March 2009

Surprise report, v.3.

One of the changes Nolan Ryan made after his first spring training as Rangers President was to put names on the uniforms of all the club’s minor league players.  Back in his first swim with the Rangers, it didn’t take a lot of effort to figure out which prospect was Ivan Rodriguez, or Juan Gonzalez, or Dan Smith, or Robb Nen.

But coming into his first camp in management with an organization whose farm system was then judged to be the fourth best in baseball, based on depth as much as on top-tier talent, it wasn’t as easy to figure out who, as Ryan put it, “the three number 19′s” were — since all three were legitimate prospects. 

But if the labeled jerseys are one way to distinguish Boscan from Pimentel, Moreland from Smith, Telis from Felix, Brigham from Ocampo, there’s one other measure Ryan has taken that will not only help you tell Corey Young from Beau Jones, but also draw you to the Rangers’ top young arms, if you’re paying attention.

Wearing a Madras shirt (with no name on the back), Ryan spent his Sunday morning moving around the four minor league fields that fan out from the eagle’s nest at the southwest corner of the Rangers’ complex, and there was a clear design to his path.  One of the changes in regimen that Ryan helped institute this spring was having pitchers, rather than coaches, throw batting practice.  As a steady stream of young Rangers arms finished getting loose on the eight-wide stretch of pitching mounds off to the side, many of them methodically made their way onto one of the four fields.

To help understand this point, you need to realize that the four fields are going all at once.  Four pitchers throwing B.P. simultaneously, four batting cages each manned by one hitter and three or four others waiting their turn, with four groups of infielders taking ground balls and swarms of players all over the four outfields, shagging.

(Here’s a Google view.  Zoom in to that four-leaf clover of fields at the bottom.)

When I walked up, I was drawn immediately to the field where 18-year-old Martin Perez was pitching to hitters.  There was Ryan, the man in Madras and a black baseball cap leaning against the back of the cage amidst a line of Rangers uniforms, intently watching the left-handed blue-chipper.  When pitchers throw live B.P., they’re pitching.  This isn’t throwing at 80 percent to give hitters something to rake.  It’s making your pitches, trying to get outs.

After Perez had finished his session, 150 feet away there were righthanders Pedro Strop (wow) and Wilmer Font, back to back, throwing live B.P. on the field just to the right.  And there was Ryan, situated in the same spot, only different, leaning against that other cage just as he had the first.

Back to the Perez Field to see Carlos Melo, the 18-year-old righthander who came over in the Gerald Laird trade, an extremely exciting power arm off of whom Ryan and I put just about as many balls into play as the threesome of Engel Beltre, Tim Smith, and Jonathan Greene did.  (To be fair, Melo had some command issues, but when his live fastball did bury the zone, the hitters managed to foul the ball into the dirt or the cage, at best.)

Back again to the Strop/Font Field went Ryan, to see Joe Wieland face hitters. 

And afterwards, a brief conversation behind the cage between Ryan and Wieland that I couldn’t hear, and didn’t even try to.  Just watching the body language and the facial expressions, I witnessed a two-minute talk I may never forget.  No different from the Ryan moment with Kasey Kiker on the same minor league field a year ago, Ryan talked, Wieland listened.  Ryan taught, Wieland absorbed.  It was a quiet, unanimated, casual chalk talk, with absolutely no bluster or intimidation or “Do you know who I am?” 

I call it a conversation, but basically it was Ryan teaching, with the hint of a smile in his voice, some arm and hand action as he showed Wieland whatever it was that he was describing, and Wieland nodding his head, with eyes as wide open as they can be, with the hint of a look on his face that suggested the 19-year-old was eagerly taking in every word while suppressing the urge to concentrate instead on who was delivering the message.

At that moment, Ryan looked like there’s no place he would have rather been.  You don’t need me to tell you whether Wieland looked the same way.

Dial ahead about four hours.  As I sat with my family at the Rangers-Padres big league game in the Surprise Stadium, an inning or two in a group of pitchers that included Neil Ramirez, Jared Hyatt, Michael Schlact, and Kyle Ocampo sat down to take in some action.  An inning after that, up walked Beltre to hang out with them for a while.

I’m not going to suggest that no minor league outfielder from the Dominican has ever chosen to hang out with a group of States-born minor league pitchers in the Rangers system, but it made an impact on me.  My snapshot memories of how the players tended to congregate in years past was that pitchers were with pitchers, hitters with hitters, a segregation within which Latin American players hung with their own, and stateside kids were drawn to each other.

I remember from Fall Instructs a year and a half ago watching Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Julio Borbon — each brand new to the organization at the time — helping break those barriers down, sort of integrating the farm system with the type of leadership not dictated by anyone in management but instead generated by the kind of charisma that they come by naturally.  I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m confident that it’s not by accident that the Rangers have added players with that sort of makeup, which is not to say that those players were chosen at draft or trade time over others with better tools — certainly not the case — but the Rangers’ amateur and pro scouts, stateside and internationally, get to know these kids before they belong to Texas, and it’s one of the things that makes this franchise different and better than it’s been in past eras.

Maybe Juan Senreiso would have walked up to Kam Loe, Nick Masset, John Hudgins, and Justin Echols to hang out with them at a big league game six years ago.  Bet not, though.

Got an extra-early morning of activities to get to today.  The big leaguers have the day off, but I’ll have some extra notes to share tomorrow.


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

Surprise report, v.2.

The 9 a.m. game is an anomaly in spring training, but when you’re this deep into camp and have so few pitching injuries, even minor ones, sometimes it’s necessary to get inventive to create opportunities for innings.  Yesterday’s morning intrasquad on the “B” field seemed engineered primarily to stage a lengthy Kris Benson effort without disturbing the five-man rotation that’s methodically ramping itself up toward April.  But one man can’t pitch an intrasquad alone (well, I suppose that’s not necessarily true), and Benson, while interesting, wasn’t the most impressive pitcher to take the ball Saturday morning.

