March 2009

Gabbard outrighted

According to at least one local
report, Texas has gotten lefthander Kason
Gabbard through league-wide waivers and outrighted his contract to Oklahoma City. 

That clears a 40-man roster spot, as
will the eventual transfer of Eric Hurley and Joaquin Benoit to the 60-day
disabled list and the likely designation for assignment of first baseman Joe
Koshansky.  Those four removals will pave the way for Elvis Andrus, Omar
Vizquel, Eddie Guardado, and Kris Benson to join the roster, but one more spot
will be needed for Jason Jennings if he makes the club (and in truth, Jennings
could be the first of those five added to the roster since he has an opt-out
date tomorrow). 

As discussed in this morning’s
report, the likely candidates to cede a fifth roster spot could be Luis Mendoza
(by way of DFA), Travis Metcalf (DFA), Tommy Hunter (60-day DL), Dustin Nippert
(60-day DL), or Willie Eyre (60-day DL).

If Andruw Jones makes the team, he’d
likely take Frank Catalanotto’s roster spot.

Jamey

Six sleeps.

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If spring training weren’t a week longer than normal, if the
season opened yesterday rather than six days from now, Derrick Turnbow might
have earned a spot in the bullpen and Josh Rupe might have been in a new uniform.  Spring training always seems too long, but if
the upshot of this extended camp includes the rescuing of Rupe’s Rangers
career, then I’ll be the first to thank the WBC.  I’ve always been a bigger fan of Rupe’s than the
numbers suggest I should be, but I see his stuff sink and dance and I hold out
hope that he can find the kind of command that just might make him a pitching
staff weapon capable of taking on a number of different roles.

 

If this new subtle slide by a few inches to the left does
the trick for Rupe, if toeing the pitching rubber more on the first base side means
more first-pitch strikes and better fastball command and just as many ground
balls and a whole lot more consistency – in his last three outings (including
consecutive-day efforts Sunday and Monday), he’s allowed no runs on three hits
and no walks in three innings, striking out one and coaxing seven ground ball
outs – then the man I had the audacity to call this franchise’s number three
prospect in November 2006 (behind John Danks and Eric Hurley and ahead of
Edinson Volquez) and then my big league pitching sleeper in 2008 just might
make himself a fixture on this staff.

 

Let’s hope.

 

Turnbow, who would have pitched back-to-back days as well
had he not been scratched yesterday with a knee issue, has been told he
probably won’t make the Opening Day staff, and he has the contractual right to
request his release today.

 

While Jason Jennings may not have joined Frankie Francisco,
C.J. Wilson, Eddie Guardado, and probably Rupe and Warner Madrigal in securing
a roster spot, he’s got to be close, maintaining a 1.69 ERA in six relief
appearances (two runs on 10 hits and four walks in 10.2 innings, fanning eight)
and, maybe more importantly, demonstrating an ability to come in with runners
on base and throw strikes.  Jennings has an opt-out
clause that kicks in tomorrow.  Don’t be
surprised if he’s added to the roster by Wednesday, because he’s pitched well
enough for other teams to get involved.

 

That would leave one spot in the bullpen, and the way Kris
Benson pitched yesterday – three runs on six hits and no walks in six innings,
fanning two – it might be an upset at this point if Texas doesn’t give the 34-year-old
Saturday’s exhibition start in Arlington and then the ball in the finale of the
season-opening three-game series against Cleveland, which would effectively
mean the final relief role would be filled by Scott Feldman.

 

Willie Eyre was on track to land a spot but hasn’t been able
to shake a right groin strain. 

 

Don’t rule out the possibility that Texas acquires a right-handed reliever this
week.  It was three days before the
opener last year that the club traded minor league reliever Jose Marte to Arizona for Dustin
Nippert, who was out of options and not going to make the Diamondbacks’
staff. 

 

Nippert, as you might recall, struggled horribly in April and
was designated for assignment in May, clearing waivers and permitting Texas to outright his
contract.  After throwing a seven-inning no-hitter
for Oklahoma late in June, he was back in Arlington early in July.  I bring that up because it wouldn’t be surprising
to see the Rangers designate newly acquired first baseman Joe Koshansky for
assignment this week, in order to reclaim the 40-man roster spot they filled by
claiming the 26-year-old off waivers from Colorado over the weekend.  Koshansky’s situation differs from Nippert’s
because he has two options left, but Texas
is almost surely going to attempt to get him through waivers as teams deal with
their own roster issues.

 

The 40-man roster adjustments will take some
creativity.  If Benson, Guardado, Jennings, Elvis Andrus,
and Omar Vizquel make the team, designating Koshansky and transferring Eric
Hurley and Joaquin Benoit to the 60-day disabled list will only create three of
the five needed roster spots.  (Leave
Andruw Jones out of it for now – if he makes the team, it likely means Frank
Catalanotto won’t, and so that roster issue takes care of itself.)  Assuming Nippert’s back injury and Tommy
Hunter’s and Eyre’s groin injuries aren’t serious enough to make the 60-day DL
a consideration, how do you create the two rosters spots you need?  Two of lefthander Kason Gabbard, righthander
Luis Mendoza, and third baseman Travis Metcalf could be candidates for a designation
for assignment, but a 60-day DL assignment for Hunter could make sense since it
can be backdated to March 27, and the club would be allowed to include a 30-day
rehab assignment in his DL stay.  (The
downside?  Placement on the disabled list
would entitle Hunter to big league pay, while an option would not.)

 

The team could even make Brandon Boggs the 25th man,
taking neither Catalanotto nor Jones to Arlington.  That would create one added roster spot.  But Ron Washington is saying that the job
will come down to Catalanotto or Jones. 

 

The left knee soreness that ended Chris Davis’s day early on
Monday is not expected to keep him out of action for long.

 

The Angels will start the season without their top three
starting pitchers (well, at least their top two and wherever Kelvim Escobar
figures in, coming off a season lost to injury that followed 2007’s 18-7, 3.40
mark), and now comes confirmation that Oakland ace Justin Duchscherer will miss
more than just the beginning of the season. 
He’ll reportedly have arthroscopic elbow surgery today, and could miss
two months.

 

Brad Wilkerson, in Boston
camp on a minor league contract, struck out 18 times in 42 anemic at-bats
(.119/.196/.286 – just five hits) and
didn’t wait for his April 1 opt-out date to seek other opportunities.  He left Red Sox camp on his own late last
week.

 

Chan Ho Park (2.53 ERA) has 25 strikeouts and two walks in
21.1 innings for the Phillies.  He’s
close to earning a rotation spot.

 

Only one Phillies player has more spring at-bats than John
Mayberry Jr., but he’s cooled off (.246/.288/.464) after a strong start, and
multiple stories indicate that the club is shopping for a right-handed-hitting
backup outfielder.

 

Milton Bradley has dealt with minor injuries off and on
through Cubs camp, but he’s hitting a monstrous .524/.583/.929 in 42 at-bats.  

 

I’m about to devote too much space to this note, but I’m unruly
that way.  I wrote this on July 19, a
dozen days before last summer’s trade deadline, when Texas was in third place in the division and
8.5 games back:

 

Surveying the
landscape of potential bullpen additions the Rangers could make this month, I
think I know who my number one candidate is.

 

He won’t cost us John
Mayberry Jr.

 

He won’t cost us
Johnny Whittleman and Evan Reed.

 

He won’t cost us
Michael Schlact and Marcus Lemon, and he won’t cost us Derek Holland.

 

He’d cost us a
transfer of Jason Jennings from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled
list.

 

I’m not sure there’s a
potential trade out there that would work for me any more than getting 33-year-old
Kiko Calero up here. 

 

In four appearances
since signing, the Oklahoma
reliever has a 3.00 ERA, but all the damage came in his first appearance back
on July 6 — when he hadn’t pitched in 18 days.

 

In his last three
RedHawks appearances, Calero (whose lifetime big league track record includes a
3.56 ERA with 255 strikeouts and 96 walks in 242.2 innings) has been perfect,
facing five hitters and getting six outs (a caught-stealing accounting for the
turbo-efficiency).  In two hitless and
walkless innings, Calero has fanned four.

 

He’s coming back from
a rotator cuff injury diagnosed a year ago. 
But every reliever on the market right now will have warts, whether it’s
health or effectiveness or a bad contract. 
And he seems to be pitching healthy. 
And effectively.

 

I’ll take Calero, and
keep the prospects.

 

Calero in Marlins camp this spring: nine appearances, nine
innings, no runs, three hits (all singles; .107/.138/.107), one walk, six strikeouts.  I’m not sure where his velocity is, and the bullpen
competition in Florida camp is stiff, but I
wish Calero were still here making himself a candidate to pitch in relief for Texas. 

 

The Rangers released seven more minor leaguers: righthanders
Chris Dennis, J.B. Diaz, Juan Peralta, and Julio Santana, infielder Kyle
Higgins, and outfielders James McGraw (son of Rangers amateur scout Gary
McGraw) and Truan Mehl. 

