October 2009

Hitting coach interviews underway.

According to local reports, the Rangers have begun interviewing candidates to replace Rudy Jaramillo as Rangers hitting coach, and among those whom the club has talked to is Rusty Greer. 

Others characterized as “potential candidates” (among a field that could include as many as eight) are Oklahoma City hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and former big league hitting instructors Thad Bosley, Gerald Perry, Rick Down, and Carney Lansford. 

Bill Mitchell wrote an excellent feature for Baseball America on AFL teammates Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow, whose paths to pro ball share some similarities.  Check it out. 

Mitchell adds that Taylor Teagarden’s arrival on the Surprise Rafters roster was brought about by an injury to Yankees catcher prospect Austin Romine.  ESPN’s Jason Grey reports that New York had the right to send a catcher to replace Romine but declined, leaving the door open for Texas to delegate Teagarden.  According to Grey, the Rangers wanted Teagarden to play winter ball in an effort to get more at-bats, but he jumped at the opportunity to play in the AFL, which he’d done after his breakout 2007 season.  The 25-year-old acknowledges the need to work offensively on his timing, bat path, plate coverage, and pitch recognition.

Matt Harrison threw two innings for the Rafters yesterday, permitting two runs on two hits, a walk, and a hit batsman, fanning two.  It was his first game action since August surgery to address his thoracic outlet syndrome.

Among the pitchers who relieved Harrison were Danny Gutierrez (two runs in two innings, four strikeouts), Tanner Scheppers (three runs in two innings, two strikeouts and three groundouts), and Evan Reed (one perfect frame, two groundouts and a strikeout), each of whom threw roughly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. 

Starting for Phoenix was Stephen Strasburg, who limited Surprise to a run on one hit and two walks (including one earned by Mitch Moreland) in 4.1 innings, setting five down on strikes.

Washington named Jay Robertson special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo.

New San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer’s first move was to dismiss vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson.  Fuson, who had been with the Padres for five years, was under contract through the 2010 season.

The Royals promoted Kyle Turner from minor league medical coordinator to assistant big league trainer.  He’s been with Kansas City for three seasons, after a seven-year run in the Rangers system.

Fourth outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., three years and $27 million into a five-year, $50 million Angels contract, would like to be traded.  His plate appearances in Los Angeles have gone from 579 to 477 to 360 in his three Angels seasons, over which he’s a .248/.325/.383 hitter, which is almost exactly what he was over the five seasons (.242/.324/.371) he played before coming to Texas, where he hit .285/.349/.468 from 2004 through 2006 and hit the free agency jackpot, leaving the Rangers righthanders Michael Main and Neil Ramirez as compensatory parting gifts.

A crusty, crotchety baseball writer from the mainstream media told me, almost a decade ago, that you can never put any stock in a baseball writer not from the mainstream media.  (I think he was referring to me, qualifying the one-way conversation as trash talk.) 

Yesterday that conversation came to mind when a number of you were quick to point out that Garrett Nash was not only not the highest-draft player in the history of the state of Utah, but (according to one of you) he actually sits at 41st on that list. 

I’m embarrassed about the mistake, having foolishly trusted this article: http://www.collegebaseballprospects.net/2008/01/prospect-watch-garrett-nash.html.  Maybe, before rolling with the Nash note, I should have given weight to the fact that that website hasn’t published an article since May of 2008. 

Maybe (for once), Crusty McCrotchety was right.

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AFL update.

A few Arizona Fall League notes:

Righthander Daniel Gutierrez was named co-pitcher of the week after firing 6.2 scoreless Surprise Rafters innings over two appearances, scattering two hits and four walks while fanning three.  Left-handed hitters are 0 for 17 (three walks and three strikeouts) off Gutierrez.

Gutierrez’s teammate Tanner Scheppers (five scoreless innings, one hit, one walk, six strikeouts) continues to be the talk of the league, pairing a fastball that sits 95-98 with a mid-80s power curve.  Very Verlander.

Scheppers gets some Baseball America love in the publication’s “Draft Report Card” for the Rangers’ 2009 crop, published yesterday for subscribers only.  

Lefthander Matt Harrison, coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome, threw a scoreless AFL inning on Friday, permitting a hit and setting one Phoenix Desert Dog down on strikes, hitting another.  