Benson was better than I expected he’d be, though his line was probably a bit deceiving.  Working against a lineup full of upper-level minor leaguers, he logged five innings without issuing a walk, yielding three runs (two earned) on eight hits while setting seven down on strikes.  He regularly flashed a really good breaking ball, but his fastball was tagged too often, and as far as the impressive strikeout-to-walk result was concerned (plus the 52 strikes out of 70 pitches), both totals were aided by a handful of swings on pitches that big league hitters wouldn’t have offered at.  

Still, Benson appeared to have enough that he can’t be ruled out — to the extent you can assess things three weeks before the season — as a candidate to pitch every fifth day at Oklahoma City.

But the performance that branded my baseball brain yesterday morning lasted all of 11 pitches.  I’ve seen Kasey Kiker pitch in March 2007, October 2007, March 2008, and September 2008, and what I saw yesterday was different from the rest.  He’s leaner, he seems to have a new level of fight in his eyes, and he was flat nasty in retiring three hitters in order, two young Latin American hitters who swatted helplessly at the lefthander’s power stuff, sandwiched around a harmless dribbler to first base by minor league veteran and Olympic-experienced Emerson Frostad.

Leaving the hitter-friendly California League for Frisco, a move Kiker is likely to be asked to make in three weeks, could put the 21-year-old in a position to bust out this season, not only taking the next step in a progression that has seen him log 52.1 innings in 2006, 96.1 innings in 2007, and 121.2 innings in 2008, but also putting himself closer the center of the radar.

Biggest shock of the day?  I saw Justin Smoak get out.  Once.

Good grief.  He’s very good at baseball.

I like watching Guillermo Moscoso pitch.  His stuff has life.  He works quickly.  He’s intense.  But he was inconsistent, as German Duran, Frostad, and Smoak each squared up on him (though Duran and Frostad flew into outs) and he uncorked a 57-foot breaking ball with Greg Golson on third, resulting in an easy run.  There’s some thought that his assortment would play better in relief, allowing him to concentrate on a smaller pitch selection.

I like watching Guillermo Moscoso pitch, but I love watching David Paisano throw from center field.  Wish he would hit.  Maybe this is the year.  His 275-at-bat run with Spokane last summer (.262/.332/.400, 44 RBI in 66 games) wasn’t awful.

Omar Poveda’s two scoreless innings in the intrasquad were impressive.  Not Kiker impressive — the 6’4″ righthander’s moving parts aren’t nearly as clean as the 5’8″-ish Kiker’s — but effective enough against a number of hitters with experience at higher levels.

Speaking of standout defenders with bat questions, I know Manny Pina’s reputation, and that if everything goes right he’s almost certainly no more than a big league backup, but every time I see him, he seems to execute.  He’s always been a guy who puts the ball in play, but he seems to be growing into one that uses all fields and isn’t going to have the bat knocked out of his hands.  He’s a tremendous asset to an organization that’s going to be in a position for the foreseeable future to trade either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden for pitching.

As the intrasquad game was going on, directly behind us on one of the practice fields was a batting practice group that included Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, David Murphy, Teagarden, and Hank Blalock, and a hitter whose reps at the plate had me turn around twice, thinking from the sound of contact that Hamilton must have been taking his rips.  Saltalamacchia is hitting balls, just as Hamilton did last March, that have you waiting to hear some sort of rifle range reverb.

Right now, Saltalamacchia is different.  Different from what he was a year ago, and different from almost every other hitter who wears a Rangers uniform to work.  Hope this lasts.

Wilmer Font looks noticeably slimmer and stronger since September.

Matt Harrison, despite having no feel for his changeup yesterday afternoon, mixed his new cutter in liberally and held the White Sox to a run on four hits and one walk in four innings, setting four down on strikes. 

Three more hits for Joaquin Arias (.526/.526/.526), who played both second base and shortstop and was the middle man on a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Carlos Quentin in the seventh.

C.J. Wilson was scratched with a blister on his pitching hand.  One local report suggests he could be sidelined for as much as a week.

Pedro Martinez?  Ivan Rodriguez?  The first issue is a non-starter for me unless I am assured that Ben Sheets will not sign here this year and that I’m prepared to lose Dustin Nippert for good (he’s out of options, has been outrighted before, and would have no role with Scott Feldman likely sliding into the long man role).  The second just doesn’t make sense — unless Saltalamacchia or Teagarden is traded.  Teagarden catching twice a week for Texas would be better for his development at this point than catching five days a week in Oklahoma City, which is to say nothing of the reduction in AAA role that would mean for Max Ramirez.

Jose Jaimes went 12-8, 4.93 over six seasons in the Rangers system, never pitching for a full-season affiliate.  At age 24, he’s now one of the Rangers’ two Dominican Summer League pitching coaches.

The Rangers could begin the process of optioning players on the 40-man roster and reassigning non-roster players to minor league camp today, according to local reports.  The exhibition schedule in minor league camp kicks off Tuesday, though workouts are in full swing now.

When we were kids, the rule was always no swimming on gameday.  One of the kids below will be allowed to get some pool time in today, just as he did yesterday.  As for the other one, not so much: He’s pitching this afternoon against the Padres.


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Rangers Podcast in Arlington founder and star Ted Price was good enough to capture some of Derek and Max’s throwing session on video.  If you’re interested, you can catch a little more than a minute of it on YouTube at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWCKl4xlSLI.

 

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

Surprise report, v.1.

I’ve done about 15 spring trainings and have never had a bad one.  Not even Port Charlotte in 1990, when the work stoppage meant that Nolan Ryan and Ruben Sierra and Rafael Palmeiro weren’t around, but I was, with a few college buddies, Tom House’s kid (who I was kind [and bored] enough to play catch with several times), and very few others, getting the chance to see Donald Harris’s first camp and coming away thinking Dan Peltier had the much better shot at a big league career, if not a batting title or two.