 

The York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League signed
catcher Luis Taveras.  It will be the 33-year-old’s
third season with York.  He was in the Rangers system from 1995
through 2001.

 

The Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League
signed righthander John Maschino.

 

The Joliet Jackhammers of the independent Northern League
traded outfielder Cory Harris to the Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent
American Association to get righthander Pat Mahomes.

 

Solid articles on the Rangers’ farm system by MLB.com’s
Jonathan Mayo: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090327&content_id=4076764&vkey=news_tex&fext=.jsp&c_id=tex&partnerId=rss_tex
and http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090327&content_id=4074698&vkey=news_tex&fext=.jsp&c_id=tex&partnerId=rss_tex.
 

 

George W. Bush accepted the Rangers’ invitation to throw out
the ceremonial first pitch on Monday.

 

I heard The Play on the KRLD broadcast Sunday, and could
tell from Eric Nadel’s and Steve Busby’s reaction that it was
transcendent.  There were no television
cameras on hand to capture an MLB Network or SportsCenter highlight, but we got
multiple beat writer accounts, and then this from Dallas Morning News columnist
Kevin Sherrington today:

 

On a sharp ground ball
just to the left of second, Elvis laid out, gloved it, pushed up and, using his
right hand for support only, flipped the ball out of his glove to Ian Kinsler
for the start of a double play.

 

Josh Rupe, the
beneficiary of the web gem, subsequently offered his thanks and a question.

 

Rupe: “You gonna be
able to do that every game?”

 

Elvis: “Yes.”

 

Washington said after the game that most shortstops would
have gotten to the ball, but making the pitch to second, not only without the
use of his throwing hand but also in a spot that allowed his double play
partner to receive it and complete the twin-killing?  Not as customary.  Nadel’s opinion?  Maybe Alex Rodriguez makes the play.  Maybe Benji Gil gets there, but he bobbles
it.  Same with Esteban Beltre.  Manny Lee, Royce Clayton?  No.

 

I didn’t see it, but the silver lining about having no
footage of Andrus’s 6-4-3 magic is that it would really have been just a
trailer.  We’ll see it again.

 

Six sleeps.

 

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

 

An ill wind over Anaheim?

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Another thought on the overreaction locally to the non-story
that Josh Hamilton didn’t find the Rangers’ initial long-term contract proposal
acceptable: contrast this situation – negotiations just getting underway with a
player who is under control for four more years – with what’s happening in Anaheim,
where lengthy off-season talks have reportedly broken off between the Angels
and number one starter John Lackey, who is seven months away from free
agency.  The 30-year-old from Abilene, UTA, and Grayson
County Community
College in Denison
is reportedly seeking $80-90 million over five years, while the Angels have offered,
according to at least one report, $50 million over four years.

 

Lackey has said he won’t negotiate after Opening Day. 

 

Now that’s a
story.

 

As is the apparent fact that the club is shutting Lackey
down with elbow inflammation and forearm tightness, endangering his readiness
for the start of the season.  Ervin Santana
(sprained elbow ligament) and Kelvim Escobar (recovering from July shoulder
surgery) are probably out for most if not all of April.  The Angels can still send Joe Saunders and
Jered Weaver out there, but Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart, and Shane Loux are
no Lackey/Santana/Escobar, and they catch Boston
and the Yankees in the season’s first month.

 

Just sayin’.

 

Toronto, the one club that Texas has on its April schedule which
had a winning record in 2008, may start the season without closer B.J. Ryan, who
has no apparent injury but whose velocity is down from his typical 87-90 to the
83-86 range.  The Blue Jays may also be
without starters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and Casey Janssen to begin the
season.

 

A thought on this talk that Scott Feldman could be a
candidate for a role change, shifting from starter to set-up duties, with Kris
Benson taking the vacated rotation spot: If the number five spot is only needed
two or three times in the entire month of April, can’t an argument be made that
having the resilient Feldman available in the seventh and eighth innings 12 or
15 times in the first month makes more sense than skipping him (or Matt
Harrison or Brandon McCarthy) in the rotation three times?

 

I’m not sure I view Feldman as a classic set-up reliever,
but there isn’t one from the right side right now, and if he’s as strong a
candidate as we now have to help get outs 19 through 24, I think I’m OK going
with Benson on April 12 at Detroit (against whom he has a 2.38 in three career
starts, including a 1.84 mark in two Comerica Park starts) and on April 26 at Baltimore
(the only team he’s never faced) to get through the month.

 

And what then, when the off-days become more sparse in
May?  Worry about that when that time
comes.  Maybe Benson will have pitched
well enough to keep getting the ball. 
Maybe Warner Madrigal or Derrick Turnbow will be in a good enough groove
to assume the right-handed set-up role, freeing Feldman up to return to the
rotation.  Maybe Derek Holland will be a 5-1,
2.40 AAA pitcher and ready for a bigger challenge.

 

Feldman is slated to get this afternoon’s start against Kansas City.

 

Chris Davis is now 15 for 40 (.375/.405/.775) in his last 13
games, with three home runs in his last four starts, and extra-base hits in
each of his last five.  Still concerned? 

 

Nelson Cruz is hitting .286/.350/.829 with a team-leading five
home runs (one short of the league lead) and 14 RBI (second on the club only to
Hamilton’s league-leading 17), even though Cruz has about half the at-bats of
many of his teammates due to his time away at the World Baseball Classic. 

 

While it might not rise to the impact level of Edinson
Volquez (and Danny Ray Herrera) for Hamilton, do you get the sense that if
Texas and Boston were to actually come together on a
Saltalamacchia-for-Clay-Buchholz trade, it might turn into a similar win-win
with both teams seeing their player instantly find stardom?  Saltalamacchia is hitting .350/.422/.600 in
camp and showing significant defensive improvement, while Buchholz has an ERA
of 0.46 in five starts (19.2 innings, .203 opponents’ average, no home runs, 15
strikeouts and three walks). 

 

Boston,
nonetheless, apparently intends to option the 24-year-old Buchholz for a third go
at AAA hitters.

 

Dustin Nippert’s back acted up again as he tried to throw
live batting practice yesterday, and a stay on the disabled list to start the
season is looking likely.  He’s out of
options, but a DL stint would give the Rangers an opportunity to send the
righthander out on a minor league rehab assignment once he’s ready to throw.

 

Holland,
who along with Neftali Feliz remains in big league camp (“learning and
observing,” says Ron Washington), gave up one run in five innings in a AAA start
yesterday.

 

C.J. Wilson sat 94 last night and looked sharp.  In 6.1 innings this spring, he hasn’t allowed
a run and has yielded only two hits and two walks, fanning six.  And get this: of his 13 outs on balls in
play, 11 have come on the ground.  Summary:
19 outs, 11 on groundouts, six on strikes, two in the air.  Outstanding. 

 

Catcher Adam Melhuse, who is having a strong camp at the plate
(.632/.696/.789 in 19 at-bats), has told the Rangers he’s not interested in an
assignment to Oklahoma City.  Since he won’t make the big club with Saltalamacchia
and Taylor Teagarden in line to share duties behind the plate, Texas will allow him to
seek other opportunities rather than insist that he report to the RedHawks,
where he’d been expected to mentor Max Ramirez. 
Melhuse says he’d probably retire before he’d return to the AAA level.

 

Interesting: Jon Daniels told at least one local reporter
that “teams” (including one in the American League) have inquired about the
availability of Frank Catalanotto, with an expectation of course that Texas would subsidize a meaningful
portion of the $6 million in guaranteed money remaining on his contract.

 

Jeff Moorad’s ownership group, which just purchased the Padres,
includes Troy Aikman as a limited partner. 
Moorad, you might recall, was partners with Aikman’s NFL agent, Leigh
Steinberg, back when Moorad was representing baseball players.  Moorad has also partnered with Aikman in the
former Cowboy quarterback’s NASCAR race team.

 

Minor league releases, according to Baseball America: righthander Jordan Stewart (undrafted
free agent, 2007), lefthanders Eric Evans (23rd round, 2008) and
David Wagner (undrafted free agent, 2008), and first baseman-outfielder J.T.
Restko (2003 draftee acquired from Florida
a year ago for righthander Jeremiah Haar) from minor league camp. 

 

San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg was in Fort Worth last night,
striking out 14 Horned Frogs in eight innings of work as the Aztecs downed TCU,
11-5.  One of the greatest college pitching
prospects ever, Strasburg scattered two runs on three hits and a walk.

 

Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, LSU righthander Anthony Ranaudo (the
Rangers’ 11th-round pick in 2007) faced Ole Miss lefthander Drew Pomeranz (the
Rangers’ 12th-round pick in 2007) last night. 
Pomeranz prevailed in the 7-4 Rebels win, giving up three runs in seven
innings as Ranaudo was touched for six runs in 6.2 frames.

 

If you coach or are involved in running a league or program
for kids in select league baseball, softball, soccer, hockey, gymnastics,
cheerleading, swimming, dance, martial arts, etc., in Texas, send me an email so I can share
something that might interest you.

 

 

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

 

Executing on the reg.

