June 2009

The five-step plan.

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Jon Daniels and Thad Levine had just completed their first season as
Rangers GM and assistant GM.  Big changes were already underway.  Buck Showalter was dismissed in October, Ron
Washington hired in November. 

 

Between those two events, as Texas was interviewing managerial candidates,
Type A free agents Carlos Lee and Gary Matthews Jr. declared free agency, as
did Type B’s Vicente Padilla, Mark DeRosa, and Rod Barajas.  Knowing realistically that the first four
would find multi-year deals on the open market, Texas was prepared to risk arbitration offers
to each of them, setting itself up for a haul of compensatory picks.  The organization knew it was poised for an
impact draft in June 2007.

 

Meanwhile, that same October, as the Rangers were home for the playoffs
for the seventh straight season, Levine spent a good amount of time studying
every playoff team from the previous 20 years. 
Not because he had nothing better to do. 
The exercise had purpose.

 

It would be a relatively quiet winter in terms of free agent
acquisitions.  Frank Catalanotto, a
fringy Type A himself, was added, costing Texas the 16th pick the
following June (guess what: if Texas had managed to lose just one more game in
2006, or if Cincinnati would have won one extra game, Catalanotto would have
cost the club the 80th pick rather than the 16th), but no
other Type A was signed.  It’s not as if
the Rangers chose to stay out of the market – they were competitive on Barry
Zito and Mark Mulder and Daisuke Matsuzaka – but as it turned out, the only
free agent deals of lasting note that Texas closed that off-season (other than the
reupping with Padilla) went to Eric Gagné, Kenny Lofton, and Marlon Byrd, all
that December.  One-year deals in each
case.  By design.

 

Byrd was viewed as a low-risk bet to become what he has in fact become,
a hitter with the chance to break out in new surroundings and with a different
batting coach, that is, another Matthews, another DeRosa.

 

Gagné and Lofton filled holes on the roster but, as one-year players,
were also considered candidates to give Texas what Ugueth Urbina had four years
earlier: a flippable commodity if things worked out for the player but not for
the team as the season passed the midway point.

 

Hopes were high as the 2007 season got underway, not an unnatural
phenomenon when a new manager is in place (and in the Rangers’ case, there was
the added gimmick point that both the Yankees and Diamondbacks had each won the
World Series in their first season without Showalter).  The club went 16-11 in spring training under Washington, and the
optimists had some company.

 

But Kevin Millwood, Padilla, and winter trade acquisition Brandon
McCarthy each lost to the Angels in the season-opening series in Anaheim.  Texas then won home series with Boston and
Tampa Bay, momentarily reaching the .500 mark at 4-4 before the final Rays
game, erasing the bad taste of the Angels set. 

 

Until the club lost 14 of the next 20, and 31 of 46, putting them at a
Major League-worst 19-35 at the end of May, 13.5 games behind the Angels in the
West.

 

Sometime during that month, the research that Levine had done in
October was dusted off, perhaps sooner than he and Daniels had planned.  The question Levine had asked himself, when
examining those 20 years’ worth of playoff clubs – and particularly the 20
franchises that had reached the post-season in the seven years since the
Rangers had last done so – was why Texas hadn’t achieved the same success.

 

In May 2007, it was already apparent to Daniels and Levine that it was
going to be eight straight seasons that would end with number 162.

 

The biggest gut-check conclusion that Levine had reached as a result of
his study centered on the Rangers’ best player.

 

Levine says that as he broke down what the two previous decades of playoff
franchises had done to make themselves playoff franchises, he was able to
identify 10 or 12 defined steps.  From
those he narrowed it down to five steps that showed up over and over and seemed
to fit best with what Texas
seemed capable of executing. 
Specifically, the five steps represented a relatively uniform rebuilding
model espoused by Atlanta near the beginning of
that 20-year period, Oakland midway through that
span, and Arizona, Cleveland,
Colorado, and Minnesota more recently.

 

So, just as the process of choosing Washington was in motion in October
of 2006, the idea of the five-step plan was being formulated as well, and if it
hadn’t been for the team’s poor start in 2007, things might have looked
dramatically different, and not better, for this franchise today.

 

A notoriously slow starter annually, Mark Teixeira had gotten off to a
miserable .231/.346/.341 start in the 2007 season’s first month, but was among
the league’s best players in May, hitting .349/.438/.661 as the team limped to
a 9-20 record for the month.  He was off
to an even stronger run in June, hitting .364/.481/.909 in seven games before
injuring a quad muscle on June 8, a night on which, despite a 9-6 win over Milwaukee, Texas
stood 16.5 games out of first in the West and continued to own baseball’s worst
record.

 

The Teixeira injury came one day after the Rangers brandished their
heavy draft ammunition, taking Blake Beavan and Julio Borbon with picks they’d
received for the loss of Lee to the Astros, Michael Main and Neil Ramirez as compensation
for the loss of Matthews to the Angels, and Tommy Hunter with an extra pick
awarded for the loss of DeRosa to the Cubs, all in the draft’s first
round.  But it was well before the Teixeira
injury, and the milestone draft, that Daniels and Levine and their crew of
advisors had taken a close look at Step One of the five-step plan and
determined, with management’s green light, that Teixeira was going to be the
subject of a difficult, unpopular decision.

 

A look at Step One, and the four that followed it:

 

STEP ONE: Divest at the top.  The Braves blazed a trail
19 years ago when they made the hugely unpopular decision to trade Dale
Murphy.  It wasn’t the sole reason that Atlanta went from
reaching the playoffs once in Murphy’s 15 seasons with the club to doing so every year but one in the following 15, but it got
the ball rolling.  Levine has referred to
this phase of the plan as a “strategic teardown,” a move to part with a very
popular but overly expensive player – whether because he’s past his prime
(Murphy was 34) or overpaid based on his productivity – no matter what the P.R.
implications might be.  The result: a
reduced and more balanced payroll (Levine did extensive data-crunching on what
percentage of payroll the successful teams of the previous 20 years paid their top
four players) and the paving of the way for Step Two.

 

Oakland followed the Atlanta blueprint with
Mark McGwire.  Minnesota: Chuck Knoblauch.  Cleveland:
Jim Thome and Bartolo Colon.  Colorado: Mike
Hampton and Larry Walker (flipping him for St. Louis’s Chris Narveson, Luis
Martinez, and Matt Burch days after Walker vetoed the deal that would have made
Ian Kinsler and Erik Thompson Rockies).  Arizona: Luis
Gonzalez. 

 

Atlanta
later followed its own model by going forward without Tom Glavine, John Smoltz,
Kevin Millwood, Rafael Furcal, Javy Lopez, and Ryan Klesko.

 

Kansas City
didn’t move Mike Sweeney and probably should have.  The later Colorado edition didn’t move Todd Helton but
overcame it with one of the greatest Septembers in baseball history.  A number of teams (e.g.,
Pittsburgh
moving Brian Giles) bit the bullet and made the difficult move but didn’t
execute Step Two properly.

 

STEP TWO: Reinvest at the foundation.  Reducing spending at the
big league level isn’t enough, as plenty of franchises have proven.  Reallocating resources toward scouting (draft
and international and minor league coverage) and player development is what the
model dictates.  It’s not just throwing
more cash at amateur players to sign them (whether that means exceeding slot in
the draft or ponying up internationally), though that’s part of it, and making
poor decisions in those areas can set a franchise back as surely as hitting on
players consistently can accelerate the process.  It’s also expanding the scouting staff where
appropriate, hiring the right people to man the scouting and development posts (to
increase the odds that the acquisition decisions are good ones, and to maximize
the odds of converting potential into results once the players are in the
system), and establishing an aggressiveness and excellence that creates a
reputation in the various talent markets.

 

STEP THREE: Accelerate, challenge.  This is one stage that occasionally
gets overlooked by some in the media, or misinterpreted.  The five clubs that successfully implemented
the Atlanta
model each committed to challenging their young players at the big league
level. 

 

Among the trends that Levine discovered, by looking at all players to
accumulate 2,500 plate appearances or 800 innings pitched (or 250 games
pitched) since 1950, were the following:

 

  • Major league ballplayers
    tend to peak between age 26 and age 31
  • 90 percent of
    hitters reach their career norms after amassing 750 at-bats in the big
    leagues
  • 82 percent of
    pitchers reach their career norms after logging 100 innings in the big
    leagues

 

The idea, then, is not simply stripping payroll to put an inexpensive
team on the field.  It’s pushing young
players in the developmental process, in part, so that the acclimation period
gets underway, and out of the way.  Feed
those 750 at-bats and 100 innings to key young players, and reap the benefits
sooner.