But there have been irritating starts to my March trips.  Sometimes a baggage claim nightmare, a rental car issue, or worse, being seated on a plane one year for three hours between the teenager heading to Florida hoping to open a body piercing/tattoo parlor (and looking like he’d been a preferred customer at about 20 of them himself) and the disinterested middle-aged pro wrestler, and enduring a flight-long barrage of questions that would have fit nicely on the Paul McCartney episode of The Chris Farley Show (with Graffiti Boy in the Farley role and Stone Cold Kabuki as McCartney) — keeping in mind that the airspace for this largely one-way beatdown of a three-hour conversation was basically my head.

It didn’t occur to me until we got in the car to head for the airport before dawn yesterday that it was Friday the 13th.  I mentally steeled myself for the worst, or at least another missing rent car.

While my superstitiousness is minor and mostly confined to sports, it wasn’t lost on me once I glanced at our boarding passes that we were assigned to sit in Row 13.

But the flight was great.  The baggage claim was quick.  The rental car was ready, and so was our room.  The weather couldn’t have been better, and lunch at Old Pueblo Cafe had us wishing there were more Mom & Pop’s like it in Dallas.

The only bad luck we really had yesterday — and I don’t minimize the terror of the situation — was when the Litchfield Park Spring Art & Culinary Festival forced a detour from our hotel as we headed to dinner, resulting not only in the negotiation of a longer stretch of Bell Road than we’d intended, but also — I know, I know — a confrontation with the absolute worst intersection of two insanity-inducing roadways in the history of ever.

Our path to dinner went through the intersection of Bell Road and Grand Avenue. 

(Callback to my March 13, 2007 report:

Like Icarus ignoring sound heliological principles, like Barry Switzer defiantly relying on “Load Left,” like Brad Lidge giving Albert Pujols something to hit, I have nobody to blame but myself. 
 
I knew from years of experience that there was exactly one choice not to make, and I summoned up every ounce of hubris I could, and made that one choice anyway.
 
I chose Grand Avenue.  Taunted it.
 
NEVER AGAIN.
)

And naturally, having taken on Bell and Grand during Friday afternoon rush hour yesterday with eyes wide open, we accepted our obvious punishment with humble resignation: on top of everything else bad that the intersection promises, we were sitting through our second or third red light cycle when, as if to mock the boldness of our stupidity and make sure we didn’t skate through Friday the 13th unscathed, the crossing arms descended so that we’d have box seats to the passing of a freight train.  A very long freight train.

But we survived the ordeal, partly because we knew that on the other side of it was dinner with a friend of ours at the greatness that is NYPD Pizza.  And when they brought out those monster ice cream sundaes for Erica and Max at the end of dinner, prompting the biggest natural smiles you’ve ever seen, 20 minutes before they’d fall asleep on the ride back to the hotel (with no Bell and no Grand and no train reengaged), we knew we’d managed a pretty good day, despite its thirteenness.

But you didn’t open this email to read about any of that.  I’m guessing what happened between morning and night is more of interest.

We caught the last two-thirds of the Rangers-Royals split-squad game, a fairly uneventful game.  I came away with these observations:

1. I’d fear Warner Madrigal if the Angels figured out how to keep him.  He’s learning fast.

2. Joaquin Arias is going to play in playoff games before his career is done, and help someone win.  I didn’t see his arm tested (he played second base yesterday, only having to make a couple routine throws) and so I’m not ready to say he’s a big leaguer in April, but he’s got that something extra that you can’t teach.

3. Frank Catalanotto still has some life in his bat.  He has no role here, but he can still hit big league pitching.

4. A.J. Preller will be wearing The Uniform — black golf shirt, khaki pants, fisherman’s hat — 40 years from now when he’s semi-retired into a role scouting amateur players in Bolivia.

5. I love watching Justin Smoak play defense.  He made a play in the seventh that Chris Davis would have made, that Max Ramirez would have made, that Ben Broussard or Mike Lamb or Dan Peltier would have made.  It wasn’t an unusually difficult play.  It’s just the way he made it, the smoothness of the actions.  He’s good at baseball.

6. It slipped my mind as I was writing up my 32 Things on Wednesday, but I absolutely should have included righthander Carlos Melo, half of the package Texas received from Detroit for Gerald Laird.  Melo, who turned 18 two weeks ago, is a top 10 must-see for me this week.  Maybe top five.

7. The afternoon workouts on the back fields were largely held by Arizona State and Kansas, as they prepared to play in Surprise Stadium after Texas and Kansas City finished.  This morning there’s a big league intrasquad game on the back fields, and I suspect full minor league workouts as well, so I’ll have considerably more Rangers action to take in and share with you tomorrow.

Texas reportedly offered Chad Cordero more money than Seattle did, but the Mariners padded their one-year, minor league contract offer with a legitimate shot at the closer’s job once he’s physically ready, expected to be in mid-May.

Speaking of Seattle, if you have any unwanted cash lying around, consider sending it to the Washington Nationals, who own the first pick in the 2009 draft, just ahead of the Mariners.  San Diego State (and Scott Boras asset) Stephen Strasburg, who has been described recently as perhaps the best college pitching prospect ever, has pitched 27.1 innings this season.  He has issued five walks.  And struck out 59.

Good news on the report that five unidentified Rangers minor leaguers are among the 42 players from the Dominican Republic whose ages are being investigated by Major League Baseball.  Evan Grant reports that none of the five are among Baseball America’s top 30 Rangers prospects.  That means these players are not among those under investigation: Neftali Feliz, Engel Beltre, Julio Borbon, Jose Vallejo, Kennil Gomez, or Arias (or Elvis Andrus, Martin Perez, Max Ramirez, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Guillermo Moscoso, or Omar Poveda, who are Venezuelan).  Grant adds that one of the five should be in camp on Monday, and the other four could be only briefly delayed.

John Sickels counts Rangers first base prospect Clark Murphy as a sleeper/breakout candidate for 2009.  Yep.

New Ryan Tatusko “Back Field Diaries” entry tonight.

And more baseball from me tomorrow.

B-Mac attacks.

Remember that spring training numbers mean nothing.  The 10 runs Kevin Millwood gave up in three
innings on Monday is no more indicative of anything significant than the .396/.404/.585
Rangers spring that Matt Kata put together two years ago.