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Sometimes the less prominent moments stick out in your
head.  One of my favorite moments from the
greatness of “Eastbound & Down” was in the next to last episode, when Will
Ferrell’s Ashley Schaeffer character is seen in the background standing all alone
in the midst of a semi-riot at his own car dealership, swinging a bat around in
either a curious act of unnecessary self-defense or an unexpected opportunity to
find someone to tune up. 

 

Last night, the headline performances came from Vicente
Padilla, Chris Davis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Eddie Guardado, and Josh Hamilton,
but the moment that I’m still thinking about this morning was Elvis Andrus’s second-inning
at-bat. 

 

After Saltalamacchia homered to open the inning and give Texas a 2-0 lead, Travis
Metcalf drew a walk and Andrus stepped in against Jon Garland for his first
at-bat.  Ron Washington started Metcalf with
the pitch, not because he thought he had a chance to steal a base – Metcalf has
no major league stolen bases in 80 games and none whatsoever since his
early-2007 stint with Frisco – but because he has a ninth-place hitter who has
the ability to put the ball in play on the right side, which can be a real
weapon for this offense when you can create RBI opportunities for Ian Kinsler, who’s
capable of doing more damage than most leadoff hitters.

 

Andrus rifled the pitch through the vacated hole at second base,
sending Metcalf to third and helping turn what for past Rangers offenses might
have been a one-run inning after the solo homer into a three-run frame.  Kinsler hit a sac fly to center, scoring
Metcalf.  Andrus stole second with David
Murphy at the plate.  After Murphy
fanned, Hamilton
doubled Andrus home. 

 

Saltalamacchia’s bomb and Hamilton’s double (basically a line drive to
the warning track hit so hard that Chris Young couldn’t get back quickly enough
to grab it) will make the MLB Network highlights, but Andrus’s execution is
what stood out for me.

 

He can do that.

 

Following up on my Sunday report, some clarification on the opt-out
dates for various non-roster candidates, according to T.R. Sullivan of
MLB.com.  Jason Jennings apparently has
an April 1 opt-out, not April 25 as had previously been reported.  Kris Benson’s opt-out date is May 5.  Guardado and Jimmy Gobble have April 3
opt-outs, and Omar Vizquel has an April 2 opt-out.  Brendan Donnelly’s comes up tomorrow, and
Derrick Turnbow’s is Tuesday.

 

Texas optioned Max Ramirez
to Oklahoma City.  He needs at-bats.  Coming off his Venezuelan Winter League Rookie
of the Year effort (.298/.391/.618, leading the league in home runs), he’s
gotten only 15 at-bats this spring, 10 in the World Baseball Classic and five
with the Rangers.

 

Hamilton,
as you’ve doubtlessly read in half a dozen places already, was “disappointed”
the Rangers’ initial long-term contract proposal.  The story is that negotiations are
underway.  The story is not that Hamilton and his agent
turned down the first offer.  Too much is
being made of his comment.  This is a
process.  It always is.

 

Tom Hicks, who owns 95 percent of the Rangers and the Stars,
is considering selling up 44 percent of each franchise to limited partners,
which would not affect his controlling interest in either club.  He reportedly anticipates ultimately owning
between 51 and 60 percent of each club.

 

According to multiple reports, Hicks does not expect former
President George W. Bush to become a minority owner, but he would like for
Nolan Ryan to do so.

 

President Bush has been asked to throw out the first pitch on
Opening Day.  He hasn’t yet confirmed
whether he’ll do so.

 

The third YouTube installment of me and Evan Grant tossing
around spring training issues last week, with Ted Price of Rangers Podcast in Arlington filming in HD, is
now up, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xC-dCdeGRk.
 

 

Karin Morris, Executive Director of the Texas Rangers Baseball
Foundation, asked me to pass along details about the Welcome Home Luncheon,
which will take place on Wednesday, April 8 (the day of the first night game of
the season), starting at 11:30 a.m. at the Arlington Convention Center.  Individual tickets are $50, and a table for
eight costs $500 – and will include a Rangers celebrity at your table.  Ryan, Jon Daniels, Ron Washington, and every
one of the Rangers players are expected to attend the luncheon, net proceeds of
which will benefit the Foundation. 

 

For tickets, call 817-436-5933 or go to

http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/tex/fan_forum/welcome_luncheon.jsp.
  

 

 

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

Debunking.

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I read a column in yesterday’s
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
, not by the general columnist with the Mad Libs piece
he churns out every few weeks when it’s time for a Rangers theme, but instead
by the venerable Jim Reeves.  The
headline, which Reeves probably didn’t write himself, blares out that the
Rangers are “studying ways to trim their payroll.”  The lede, after suggesting that Tom Hicks would
like to cut another $20 million from the team’s payroll before 2010, declares
that, if it were to happen, “[i]t might just incite a riot among an already
restless and frustrated Rangers fandom.”

 

That’s exactly what the column was designed to do.

 

But read the quotes, which there are many of, in the
story. 

 

I don’t see where Hicks said he is looking to cut payroll as
an objective in itself.

 

I do see where he tells Reeves: “There’s no direction for [Nolan
Ryan and Jon Daniels] to cut payroll.”

 

I do see where Ryan notes: “We’re in the mind-set that we’re
going to be in the race this year and not in the mind-set of dumping salaries,
because we feel like if we’re successful on the field, what we haven’t been
able to accomplish this off-season in [season ticket] renewals we can make up
with walk-up attendance if we’re in a pennant race.”

 

As for the one significant 2010 salary that could transform
from a club option to a guaranteed contract – Kevin Millwood’s $12 million if
he reaches a workload threshold this year – Reeves acknowledges that “Hicks
said he hopes Millwood hits his 180 innings and will be back next season, ‘but
it’s up to him.'”

 

Doesn’t sound like an owner trying to find ways to cut payroll.

 

In fact, didn’t Hicks authorize a two-year deal for Ben
Sheets last month, for a reported $20 million, before the righthander failed his
physical?  There have been similar go-aheads
to bust payroll to sign players like Carlos Delgado, Barry Zito, Daisuke Matsuzaka,
and Torii Hunter in recent years.

 

Said Hicks to Reeves: “If we have a chance to get a great
Ben Sheets type player at the right price, we’d do it.  All of this is different than saying, ‘I want
you to cut the payroll.'”

 

But that point gets buried halfway into the column.

 

Ryan adds: “Tom wants to see us try to hit our budget this
year.  We feel like under the current
economic environment, we need to be in the pennant race and need to be
competitive this year.”

 

What’s wrong with that comment?  Particularly considered in light of the
effort to sign Sheets in February?

 

Hicks tells Reeves: “I like the energy of the young guys.  I like [Justin] Smoak.  I like Max Ramirez.  Next year, I think you’ll see [Neftali] Feliz
and [Derek] Holland
in the rotation.  It would be nice to see
[Brandon]
McCarthy step up this year.”

 

If that means some combination of Smoak and Ramirez could
change the Rangers’ situation at designated hitter, where Hank Blalock will go
into the off-season as one of two things – (1) a player who once again wasn’t
able to give the team a full season or (2) a dependable veteran bat who finally
put together a solid year from start to finish and will hit free agency – where’s
the problem with that comment?

 

As for Feliz and Holland impacting the rotation in 2010, is
that a signal that the Rangers simply want to get out from under Millwood’s and
Vicente Padilla’s eight figures a year and will stick any minimum-salary
pitchers they can find in there to replace them?  C’mon.

 

I think we’d all agree that McCarthy stepping up this year
is something worth hoping for.

 

Someone challenged me yesterday on the subject of the
Rangers’ payroll approach. 

 

This isn’t the Carl Pohlad-era Twins.

 

I’m in favor of spiking expenditures in scouting and player
development, going above slot for Smoak, Holland,
Taylor Teagarden, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Marcus Lemon, Robbie Ross, Clark
Murphy, Johnny Whittleman, Kyle Ocampo, Matt Thompson, and others, and kicking
tail in Latin America, rather than spending
cash on Jay Powell.

 

I appreciate that nobody offered Michael Ynoa or Junichi Tazawa
more than the Texas Rangers did.

 

I don’t know what the payroll strategy has been, or will be.
 But there’s evidence that the Rangers
are spending more (and spending wisely) internationally, and that whatever
budget gets set for the big league roster, it’s always subject to exception for
the right player.

 

But yeah, dang — I wish we’d signed Gary Matthews Jr. a
couple winters ago for that five years and $50 million the Angels gave him,
rather than take the two draft picks.  Maybe
the Angels would consider taking Michael Main and Neil Ramirez for him.

 

There were baseball writers in this market who criticized the
Rangers for letting Matthews “get away” at that price.  One of them, Reeves, wrote this a few days
into the 2007 season, after Los Angeles had
swept Texas
in the season’s first three games:

 

“Tom Hicks flew in
here from Liverpool, England, on Monday, presumably with the $10 million he
saved by not re-signing Gary Matthews Jr. this past off-season jingling around
in his pocket with a few extra British pounds in his loose change.

 

“What the Angels got
for their $10 million was Matthews’ usual spectacular defense in center field
and a three-game sweep of the Rangers to open the season.