Outfielder Mitch Moreland, whose breakout season was cut short in mid-August when he fouled a ball off his right foot and broke a bone in it, has picked up where he left off in Arizona.  After hitting .341/.421/.594 for Bakersfield and .326/.373/.488 for Frisco (and leading all of minor league baseball with 156 hits at the time of his injury), the 24-year-old sits at .348/.444/.652 through 23 Surprise at-bats.  

Catcher Taylor Teagarden is reportedly headed to the AFL.  No word yet on when he’s expected to get into games.

There are various unofficial reports circulating that the cutoff for Super Two arbitration eligibility this winter will be two years and 141 days of big league service.  If true, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2.137) and Dustin Nippert (2.140) will have to wait until after the 2010 season to take advantage of the arbitration process.  As it stands, I believe the Rangers’ arbitration-eligibles are Scott Feldman, Josh Hamilton, Frankie Francisco, C.J. Wilson, Brandon McCarthy, and Esteban German.

T.R. Sullivan reported in an MLB.com mailbag feature that the Rangers met with Wilson at the end of the season to discuss the possibility of converting him back to a starting pitcher.

Toronto has hired Mel Didier to serve as senior advisor to new GM Alex Anthopoulos, a role not unlike the one that the 82-year-old Didier held in Texas the last seven years.

When the Nippon Ham Fighters took Game One of the best-of-seven Japanese Pacific League championship series on Wednesday from the Rakuten Eagles, 9-8, they did so on a walkoff grand slam by outfielder Terrmel Sledge, who was Texas Rangers property for a month in the 2005-2006 off-season (acquired in the Alfonso Soriano trade with Washington and sent to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade).  Sledge hit the bomb off of momentary Rangers reliever Kaz Fukumori.

Houston claimed utility player Jason Bourgeois off waivers from Milwaukee.  The Astros will be the sixth organization for Bourgeois, who was the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2000.  

Former Rangers farmhand Jeff Smith, who caught for Frisco in its inaugural 2003 season, was the Florida State League manager of the year this season, leading the Fort Myers Miracle to a 80-58 record in his second season at the helm of the club, and his third managing in the Twins system.  He’s been promoted to manage Minnesota’s AA affiliate at New Britain of the Eastern League.

Outfielder-second baseman Garrett Nash, who turned down above-slot money as the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2007 and instead enrolled at Oregon State, took the 2009 season off and will miss 2010 as well.  He’s in the midst of a two-year Mormon mission and plans to return to the Beavers in 2011.  

Nash, a Utah native, became the highest-drafted player in the history of the state when Texas selected him with the 140th pick in a draft that also produced Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Moreland, Tim Smith (who was traded along with Manny Pina to get Gutierrez), Neil Ramirez, Evan Reed, and a number of other Rangers farmhands who have progressed.  That 2007 draft crop stands as one of the club’s strongest in years, and that’s without not only Nash but also righthander Anthony Ranaudo, lefthander Drew Pomeranz, and outfielder Kevin Keyes, the first two of whom in particular are likely first-rounders next summer.

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Kikuchi to stay in Japan.

According to Kyodo News, Japanese high school lefthander Yusei Kikuchi
announced within the last hour that he will play in Japan next year
rather than sign with a major league organization. The Rangers, who
scouted Kikuchi since the spring and sent a contingent including A.J.
Preller, Jim Colborn, and Derek Holland to Japan for a recruiting
interview this week, were reported to have significant interest in the
18-year-old.

Should the Kikuchi sign with a Japanese club
following Thursday’s draft, he won’t be eligible for free agency for
nine years, unless his club decides to post his negotiating rights
beforehand.

Kikuchi decision imminent.

Yakyubaka.com, a States-based website covering Japanese baseball, relying on a story in Sanspo.com that ran about five hours ago, reports that Hanamaki Higashi High School has announced that 18-year-old lefthander Yusei Kikuchi (a formidable candidate for “Most Likely to Succeed” in this year’s senior class) will hold a press conference on Sunday to “announce his decision.”

It’s not clear if that announcement will be solely whether Kikuchi will make himself eligible for Thursday’s Japanese draft, or if instead he plans to go so far to announce (if he’s opting to leave for MLB) which big league organization he intends to sign with.

Note: Japan is 14 hours ahead of us, which means Kikuchi’s Sunday arrives at 10 a.m. our time.   So it’s conceivable we could get some news Saturday night locally.