 

Remember that.  The numbers
are meaningless.

 

And then suspend that for a minute as you digest that, today,
Brandon McCarthy, pitching in official exhibition action for the first time in two
weeks, strung together maybe the most impressive mound performance of any
Rangers hurler yet this spring.

 

He was efficient, needing only 47 pitches to breeze through
four innings of work. 

 

He was stingy, allowing one hit – a harmless third-inning
single.

 

He was in command, walking nobody. 

 

He was aggressive, offering a first-pitch strike to 11 of
the 13 batters he faced, with a steady diet of sinking fastballs down in the
zone and on both sides of the plate, mixing in his new slider. 

 

He was deceptive, striking out two Mariners looking, and getting
a third to swing through strike three.

 

That’s the Brandon McCarthy that Texas traded for two winters ago.

 

Those were some good-looking meaningless numbers today.  For a pitcher whose psyche and tenacity have
been questioned since his arrival in Texas, fairly or not, it would be a really
great thing if the 25-year-old – younger, for instance, than Thomas Diamond and
Doug Mathis – can use today’s effort as a springboard to another strong one and
another one after that, taking some confidence into April.  Confidence that his shoulder is fine,
confidence that he can get hitters out, confidence that if he trusts his stuff
and commands it, he can give the team one more solid inning than he was
expected to, as he did today.

 

The numbers are meaningless in the grand scheme, but if it’s
all the same to McCarthy, I wouldn’t mind a bit if he decided to take some meaning
from them himself.

 

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

 

32 Things.

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In 24 hours I’ll be on my way to Surprise.  The agenda
is blurry, just as I want it to be.  As I always say before this trip,
peripheral vision and a flexible schedule are crucial. 

 

This year’s version of the annual “32 things I’m looking
forward to seeing” list:

 

1. Are you ever fixated on watching DeMarcus Ware from
snap to whistle, or Dwyane Wade with or without the ball, or Steve Ott
regardless of where the puck is, just to see how they do it?  That’s Elvis
Andrus for me for the next week.  During stretch.  During BP.  With teammates,
with fans, with reporters.  And at shortstop, before and during and after the
pitch, no matter where, or whether, the ball is put in
play.

 

2. Michael Main.  It’s his last year in the back of the
book.

 

3. Max Ramirez, hopefully.  His late-inning cameos for
Team Venezuela in the WBC aren’t doing him
a whole lot of good.

 

4. Mike Maddux, working with Derek Holland and Neftali
Feliz.

 

5. Actually would stop down to watch Maddux working with
Brandon McCarthy, too.

 

6. From 40-41 to 81-0.  That’s not a prediction on the
Rangers’ improvement at home.  It’s the temperature and chance of rain I’m (1)
leaving and (2) heading for.

 

7. Chris Davis finding his rhythm.  He
will.

 

8. The fivesome that stands to form the richest rotation
in minor league baseball: likely Hickory Crawdads Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan,
Joe Wieland, Neil Ramirez (who has eluded me in my three trips to Surprise since
he was drafted), and Carlos Pimentel.

 

9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s
presence.

 

10. Wilmer Font’s, too.  Different
issue.

 

11. The engineering advances that have surely
transformed Bell
Road from perpetual gridlock to a stinkin’ Greater
Phoenix autobahn.  Surely.

 

12. Justin Smoak.

 

13. Righthander Guillermo Moscoso, imported from
Detroit, and outfielder Juan Polanco, imported
from the Rangers’ Dominican Academy.

 

14. Joaquin Arias’s arm.  Enough hyperbole.  I want to
see where it’s at for myself.

 

15. Michael Young from 10 a.m. until 11:30 each day. 
(In the afternoon, too, if someone would hit a tough chance his way in a
game.)

 

16. Someone sending Julio Borbon a tough chance or two
in center.

 

17. Pedro Strop, without
question.

 

18. Someone jumping out the way Ian Kinsler did at
spring training in 2004 and Derek Holland did at Fall Instructs in 2007 and
spring training in 2008.

 

19. Don Welke, holding
forth.

 

20. Mountains in just about every direction,
other than up, where the Luke AFB training exercises go on all day, and into the
night.

 

21. Little O, 20 years
later.

 

22. Engel Beltre’s approach catching up with his
promise, I hope.

 

23. The Rangers episode of MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30
Days,” on March 18.

 

24. A huge NYPD pizza and a bottle of
red.

 

25. No two-toned helmets.

 

26. Josh Hamilton, whom it’s impossible to take your
eyes off of.  Only Nolan Ryan and Ivan Rodriguez had that before him.  Alex
didn’t.

 

27. Greg Golson in batting practice and outfield
drills.  Very different player, but I used to anticipate Nelson Cruz the same
way going into camp.

 

28. Yoga.  Lots of yoga.  No, wait.  That’s Ginger.  No
yoga.

 

29. Brandon Boggs, perhaps the most unfairly overlooked
player in the system.  (I took that one, word for word, from last year’s
list.)

 

30. Though Kennil Gomez probably deserves that tag now. 

 

31. Writing every day.  (Now’s a good time to tell your
pals who make you forward reports to them from time to time to go ahead and sign
up themselves.  Instructions are at the end of this
email.)

 

32. A memory with the lasting impact of Ron Washington
spontaneously grabbing a fungo last March while talking to beat reporters and
slapping a ground ball at Max, who at age three gathered it in the way it’s
supposed to be done, or of Michael Young, on his way to morning stretch four
days later, wordlessly engaging Max in a game of catch that half a dozen
teammates stopped down to watch.

 

Stay tuned for daily reports from Surprise, plus a
Rangers-intensive appearance or a few on the Ben & Skin
show
on 105.3 FM The Fan.

 


 

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

Gamer?

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When Alex Rodriguez took a poorly veiled shot at the “24
kids” and recalled questioning, while he was paid reasonably well to play
baseball for the Texas Rangers, “What am I in this for?,” it was easy to draw a
conclusion, because those words appeared in a magazine article he purportedly
wrote himself.  He didn’t have the luxury
to claim his remarks were taken out of context.