 

“I’ll let you figure
out who got the best end of the deal.”

 

Who do you think got the best end of the deal? 

 

Who do you think the Angels think got the best end of the
deal?

 

I like Jim Reeves.  There’s
nobody in this sportswriting market who does a better job with the human
interest story.  But it bothers me when a
column like yesterday’s, something I’d expect instead from his one-trick
colleague, ends up manufacturing a misleading message that the casual sports
fan might blindly adopt. 

 

There are players on this team with sizable contracts who
will come off the books in seven months. 
If the team will be better – not cheaper, but better – by going with
younger players already in the organization and ready to contribute, is there
anyone who would reasonably argue that that’s a bad plan?  Especially for a team that believes it will contend
in 2010, and for years after that?

 

Are we to believe that Texas aren’t busy approaching Josh Hamilton with
a huge offer to be a Texas Ranger for life? 
It would increase payroll, you know.

 

And does anyone really think that if there’s a Ben Sheets
out there to sign in 2009 – either a starting pitcher on the free agent market (like
John Lackey if he doesn’t extend with the Angels, or Sheets himself), or a Josh-Beckett-from-the-Marlins
trade to get in on, that Texas will stay away because it would bust the budget?

 

We know – not on faith but on the evidence – that that hasn’t
been the case, and I’d bet it won’t be going forward.   

 

Done ranting.

 

A few things I’d love to see in Surprise:

 

1. Concession stands – even one little kiosk – on the back
fields.  Water, soft drinks, ice cream, sunscreen,
Rangers caps and visors and T-shirts. 
Maybe even Rangers baseball cards, since the players are so good on
those back fields about signing autographs for kids each morning.  Wouldn’t it be a huge win-win to get
something like that set up?

 

2. T-shirts and jerseys in the Surprise Stadium gift shop
that have players’ names on the back.  We
went into the gift shop during one game hoping to buy a new Michael Young shirt
for Max, who had outgrown his last one.  The
selection of shirts was sparse (it’s a tiny gift shop, shared by the Royals, of
course), and none of them had a name or even a number on the back. 

 

3. More Jim Sundberg. 
You should have seen the kids program he was running on the batting practice
field one day.  What a great Rangers ambassador
he is.  And with alumni already around as
part of the Legacy Program (I saw Rusty Greer, Mark McLemore, and Jeff Russell,
and I’m sure there were others in town at different times), there are some
great opportunities for your kids to meet and learn from the same Rangers
players you cheered for 10 or more years ago. 

 

Set your DVR’s: The MLB Network Rangers episode of “30 Clubs
in 30 Days” will re-air three times: (1) this Friday, March 27, at 1:00 a.m.;
(2) Friday, April 3, at 11 a.m.; and (3) Sunday, April 5, at 11 a.m.

 

Also, MLB Network will show “Josh Hamilton: Resurrecting the
Dream” again this Friday, March 27, at 7 p.m.

 

I misled you by mistake when I noted on Sunday that Jimmy
Gobble is out of options.  That’s true,
but he’s here on a non-roster deal.  So
there’s no issue in terms of having to outright him in order to assign him to a
minor league deal.  I’m just not sure
whether he has an opt-out date in his deal.

 

Michael Young, back in action yesterday after injuring a quad
muscle on Saturday, came out after the second inning after aggravating the quad.
 He’s day-to-day, but it’s not expected
to be an injury that would endanger his readiness for Opening Day.

 

McCarthy, after giving up only one hit in his previous eight
innings, was touched for six earned runs on eight hits and three walks in 4.2 innings
yesterday, fanning three.

 

C.J. Wilson struck out one Mariner in two perfect innings yesterday.  No blister issues, evidently.

 

New Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who has been dealing with
back stiffness in camp, reportedly topped out at 89 miles per hour in a minor
league game on Monday.  He hasn’t pitched
in a big league exhibition game yet, and his ERA against minor leaguers is
12.27.

 

Local lawyer and baseball historian Talmage Boston will have
a book signing at the Barnes & Noble on S. Cooper Street in Arlington this Saturday from 1:00-2:30 for his
new book, “Baseball and the Baby Boomer.” 
You can learn about the book at www.talmageboston.com.

 

Mike Hollander, the LSU shortstop drafted by Texas in the 20th
round last year, is getting a look in camp at catcher.  The 23-year-old hit .353/.410/.588 in an abbreviated
nine-game run with the Arizona League squad late last summer, after returning
from a broken thumb that he suffered in his second game with Spokane.

 

The Sioux City Explorers of the independent American
Association traded outfielder Juan Senreiso to the Victoria Seals of the independent
Golden Baseball League for a player to be named.

 

Twelve sleeps.

 

 

Jones in?

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With two weeks to go in camp, a week longer than most years
and maybe two weeks longer than necessary, there are a few roster spots still in
flux though, in a happy departure from previous camps, we’re mostly talking
about the last couple spots on the bench and the staff.

 

On Friday, my last day in Surprise, there was less morning activity
on the back fields than normal because the bus to Tucson left at 7:30 a.m.  The players in big league camp who didn’t
make the trip were getting their reps in, but it had a different feel since it
was basically the group that would have the afternoon off.  The pitchers gathered on the half-field for a
round of PFP, only nobody manned the mound. 
Two groups got their work in, the first of which featured Kevin Millwood
hitting the fungo ground balls, the second of which had Frankie Francisco and
C.J. Wilson taking grounders at third base, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz at
shortstop, Brian Gordon at second base, and Luis Mendoza at first.  (Feliz was really, really good, and Holland made a sensational
backhand stab and throw going to his left on a ball up the middle.  Vicente Padilla, who worked with the first
group, played a slick first base.)

 

On the BP field, after several rounds of “Did you?” (a game in
which hitters, if challenged by a teammate immediately after making contact,
have to call whether the shot would clear the fence or not – with sets of 10
push-ups the punishment if they call it wrong), right-handed-hitting Andruw
Jones stepped in to hit left-handed.  The
form wasn’t terrible, and he hit several balls on the screws and with some
authority, though nothing with the type of path to prompt a “Did you?” bark
from Marlon Byrd or Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Chris Davis.

 

It’s what Jones can do from the right side of the plate -
optimistically speaking – that has Texas
reportedly considering whether he’s a more viable role player than Frank Catalanotto.  When Texas
brought Jones in six weeks ago for a non-roster audition, he was given a March
20 opt-out date on which he could take his release if not added to the roster.  Jones agreed several days ago not to opt out
on the 20th, moving the date to the 23rd, which is
tomorrow.  This morning, however, Jones reportedly
told Jon Daniels and Ron Washington that he doesn’t plan to opt out tomorrow
even though it’s been made clear to him that under no circumstances will he get
regular at-bats.  At best, Jones would
figure in as the right-handed designated hitter, the fifth outfielder, and a pinch-hitter.

 

Is he a better fit in the first role than Max Ramirez?  The young hitter’s huge three-run homer for
Team Venezuela on Wednesday notwithstanding, his sparse World Baseball Classic
work has been a real disappointment, as he could have had a steady dose of
at-bats in camp had he not committed to play for his country on the premise
that he’d be used regularly.  If Ramirez
might have been such a candidate after his standout 2008 and winter ball
season, any chance of that was erased over the last few weeks of missed
opportunities to win a job.

 

Is Jones a better fit as the fifth outfielder than Brandon
Boggs?  With the four-man bench pretty
much locked in at three spots – catcher Taylor Teagarden, infielder Omar
Vizquel or Joaquin Arias, and fourth outfielder Marlon Byrd – if the question
is between Jones and Boggs, a switch-hitter who had roughly even splits in 2008
(.227/.327/.500 against lefties and .226/.336/.354 against righties), I’d
prefer Boggs defensively at this point in their careers. 

 

But truthfully, with a four-man outfield rotation of Josh
Hamilton, David Murphy, Nelson Cruz, and Byrd, plus Hank Blalock as a
designated hitter whose splits aren’t nearly as lopsided as they once were (he
hit .277 against southpaws in 2008 and actually had a higher slug against
lefthanders [.566] than against righthanders [.480]), playing time is going to
be sporadic, particularly for a young player who might not have his manager’s full
confidence yet.  (Thinking about Blalock
sliding to first and Davis sitting?  Davis has hit
.279/.323/.593 against big league southpaws, .287/.335/.531 against righties.)

 

Bottom line: Boggs has two options left, and I’d rather see
him playing six days a week for Oklahoma City than
getting six at-bats a week with Texas.  (Interesting: Boggs got a look in center
field yesterday, something he did once for Texas
last year and a few times for Oklahoma,
plus more often than not in the Mexican Pacific League this winter.) 

 

If pinch-hitting chops are the key, do you prefer Jones or
Catalanotto?  Jones is a .190/.346/.381
pinch-hitter in 42 lifetime at-bats.  Catalanotto
is a .289/.375/.423 pinch-hitter in 194 lifetime at-bats.  His batting average is second highest among
active players with at least 150 pinch-hit at-bats.