 

STEP FOUR: Lock in the core.  While the six teams in the
study each went down this path to an extent, it’s a maneuver that John Hart
often gets credited for pioneering during his Indians days.  The organization’s job is to properly
identify a core of players (usually homegrown) that it believes will be
integral parts of a winning ballclub, and attempt to sign those players to
long-term contracts, often well before the player has the right to explore free
agency but spanning into that period of the player’s career.

 

The benefits to the team: Getting a core player under control for a
long term, ideally covering his expected prime seasons.  Cost certainty that enhances the club’s
ability to effectively plan over multiple years.  Potential savings over the life of the
contract.  Marketing and community
opportunities that grow out of the long-term commitment between team and
player.

 

The benefit to the player: Financial security, guarding against the
risk of injury or ineffectiveness.  In
exchange for the potential discount the player gives the team by locking up
through the arbitration years and into free agency by a year or two, the player
and his family are set for life – and he’ll typically still be in his prime
when the lock-up deal expires, in a position to land a much bigger contract
after that (if not already extended by the club before expiration).

 

A favorite Levine quote that I like a lot: “Muscle is easier to buy
than heart and soul.”  It’s the heart and
soul types that you want to lock up as you move into Step Four of the five-part
plan.  There’s a reason that George Brett
and Robin Yount and Derek Jeter and Kirby Puckett and Chipper Jones were never
allowed to leave, and that Albert Pujols and Dustin Pedroia won’t be,
either.  Same can be said for Michael
Young.

 

STEP FIVE: Bang.  When the time is right – and this calls for a
different kind of patience from the scouting and development brand, but just as
much of it – go to ownership and recommend a significant spike in payroll,
whether to retain the core players identified in Step Four, add impact players
through trades or free agency, or both. 
Think you still need some muscle in a spot or two to put you over the
top?  Go out and buy it.

 

A good recent example of a club, though not among the six that followed
the full Atlanta rebuilding blueprint, that targeted one final piece as it made
what it believed was a legitimate push for a championship run, was Philadelphia
and Brad Lidge in 2008.  In 1991-93,
helping build its two World Series winners, Toronto went out and acquired veterans David
Cone, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Rickey Henderson. 

 

When is the time right?  The
answer: When the time is right.  It’s an
inexact matter of timing (at least as far as the acquisition of players from
the outside is concerned), a determination that the club is a key piece or two
short of joining Atlanta, Oakland, Arizona, Cleveland, Colorado, and Minnesota
on that list.

 

So, having made the decision in 2006 to figure out what the common
steps were that successful rebuilding clubs had taken, and the determination in
the spring of 2007 that it was time, with the blessing of ownership, to launch
the five-step plan, what did the Rangers do, and how have they fared?

 

STEP ONE: Divest at the top. 

Ask yourself this: If Texas had gotten off to
a good start in 2007 and was hanging around in contention into the summer,
would the club have traded Teixeira that season?  As difficult as the decision to trade
Teixeira must have been, it’s hard to imagine the club doing it during a season
that still meant something.  Easy enough
in fantasy league baseball.  Not so much
when there’s a clubhouse and a fan base that management has to consider when
thinking about running up a white flag on a season.  Not the message you want to send your
players, or your fans.

 

And, under that scenario, if the Rangers had waited until the winter
following the 2007 season to shop Teixeira, would they have been able to get
Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, and Beau
Jones from the Braves? 

 

No chance. 

 

Although we as fans didn’t know it at the time, Atlanta GM John
Schuerholz – the pioneer of the model that Daniels and Levine were trying to
emulate – was months away from resigning and moving into the club president
position.  Schuerholz was gunning in July
2007 for one last title, and overpaid in young players to get Teixeira (a
Georgia Tech All-American) for the 2007 stretch run (and the 2008 season).  He turned the reins over to Frank Wren in
October 2007 (having not reached the playoffs with Teixeira), and Wren would
have never loaded up that off-season with the same five-player package for just
one season of Teixeira – especially since Wren would have been understandably concerned
with a much bigger picture as the Braves’ new GM than Schuerholz was in the
second half of his swan song season.

 

The poor start in 2007, then, allowed Texas to begin the strategic
teardown by moving Teixeira at the perfect time (Atlanta would flip him a year
later, with Teixeira one season closer to free agency, for the underwhelming
package of Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek), ignoring the message it might
have sent at the time to the casual fan and general columnist in the market, if
not the clubhouse itself.  

 

Texas
padded the haul it extracted for Teixeira by moving Gagné and Lofton the same
week for David Murphy, Max Ramirez, Engel Beltre, and Kason Gabbard.

 

STEP TWO: Reinvest at the foundation. 

 

Texas
has paid above slot in recent years to sign players drafted by Ron Hopkins and
his crew of scouts, such as Teixeira, Derek Holland, Justin Smoak, Taylor
Teagarden, Borbon, Jake Brigham, Neil Ramirez, Marcus Lemon, Robbie Ross, Clark
Murphy, Johnny Whittleman, Kyle Ocampo, and Matt Thompson, and others.  The club is surely prepared to do so for
Tuesday’s top two picks, lefthander Matt Purke and righthander Tanner
Scheppers, if not others in this year’s draft crop.  And even when targeting slot players, the
club has done well.  The last few Rangers
drafts have been solid.

 

Under the leadership of A.J. Preller, Don Welke, Manny Batista, and Jim
Colborn, the club has stepped up internationally as well, signing players like
Martin Perez, Fabio Castillo, Cristian Santana, Richard Alvarez, and the 2006 crop
that featured Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan, Kennil Gomez, Carlos Pimentel,
Geuris Grullon, and Leonel De Los Santos, not to mention Yoon-Hee Nam, a
lefthander out of South Korea who has exploded this season.  Texas is also
mentioned in connection with any number of the top prospects in this year’s
July 2 Latin America class. 

 

In 2006, the organization opened a new state-of-the-art baseball
academy in the Dominican
Republic. 

 

The organization’s player development operation, headed by Scott
Servais, is as full of “prospects” as the system’s minor league rosters
are. 

 

The Rangers are a top-tier franchise right now in the areas that make
up Step Two, without which it’s probably fair to say they might not be judged
as having the consensus number one farm system in the game.

 

STEP THREE: Accelerate, challenge. 

 

Levine told reporters just before the 2008 season that the Rangers were
“about at Step Three.”  Since then, first
base and catcher and shortstop and most of the outfield have been turned over
to players with fewer than those 750 at-bats, and a significant number of
rookie pitchers have been brought to the big leagues and placed in meaningful
roles.  There’s no question that the
organization is challenging its young players.

 

STEP FOUR: Lock in the core. 

 

First it was Hank Blalock and Young, both of whom were locked up while
Hart was still running the club.  Daniels
extended Kinsler, and the club had talks this spring with Josh Hamilton.  It wouldn’t be out of the question for the
club to sit down with Frankie Francisco and Nelson Cruz this winter to talk
about long-term possibilities.

 

STEP FIVE: Bang.  

 

We’re not at Step Five yet.  But how
close are we?

 

Although nobody internally was selling this 2009 club short, it’s fair
to say that the organization, and certainly fans and media, expected the
concept of Step Five to be one that wouldn’t come into play until 2010.  That still might be the case, particularly in
view of the ownership situation (though you’d expect that Texas would have gone with “safer” picks than
Purke and Scheppers on Tuesday if ability to pay were an issue).

 

But if the state
of ownership isn’t a factor, considering the depth of the farm system, which
allowed the club to take high-reward risks this week in the draft, would it be
unwise to roll the dice on an impact bat or starter this summer, knowing you’d
recoup two premium picks in the next draft for every acquired “rental” that leaves
in free agency this winter – and recognizing that there are a number of
potential trade targets who wouldn’t be rentals at all? 

 

What if there’s an
acquirable bat or arm or both that could ultimately be the difference between
the playoffs and finishing two games out?  Given where this thing stands into
mid-June, do you not take the chance on that post-season possibility?

 

Getting Hamilton back will
help.  Jason Grilli might help.  Maybe Orlando Hernandez will, too, or even
Feliz (but not Scheppers).  I’m thinking
bigger. 