 

Milton Bradley didn’t write Gil LeBreton’s Monday
column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
,
but I’m not sure how you could take what he said regarding his time in Texas out of context, specifically
when asked about the frequency with which he removed himself from the lineup
due to injuries that were never severe enough to prompt a disabled list stint:

 

“If I’m being paid,
and I’ve got the commitment to me that I give to them, you make more of an
effort to be out there every day.”

 

Wow.  Did you really
mean to say that?

 

“When you’re on
one-year deals constantly, you’ve got to put up as good numbers as you can.  When you have days where you’re not feeling
like you can contribute, you’re not going to go out there, because you’re not
going to want your numbers to [be really bad].”

 

Well, OK, there you’ve admitted to something that most fans
think exists – the added incentive of the “contract year” – but it’s not just about
the on-base and the slug.  Durability and
reliability figure in, too, I think. 
(But maybe I’m wrong: the Cubs gave you what you were looking for, in a
winter when almost no free agents got what they were looking for.)

 

“So, if you’re in a
situation like I am now, if they want me to go out there when I’m feeling a
little banged up, I’ve got no problem doing that because they’ve made the
commitment to me.”

 

Seriously.  Seriously? 

 

Are you really saying, after making $1.73 million and then
$2.5 million and then $3 million and then $4 million and then $6.35 million over
the last five seasons, that you weren’t “being paid”?  That the Dodgers and A’s and Padres and
Rangers didn’t make a commitment to you?

 

You’re really telling a reporter – and as a result, your
former teammates and coaches and fans in Texas – that you’re more likely now to
answer the bell, just because you have a multi-year contract?

 

If he got a multi-year deal this winter to stay in Texas – something
he’s bitter at having not been offered – would he have gone ahead and told Ron
Washington and Michael Young and Chris Davis and Frankie Francisco that they
could expect him to make more of an effort to play every day going forward than
he made in 2008, now that he was “being paid”? 

 

Bradley frequently claims that he is misunderstood.  I believed that last year.  But can the things he said to LeBreton be
misunderstood?

 

Last week he told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune: “I’m as serious as a heart attack about baseball,
and winning.” 

 

It doesn’t quite sound like winning was Bradley’s top priority
in the second half, when his teammates were trying to stay in the divisional
race.  Not if you take a close look at
what he said to LeBreton.

 

As a Rangers fan, I’m disappointed.  And I’m not sure how thrilled I’d be to read
it if the Cubs were my team, either.  Mike
Imrem of the Chicago Daily Herald, one
of several Chicago
writers to pull quotes from the Star-Telegram
piece, highlights Bradley’s comments and writes: “Relax, Cubs fans, Bradley
said his mindset is different now because the Cubs gave him a three-year deal.”

 

Would that really be comforting if you were a Cubs fan?

 

Maybe I make too much of clubhouse chemistry and leadership
issues and character – some of the things I praised Milton Bradley for
repeatedly during his time here – but I’d react very poorly to what he said
over the weekend if I were his teammate in 2008.

 

Evan Grant suggests in his Inside Corner blog that Elvis
Andrus’s situation shouldn’t be compared to Evan Longoria’s a year ago when speculating
as to whether the Rangers might delay the start of Andrus’s big league career
by a few weeks to buy another year of control before he can be a free
agent.  I agree with that.  He’s certainly holding his own in camp right
now (though there’s still nearly a month to go), and if he shows he’s ready, he’s
going to open the season as this club’s shortstop.

 

But if he’s hitting .210 on April 25 and struggling to make
the plays he needs to defensively, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him optioned for
three weeks so he can refind his rhythm.

 

The way he’s going with the pitch right now, though, and
executing, and making what seems to be a highlight reel play every day at
shortstop, I think the odds are that Andrus has played his final minor league
game.  If you feared that the massive, big
league expectations might have been a bit unnerving for the 20-year-old
Venezuelan, or that he might have come to camp with a big head, this comment
ought to rest any concerns: “I learn something on every ground ball, every
at-bat.  I’m trying to let the game come
to me and just react to every situation and be prepared for everything.”

 

Righthander Kris Benson had another solid outing yesterday, lowering
his ERA to 2.57 in seven innings of work (four hits, two walks, five
strikeouts), and that, combined with the May 5 opt-out date, means the 34-year-old
is right on track to fill a rotation spot in Oklahoma City. 

 

Andruw Jones is up to .280/.357/.440 in 28 plate appearances
(second-most on the team), but he’s been a bit rusty defensively.  He’s finding a rhythm at the plate (after
striking out 10 times in his first 15 plate appearances, he’s fanned only once
in the next 13), but you would think that regardless of what he does offensively,
he’s got to show that he hasn’t lost his rhythm in center field to earn a
roster spot.

 

I still don’t see both Jones and Marlon Byrd making the
roster, given the overlap in what they ideally bring to the roster, and that’s
to say nothing of the work that Brandon Boggs (.364/.417/.773) and Greg Golson
(.438/.471/.750) have done in camp. 
Golson has no real chance to make the Opening Day roster, but his
ability to play center field does give Texas
more options. 

 

The Rangers plan to get Hank Blalock some game time at third
base later in camp, which is probably an indication that neither Omar Vizquel
nor Joaquin Arias would be counted on to play third in a pinch (and perhaps not
Chris Davis, either).  Grant speculates that
there could also be a showcase component to the Blalock development, as the
Yankees recently lost their third baseman for six to nine weeks due to hip
surgery.  For the moment, New York plans to go
with former Rangers farmhand Cody Ransom (who squeezed the final out in Yankee
Stadium) at the hot corner.

 

Arias is back in camp after the death of his father.

 

Texas will start to officially reassign players to minor
league camp in less than a week, and that’s usually the time that you see young
starting pitchers moved over, not because they earned “early cuts” due to their
performance, but because once the schedule gets into mid-March, the big league
starters begin to stretch their workload out to the point at which there just
aren’t enough innings to give the younger pitchers so that they get stretched
out as well. 