 

As for where the pinch-hitting opportunities will arise on
this club, chances are that, with everyone healthy, the only starter who would
be regularly pulled for another hitter is Elvis Andrus, late in the game.  Depending on what kind of rhythm he’s in, it
might not be strictly a handedness decision, either.  First, he actually proved in 2008 to be
stronger against right-handed pitching (.303/.360/.378) than against lefties
(.258/.307/.323).  Second, it’s likely
that if Washington
chooses to lift Andrus late in a close game, it will be less because of a
particular matchup than because he wants a veteran at the plate to face off
against the opponents’ best relievers.

 

In the West, Texas
will deal with one left-handed closer (Brian Fuentes) and two righties (Brad
Ziegler and either Miguel Batista or Brandon Morrow until fellow righthander Chad
Cordero is ready).  The top eighth-inning
man for each club is a righthander as well. 

 

In the East, there are two left-handed closers and three
righties.  In the Central, all five
closers are right-handed. 

 

From that standpoint, doesn’t the left-handed-hitting Catalanotto
make more sense than Jones?  Both have
traditional splits. 

 

Before answering, consider this: In April, which the organization
knows is a critical month given how the club has gotten out of the gate in
Washington’s first two seasons, 10 of the 22 games will be against a team whose
closer throws from the left. 

 

There are lots of reasons to believe the Rangers will play
far better this April than they did in 2007-2008, when they went a combined 20-33.  First, Texas
opens at home this year, after opening on the road the previous two.  Second, Texas plays more home games than road games
this April, after the opposite the previous two.  Third, only three of the 22 games on the schedule
are against a team that had a winning record in 2008 – Toronto, which won 86 games last year but lost
A.J. Burnett without adding anyone significant. 
Fourth, as alluded to above, Texas
starts the season with its backs against the wall, in a way.  Another bad April, and Washington doesn’t survive the month.

 

If having Catalanotto around rather than Jones to face George
Sherrill or B.J. Ryan – or Rafael Perez or Jamie Walker or Scott Downs or Ron Mahay
or Bobby Seay or Josh Outman – might mean even one more April win, is it worth
choosing him over Jones?

 

Here’s the other thing about the Jones vs. Catalanotto situation.  Texas
will pay $6 million for Catalanotto over the next year ($4 million in 2009 and
a $2 million buyout after the season to void the $5 million club option for
2010).  Unless the Rangers can trade him,
which is unlikely, that expenditure is there whether he’s around or not.  Jones will make $500,000 this year if he
makes the team (negligibly more than the $408,540 Boggs is contracted for).  Jones can start to tack on playing time bonuses
once he reaches 340 plate appearances, but let’s face it – he’s not going to get
to 340 unless he’s extremely productive, that is, hitting at a level that
Catalanotto can’t be expected to hit.

 

So the decision isn’t a financial one.  This appears to be all about roster maximization.  If Jones would accept an assignment to Oklahoma City, he could be given steady at-bats with the
RedHawks (mixing in with Boggs, Julio Borbon, Greg Golson, and Ben Harrison in
an outfield/DH rotation) and serve as a fallback option while Catalanotto (and then
Vizquel) come off the Texas
bench to finish certain close games. 
Give Jones another opt-out date in late April or May and see where
things stand then.

 

In the meantime, even though Jones can opt out of his
Rangers contract tomorrow, it appears that he won’t, and one of the stories for
the next two weeks will be his battle with Catalanotto for what might be the
final spot on the bench – assuming he doesn’t decide to leave for a different
opportunity first.

 

The stiffer competition is in the bullpen, where Francisco
and Wilson have locked down spots but five jobs remain.  Contestants from the left side are Eddie
Guardado and Jimmy Gobble; from the right side, the battle for roles is between
Warner Madrigal, Willie Eyre, Dustin Nippert, Josh Rupe, Derrick Turnbow,
Brendan Donnelly, and possibly Jason Jennings, who is apparently now being
considered in middle or long relief.  (Jennings’s
lone big league relief appearance was a one-inning effort in a 12-3 Astros loss
to Atlanta on August 1, 2007, three days after a disastrous start in which he
gave up 11 San Diego runs and failed to get out of the first.) 

 

It’s too early to really handicap where the bullpen battles are
headed.  For now, keep the following in
mind:

 

Madrigal and Eyre each have two options remaining.

 

Nippert, Rupe, and Gobble are out of options.  Nippert (dealing now with a strained back
muscle) has been outrighted before, which means he can decline an assignment
and take free agency even if Texas
were to get him through waivers.  Rupe
and Gobble haven’t been outrighted, so Texas
can hang onto them if they clear waivers – but Gobble most likely wouldn’t clear.  As for Rupe, an erratic spring from a control
standpoint was compounded today by an ineffective inning of work.  He really needs a strong finish to camp.

 

Of the non-roster invitees, Donnelly can request his release
if not on the roster by March 27 or April 27.

 

Turnbow can request his release if not on the roster by March
31 or May 1.

 

Jennings
can request his release if not on the roster by April 25.

 

I don’t believe Guardado has an opt-out date.

 

But don’t assume Madrigal and Eyre are lagging the group just
because they can be safely sent to the farm without the risk of losing them.  Those two are probably leading the race for
jobs among the righthanders.  For now.

 

Madrigal and Francisco didn’t really have it today.

 

Also consider this: if Andrus and Vizquel make the club, and
Eric Hurley and Joaquin Benoit get transferred to the 60-day disabled list,
that leaves one open spot on the 40-man roster. 
For two of the group that includes Guardado, Gobble, Turnbow, Donnelly, and
Jennings to
make the roster, someone will have to be designated for assignment.  (And don’t say Catalanotto – removing him to
add Jones simply trades one roster member for another.)  That’s probably Rupe if two of the non-roster
relievers stick.

 

A note on Gobble: Although his career ERA is 5.23 (with an
opponents’ line of .279/.344/.470), in Rangers Ballpark he has a lifetime 2.87
mark (.200/.267/.345). 

 

Even if he were to pitch in the big leagues all season, Gobble
will still be short of free agency by a year.

 

He looked interesting enough in his one inning of work today.  Want to see more.

 

Brandon McCarthy has allowed one hit in his last eight
innings.  His ERA in 10 camp innings is
1.80.  He’s scattered three hits and
three walks, fanning seven.  The Cactus
League is hitting .094/.171/.125 off the 25-year-old, and he said after his
last effort – four hitless innings – that he didn’t even have his best stuff .
. . a recipe that too often has meant bad results during McCarthy’s time here. 

 

Though he was facing a bad Padres lineup, hitless is hitless
(hey, if the Padres had ripped him, would their fans have said “Yeah, but it
was just Brandon McCarthy”?), and he needed only 54 pitches to get his four
frames in.

 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

 

Righthander Pedro Strop was brought over from minor league
camp to pitch an inning on Friday against the team from whom Texas stole the fireballing
righthander, and he retired three Rockies in a perfect seventh, getting big
leaguer Ryan Spilborghs to fly out to left, big leaguer Todd Helton to ground
out to second, and big leaguer Tomas Perez to ground out to first.

 

The Rangers don’t play tomorrow, and there are reports
suggesting that the club could use the off-day to make a long-term contract proposal
to Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, who already
had plans to be in the Phoenix
area on personal business.

 

Wilson
fanned two and issued one walk in a scoreless ninth yesterday, with no apparent
blister issues. 

 

There’s evidently been some level of thought, according to
one local report, of converting Wilson back to a
starting role down the road, though Washington
suggested that while he has the repertoire to do it, he probably throws too
many pitches to be an effective starter.

 

Cool moment in Saturday’s game: With Texas facing Colorado, Daniels suggested to Washington
that it might be a nice gesture to get first base prospect Chad Tracy into the
game, as his father Jim was in the opposite dugout as the Rockies’
bench coach.  Washington
inserted Tracy as a pinch-runner for Davis in the sixth inning,
and in the seventh he stepped up in a 4-4 game with the bases loaded, clearing
them with a grand slam.  The younger Tracy sits at
1.000/1.000/4.000 and could finish camp with that maxed-out line.

 

Loved seeing Adam Fox get playing time in today’s Rangers-Dodgers
game, and celebrate it with a no-doubt home run to straightaway left in the ninth
off legitimate big leaguer Cory Wade. 
That’s a good dude who’s paid lots of dues.

 

Click here
to see the “Five Questions: Texas Rangers” column that Scott Lucas wrote for The
Hardball Times.

 

Click here
to see the fourth batch of spectacular spring training photos that Scott took in
Surprise, including five from the above-mentioned Friday PFP session.

 

Hope you caught a lot of 105.3 The Fan’s Ben & Skin Show
from Surprise last week.  If you didn’t,
or even if you did, you can go here and listen to segments
Ben & Skin did with Tom Hicks, Daniels, Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Byrd, Wilson,
McCarthy, Holland, Eric Nadel, and me, plus a half-inning of play-by-play they did
with Jim Sundberg on Thursday. 