Jaramillo to Cubs.

According to Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com, the Cubs will announce at a press conference this afternoon that they have signed Rudy Jaramillo to a three-year, $2.42 million contract to serve as Chicago’s hitting coach.

As for where Texas goes to replace Jaramillo, a number of names have been tossed out by the local press, but no candidates have been confirmed by the club.  An interesting quote from Jon Daniels (published in a local beat writer’s blog) on the profile he’s looking for in the team’s next hitting coach: “Watching the playoffs, it’s obvious that regardless of personnel type, managerial style, etc., the one thing winning clubs do is consistently make pitchers earn every out.  That’s an area we can improve in.  It’s a combination of everything – situational hitting, forcing the pitcher to make a pitch, playing as a team rather than at-bat to at-bat.”

The quote is interesting not because it’s provocative or peculiar; anyone watching this club in 2009 would agree that the Rangers were extraordinarily easy to pitch to.  It’s interesting but because it sheds light on an organizational mindset that the vacancy left by Jaramillo’s departure may actually be an opportunity to get better.  Notice that Daniels doesn’t point a finger at the hitting coach – his comments could just as easily be pointed at the players whose job is to execute the at-bats – but the expectation is obviously that, between coach and hitters, there is a concrete philosophy that the club is focused on adhering to in order to reverse the widespread backward step that the lineup took in 2009.

According to one local report, Jaramillo’s departure could push Ivan Rodriguez toward not re-signing with Texas.

The Rangers were among eight big league clubs to meet with 18-year-old Japanese pitching phenom Yusei Kikuchi in Japan earlier this week, sending not only Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller and Director of Pacific Rim Operations Jim Colborn, but also lefthander Derek Holland.  According to reports from the Japanese site Yakyubaka.com, Kikuchi “had fun talking to” Holland as he picked his brain on life in the minor leagues.  

Texas came armed with a message from Nolan Ryan and a visual presentation comparing the young lefthander’s opportunity to that of 18-year-old pro golfer Ryo Ishikawa, who the Rangers happened to know is Kikuchi’s favorite athlete.  The Rangers hope to separate themselves by appealing to Kikuchi’s desire to be a pioneer like his hero Ishikawa, who has broken onto the PGA scene – and by sending Holland, whose quick path to the big leagues might be one that he feels he can follow in an organization committed to developing young pitching.

A photo of Holland toting the Ishikawa prop:

Holland_Kikuchi.jpg
Righthander Tanner Scheppers is sitting 95-97 in the Arizona Fall League and has touched 99.  In two relief outings, he’s permitted one hit and one walk in three innings, punching out four and picking off a runner.  Righthander Danny Gutierrez – sitting 93-95 – fired three no-hit innings in his AFL debut, walking two, fanning two (both looking), and coaxing two infield pop-ups.  Both Scheppers and Gutierrez are flashing plus curves.

Infielder Marcus Lemon is seeing AFL time in center field.

Baseball America named Neftali Feliz the number two prospect in the Pacific Coast League (though he “drew strong consideration for the number one ranking,” which instead went to Giants catcher Buster Posey) and Justin Smoak the number nine prospect in the league.

According to Yakyubaka.com, the Nippon Ham Fighters have released Jason Botts (and Ryan Wing), and according to Sanspo.com, the Hanshin Tigers are planning to release Kevin Mench.

Catcher Kenji Johjima’s decision to opt out of the final two years of his Mariners contract is bad news, as Seattle paid Johjima no buyout and now has $16 million of found money as a result of Johjima’s departure.

Unsigned Rangers draftees identified by Baseball America in its rundown of the top 25 college recruiting classes:

4. TCU (LHP Matt Purke, Rangers’ 1st-round pick)
5. Cal State Fullerton (OF Anthony Hutting, 38th)
8. Mississippi State (LHP/OF C.C. Watson, 29th)
17. Miami (LHP Jared Grundy, 46th)

Renowned infield coach Perry Hill declined the Pirates’ offer to return as the club’s first base coach and infield instructor.

