rankings have Michael Main
well ahead of Blake Beavan.  Other than Main’s mid-nineties fastball, there is not much
difference in their stats.  Main has a
3.19 K:BB ratio vs Beavan’s 3.65 even though Main
strikes out 10.34 per IP.  Is Beavan
being underestimated?  Is Beavan’s
durability at such a young age being factored into the prospect rankings? -
R.M.

 

A:  It’s
not a knock on Beavan, at least as far as I’m concerned.  He had a sensational season, particularly
given the velocity issues.  Have to be
pumped about a teenaged kid who responds to a noticeable drop on the radar gun
not by sulking or freaking out, but by putting up dominant results in a
full-season league, without his best stuff. 

 

But you have to see Main to fully appreciate what the Rangers have in that
guy.  In the 20 minutes or so I saw of Main at Fall Instructs, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  And from everything I heard, the glimpse I
caught was no aberration.  That is one
bad man. 

 

Thanks again for all the strong questions.

 

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

 

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