 

Boston determined that
righthander Wes Littleton wasn’t going to make its team and placed him on the waiver
wire, off of which he was claimed by Milwaukee
for a two-week audition.  The Rangers, as
a result, won’t receive a second player from the Red Sox to complete the trade
that sent Littleton to Boston for minor league reliever Beau
Vaughan.  Texas will instead receive the Brewers’
$20,000 waiver claim fee to complete the deal.

 

According to Baseball
America
, Texas signed a teenage
righthander from Mexico
named Daniel Rodriguez. 

 

The White Sox traded catcher Chris Stewart to the Yankees
for a player to be named later.  That
makes Stewart’s career progression White Sox, Rangers, Yankees, White Sox,
Yankees. 

 

Kansas City
signed righthander Sidney Ponson to a minor league deal.

 

Righthanders Adam Eaton and Alfredo Simon are in the running
for Baltimore’s
last rotation spot.  Texas plays the Orioles seven times in
April, four more times than any other opponent. 

 

Spring training stats: Philadelphia
outfielder John Mayberry Jr. is hitting .279/.323/.525 with three home runs in
61 at-bats.  Cubs outfielder Milton
Bradley is hitting .391/.440/.609 in 23 at-bats (the same number that Justin
Smoak and Golson have here).  Cincinnati outfielder Laynce
Nix is hitting .235/.333/.500 in 34 at-bats. 
Kansas City
righthander Robinson Tejeda has a 3.86 ERA in 11.2 innings (one start and four
relief appearances), with 16 strikeouts but 12 walks. 

 

I wrote a few days ago that after Carson Leslie was
diagnosed with brain cancer in 2006 and underwent surgery, he had a five-month
course of radiation and chemotherapy.  I
pulled that from another story written about the inspiring 16-year-old, and I need
to correct part of it.  His course of chemotherapy
last 15 months, during which he had radiation treatments every day for six weeks.

 

Does anyone have a copy of Wii Sports (not the system, but
just the game) that you’d trade for a Bound Edition?  Email me.

 

Outfielder Nathan Haynes retired.  The 29-year-old signed a minor league deal in
January but was going to have a hard time finding playing time in Oklahoma given the Boggs/Borbon/Golson/Harrison
mix that figures to begin the season with the RedHawks.

 

The Rangers weren’t going to take at-bats away from four
prospects like that to give playing time to a journeyman like Haynes.  Whether they’d be willing to do so for Andruw
Jones is another question, but not as big as whether Jones would be willing to
accept the arrangement himself.

 


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

 

Surprise report, v.7.

Inspired all week by a four-year-old and an eight-year-old, on Thursday I was blown away by two 16-year-olds.

My day at the complex ended with the top of the fourth inning in the Low A game pitting Texas against the White Sox.  After watching a riveting Wilmer Font performance and disappointing Kyle Ocampo and Wilfredo Boscan efforts, the stage was set for the debut of 16-year-old righthander Richard Alvarez, the prize of the Rangers’ 2008 Latin American haul. 

Font had been brilliant, sitting at 95-96 and flashing a better change than I’d ever seen from him, freezing the second and third Chicago hitters he faced early in the count by pulling the string, and setting the side down in order on a three-foot dribbler, a called third strike, and a lazy fly to left.  Ocampo and Boscan struggled badly in the second, though, giving up nine runs between them and none cheaply.  Five runs scored on Boscan’s watch in one-third of an inning (though not all of them went on his ledger); for the sake of comparison, in his breakthrough 2008 season, Boscan permitted more than four runs one time in 15 appearances. 

The White Sox squad was more than locked in against Ocampo and Boscan, two righthanders who went a combined 12-2, 3.19 last season, so when the 16-year-old righty who had never pitched a professional inning at any level trotted in to take the ball in the third, I was eager to see what he had, but not terribly optimistic.

Alvarez was working in the mid- to upper-80s, but — not unlike Boscan when he arrived in the organization — he’s mechanically advanced, free and easy with command of everything.  Chicago’s leadoff hitter, 23-year-old Justin Greene, swung through a filthy change that Alvarez buried in the dirt for strike three.  Jordan Cheatham, 21, flailed at a first-pitch change, foul-tipped a fastball for strike two, and then fanned on a tight curve that also found dirt, forcing Leonel De Los Santos to fire to first to complete the punchout.  Alvarez started 22-year-old Tyler Kuhn off with two straight fastballs out of the zone, but then got Kuhn — a .375/.424/.570 hitter in 2008 — to swing hopelessly ahead of another brilliant change before beating the fourth pitch into the ground for an unassisted putout by first baseman Michael Ortiz.

For a great photo of Alvarez from yesterday’s action — as well as more than 100 other shots from the back fields this week — go here, where Scott Lucas has shared some of the best Rangers photography you’ll find.

Martin Perez unquestionably keyed the Rangers’ 2007 crop out of Latin America.  My first look at Alvarez, a fellow Venezuelan, didn’t have me quite as fired up as when I first saw Perez, but it was one of the most eye-opening innings I’ve caught this week, and I can’t wait to see more.

Four hours earlier, it was another 16-year-old kid whose presence lifted everyone’s spirits, in a much more powerful, meaningful way. 

You’ve probably read Carson Leslie’s story more than once by now (perhaps here, or here, or here, or here).  The sophomore from Dallas’s Covenant School was diagnosed with a malignant medulloblastoma tumor in October 2006, a cancerous mass that developed in his brain and metastasized onto his spinal column.  Carson was on the batting practice field Thursday morning, and while the spring in the onetime shortstop’s step and smile on his face were probably borne in part by the thrill of being on the diamond and in uniform, there was also an overriding sense that Carson’s upbeat attitude shows up regularly, regardless of what’s going on around him.  His parents Annette and Craig and his brother Craig Jr. marvel as much at his biting sense of humor as his infectious spirit.

Carson went through surgery and a heavy five-month course of radiation and chemotherapy after the 2006 diagnosis, and his scans were clear late in 2007.  He was in remission.  But the cancer resurfaced in November, and now he awaits an April 7 MRI to see if his current chemotherapy medication has produced the desired results.  If it doesn’t, the family will have to consider what’s been described as a “radical remedy” as the next step.

Michael Young and his wife Cristina, who share Major League Baseball’s current Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, met Carson in 2007 through the Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer organization that they’ve been energetically involved with for years.  Michael invited Carson to pair up with him that year at the organization’s charity golf tournament, after which he and Kevin Millwood battled each other in the live auction for a painting Carson had made of his favorite player at the time, Derek Jeter.  The bidding surpassed $5,000, and Michael and Kevin agreed to pay $5,000 each — if Carson would paint a second one so they could each have one.  Deal.

Then Michael quietly took the original to New York, had Jeter sign it, and gave it back to Carson, who now hangs it in his room at home. 

Just a few months ago, Carson and Annette ran into Michael and Cristina at the mall, and after an exchange of bear hugs and big smiles, tempered by the news that Carson’s cancer had returned, Michael offered to host the Leslie’s in Surprise for several days. 

They were in town yesterday, five weeks into Carson’s current course of chemotherapy.  Carson arrived in uniform, as did his 19-year-old brother Craig.  Michael refused to have them wait in the dugout and instead took them on the field for warmup long-toss and then behind the cage for batting practice.  Bouts of laughter were usually the result of the 16-year-old busting up the man twice his age.

Later in the day, Carson would throw out the first pitch in the Rangers’ 8-5 win over Oakland, caught by his new favorite player, who would start the game as the designated hitter (as Carson served as batboy) and contribute a single, a walk, and a run.  (Has Michael unseated Jeter as Carson’s favorite player?  With his buddy right next to him, Carson wouldn’t commit: “Michael’s definitely growing on me.”)

While Michael and most of his teammates make a two-and-a-half hour trip to Tucson today, Carson and his family will stay back and mark the first day of spring with a hot air balloon ride.  What Carson’s future holds may not be as clear as it is for Richard Alvarez or most other 16-year-old’s, but the energy and tenacity Carson takes between the lines are full of all the vitality you’d want to see out of a young pitcher with unlimited potential.

And the character and mental toughness and determination, the heart and the persistence, that you’ve come to expect out of the leader of your baseball team.  The competitiveness, no matter what they say the odds are.
 
Michael Young, who along with Cristina has done for Carson and so many other kids battling cancer the types of the things that are, at the same time, unbelievable and absolutely believable, said yesterday to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan: “I see these kids, for the most part, have incredible attitudes and incredible optimism.  Because of that, it’s easy for me.  Carson is a great kid.  I’m not going to pretend I know what he’s going through, but I have huge admiration for the way he conducts himself, and the way he live
s his life.”

I’ve got some other observations to add from Thursday, but not in this morning’s report.  We’ll get to those another time.  For now, we’ll head back to Dallas, coming off another week that provided the perfect balance of things I couldn’t wait to see and others I could have never expected.  I’m ready for some baseball, with a whole new batch of people I’m inspired to root for, most of whom play baseball for a living, others of whom do not.

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

Surprise report, v.6.

First things first: The footage that Rangers Podcast in Arlington’s Ted Price recorded from Erica’s Tuesday interview of Josh Hamilton is now up on YouTube.  You can view the five-minute interview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeh4xxPBN2s — click the HD button for better video quality.