 

Is it time, given
the wealth of prospects the team has acquired and developed, to explore a
Teixeira-type trade or a Gagné-esque trade – from the other side?

 

The bullpen is the
first order of business, and that was the case even before Francisco’s shoulder
issue.  How much better would things line
up if the club didn’t have to regularly count on Jason Jennings and Eddie
Guardado to protect leads in the back third of the game, if Darren O’Day settled
in as the seventh-inning man, if C.J. Wilson was available for a pivotal seventh-
or eighth-inning spot, and a lockdown righthander was around to own the eighth?
 Adding an impact arm in the bullpen
would help Texas
avoid overexposing (or overworking) its key relievers, and help protect against
the possibility that Francisco’s health will be an issue all summer.

 

Huston Street?  Bobby Jenks? 
Kerry Wood?  Danys Baez?  Octavio Dotel? 
Rafael Betancourt?  Chad Qualls?  LaTroy Hawkins?  My man Kiko Calero?  The struggling Russ Springer (who would
probably push Jennings
down but not O’Day)?  Boston has Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez,
Takashi Saito, Justin Masterson, and Daniel Bard from the right side.  Would they dare move one? 

 

What about a
starting pitcher like Cliff Lee or Josh Johnson or Matt Cain or Roy Oswalt, or
even Roy Halladay?  Not one of them would
be a rental, each controllable at least through 2010.

 

What if Brandon
Webb comes back soon and shows his shoulder is sound again?

 

Maybe it’s just an
epidemic slump, but this lineup has become too easy to pitch to lately.  I think back to the pair of trades Tom Grieve
made for Julio Franco and Rafael Palmeiro in December 1998, trying to make the lineup
less reliant on power, less prone to the strikeout, and more of a unit that pressured
the opponent by reaching base.  More modern
example: Milton Bradley in 2008.  Given
how the Texas
lineup shapes up, we’d probably be talking about a DH.

 

What about Brad
Hawpe, who is reaching base 41 percent of the time?  He earns about $3 million the rest of the way
this year and $7.5 million in 2010 (his $10 million club option for 2011 voids
if Colorado
trades him).  (Incidentally, two years
and four days ago, the day after the Beavan/Main/Borbon/Ramirez/Hunter draft, I
wrote: “And who knows, maybe three years from now, Rangers general manager Jon
Daniels [yes, that’s right] trades Main and third baseman Emmanuel Solis, both
of whom are starring in Frisco, and big league left fielder Chad Tracy to
Colorado for free-agent-to-be outfielder Brad Hawpe, who helps Texas separate
itself from the Angels on the way to a playoff berth.”)

 

Forget Todd
Helton, who is owed about $50 million between now and the time he can be dismissed
after the 2011 season.

 

Would Cleveland consider moving
Victor Martinez and the $10 million he’s due over the next season and a half?  Significant contract, but a huge bargain.

 

Adam Dunn?  Jeremy Hermida?

 

Notably, other than
some of the relief pitchers (who are generally less expensive in prospects than
starters or hitters), every one of the players listed above would be under
control beyond 2009.

 

Nick Johnson and Aubrey
Huff and Mark DeRosa and Russell Branyan would be rentals.  Interested?

 

It’s still
primarily about adding an eighth-inning arm for me.

 

Depending on who you can get, pitcher or hitter or both, who do you
refuse to part with? 

 

With a shot at October, do you count on the latest influx of talent
(this week’s draft and the international class three weeks from now) into what’s
already the deepest system in the game and, in the case of rental pickups, the
potential draft pick compensation to help make up for the price in players it
would take to add the arm or the bat? 

 

What would it take to get those
players?

 

Actually, those aren’t the threshold questions. 

 

It’s not as simple as lining the names up on the whiteboard and deciding
where the line between “untouchable” and “available in this deal or that one”
goes.  That’s secondary.

 

The threshold question is this:

 

Is it time for Step Five?

 


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

 

May 11, 1989.

Twenty years and one month
ago today, Texas was in Kansas City for the start of a quick two-game set,
having lost seven of nine (the only two wins coming courtesy of rookie Kevin
Brown), dropping the club from a first-place perch atop the seven-team American
League West into a tie for third. 

 

Nolan Ryan put a temporary stop
to the skid, going all nine in a 6-3 win over the Royals, throwing 92 strikes among
his 133 pitches as he scattered five singles and two walks.  Improving to 4-2, 2.68 for the season, Ryan struck
out double-digit opponents for the fourth time in a string of six starts, punching
out 11 in the May 11, 1989 contest.  Bo
Jackson went down on strikes in all four of his at-bats (16 months before the Jackson-Ryan
split-lip incident).

 

Geno Petralli caught Ryan
that night, and scored once despite seeing his average fall to .303 with an 0
for 3 at the plate.  Petralli had drawn a
second-inning walk and came around to score on one of Pete Incaviglia’s 21
career triples. 

 

Ruben Sierra had a similar
night, going 0 for 3 with a walk and coming around to score courtesy of an Incaviglia
single in the sixth.

 

Buddy Bell
pinch-hit for Jeff Stone in the eighth, lining out to left off of former Ranger
Jerry Don Gleaton in what would be the 8,939th of Bell’s 8,995 big league at-bats, in a career
that would end five weeks later.

 

It was a travel day for Cincinnati, which had
lost the day before to the Mets, 11-4, a game in which second-year big leaguer Jack
Armstrong had mopped up after pitching himself out of the Reds rotation with
two straight poor starts.

 

Reid Ryan was 17 years old
on May 11, 1989, weeks away from graduation ceremonies at Alvin High School.

 

Mike Bell was 14, anticipating
his freshman year at Cincinnati’s
famed Moeller High.

 

Ben Petralli was three years
old.

 

Armstrong’s wife was seven
months away from giving birth to Jack Armstrong Jr.

 

And Ruben Sierra Jr. wouldn’t
be born for another two years, in March 1991, inspiring what would be Dad’s MVP
season.

 

Reid, Mike, Ben, Jack Jr.,
and Ruben Jr. are the five players the Rangers have drafted whose fathers
played for the organization.

 

Maybe that May 11, 1989 game
can be the future subject of the pregame “A Page from Baseball’s Past” feature
made a Rangers staple by Eric Nadel, who was in the radio booth that night and
returns to the booth tonight, having missed a week following surgery to repair
two tears in the retina of his right eye. 
Nadel was back in his chair last night, but had his return rained
out. 

 

I’m thrilled that Nadel is
back where we all need him, and look forward to the day years from now when he
can introduce a lineup that includes Ruben Sierra Jr., taken yesterday by Texas
in the sixth round of the 2009 draft.

 

The draft concludes later
today.  Eleanor Czajka’s Newberg Report
Draft Page will be up later this week. 

Day One of the Draft: Bold business as usual.

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If you’re still worried about the impact that the potential sale of the
Rangers could have on business as usual – and by that I mean the sort of aggressive
business this franchise annually conducts in the draft – then you’re probably
the one reader who emailed me last night insisting that the reason the Rangers
took the two pitchers they did with their first two picks – Klein High School
lefthander Matt Purke and St. Paul Saints righthander Tanner Scheppers – was
because they’d be easy not to sign,
given their expected demands.

 

But the Tom Hicks-Jon Daniels-Ron Hopkins drafts have never let
signability get in the way of zeroing in on the right player, and if you choose
to dismiss the good feelings that the organization generated after last night’s
results, or the waxings of your trusty unobjective Rangers blogger, then turn
your attention instead to what the national experts had to say last night:

 

Baseball America‘s John Manuel: “First-round
winners: My winners are Colorado, Texas and I’ll also say Minnesota
and Cleveland,
popping the Twins and Indians for getting White and Gibson so late in the first
round.”

 

BA‘s Jim Callis: “In terms of
value where they got guys, I’ll say Rockies
(Matzek, Wheeler), Indians (White), Rangers (Purke), Twins (Gibson if healthy),
Brewers (Arnett).”  And: “How about the
Rangers getting Purke at 14 and Scheppers at 44?  If those guys stay healthy and reach their
ceilings, and you package them in a rotation with Holland and Feliz . . . . Wow.”

 

BA had Purke (taken 14th
overall by the Rangers) ranked as the draft’s number 10 prospect, and Scheppers
(taken 44th overall) number nine.

 

Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein: “[Texas] could have had two picks in the first
12 and not done this well.”  Goldstein
rated Purke as his number 10 draft prospect, and Scheppers number six.