 

But Derek Holland, after a poor first appearance, has been very
good in his next two, and there’s a real chance that the first wave of reassignments
doesn’t include the 22-year-old non-roster invite.  He’s not going to break camp as a big
leaguer, but he may get another handful of opportunities to face big league
hitters before packing up for the back fields. 
Holland touched
96 in his last outing, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

 

Matt Harrison is working on a new cut fastball, the key pitch
that John Danks added to his repertoire in Chicago.

 

C.J. Wilson’s index finger is fine.  Brandon McCarthy says his shoulder is fine.

 

Relievers Joe Torres (stiff lower back) and John Bannister (strained
oblique) have been limited.  Eddie
Guardado’s lower back soreness has reportedly subsided.

 

Is there a better story in camp than how well Jarrod
Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden are playing?  Texas
went into camp with unique depth at catcher. 
The club seems to be positioned even better now than it was a month ago.

 

Catcher Kevin Richardson, who was expected to share duties
behind the plate in Oklahoma City, had surgery last week to repair a torn
meniscus in his right or left knee (depending on which source you believe) and
will miss anywhere from six weeks to several months (depending on which source
you believe).  Emerson Frostad, who didn’t
join Team Canada for the
World Baseball Classic this year, has replaced Richardson in big league camp.

 

According to Grant, the Rangers might meet with a new immigration
law group to further explore the possibility of getting righthanders Omar
Beltre and Alexi Ogando into the United States.

 

Hearing Larry King spend an inning in the booth with Eric
Nadel yesterday was pretty cool – and clearly very cool for Nadel himself. 

 

Hearing Executive Vice President/Communications John Blake
relieve Nadel for a couple innings was an unexpected surprise.  His style is different from anyone you’ve heard
do Rangers baseball, but he’s very good. 
The onetime Georgetown Hoyas basketball broadcaster (in the Sleepy Floyd
[pre-Patrick Ewing] days of 30 years ago) will
call the Webcast of today’s 2:05 Rangers-Giants game.

 

Good friend Will Carroll does a Baseball Prospectus Radio interview
with Jon Daniels here.  A teaser, regarding last year’s draft:

 

“Our pick came and Tom Hicks was in the room, and I looked
at him and said ‘Well, there’s this high school kid we really like, or there’s [Justin]
Smoak, who our people love and think could come very quickly.’  And Tom said, ‘Who’s the best player?’  I said, ‘Smoak.’  So Tom said: ‘You take the best player.’”

 

The Angels have shut righthander Ervin Santana down with a
sprained medial collateral ligament in his elbow and have already decided that he’ll
probably start the season on the disabled list.

 

Wes Littleton has an ERA of 19.29 in five Red Sox appearances.  Don’t count on a second Boston player to complete that trade.

 

Milwaukee
released Eric Gagné.

 

Toronto
reassigned lefthander Fabio Castro to minor league camp, days after getting him
through waivers and outrighting his contract. 
Kansas City
released infielder Esteban German.

 

Wow: Read Part
1 of Grant Schiller’s interview with Jeff Zimmerman
.

 

The Wichita Wingnuts of the independent American Association
released righthander Mark Roberts.

 

Negotiations with Josh Hamilton for a long-term deal are “just
getting going now,” writes Jon Heyman of Sports
Illustrated
.

 

Outstanding.  Because if
you asked Milton Bradley, there’s no sense in Hamilton making a full effort otherwise,
since he made less than a tenth of what Bradley earned last year, a year during
which the Rangers paid Bradley more than he’d ever been paid to play baseball
and, somehow, under his interpretation, made less of a commitment to him than
he did to them.

 

 

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

 

Imagine this.

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Imagine this.

 

Chris Davis keeps
adjusting in 2009, as he showed in September that he can (.325/.349/.554 after
a .228/.307/.406 August), solidifying his place as a middle-of-the-lineup, .300/.375/.540-type
who belongs in the All-Star discussion every year.  And his development into a team leader takes
firm hold.

 

Josh Hamilton
repeats.  A lot more stamina, a little more
consistency.

 

Rangers catchers hit
.275/.360/.420, suppress the running game reasonably well, and develop the kind
of connection with the pitching staff that you have to have.

 

By the time he
reaches 200 hits, Michael Young is as dependable a defensive third baseman as
there is in the league.

 

Ian Kinsler takes
another step.

 

Nelson Cruz: 90 RBI,
80 walks.

 

Hank Blalock: .290/.347/.524
in 466 at-bats.  In other words, the same
thing in 2009 that he did in 2007 and 2008 combined.

 

And Max Ramirez will
be primed to be that same hitter going forward, maybe better.

 

Elvis Andrus: .230/.290/.325
with 15 errors in the first half; .270/.325/.380 with seven errors in the
second half.

 

Everyone will have
had a year of Mike Maddux to their credit.

 

Matt Harrison and
Brandon McCarthy win 12 each. 

 

Derek Holland 2009 =
Matt Harrison 2008.

 

Michael Main 2009 =
Derek Holland 2008.

 

Joe Wieland 2009 =
Martin Perez 2008.

 

Martin Perez 2010 = Michael Main 2009.

 

Tommy Hunter logs
180 AAA innings and wins 14.

 

Omar Poveda logs 180
AA and AAA innings, and wins 12.

 

Tim Murphy logs 160
Class A innings, and wins 12.

 

Thomas Diamond
finishes the year as an eighth-inning monster. 
In Arlington.

 

Julio Borbon repeats
his 2008 – .322/.363/.427 between High A and AA – but does so primarily in AAA,
and his 53 out of 71 on stolen base attempts becomes 43 out of 51.

 

David Murphy:
.285/.345/.480. 

 

Marlon Byrd: .295/.380/.455
- in Boston.

 

Those things won’t
all happen, but I think it’s fair to say they’re all well within the realm of
reasonability.  So imagine two-thirds of
them happening.