There’s not a camp horn that sounds on the back fields, signaling a break in workouts so the players can head to the clubhouse.  On the six-and-a-half fields and the running field, things break down at different times, but depending on what’s scheduled for the afternoon, you typically see various groups finishing up between 11 a.m. and noon, heading in clusters to the east and north for the midday break, many stopping along the way to visit with the fans.

Yesterday, shortly after 11, I’d finished watching minor leaguers hit and started back toward the primary batting practice field.  The big leaguers had already gone back inside, readying themselves for the bus trip to Peoria for the 1:00 game.  Where Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler and Michael Young had taken B.P. just an hour earlier, the field was instead populated by a group of kids, hitting soft-toss and fielding and running while Jim Sundberg led drills and chalk talk as part of an MLB Affiliate program.  There were a few dozen kids on the field, Sundberg in uniform, and a handful of fans in the stands.

A hundred feet to the south, another former big league catcher was in uniform, standing on Field 2 with a current big league catcher.  Neither had any catcher’s gear with him.  No bat.  No baseball.  Just about nobody watching.  But there was work being done.

Scott Servais spent 11 seasons in the big leagues.  If you look for his name among the league leaders during his career with the Astros, Cubs, Giants, and Rockies, you’ll find that in 1996, his sixth season, he finished tied for fifth in National League hit-by-pitches.  He caught Curt Schilling, Doug Drabek, Darryl Kile, and Kerry Wood, and then there was 41-year-old Jerry Reuss, a 1990 teammate at AAA Tucson in the Astros system, in what would be Reuss’s final pro season and Servais’s second, after a standout college career at Creighton University that included three years as a member of Team USA.

Servais was first drafted in the second round in June 1985, a month after future first-rounder Jarrod Saltalamacchia was born.  On Wednesday, the 41-year-old shed his Director of Player Development title momentarily, getting back to instruction.  And the 23-year-old big league starter, for the time being, wasn’t with his teammates in the clubhouse, but on an otherwise desolate practice field on the fringes of a spring training complex, absorbing every word.

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It was fascinating.  They talked about game situations, about the mental aspects of the position, about things that a catcher needs to have and needs to be, in order to be the kind of field general that Servais was, and that Saltalamacchia can be. 

Don’t forget how young Saltalamacchia is.  Servais was a great college player, a high draft pick, and a fast-track prospect, reaching the big leagues in his third pro season.  But his debut came a month after his 24th birthday.  Saltalamacchia, entering his third big league season, is still 23.

More indication of how young Saltalamacchia is: Later in the day, as I was watching the upper-level minor league games on the back fields, Saltalamacchia headed over a few innings into the AAA game and promptly put on a batting helmet.  He took his place in the hole, with Jose Vallejo on deck, and K.C. Herren at the plate.

Herren, the former second-rounder who has yet to play above Class A, was born three months after Saltalamacchia.

The Servais-Saltalamacchia summit may not get any mention in print, but while Taylor Teagarden and Adam Melhuse were catching the big league game in Peoria, Saltalamacchia was getting his practice in as well.  No gear, no bat, no ball.  But there was player development going on, not in the usual sense as far as what Servais’s typical duties are, or Saltalamacchia’s, but the kind of intense work that you can spot, and appreciate, if you look hard enough in Surprise.

Andruw Jones got a heavy dose of at-bats in the AA game, taking righthander Hector Rondon deep each of his first two times up.  The 21-year-old Rondon, who went 11-6, 3.60 for High A Kinston last year, fanning 145 and issuing only 42 walks in 145 innings, walked Jones his third time up.  Michael Schlact and Kasey Kiker had their moments in the game, but I’ve seen much better out of both.  In what was the first spring game action for both, they had out-of-character command issues.

Guillermo Moscoso relieved Kiker, who was unable to finish his second inning of work, and continued to impress me.  He reminds me, in a way, of Josh Rupe when I first saw him as a Class A pitcher.  Both are athletes with deep assortments, are sneaky-fast, have some bite on the breaking ball, and work aggressively.  I mentioned it a few days ago: I really like watching Moscoso pitch.  Like Rupe, his starter’s repertoire may actually play better in relief, where he can narrow his offerings down and accentuate his better stuff. 

Mark Hamburger followed Rupe, and after his first five pitches missed the strike zone, he turned it around.  Ever watch an NBA game and just know instinctively that Erick Dampier is going to miss his first free throw but drain the second one?  As soon as Hamburger found his spot, coaxing a pop to second, he got on a roll.  The problem was that he was unable to put his third hitter away.  After starting him off with two balls, the big righthander threw seven straight strikes, five of which were spoiled.  Another ball, high, and on the full count he gave up a hit-and-run single through shortstop. 

The at-bat seemed to take something out of Hamburger, as he started the next hitter off with two balls out of the zone before surrendering a three-run home run.  To his credit, he locked things down after that, striking out the final two batters he faced.

The best pitching performance I saw, along with Moscoso’s, was the quick, efficient frame that lefthander Corey Young threw in the AAA game.  Keep in mind that the squad assignments in March are not necessarily indicative of where minor leaguers will be in April — for one thing, there are only four squads even though there are six affiliates during the season; for another, many of the players who will play for Oklahoma City are still in big league camp, which means a significant number of minor leaguers are pushed up during exhibition play — but the fact that Young, a pitcher I’ve touted in the book and in my reports since seeing him at Fall Instructs in September, was assigned to the highest of the four spring squads despite having only 29 pro innings to his credit (at the fifth of the organization’s six levels) is very interesting. 

The idea, I suspect, was to see how his stuff would play against hitters with significantly more pro experience.  The 22-year-old, taken out of Seton Hall University in last summer’s 12th round, passed the test.  Making quick work of the Indians’ AAA squad with plenty of armside run on his fastball and a tight breaking ball, Young struck out the first hitter looking, and got the next two to ground out harmlessly. 

Carlos Melo had a very tough time finishing the AA game.  His stuff is explosive, his delivery effortless — not qui
te as much as Neftali Feliz’s in either case, but noticeable nonetheless — but he was wild yesterday, and hit very hard.

Jacob Kaase is a dependable shortstop.  If I were his teammate, I’d want him involved in the play.

This may not mean enough to you now, but I caught a glimpse of Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator Wayne Kirby messing around with 17-year-old blue-chip lefthander Martin Perez as the AAA game was going on.  Kirby, one of the great personalities in the entire organization, messes around with everyone.  The cool thing in this case was that Perez was the instigator, Kirby the target. 

There’s something unique about Perez off the field.  There’s a cockiness that you want your starting pitcher to have.  It’s not an arrogance; far from it, actually, as Perez isn’t loud and doesn’t seek attention.  But he carries himself with an air that, if you squint your eyes just a little, just looks like it might belong to a guy who could develop into an ace.  Not just in terms of ability, but in terms of everything else.

I’m not sure whether I see Perez pitching to Saltalamacchia, or Teagarden, but if it’s the former who is the starting catcher on a team where his responsibilities include — maybe first and foremost — leading a young pitching staff, I know I’ll think back to what I saw on Field 2 yesterday, when nobody else was looking.

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

Surprise report, v.5.

There were plenty of familiar sights at morning workouts in Surprise on Tuesday.  The Josh Hamilton batting practice barrage during which the outfield fence had about as much of a chance as Stan Pietkiewicz guarding Moses Malone.  David Murphy and Nelson Cruz putting on power displays of their own that, because those two had the misfortune of hitting in Hamilton’s group, played like those Mighty Mouse cartoon trailers before the lights dimmed and “King Kong” got started.  Marlon Byrd and Bobby Jones getting their work done and looking like they were having more fun than anyone else doing it.

One thing that was less familiar and, as a result, more conspicuous, was the presence of Elvis Andrus.  Not “presence” in the “attendance” sense, but in the “charisma” sense.  It’s hard to describe, though you’ll see it soon enough and know exactly what I’m talking about.

I tried putting it into words in October 2007: “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.” 

The thing that struck me most yesterday watching Andrus huddle up with Ian Kinsler and Omar Vizquel around the bag at second base shortly after infield practice was over to talk about technique on the pivot, watching Andrus march with Kinsler and Michael Young and Chris Davis to the backstop to get ready to hit, not behind them or off to the side — but with them, watching every single one of his actions, not with the glove or the bat but instead the body language and demeanor, was that he has this uncanny look of a guy who belongs, who doesn’t demand attention but attracts it, whose confidence doesn’t rise to the level of arrogance but still leaves any hint of hesitation in the dust, who understands that major decisions were made to pave the way for his arrival but who knows he still has something to prove, something to earn.

The only time there’s not a smile on Andrus’s face is when his game face takes over.  I studied the kid yesterday morning, trying to spot even a momentary sign of a 20-year-old peeking peripherally at the 32-year-old leader or the 26-year-old other leader, looking for a cue, making sure he didn’t overstep or misstep, and it never happened.  The comfort level that Andrus displays is so natural that it’s arresting.