The Rangers are putting on an instructional youth baseball camp on Saturday, November 14, headlined by Josh Hamilton.  The camp, which will be held at Rangers Ballpark from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., is for ages 10 to 18.  Campers will receive instruction from former Rangers players like Dave Hostetler, Mike Jeffcoat, Mike Simms, and Todd Van Poppel on hitting, fielding, throwing, baserunning, weight training, flexibility, and team offense and defense.  Guest speakers will include Jim Sundberg and David Murphy, and each camper will have the opportunity to meet Hamilton and receive an autographed photo and cap.
 
Spots in the camp are available for $150, and lunch will be provided.

More details and registration information can be found at texasrangers.com/youthballpark or by calling 817-273-5297.

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Twitter  @newbergreport
 

Rangers to meet with Kikuchi today.

The Rangers are expected to visit with 18-year-old Japanese lefthander Yusei Kikuchi and his adviser in Japan today, joining the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Giants as teams with Monday meetings scheduled.  The Yankees, Mariners, Mets, and Indians will reportedly meet with Kikuchi tomorrow.

Kikuchi, who boasts a fastball that touches 96 miles per hour, faces a Wednesday deadline to declare for Japan’s October 29 amateur draft, in which he’s certain to be the top selection. 

If drafted by a Japanese club, he can still sign with a major league franchise but, if he does so, he’d be banned from pitching in Japan for three years if he were ever to seek re-eligibility.  (Non-issue.) 

But if he signs to pitch in Japan, the only way he can pitch in the United States is to wait nine years for free agency or have his club choose to post him for MLB negotiating rights.

Kikuchi conducted meetings with each of the 12 Japanese clubs on Friday and Saturday, which might seem unusual for a consensus number one overall pick if not for the crazy Nippon Professional Baseball rule that a player may be drafted by more than one team.  In the event that Kikuchi submits to the NPB draft and multiple clubs select him – Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker speculates that as many as 10 clubs could use their first-round pick on the lefthander – there will be a drawing to determine which of those clubs has the right to negotiate with him.

It’s worth noting that Japanese clubs are restricted to a maximum signing bonus of $1 million, plus salary and incentives that could bring a total package to about $1.65 million, an amount that is expected to be dwarfed by the offers coming from the interested major league clubs.  The noted former big league scout Ray Poitevint compares Kikuchi’s stuff to Clayton Kershaw’s and suggested he’d be a top-five pick if eligible for the MLB draft. 

The $5.1 deal (including a $1.3 million bonus) that Boston gave 22-year-old righthander Junichi Tazawa in November – which was short of the $7 million offer the Rangers reportedly made – could be a baseline for what Kikuchi seeks.

Texas has been in on Kikuchi for many months and, for what it’s worth, was characterized earlier this season as the possible frontrunner to sign him.

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Losing Jaramillo.

Here’s what I know.  Texas has had some great, MVP-level hitters over the last 15 years.  Through both decent seasons and bad ones, the offense here has generally boasted the production and swagger that the pitching and defense rarely could.  Rangers hitters swear by Rudy Jaramillo, and he by them.

I know that the lineup struggled in 2009.  A lot.  This team might still be playing if the offense did what a Rangers offense usually does.  

And that’s the thing about a hitting coach.  His job may be the most difficult on a coaching staff to measure, as a fan.  We see the third base coach sending runners or holding them, and the results are basically black and white.  The impact that a baserunning coach has is somewhat quantifiable.  The pitching coach gets credit for the adjustments a pitcher makes in his slot or his delivery or the confidence that he has in his stuff, things that, as subtle as they might be, we notice.  

But does the hitting coach or the hitter get credit for Juan Gonzalez?  For Ivan Rodriguez?  For Rusty Greer?  For Michael Young?  Obviously there’s plenty of credit to be shared, but for hitters like those whose big league careers either began in Texas or soared to a new level here, every one of them is going to heap praise on Jaramillo, and they should.  Like Eric Chavez’s Gold Glove inscription to Ron Washington – “Wash, not without you” – a hitter who came into his own in Texas is always going to have Jaramillo’s back, rightfully so.

And Marlon Byrd, Mark DeRosa, Gary Matthews Jr., Ramon Vazquez?  Whole different story.  If Jaramillo helped finish off Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Greer, and Young – each a hitting star, each a different type – he basically remade the careers of Byrd, DeRosa, Matthews, and Vazquez.  Those are only examples of a number of players who have come here and reinvented themselves, and to speculate whether those guys are indebted to Jaramillo would be a waste of time.  “Rudy, not without you.”