 

And then imagine yesterday’s
John Sickels prediction coming true:

 

Excluding Steven Strasburg, the top five
prospects in baseball 12 months from now:

 

1. Pedro Alvarez

 

2. Lars Anderson

 

3. Neftali Feliz

 

4. Rick Porcello

 

5. Justin Smoak

 

And imagine Ben
Sheets or an equivalent acquired to front the rotation.

 

With the exception of
Blalock (and the departed Byrd), everyone above is under control here through at
least 2012, many considerably longer than that, though if McCarthy spends most
of his time the next three years in the big leagues he’ll be free to hit the
market after the 2011 season.

 

But dial your
imagination back to 12 months from now, at a time when Sickels thinks Feliz
will be the number one pitching prospect in baseball and Smoak will be the
number three hitting prospect in the game.

 

And Main and Perez won’t be terribly far behind.

 

Can you see where
this thing might be headed?

 

 

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

Hats.

According to more than one local
source, the Rangers have decided not to go forward with the two-toned helmets
they introduced this off-season.  The club will wear blue helmets with the blue
jerseys, and red helmets with the red jerseys.  One idea behind the two-toned
hat was that the club could travel with just one helmet on a road trip during
which it might wear blue some nights and red other nights.  But logistics are
taking a back seat to aesthetics, I’m happy to say.

I never commented on the look of the
new helmet because the two players I asked about it both liked it.  A lot.  (Or
at least that’s what they said.) 
So I figured it might grow on me.

I think it works for the Mets,
because black and a dark shade of blue complement each other pretty well.  I
liked the concept here until I saw the helmet – red plus blue just didn’t
work.

Credit to the organization for
making the change.

Turning a corner.

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Nine years and a couple weeks ago, I sat in row two above
the visitors’ dugout in The Ballpark in Arlington.  I accounted for half the crowd.

 

It was a different time. 
Texas was about a week away from
heading out to Port Charlotte for spring
training, preparing to defend its third AL West title in four years.  Juan Gonzalez had just been traded to Detroit.  Michael Young was about to go to his first
big league spring training – in Dunedin, Florida, as a Blue Jays farmhand.  Alex Rodriguez was about to go to his final spring
training as a Mariner.  Ian Kinsler was a
month away from his final high school Spring Break.  Josh Hamilton didn’t have any tattoos.  I didn’t have any kids.

 

The reason I sat in The Ballpark on that chilly February
afternoon, as Hank Blalock and Kevin Mench and Jose Morban stood out during
infield and B.P. among the group of lower-level prospects in town for the organization’s
Career Development program, was that Director of Player Development Reid
Nichols’s assistant, John Lombardo, had contacted me a day or two earlier, relaying
the message that Mr. Nichols wanted to have a meeting with me.

 

I walked from outside The Ballpark through the one open gate
to the concourse, and then found the one open gate to the seats, and then found
my spot, easy enough because there was only one occupied seat in the entire stands.  I sat next to Nichols, each of us in an
unloosened tie as Mench laid heavy assault on the left field bleachers and
Blalock took grounders at third.  Nichols,
whom I’d never met, didn’t exactly ease into the discussion.  He wanted to know two things right away, one
specific and one general: Where did I find out the summer before that Tulsa
Drillers teammates Cesar King and Juan Bautista had gotten into a clubhouse
fight?  And who was I working for?

 

Nichols was extremely suspicious of my access, my motivation,
my intentions.

 

T.R. Sullivan, Evan Grant, and Gerry Fraley were Topps,
Donruss, and Fleer.

 

To Nichols (and plenty others, I suspect), I was those
Kellogg’s 3D baseball cards that curled up about five minutes after they came
out of box of Raisin Bran.  Or those Slurpee
baseball coins that you had to dent with a fingernail to dislodge them from the
cup.

 

“Blog” wasn’t even a word in 2000.  Internet baseball coverage was fringy, at
best.  Particularly on the local level, where
Fraley might have accused you of illicitly invading his turf if you dared to
carve out a little space on the Interwebs, writing about minor league
ballplayers in a space that interested fans could visit for free. 

 

Times have unquestionably changed.  Today, there is useful Rangers content available
to all of us from Scott Lucas, Adam Morris,
Joey Matschulat, Jason Parks, Eleanor Czajka, Jason Cole, Shroom Carter, Joe
Siegler, and Grant Schiller, among others. 
Show me a big league team with a better set of independent bloggers, raising
each other’s game. 

 

The beat-writing landscape has transformed itself, too.  Sullivan left the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in January 2006, making a trailblazing
move to an Internet home at MLB.com.  Fraley
left the Dallas Morning News nine
months after that, to do something.  And
yesterday, Grant announced that he was leaving the News to join D Magazine, where
he’ll cover the Rangers beat in a blog format, while Mike Hindman provides his
own bloggy takes, at “Inside
Corner.
 

 

Wasting no time, Grant was where he should be right when the
unveiling was announced, in Surprise, Arizona, where yesterday he saw Scott
Feldman deal and Derrick Turnbow struggle and Jason Jennings show more velocity
than at any time in 2008.  Where he saw
Andruw Jones strike out for the 10th time in 15 plate appearances (he’ll
almost double his spring workload today, leading off every inning of a morning “B”
game against Kansas City and then playing all nine innings in the afternoon “A”
game against the Royals).  Where he saw
C.J. Wilson take a ninth-inning ground ball off his left index finger but
pronounce it as nothing more than a “flesh wound” after X-rays came back
negative.  Where he learned that Brandon
McCarthy felt like his shoulder was good to go after a Thursday long-toss session
and asked to keep his start today, instead getting a chance to pitch in the more
controlled environment of the “B” game.

 

And Grant blogged it all, and a ton more. 

 

Non-traditional?  Maybe
(for now).  But Evan Grant is Evan Grant,
and if anything, the quality of his work should tick up, as he now has a wider strike
zone. 

 

This is going to be good.

 

Back on January
17
, we talked about how the local newspaper’s baseball beat cooperative was
a disappointment to us as fans (to say nothing of those displaced
professionally by the transition), suggesting that while the blog community had,
arguably, filled some of the gaps in the market’s ability to analyze baseball capably,
we were all penalized by the reduction in the beat writer roster.