 

ESPN and Scouts Inc.’s Keith Law had Scheppers at number four,
and Purke number 12.  “It’s a hell of a
pair if they get them both under contract.”

 

John Sickels had Scheppers ranked ninth overall, and Purke 10th. 

 

Think what you will about the franchise’s financial situation, but if
the draft budget was going to be slashed this year because of it, there were
plenty of qualified first-round candidates the Rangers could have chosen with
the confidence that they could sign them at slot, rather than waste a pick or
two and dump the opportunity to add more young talent. 

 

Every national expert evaluated both Purke and Scheppers as top-half
first-round talents.  The Rangers will
unquestionably have to pay well above slot to sign them.  Given this franchise’s consistent willingness
to do just that, even though the economic situation may be different now, don’t
think for a second that the Angels or A’s or anyone else was relieved to hear
the team already owning baseball’s strongest farm system name Purke and then
Scheppers with its first two picks. 

 

The Rangers’ four Day One selections:

 

1 (14th overall). 
MATT PURKE, LHP, Klein High School (Tex.)

(scout: Randy Taylor)

(last year’s first-round pick: Justin Smoak; recent
Rangers first-round picks include Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Kasey Kiker,
Thomas Diamond, Mark Teixeira, John Danks, Carlos Pena, John Mayberry Jr.; best
number 14 pick in last 25 years: Jason Varitek [Mariners, 1994])

 

Much was made of the Rangers’ decision two years ago to pass on high
school righthander Rick Porcello, presumably because of his expected demands of
more than $5 million to sign plus a major league contract.  Some reports suggest that Purke – who is
advised not by Scott Boras like Porcello but by SSG (Select Sports Group), a
Houston-based agency whose clients include Nolan Ryan and which is owned in
part by Don Sanders, the Mexia-born entrepreneur with whom Ryan owns the Round
Rock Express and Corpus Christi Hooks (and could be in line for an ownership
stake in the Rangers, according to multiple reports) – might be seeking a
Porcello deal.

 

The situation is not the same. 

 

First, nobody is suggesting that Purke (or anyone in this draft after
Stephen Strasburg) is in Porcello’s class. 

 

Second, in 2007, Texas
had five first-round picks, going above slot to sign two of them (Julio Borbon
and Neil Ramirez).  It’s possible that, based
on the draft budget, Texas decided not to take Porcello and handicap what the
club wanted to do with its other four first-rounders.  Not only might it have busted the club’s
draft budget, but how do you go to Beavan or Main (whichever fellow high school
righthander Texas
took that day) and tell them you won’t go above slot, even slightly, while agreeing
to give Porcello $7 million and a big league contract? 

 

Third, and most importantly, after Texas called Purke’s name last night, he
told reporters:

 

“I don’t think [signing] will be difficult.  It might take some time but I want to play
baseball and I want to play for the Texas Rangers.  I think the negotiations will end up being
pretty easy.”

 

And:

 

“We’re going to work hard to get something worked out.  I told them that I would negotiate and do
what I can to be in a Rangers uniform.  I
think we’ll get a deal done.  I want to
be wearing the red, blue and white.”

 

Count on this getting done.  It
may drag until close to the August 17 deadline to sign, but it will get done
(and not in the same neighborhood as last year’s 14th pick,
Minnesota’s Aaron Hicks, who signed for slot at $1.78 million, let alone the league’s
recommended $1.6 million slot [a 10 percent reduction] for 2009).  Purke not only has a TCU commitment as
leverage but also the fact that he’ll be a draft-eligible sophomore in two
years (by virtue of his summer birthday), but there just seem to be too many
easily connected dots to worry that talks could ultimately break down short of
a deal.  The Rangers had the 18-year-old
in town for a Sunday workout – which included a meeting between Ryan and other club
officials and Purke’s family – and came away confident that the 14th
pick in the first round wouldn’t be wasted if it was spent on the Klein
lefthander.

 

Purke came into this draft with a long track record of success and
plenty of projectability, causing industry experts to deem him and California prep Tyler
Matzek as the top two lefthanders in the draft. 
A wiry 6’3″, 180, Purke is expected to fill out and, in the process, add
a tick or two to a fastball already full of late arm-side tailing life and sink
that sits 89-92 and touches 95.  Nolan
Ryan’s observation: “He’s got exceptional late movement.  It’s really unique.  It’s as much movement as I’ve seen from a
lefthander in years.”

 

Purke complements the heater with a developing changeup and a slider
that was good enough that BA calls it the
third-best secondary pitch among all high school pitchers eligible for this
draft.  BA
added that Purke could be the third-quickest high school prospect in this draft
to reach the big leagues, but there’s a real chance that his career could get
started at Fall Instructs, just as Robbie Ross’s did a year ago, should
negotiations last into mid-August.  And
that’s what often happens with above-slot signings, so as not to taunt the
league’s express recommendation against them.

 

As a sophomore at Klein (which also produced big leaguers David Murphy,
Josh Barfield, and Chris George), Purke went 5-3, 1.43 in 49 innings, punching
out 66 hitters as he scattered 38 hits and 16 walks.  As a junior, he started the season firing two
straight no-hitters, finishing the year with a 12-1, 0.37 record, fanning 147
in 76.2 innings and giving up 18 hits and 17 walks.  As a senior, he posted a 4-2, 1.18 mark,
setting 91 hitters down on strikes in 47.1 innings while permitting only 18
hits and seven walks.  The reason for the
relatively low inning count in 2009, according to Purke, was not any physical
issue but instead the result of a number of Bearcat games getting rained out
early in the spring.  Good.

 

Purke has extensive experience on a big stage, having pitched for Team USA during the
summers preceding his sophomore, junior, and senior years.  He made six appearances in those three
seasons (1-1, 3.68), striking out 27 and issuing six walks in 22 innings,
including a complete-game, four-hit shutout over Mexico last summer (11
strikeouts, no walks).  He also pitched a
scoreless inning last summer in the Aflac All-American Game at Dodger
Stadium.  Purke has been exposed to a
high level of competition and succeeded, and the Rangers love his makeup and
competitiveness. 

 

A number of experts thought that Purke’s perceived bonus demands could
kick him to the back of the first round (not unlike Porcello in 2007), perhaps
to the Angels at 24 or 25 or the Yankees at 29, if not out of the first
altogether.  But Texas wasn’t going to let him get past the
14th slot.  When the pick was
announced, Goldstein remarked during a live Baseball Prospectus roundtable: “BOOM.  Texas was thought to
have economy issues, but in the end, they get the best lefty in the draft with
Matt Purke.  A steal at 14 on pure
talent.”

 

Last year’s first-round Rangers selection, Justin Smoak, was instantly
called a theft because his price tag pushed him past teams unwilling to pony
up.  Same goes for Purke, another example
of a player whose talent and upside carried the day for the Rangers, even
though they knew there would be a premium cost to bring the player in.

 

 

1-Supp (44, pick awarded for loss of Milton
Bradley).  TANNER SCHEPPERS, RHP, St. Paul Saints (formerly Fresno State
University)

(scout: Derek Lee)

(last year’s supplemental first-round pick: none;
past Rangers supplemental first-round picks include Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter,
Neil Ramirez, Colby Lewis, Chad Hawkins; best number 44 pick in last 25 years:
Joey Votto [Reds, 2002])

 

I was so stunned that Scheppers was still on the board when pick number
44, the Rangers’ compensation for Milton Bradley’s departure to Chicago, came
around that I started typing his name in this email before Jimmie Lee Solomon
even got the words “With the 44th pick” out of his mouth.  The upside with this choice is huge.

 

Scheppers was ranked by BA as the
number 10 prospect going into last year’s draft, but the Fresno State junior
fell to pick number 48 (Pittsburgh) after missing a start two weeks before that
draft with shoulder tenderness (while the injury was described as a stress
fracture, it was muscular rather than in the bone, distinguishing it from
Brandon McCarthy’s recurring condition). 
He didn’t sign with the Pirates (reportedly seeking a $2 million bonus),
but instead of returning to college for his senior year he hooked on with the
St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association. 

 

Scheppers was relatively effective for the Saints this spring, going
1-1, 3.32 in four starts, but far more importantly he was healthy.  As late as two weeks ago, BA had him going ninth in this draft (right before Purke in
that particular mock).  But the shoulder
history and potential bonus demands obviously scared lots of teams off,
including some more than once, before Texas
took him at number 44.