The other display of total cool, of confidence and fearlessness and poise, that I witnessed on Tuesday belonged to someone even younger.

Our eight-year-old daughter Erica, given the school assignment to research and do a report for the class on someone who has made a difference, decided to make Josh Hamilton her subject.  She’d seen him do amazing things on the baseball field for the past year and had a surface understanding of what he’d overcome.  But as she watched the MLB Network documentary with us earlier this month, she had questions — the kind that might actually come more naturally to a third-grade student whose curiosity, simply due to life experience, is less nuanced or contrived, more focused.

As the project was coming together a couple weeks ago, I decided to look into the possibility, however unlikely, that Erica could ask Josh a few questions while we were in Surprise.  Great people like Dale Petroskey, John Blake, and Rich Rice underpromised and overdelivered, never letting us (and therefore Erica) get our hopes up prematurely.  As my family took batting practice in on Tuesday morning, with MLB Network back on hand to put the final touches on this afternoon’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” Rangers episode, we were told that it could happen, just as soon as Hamilton was done with his work — though he’d already done two interview spots before morning stretch and would customarily sign autographs longer than anyone else when the workout was done, leaving little time to grab something to eat before the day’s 1:00 game.  We were told we could play it by ear, and we were guardedly optimistic.

Erica had her seven questions written out — none about playing baseball — and was ready.  Less nervous than Mom and Dad were for her.  Ready.

As Hamilton signed autographs just outside the batting practice field for what was probably 20 minutes, Rice gave us the signal.  We waited in the third base dugout, and Erica was all set.  Hamilton finished signing and walked into the dugout, a safe haven for him for an entire life and completely unfamiliar territory to the eight-year-old whose small window of time was about to creak open.

The world-famous superstar, a man who has probably done more interviews in the last year than the rest of his teammates combined, made Erica feel like it was his privilege to sit down to talk with her.  He looked her in the eye (and she never looked away).  He applauded her questions with a raised eyebrow, as if to say, “You’re how old?”  His answers were thoughtful and honest, not watered down because of his audience, and not sanitized.  He made Erica smile a lot and laugh a time or two, and he, and she, made her parents incredibly proud.  As much as we’ve all learned about Josh Hamilton over the last year, as inundated as we’ve all been with his extraordinary story, I hadn’t stopped to think that there was yet another amazing side to this guy I hadn’t seen or read about, but I was dead wrong.

Minutes after the MLB Network crew decided to stick their cameras and a boom mike over Erica’s and Josh’s heads (we’re told there’s a tiny chance that some of the interview may find its way into this afternoon’s program), the interview was done, and he posed for a photograph between Erica and Max.  Afterwards, he made Erica assure him that she would send him a copy of the photograph, with her autograph on it, because he just knew she’d be a famous reporter one day.

In addition to MLB Network, Ginger Newberg and Scott Lucas were there with their cameras and Ted Price had his video equipment, and for those interested, we’ll probably have the interview put up on YouTube in the next few days.

Erica took the experience in stride, neither overwhelmed nor smug, in some ways not unlike the way in which Elvis Andrus is handling his own new experience this spring. 

It was a very good day.

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

Surprise report, v.4.

Give me the choice between sitting down for a game between the Orioles and Blue Jays, even a regular season matchup — even in person — and getting 10 or 15 minutes to watch our shortstop and third baseman take ground balls, and it’s no contest.  Elvis Andrus looks like no shortstop who has ever worn a Rangers uniform, and Michael Young looks like he’s played third base for 10 years.

John Dewan’s Fielding Bible has been getting a lot of local play lately.  I know Dewan’s reputation, and it’s a very good one.  He’s an icon in the sabermetrics field, a Bill James disciple, a pioneer in the statistical study of defensive productivity.  Hand me a Dewan study on where Andruw Jones’s “plus/minus” was in 2007 and 2008, compared to earlier in his career, and I’m interested.  Having been spoiled behind the plate with Jim Sundberg and Ivan Rodriguez, sure, I’d be curious to know on which side of “big league average” Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden fit (and project to fit).  Give me a sense of where Chris Davis figures in among starting first basemen in terms of scooping balls in the dirt and saving teammates’ errors.  (For a player with limited experience at the position, he seems to be pretty good in that department.)

But I don’t need to know what the numbers say about Ian Kinsler’s range and the area or two where his overall game in the field can get better.  I see it.  I don’t need formulas to pinpoint what Josh Hamilton’s flaws are in center field.  I see those.  As thrilled as I am that all of our outfielders (unlike a few years ago) can run and catch and throw, I’ve seen enough of Brandon Boggs to recognize that he may be better than any of them, at least on a corner.

And unless there’s a metric that factors in a broken glove finger and a broken throwing finger, I don’t have any use for a report that suggests that Michael Young’s sure-handedness dropped off last year, or that his arm was less dependable than it used to be. 

This is not a suggestion that Dewan or any sabermetrician or fan who eats up the crunchy numbers is wrong, or is even looking at the wrong things.  It’s not a declaration that they’re missing a point that I’m uniquely privy to.  But when it comes to defense, and particularly when it comes to judging defenders I see play 150 times a year, I trust my eyes.  When the ball leaves the bat, headed in the general direction of Davis or Kinsler or Boggs or Young, or toward a place that one of them has a chance to intercept it, there’s a gut feel I have on whether the range and the grab and the throw will be made.  I’m not going to take time to look down at my Dewan report while the ball is in play.

I don’t reject the graphs and charts, or those of you who depend on them.  But I’ve seen thousands of Michael Young plays at shortstop, I recognize the flaws in his game (the ones that had nothing to do with fractured fingers) that were more pronounced in 2008 than they were before, and I think third base is going to hide those flaws while the strengths in his game will play up.  Dewan may say I’m wrong, and maybe I am.  And really, because of the intricacy and inexactnesses of the analysis (the primary reason that measuring baseball defense is so elusive), it may not really be possible, even in hindsight, to declare who’s right and who’s not quite right.

I haven’t seen my team’s new shortstop or third baseman play 150 times there, but give me those 10 or 15 minutes watching them get their work in, plus the bank of observation I’ve had watching one play in the minor leagues and the other at a different position, and I have a real good feel for what we’re going to be treated to on the left side going forward.

The ball that Young hit 420 feet in the first inning of Sunday afternoon’s game, just left of dead center, was destroyed. It not only went deeper than almost any ball I saw him hit last year — it went higher, too.

Speaking of shortstop defense, you peek out at Leury Garcia and Andres James taking grounders on the Low A back field, a diamond fringed by chain link fencing and three four-row sets of metal bleachers, and you might think you’re watching a junior varsity practice.

Until the ball is hit.

Garcia, who turns 18 tomorrow, and the 21-year-old James each stand 5’10”, 160, but they are men defensively.  Garcia’s arm in particular, which has given rise to a “Furcalito” whisper or two, is something to behold.

First baseman Clark Murphy looks like he had a very good off-season, after a very impressive debut campaign in the Arizona League.  He appears to be in better shape.  Watch out for that guy.

Catcher Elio Sarmiento, selected from San Francisco in the minor league phase of December’s Rule 5 Draft, has just six home runs and an anemic .315 slug in 628 pro at-bats, but he puts on a pretty good batting practice display.

Hank Blalock was lifted from Sunday’s game with tightness in his left quad muscle, but is expected to be back in action today and in fact should make his spring debut at third base sometime this week.

Also on Sunday, the same day the club sent eight players over to the minor league side of the complex in the spring’s first measure of roster-trimming, non-roster lefthander Derek Holland was still around, touching 96 as he pitched the final two innings that afternoon, retiring the first five Padres he faced. 

Fellow non-roster invitees without real chances of making the Opening Day squad, righthander Neftali Feliz and first baseman Justin Smoak, haven’t been reassigned yet, either.

Righthander Tommy Hunter wasn’t able to pitch his fourth intrasquad inning Sunday because of a right groin strain suffered while pitching, not while bear-hugging several infielders during morning stretch.

MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” episode on the Rangers has apparently been moved up a half hour.  It airs tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.  I’ve seen about six or eight of these hour-long team previews.  They’re spectacular.

The Mets named Julio Franco manager of their Gulf Coast League affiliate and Jonathan Hurst pitching coach for Short-Season A Kingsport.

The Shreveport-Bossier Captains of the independent American Association released lefthander Trey Poland.

The supplemental first-round pick that Texas gets for the loss of Milton Bradley to the Cubs now sits at number 44 overall.

You must read Jason Parks’s spring training prospect interviews.  Jason’s camp observations that follow the interviews are golden gold.

Yesterday Max was in several different settings, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon and one in the evening where he could have said something but didn’t want to.  He was in a setting in the early afternoon where he wanted to say something but couldn’t — a small press box booth during my three-segment appearance on the Ben & Skin Show. 

I don’t know what the sabermetrics are on a four-year-old sitting for 30 or 40 minutes of Texas Rangers talk and, surrounded by live microphones, not making a sound.  I might not have believed Max could pull it off, but I was there to see it.  Adding that to the scouting report.

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

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