 

The day I met Reid Nichols, the first Rangers executive who
had ever expressed an interest in what I was doing, our discussion began with
him grilling me about my agenda and ended with him satisfied that I was simply
an insane Texas Rangers fan with a genuine passion for seeing this franchise
win.  He opened his mind, in the space of
two hours, to the idea that I was not digging for dirt but instead writing
about the team because of a fire that burned at my core.  If it’s provided responsibly and with
appropriate intentions, more information for the fans is nothing but good.

 

Nine years later, the media industry, fighting through its
worst days, is opening its mind as well.

 

I finished my January 17, 2009 report with this: “Hopefully
there are some smart, bold folks out there already working on ways to keep the
Rangers beat from depopulating.”

 

Good going, D Magazine.

 

 

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

Take a guess.

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Hottest Rangers
hitter since the All-Star Break?  Five
guesses.

 

Wrong.

 

Hint: He’s younger
than John Bannister, Thomas Diamond, Warner Madrigal, Doug Mathis, Guillermo
Moscoso, Max Ramirez, Joaquin Arias, German Duran, Travis Metcalf, and Brandon
Boggs.

 

Two
days before the All-Star Break, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a .213/.317/.312
hitter in 2008, with 22 walks and 52 strikeouts in 141 at-bats.  This is what the 23-year-old has done since then:

 

Twenty
big league games: .357/.446/.500, nine walks and 22 strikeouts.  He led the team in hitting over that
seven-week period.

 

Twenty
winter league games: .364/.506/.848, 17 walks and 13 strikeouts.  He didn’t qualify for the Dominican Winter
League batting title (he would have led the circuit in reaching base and
slugging if he did), and yet he still tied for third in the league with nine
home runs.

 

Four
Cactus League games: .600/.636/.900, one walk and one strikeout. 

 

All
told, in 132 at-bats since July 12, Saltalamacchia is a .379/.491/.705 hitter,
with 27 walks and 36 strikeouts.  He’s
doing a better job in the running game as well (cutting down 7 out of 38
would-be basestealers prior to July 12 and 2 of 11 from July 12 on, then 5 of
13 in winter ball, and 1 of 2 so far in camp), and he’s earned strong reviews
on the progress he’s made with the intangibles.

 

Mix
in what Taylor Teagarden has to offer (.319/.396/.809 in 16 summer games and 2
for 4 in camp), particularly since Teagarden’s right-handed bat could
complement Saltalamacchia’s left-handed bat well (the switch-hitter has shown
to be a far more advanced hitter from that side of the plate), and the Rangers’
catcher tandem could do some real damage in the bottom third of the order this
year.

 

Turns
out Brandon McCarthy hasn’t exactly scrapped the curve for the slider, as had
been reported in a couple places over the weekend.  He’s merely introduced a slider to the mix, at
least experimentally while in Arizona,
and he points out that it’s not only more deceptive but also less taxing on his
arm than the curve. 

 

Ken
Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that John Hart is a candidate for the newly
vacated Washington Nationals general manager’s position.  Hart – who I think is really, really good in his studio analyst role
with MLB Network – is said to be close to Nationals president Stan Kasten.

 

MLB
Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” Rangers episode will air at 5 p.m. on March 18.

 

In
the meantime, old friend Victor Rojas will call six World Baseball Classic games
(three for MLB Network, three for MLB International), starting with Max Ramirez’s
Venezuela club against Frank
Catalanotto’s Italy
squad this Saturday night.

 

Orlando
Cabrera is a solid shortstop, but he got just a one-year deal from Oakland, who forfeited a
second-round pick to sign him.  Makes the
A’s better in 2009, but Billy Beane won’t risk offering him arbitration next
winter and chances are Cabrera will explore free agency again.  In the meantime, he’s not the type of player
that would stand to bring a big July return if Oakland is out of the race.  And his addition won’t offset the potential loss
of righthander Justin Duchscherer, who will have an MRI on his elbow today.

 

Milwaukee has shut Eric Gagné
down with shoulder soreness.

 

The
Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League signed lefthander
Ryan Cullen, an old Newberg Report favorite before he was shipped with Aaron Harang
to Oakland for
Randy Velarde after the 2000 season. 

 

Before
Kansas City designated utility man Esteban
German for assignment on Saturday (to make room on the roster for reliever Juan
Cruz), Toronto quietly
designated lefthander Fabio Castro for assignment and slid him through
league-wide waivers.  Castro was
outrighted to AAA yesterday.

 

Some
notes from the Baseball America
Prospect Handbook:

 

Outfielder
John Mayberry Jr. is the number 24 prospect for the Phillies, whose system is
ranked 12th overall. 
Outfielder Greg Gilson is number 26 in the top-ranked Rangers system.

 

Lefthander
Danny Ray Herrera is not among Cincinnati’s
top 30 prospects.  He completed the trade
that sent Edinson Volquez to the Reds for Josh Hamilton.

 

Righthander
Jacob Rasner is not among the top 40 White Sox prospects.  He went to Chicago with lefthander John Danks and righthander
Nick Masset for McCarthy and outfielder David Paisano.

 

Righthander
Stephen Marek is Atlanta’s
number 22 prospect.  The 25-year-old
Marek – who is two years older than Saltalamacchia himself – was half the
Braves’ return for Mark Teixeira in July (along with the ordinary Casey
Kotchman) and has yet to pitch above Class AA. 

 

That
turn of events – Atlanta shipping Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus,
Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones to Texas in July 2007, not making the playoffs
with Teixeira that season, getting off to a poor start in 2008, and flipping
Teixeira to the Angels last July for Kotchman and Marek – is one that gets more
and more lopsided. 

 

Every
one of the five players the Rangers got from the Braves has stepped forward significantly
since the time that Atlanta traded Teixeira away last summer, the latest
example being Saltalamacchia, who, with Gerald Laird out of the picture, has made
strides behind the plate and has done nothing but inflict big damage with the
bat for the last eight months.

 


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

 

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