 

Texas wasn’t completely surprised by Scheppers’s availability, even
though most draft projections suggested it would have been appropriate for the
6’4″, 200-pound righthander to have gone off the board not only before the
Rangers’ pick at 44, but perhaps even before the club’s choice at number
14.  Figuring that there was a real chance
that the 22-year-old could fall to the back half of the supplemental first
round, the Rangers quietly brought him in for a pre-draft physical with team
physician Keith Meister.  Dr. Meister
cleared Scheppers’s shoulder (as did Angels team physician Lewis Yocum a few
weeks ago), and the Rangers, comfortable that his velocity and breaking ball
were back, popped him at 44.

 

Asking yourself why the Angels, given Dr. Yocum’s assessment, didn’t
use number 24 or 25 or 40 on Scheppers themselves?  It might go back to the same possible basis
for Texas passing
on Porcello two years ago.  Los Angeles had not only
those three picks in the first plus supplemental first, but also 42 and
48.  If Scheppers was tagged as one of
the Angels’ five first-rounders, they might have invited a big problem getting
the other four signed.

 

Scheppers’s overpowering fastball, which sits in the mid-90s and
touches 98 with life (reportedly lighting the gun up once at 101 in his final
Saints start before the draft), was considered second only to Strasburg in this
year’s draft class.  He mixes in a power
curve and a change, and is mechanically sound (perhaps more so than Strasburg).  A former shortstop who didn’t begin pitching
until his high school senior season (registering 93 on the radar gun and showing
enough to prompt Baltimore to use its 29th-round draft pick on him
in 2005), he’s athletic with a classic pitcher’s build. 

 

In his breakout junior year at Fresno State
in 2008, Scheppers went 8-2, 2.93 with a save in 11 starts and one relief
appearance, permitting 54 hits (.202 opponents’ average) and 34 walks in 70.2
innings while setting 109 down on strikes. 
Four hitters took him deep.

 

On the short list of the people credited with turning Scheppers from
that high school thrower into a frontline pro pitching prospect is Ted Silva,
the former Rangers prospect (his 17-4, 2.91 season in 1996 earned him the club’s
Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors) who was the Fresno State
pitching coach during Scheppers’s sophomore year. 

 

Jason Churchill of ESPN suggests that Scheppers could ask for a bonus
in the $4 million range.  I’d be
surprised if his bottom line is that high, but he’s almost certainly going to command
first-round money – possibly early first-round money.  Interesting comment from Law: “If Scheppers
is healthy, I’d pay him and try to get him to the majors by August.”

 

The Scheppers pick wouldn’t have made as much sense for Houston or San
Diego or another franchise in need of a massive influx
of minor league talent.  The risk of
missing with a premium pick, particularly one that will cost more than slot to
sign, would be too great for an organization with a relatively weak farm
system. 

 

But an added benefit of the tremendous health that the Texas minor league
system enjoys is that risks like Scheppers make more sense to take.  If he doesn’t work out, it certainly won’t
cripple the system. 

 

But if he does, it’s a virtual consensus that he could be the steal of
the draft.

 

 

2 (62).  TOMMY
MENDONCA, 3B, Fresno
State University

(scout: Butch Metzger)

(last year: Robbie Ross; previously: Johnny
Whittleman, Matt West, Vincent Sinisi, Nick Regilio, Jason Bourgeois, Jason
Grabowski; best number 62 pick in last 25 years: Andre Ethier [Athletics,
2003])

 

The above parenthetical tells the story.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the
Rangers haven’t produced a solid major leaguer in the second round since Roger
Pavlik in 1986.  You’d have to look all
the way down to the 11th round to find one as barren for the Rangers
over those 20-plus years.  And two of the
club’s last three second-round selections have been spent on third
basemen.  While it’s certainly too soon
to write Johnny Whittleman (age 22) or Matt West (age 20) off as prospects, it’s
fair to say that neither has taken off yet like the organization had hoped.

 

The Rangers are vocal about their “best player available” philosophy on
draft day, but in this case, particularly since the organization tends to favor
adding up the middle, the use of yet another second-round pick on a third
baseman has the appearance of a choice made to address a relative weakness in
the system. 

 

Mendonca, older than West but younger than Whittleman, is a highly
decorated college player with power that should play at any level and plus
defense at the hot corner, but there are questions about his ability to make
contact.  A teammate of Scheppers at Fresno State
in 2007 and in 2008, Mendonca was the College World Series Most Outstanding
Player in 2008, the 2009 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, and Fresno State’s
career home run leader with 57 bombs in his three Bulldog seasons.  He hit .339/.447/.721 this season, with 27
homers (third in the country) and 78 RBI in 62 games.  BA, which made Mendonca
a first-team Pre-Season All-American, ranked him as the number three power
hitter among college players eligible for this draft.

 

But Mendonca also set a Division I record as a sophomore with 99
strikeouts, vulnerable in particular to offspeed pitches.  BA believed
enough in his power and defense, however, to project him into the third
round.  The Rangers believe in him even
more, making the left-handed slugger the club’s third second-round third
baseman selected in four seasons.

 

Two added notes of interest: Goldstein sees him as a Russ Branyan-type
bat . . . with much better defense.  Law
believes Mendonca could be a candidate for a switch at some point to
catcher.  

 

But in this system, it makes sense that Mendonca, if signed, will stay
at third base unless he plays his way off the position.

 

 

3 (93). 
ROBBIE ERLIN, LHP, Scotts Valley HS (Calif.)

(scout: Butch Metzger)

(last year: Tim Murphy; previously: Hank Blalock,
Taylor Teagarden, Evan Reed, Chad Tracy, Michael Schlact, Barry Zito, Ryan
Dempster, John Hudgins; best number 93 pick in last 25 years: Javier Valentin
[Twins, 1993])

 

The second straight selection recommended by Northern California/Nevada
area scout Butch Metzger (the former big league pitcher who was responsible for
last year’s fourth-round find, righthander Joe Wieland), Erlin is a small
lefthander in the mold of Robbie Ross – a pitcher whose draft position might
have been stronger if he’d only been a little taller.

 

Erlin, whose commitment to Cal Poly is not expected to be a big hurdle,
commands an 89-91 mph fastball and adds a plus curve.  He went 9-1, 0.63 as a high school senior in
2009, striking out 125 batters in 62 innings – 45 of which were consecutively
scoreless.  There are no questions at all
about his makeup or his mechanics.  It’s
just Erlin’s physical stature that seems to bother some industry experts.

 

But not all of them.  From
Manuel: “The Rangers keep taking intriguing arms with third-rounder Robbie
Erlin.  I like it when scouts say, ‘If he
were taller he would have been a first-rounder.’  That means first-round arm type of value in
the third round.  Texas is just hot right now as a franchise.”

 

That last sentence is the kind you might be used to seeing in this
space, even if you won’t hear it trumpeted from 1000 Ballpark Way, where they’re not
known for patting themselves on the back. 

 

But when you hear it from the people who make a living evaluating
baseball organizations, over and over again, it ought to ring true, even if it
never gets old.  Day One of the 2009
draft was, it appears, bold business as usual for the Rangers, and that’s not
only good news from the standpoint of the consistently relentless effort to add
young talent but reassuring as well, hopefully dispelling any fear that the
potential sale of the team might have meant a cutback in going after the right
player as other teams back off due to sticker shock.

 

 

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

 

Rangers claim Grilli.

According to at least one local report, the Rangers have
claimed right-handed reliever Jason Grilli off waivers.  The 32-year-old was designated for assignment
by Colorado
on Friday, after posting a 6.05 ERA in 22 appearances this season (19.1
innings, 29 hits, 13 walks, 22 strikeouts). 
Grilli had a 3.00 ERA in 2008 between Detroit
and Colorado
(75 innings, 67 hits, 38 walks, 69 strikeouts).

 

No corresponding move has been announced.

 

For those of you who have been with the Newberg Report
for any more than a year or two, you know that the fact that the Grilli move
comes on Draft Day is poetic justice.

 

*     *     *

The local
report that broke the Jason Grilli story now says that Texas didn’t claim him
off waivers, but instead sent cash considerations to the Rockies for the
righthander (meaning before Colorado ever placed him on waivers during the
10-day period that triggered on Friday). 

 

Because Grilli
was on the Rockies’ 40-man roster and is out of options, not only will a move
need to be made to clear space for Grilli on the active roster, a spot on the
40-man roster will need to be cleared as well. 
The above-referenced report suggests, accordingly, that Texas could let righthander
Kris Benson go to make room for Grilli’s addition to the roster.

 

I confused
a small handful of you with the reference in my news flash to Grilli and Draft Day.

 

For those
of you, this comes from the May 31, 2001 Newberg Report, a few days before that
year’s draft:

 

====================================================

 

On December 18, 1988, one of
the most important games in Dallas Cowboy
history took place, as the Green Bay
Packers defeated the then-Phoenix Cardinals, 26-17, salting the win away on a
Don Majkowski-to-Clint Didier touchdown pass.

 

I kid you not.

 

The significance of that
GB-PHO game — the Pack’s second straight win — was that it improved the
Packer record to 4-12, while the Cowboys were busy dropping to 2-14 with a 23-7
loss to Philadelphia.  Had Dallas won and Green Bay lost, the teams
would have been deadlocked and facing some sort of tiebreaker or maybe a coin
flip to determine which of them would get the number one pick in the 1989
draft.

 

With the unlikely two-game
win streak for Green Bay, the Cowboys picked
first, taking Troy Aikman.  The Packers picked second, landing Tony
Mandarich.

 

Why do you care?

 

Because in my opinion, the
final week of the Rangers’ 2000 season might ultimately prove to be similarly
significant in its effect on this club’s immediate future.

 

The Baltimore
Orioles were a bad baseball team last year, at 67-86 with nine games remaining
against Boston, Toronto, and the Yankees.  Texas wasn’t so great either, as its record
stood at 70-83 with nine to play against Anaheim, Seattle, and Oakland.  And then something strange happened.  The O’s reeled off seven wins out of the nine
games, including the final four games straight — by the average score of
13-2.  At the same time, the Rangers lost
eight of nine, including the final three — by the average score of 11-2.  And as a result, in the space of nine days, Baltimore went from three games worse than Texas in the AL
standings to three games better, and accordingly Texas ended up with the third-worst record
in the league.

 

In baseball, the draft is
conducted with the AL and NL alternating picks, and so the result of the Texas-Baltimore
standings flip at the 2000 finish line was that the Rangers will pick fifth
overall in the June 5, 2001 draft, and the O’s will pick seventh. This could be
very, very important.

 

That is because in my
opinion, which I will state right out front is worth very little since I have
not seen any of these guys play, four players are worth getting excited about
— USC righthander Mark Prior, Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira, Middle Tennessee
State righthander Dewon Brazelton, and
Baltimore high
school righthander Gavin Floyd.  And even
though Texas
drafts fifth, I feel pretty comfortable that one, and maybe two, of those
players will be there when the Ranger selection comes up.  Were the Rangers picking seventh, those four
would likely be gone.

 

With less than a week to go
before Major League Baseball’s 30 scouting directors make the decisions they
get paid to make, Team One Baseball staged a mock draft on its website.  I played Tim Hallgren and took Floyd with the
Ranger pick.

 

In the mock draft, Prior went
first, Teixeira went second, Brazelton went third, and Casey Kotchman was the
fourth pick.  I don’t see it actually
shaking out that way next week — I think Minnesota will end up shying away
from Prior’s demands and take either Brazelton or Joe Mauer, the Cubs will nab
Prior, Tampa Bay will take Brazelton (if there) or Alan Horne or Colt Griffin
or maybe Roscoe Crosby, and Philadelphia will go with Floyd or Teixeira.  Under that scenario, either way the Twins go,
Floyd or Teixeira will be there for the Rangers.  The Dallas Morning News suggested yesterday
that Teixeira or UCLA righthander Josh Karp could be the pick, but from the
things I have read — and again, the fact that I am reading the assessments of
other people renders my judgment worthless to an extent — Karp seems to have
disappointed a lot of scouts this season and could be slipping to the middle
part or even back half of the first round.

 

Let’s talk about Teixeira and
Floyd.  And to kick the discussion off,
how about these two interesting notes:

 

1. They both attended Mount
St. Joseph High School in Severna Park, Maryland.  Teixeira was drafted in the ninth round by
Boston in 1998, but failed to sign and became a Yellow Jacket.  Floyd, incidentally, has committed to South Carolina but is
expected to sign a pro contract.

 

2. A year ago, in assessing
the top prospects in the Delaware/Maryland/West Virginia/D.C. region for the
2000 draft, Baseball America noted that if Teixeira and Floyd became the top
college and high school selections when the 2001 draft rolled aruond, it would
mark the first time that one high school produced the top college and high
school player in the same draft.  BA then
went on to rank the top players in that region who were eligible for last year’s
draft.  Number one?  Delaware
high school righthander Randy Truselo. 
Number two?  Towson State
lefthander Chris Russ.  Both, as you
know, became Ranger selections, both on the ledger sheet of Ranger scout Doug
Harris.

 

On to Teixeira and Floyd.

 

Teixeira is, by all accounts,
one of the most polished hitters to come out of college in years, a
switch-hitting Troy Glaus/Lance Berkman type. 
A Scott Boras client, the Twins won’t take him.  The Cubs won’t unless Prior goes first.  Tampa
Bay cannot pay its own major league roster, so forget Teixeira — plus they
have never — never — taken a college player in the first three rounds.  The Phillies? 
Would they choose to run into Boras
again, after the J.D. Drew disaster a few years ago?

 

Would the Rangers take
Teixeira, when (1) the need for pitching is so glaring for this organization,
(2) they do not pick again until the fourth round, and (3) third base seems to
be fairly well accounted for on the farm with Mike Lamb at AAA and Hank Blalock
making huge noise again, this time at High A Charlotte?  The way I look at it is this: you take the
best player available.  If you are not
crazy about the pitchers available to you at number five, you don’t “settle” on
someone with that pick.  Were there
hitters that Texas
preferred over Jonathan Johnson in 1995, such as Todd Helton or Geoff Jenkins,
who were the two players taken immediately after the Ranger pick?  In 1996, do you wonder whether St. Louis (3rd pick: Braden Looper), Montreal
(5: John Patterson), Detroit (6: Seth Greisinger),
or San Francisco
(7: Matt White) actually liked Mark Kotsay (9th pick) or Eric Chavez (10th
pick) more but felt they needed to go with a pitcher?  In 1997, according to the Baseball America
draft preview issue I am staring at right now, Anaheim had the third pick and
was split between Glaus and righthander Jason Grilli — they took Glaus, and
Grilli went with the next pick to the Giants. 
Think the Angels are happy they made that decision?  In the 1998 draft, Kansas City took Stanford righthander Jeff
Austin with the fourth pick. J.D. Drew went fifth, Austin Kearns went seventh,
Sean Burroughs went ninth, and Carlos Pena went tenth.

 

What’s the point?  These examples illustrate that at times,
deciding in the top of the first round to draft for need can be dangerous.  It may very well be that the Rangers like
Prior and Brazelton and Floyd and Karp more than Teixeira, and if so, I hope
they take the pitcher.  But if they
evaluate Teixeira to have a higher and more projectable ceiling than whatever
pitchers are undrafted by the time the fifth pick comes around, then I think
Teixeira needs to be the pick.

 

====================================================

 

And so
began the “Glaus vs. Grilli” theme that resurfaces in the Newberg Report from
time to time.

 

Jamey

Draft Day.

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The draft starts at 5:00 Central this evening, and it sort
of snuck up on me this year.  There are
several explanations for that, one of which is that sitting at number 14 in
what appears to be a pedestrian first round at best has less anticipation pop for
Texas than in other recent years, but the primary reason, of course, has to do
with the first-half developments on the field, which may have the Rangers headed
for a slot in the back of the first round in 2010.

 

It’s a good thing, as far as most of us are concerned, when
the draft never gets the chance to be a (sometimes welcome) distraction from
the big league scene.  Give me that every
year.

 

Stay tuned to the Newberg Report today for plenty of draft
coverage – it would be a good day to jump onto the mailing list if you’re not
there already, as Scott Lucas will deliver a draft preview during the day and
then fire off instant flashes for each of the Rangers’ four picks (14, 44, 62,
93) this evening – and a detailed report from me tomorrow, typically one of the
longest of the year. 

 

I’m also working on a report that ought to be even longer
than tomorrow’s draft review, the 30,000-foot piece that I referred to a couple
days ago.  Doubt it’s going to land until
later this week, though.

 

In the meantime, if you need something to read to get you
fired up for the draft and the folks that the Rangers have in place to make it
a meaningful one, not just on Day One but on Day Two as well (and, this year,
even Day Three), you ought to read Mike
Hindman’s extraordinary article on the drafting of Ian Kinsler in 2003
. 

 

If you caught it on Sunday, read it again today.  It’s comfort food, without the guilt.

 

 

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

 

A trip.

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The New York-Boston trip began with Bad Padilla and ended
with Good Padilla.  If not Worst Padilla
and Best Padilla.

 

It started with Texas 4.5
games ahead of the Angels, who were set to face Toronto
and Detroit as the Rangers traveled to Yankee
Stadium and Fenway
Park.  It ended, after a 3-3 trip that went L-W-L-W-L-W,
with Texas
still 4.5 games up.

 

But with six fewer games for Los Angeles to close the gap, so it’s not as
if nothing was gained.  Magic number:
103.

 

The Rangers went into Boston,
without what most people coming into the season considered their best player
and best relief pitcher available, and won a Fenway series for the first time
since 1997 (which was Boston’s
last season with a losing record).  The wins
weren’t mistake-free, but this team – for the first time in memory – seems to
be one capable of outplaying their mistakes from time to time.

 

Even in New York and Boston.

 

Against two teams each coming home after winning five out of
seven on the road.  The Red Sox had won four
straight.  The Yankees, 15 of 19.

 

Bravo, Nelson Cruz, the player on whom no team in the league
was willing to expend $20,000 and a roster spot 14 months ago, who got knocked
down with a 93-mph four-seamer at the head in the fifth inning on the trip’s
first game, yet finished the six games with three home runs among his six hits
(in fact, he was a single short of the cycle today).  A year ago, the question was whether Cruz would
survive his lack of options.  Today, it’s
whether he has enough juice (.292/.356/.614 with an American League-leading 17
homers, good defensive speed to go along with a plus plus arm in right field, and
nine steals in 10 attempts) to be squarely in the mix for an All-Star Game appearance.

 

He should be.

 

As you ask yourself where this thing is headed, consider the
following as you step back and look at the bigger picture:

 

1. Michael Young is well known for expecting young teammates,
no matter what they’ve done to get to the big leagues, to earn their way, to
prove themselves, to pay their dues.  It’s
part of his brand of leadership. 

 

He said this after Derek Holland’s uneven start on Saturday:
“It was a lot of fun to see him to watch [Boston
lefthander Jon] Lester pitch and react to it. 
He’s got a great future.  He’s got
a chance to be a dominant-stuff type lefty and Lester is already there.  I’d like to see us keep running him out there.
 I’m not big on pumping up rookies, but
he competes hard and he really wants to be good.”

 

2. A Newberg Report message board regular who goes by “Doug”
posted this a few days ago:

 

The exec I talk to
says to me that the Rangers have more room for error like [nobody] except the
big teams in the NE (NYY, NYM, and Boston).
 Those teams have room for error because
of $, the Rangers have it because of the deepest farm system this exec has ever
seen in 20 years of professional ball.  He
said you’d always like a few more top end guys like Feliz and Holland, but that there are just so damn many
good prospects, that he just can’t believe it.  He told me that there is not a single farm
system in both leagues that wouldn’t take a Ranger prospect in the 20-30 range
and be able to replace someone in their own top 10 and be better off for it.  He said some teams could replace almost their
whole top 10 with the Rangers 11-20 and be better off.

 

He said, and this is a
quote, “The juggernaut is already built, now it’s playing the hand they’ve got
and not screwing it up.  They are going
to be THE team to deal with in the AL
for a long time.  We’re all freaked out
by it.”  I said, what about the Rays?  He said, “They’re better than the Rays.”

 

BTW, it shouldn’t
surprise you that this exec, who deals with JD, has high praise for him.  He says JD made some early mistakes, but says
he is so, so smart, knows how to do strategy, and is a great judge of talent -
not baseball talent necessarily, but exec talent – the Adair’s, the Servais’,
the Clark’s, etc.  He said JD’s biggest
challenge will be replacing the development talent he will be losing year after
year (Adair was just the start) and not betting for an inside straight,
i.e., not risking too much to go for it all in
any particular year.  He said if they
continue to feed the golden goose, and don’t risk too much in any particular
year that they will be there year after year for a long, long time.

 

I enjoyed that.

 

I’m working on a lengthy report that I hope to have done
before Tuesday evening’s draft, not on the draft itself as much as a view from
30,000 feet on what this organization has achieved and what could be next.

 

 

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

 

Lester bangs.

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From Gordon Edes, the former longtime Red Sox beat
writer, in a piece he wrote for Yahoo! Sports a month and a half
ago:

 

=======================

 

And then came the 24 hours that
shocked the baseball world: [Boston GM Theo] Epstein secretly slipping away from
the [2003] winter meetings in New Orleans for a hush-hush meeting at the Four
Seasons in New York with [Alex] Rodriguez, who at 1:30 a.m. answered the door of
his suite impeccably dressed in a suit, his hair freshly moussed.  Before dawn
Rodriguez agreed, in exchange for a couple of player options inserted in his
contract, to give up millions to escape the purgatory of the Texas Rangers.  Rodriguez
even pledged to send some under-the-table money back to Rangers owner Tom Hicks
to make the deal work.

 

That morning, after some hard
bargaining, players’ union lawyer Gene Orza signed off on the deal, and a day
later at a hastily called press conference in the .406 club at Fenway Park,
Epstein announced that the club had acquired Rodriguez for outfielder Manny
Ramirez, who had worn out the club with his trade demands, and a left-handed
pitching prospect named Jon Lester.

 

Then Epstein leaned into the
microphone to announce the second part of his bombshell: Nomar Garciaparra, the
incumbent shortstop who had interrupted his honeymoon to call a Boston
sports-talk show and complain about the A-Rod rumors, had been traded to the
White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez and a pitching prospect Brandon
McCarthy.

 

=======================

 

Think about how
things might have been different had the Players Association not vetoed the 2003
trade because it didn’t like Rodriguez’s voluntary salary reduction. 

 

Nah, don’t.  After
watching Lester do that tonight,
you’re probably better off forgetting about what might have been if, as the
result of a proper meeting of the minds, he and Ramirez (who had five years
remaining on his contract, plus two club options) had become Texas Rangers, and
if McCarthy had gone to Boston before the White Sox had taken a shine to John
Danks. 

 

Instead, think about
what brand of Vicente Padilla is going to show up Sunday afternoon in the rubber
match of this series. 

 

If you think you
have a bead on what we’re going to see tomorrow, you’re a lot smarter than I
am.

 


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

Elvis.

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From Tuesday’s report:

 

Make the plays you
should, and a handful that you shouldn’t . . . and you give yourself a much
better chance to win. . . . New York has won 15 of 19, and you have to limit
the mistakes if you expect to beat those guys. 

 

The Yankees didn’t balk. 
Didn’t get caught flat-footed leading off first base as a righthander’s pickoff
throw was sailing in.  Didn’t drop a fly
ball.  Didn’t backhand a soft-toss to
second on a critical potential double play ball. 

 

The Rangers didn’t play the last three days like a team with
the best record in the league.  Too many fundamental
(if not mental) mistakes. 

 

Still, the upshot of all that is that Texas
won once, New York
twice, and I’m not sure there’s a team in the league right now that can expect
to go into Yankee Stadium and come away with a series win. 

 

Going into Boston, matching Kevin Millwood up against Brad
Penny (whose home ERA is 6.14), Derek Holland (presumably) against Jon Lester (a
surprisingly high 5.65 ERA for the season), and some version of Vicente Padilla
against Daisuke Matsuzaka (7.17 ERA), it’s not going to be easy – it never is
at Fenway Park – but missing Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield is a bit of a
break, and if Texas can escape with two wins and split this six-game road trip,
it would be hard to be too disappointed.

 

On the subject of mistakes: We know Elvis Andrus will make
some – he was spectacular but not flawless in New York – but I was reminded,
watching him on that stage the last three days, of something that occurred to
me and anyone else who saw him play any meaningful amount of time the last two
years. 

 

Andrus is a winner. 
And that’s something entirely different from being a very good
player. 

 

Winners minimize their own mistakes, capitalize on others’
mistakes, exploit weaknesses.  We are
seeing strong evidence right now that Andrus, even at age 20, has a whole lot
of winner in him.  And, obviously, that’s
only going to become more and more prevalent as he matures.

 

A fear: We were all aware, three years ago, that Jason
Giambi’s Yankees contract was set to expire at the same time that Mark Teixeira
would get his first chance to explore free agency.  Derek Jeter’s current 10-year deal is set to
expire after the 2010 season.  He’ll be
36, and will obviously sign another deal with New York at that point.  Andrus, if he doesn’t extend at some point
into his free agent years, will be a free agent after 2014, when Jeter will be
40 – and by then, if Jeter is still playing, he’s not likely to be a fulltime
shortstop. 

 

That scares me.  I think
we can all agree that Andrus – who told the Rangers two months after coming
over in the Mark Teixeira trade: “You probably think I’m going to say [my
favorite shortstop is] a Venezuelan shortstop because that’s where I’m from,
but I’m not.  It’s Derek Jeter.  He is a leader and a winner, and that’s what
I am” – appears to have everything that marquis teams like the Yankees love to
add in his prime, a player overflowing in talent and charisma and savvy and
star power to build around.  He’d be the
perfect guy for Jeter to pass a torch to. 

 

The way I feel about Andrus now, if that happens, I might
have to give up on baseball.

 

Sorta stupid to worry about Andrus six years from now when
he’s played 46 major league games.  But I
know if I were a Yankees fan, with my smug sense of entitlement (courtesy in
part of an obscene TV/radio deal) in spite of the fact that the last championship
trophy was hoisted a couple months after Andrus’s 12th birthday,
that I’d view Andrus as one of those players you can’t take your eyes off of
and one that, when you close them, you can’t help but envision in pinstripes.

 

This Rangers team will belong to the 26-year-old Andrus and the
28-year-old Chris Davis in 2014, the final season for each before free agent
eligibility, and I’m going to set aside those fears and convince myself right
now that Andrus will be the Rangers’ Derek Jeter, and Davis the club’s Lance
Berkman, maybe with a title or two of their own by that point. 

 

Andrus is one of those rare athletes who, upon his arrival
in the big leagues, gives off the unmistakable sense that he will, one way or
another, win championships.  Just like Andrus’s
hero Jeter, who arrived in New York at a time when the Yankees had gone 13 years
without a playoff appearance, and went on to reach the post-season in each of
Jeter’s first 13 seasons.

 

The Ben & Skin Show on 105.3 FM The Fan (the Rangers’
radio home) took calls yesterday asking for nickname suggestions for the
Rangers shortstop.  No need.  Like Emmitt, like Dirk – like Jeter – he’s
all set.  “Elvis” will do just fine.  

 

Speaking of the Rangers’ radio home, Eric Nadel is back in Dallas after Friday morning surgery in New York to repair two tears in the retina of
his right eye.  He’s not sure how long he’ll
be away from the booth.  I’m going to ask
my yoga instructor wife how I’m supposed to go about channeling all my energy
and positive thoughts in the direction of a speedy Nadel recovery and return to
action.  Taking in yesterday’s game
without his description, and realizing that there will come a day when he’ll actually
retire, scared me as much as the thought of Andrus in pinstripes.

 

We’re now four days from the draft.  This is thought, unlike 2008, to be a
pitching-heavy draft, both in the first round and in its depth, so you might
expect it to be a pitching-heavy crop for Texas, even though it will continue to operate
under the “best player available” philosophy. 

 

Baseball America‘s
Jim Callis suggested in a recent chat session that, if Andrus were in this
draft (this would be his junior year in college), “[h]e’d be in the mix for the
No. 2 overall pick [behind Stephen Strasburg] and there’s no way he’d get out
of the Top 10.” 

 

Still no word on the severity of Josh Hamilton’s abdominal
strain/sports hernia, or whether surgery is the next step.  He was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday.

 

So was Cincinnati’s
Edinson Volquez, same day.

 

Meanwhile, Danny Ray Herrera has a 1.69 ERA in 23 relief appearances
for the Reds.

 

Texas
optioned righthander Warner Madrigal to AAA and purchased the contract of
righthander Doug Mathis, making room for Mathis on the 40-man roster by
transferring righthander Willie Eyre from the 15-day disabled list to the
60-day disabled list.

 

The other 29 teams have until noon today to place a claim on
Padilla and assume the remaining $8 million on his 2009 deal, plus a $1.75
buyout obligation unless his $12 million option is picked up for 2010.  He’s a good bet to clear waivers (and start
on Sunday in Boston).

 

From Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports:

 

“The Rangers still would consider trading a hitter for a
reliever even if they lose outfielder Josh Hamilton for a prolonged stretch.  Hamilton
should learn Monday whether he needs surgery for an injury that is effectively
a sports hernia.  If the Rangers trade,
say, outfielder Marlon Byrd or infielder Hank Blalock, they could replace that
player internally, promoting Class AAA outfielder Julio Borbon, Class AAA
catcher Max Ramirez or Class AA first baseman Justin Smoak.  The Rangers, operators of the game’s
top-ranked farm system according to Baseball America, also will consider
pursuing a starting pitcher such as the Mariners’ Erik Bedard or Indians’ Cliff
Lee.”

 

I’ll have more to say about that idea in another report,
soon.

 

I wrote this on July 19, 2008:

 

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 never did make it up to Texas. 
He signed a non-roster deal with Florida
this winter.  He made the team after a
dominant camp (10 scoreless innings, three hits, one walk, seven strikeouts).  He’s appeared 31 times for the Marlins since
the season began, scattering six runs in 27 innings (2.00 ERA) on 16 hits
(.174/.284/.207) and 14 walks, setting down an impressive 35 hitters on
strikes.  In 63 at-bats, right-handed
hitters have zero extra-base hits (10 singles, five walks, 27 strikeouts).

 

Think we could use him here?

 

Remember my note on Monday about Oakland reliever Michael Wuertz, whom the A’s
stole from the Cubs in February for pedestrian minor leaguers Richie Robnett and
Justin Sellers?  Neither is still Cubs
property.  Chicago traded Sellers to the Dodgers for a
player to be named later or cash in March, and released Robnett last week.

 

Milton Bradley had an MRI on his right calf on Wednesday,
after pulling up with what appeared to be a strain in Tuesday night’s Cubs
game.  Getting his .220/.338/.390 numbers
back into the Chicago
lineup is a day-to-day proposition.

 

Going into yesterday’s games, nobody in baseball, major
leagues or minors, had more than Frisco right fielder Mitch Moreland’s 23 doubles.

 

According to Baseball
America
, the Rangers have placed Bakersfield
righthander Josh Lueke on the suspended list.

 

Even though the Clinton LumberKings are now a Mariners affiliate,
L-Kings radio broadcaster Dave Lezotte interviewed
former Clinton starter Derek Holland for the farm club’s MLBlog
.

 

Sammy Sosa is no longer interested in waiting for the phone
to ring.  He’s retiring.

 

More
from Oklahoma City
reliever Beau Vaughan.

 

We now have 244 paid for this year’s Newberg Report Night at
Rangers Ballpark, on August 2.  I expect that
we’ll be full by the end of the weekend, so if you’re interested in attending
but haven’t paid, now’s probably the time.  Full details are in a flash box at the top of www.newbergreport.com.  For $30, you’ll get to participate in a
90-minute Q&A Jon Daniels and another Q&A with Baseball Prospectus’s
Will Carroll, to support a good cause or two, and to get the chance, at gametime
and for two or three hours after that, not to be able to take your eyes off of Elvis.

 

 

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

 

New Top 20 rankings.

The folks at MLB.com posted the latest installment of my weekly ranking
of the top 20 prospects in the Rangers’ farm system this morning on the
official Rangers website, texasrangers.com.

Here’s a direct link to the column:

http://dwarfurl.com/9cf1f

Please note that the column is set up to allow fan comments at the bottom of the page.

– Jamey

Three things.

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Three things:

 

1. 

feldman.jpg

                

                

 

    Scott Feldman, The
MUTRIHOF.

 

 

2. C.J. Wilson was a pitcher
tonight.  Biggest “wow” effort from him
in a long time.

 

 

3. Courtesy of Professor Jason Parks:

 

    New
York City: Where Elvis Andrus Happens.

 

 

 

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

 

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