The point?  I don’t know whether Jaramillo’s departure is a crushing blow, or a good thing.  Would Greer have become the same hitter without him?  Would Byrd have bloomed late under a different hitting coach?  Did Jaramillo get the benefit of having transcendent hitters like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and Rafael Palmeiro cross paths with him in Texas, or they him?  Matthews wasn’t the same before Jaramillo and hasn’t been the same since moving on.  DeRosa came into his own here and sustained it after leaving.  Milton Bradley, though he’d had good years elsewhere, was never better than in his Rangers season.  But why did Brad Wilkerson regress?  Hank Blalock?

More immediately, there are the cases of Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, and Chris Davis, who weren’t the only Rangers hitters to regress in 2009 but were the most significant.  Jaramillo said in a radio interview, the day after decision to turn down a Rangers contract was announced, that he thought Kinsler was trying to overdo things this year, especially once Hamilton and then Young were injured.  Kinsler didn’t take the right approach to the plate, Jaramillo said, opening up too quickly and not figuring out a way to fix it.  Jaramillo’s remarks were just short of throwing Kinsler under the bus, considering his job as hitting coach was to give the player the means to fix things.  In any event, he said Kinsler will rebound, no doubt – but for more than four months in 2009 (30-30 notwithstanding) he wasn’t able to do it.

As for Hamilton, Jaramillo pointed to the massive pressure the slugger was dealing with coming into the season – harboring the January slip in an Arizona bar; entering off-season, long-term contract talks but coming out of them without a deal; trying to meet the expectations of a repeat of 2008 (when he drove in his 54th run in the first inning on May 27, reaching in 53 games the RBI total he’d end up with in 89 games in 2009) – and, said Jaramillo, Hamilton didn’t deal with the pressure very well.  Out of sync early, and unable to find a rhythm due to multiple injuries, Hamilton lost his approach so badly that, at one point, Jaramillo pointed out, he saw only six pitches one game, swinging at five of them, and when Jaramillo asked him what was going on, Hamilton responded: “I can’t help myself.”  In that case, Jaramillo seemed to suggest, in spite of the message being delivered, it wasn’t being heard.  Leads you to wonder whether it was an epidemic issue that went further than just Hamilton.

Much has been made of Davis’s monumental struggles over three months (.202/.256/.415 with 114 strikeouts in 258 at-bats, after hitting .285/.331/.549 with 88 strikeouts in 295 at-bats in 2008), followed by a terrific seven-week run at Oklahoma City under the tutelage of RedHawks hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh (.327/.418/.521 with 39 strikeouts in 165 at-bats), and then an impressive six-week finish with Texas (.308/.338/.496 with 36 strikeouts in 133 at-bats) that featured a much better approach.  According to a local report, Davis said he and Jaramillo “had a tough time staying on the same page” in the first half but he was quick to say Jaramillo did everything he could to help him, and that his early season difficulties were not Jaramillo’s fault.

As a whole?  The club was near the bottom of the league in batting average and reaching base, swung at pitch one at an extraordinary rate (something opponents quickly began exploiting), seemed at times to lose any semblance of pitch recognition and routinely make inadequate adjustments according to the count, and scored nearly three-fourths of a run per game fewer in 2009 than in 2008, a massive decline.  In a season that featured better pitching and defense than this club has had in a long time, the lineup struggles were blamed for potentially keeping Texas from reaching the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

Jaramillo suggested that as the offense’s strikeout totals began to mount, Rangers hitters – especially the young ones – lost trust in themselves.  Needing to tap into more patience at the plate, Jaramillo suggested, they instead began to put more pressure on themselves and made things worse.  There were a number of Jaramillo comments during the radio interview along the lines of “You’ll have to ask him why he couldn’t find his rhythm” or “They tell me one thing, but how am I supposed to know what’s really going on in their heads?,” but Jaramillo wasn’t denying accountability.  He said, straight up: “I felt personally responsible.  I take great pride in my job.”

Again, I can’t decide whether I’m disappointed or optimistic about a change at hitting coach, though I have faith in this working out.  The Cowboys, to the surprise (if not chagrin) of many, were better off once Tom Landry moved on.  I thought “Bellybutton” was the best CD I’d ever heard until listening to “Spilt Milk.”  For months, maybe years, there was always a jar of Archer Farms salsa in the fridge – until we discovered Clint’s.  Jay Novacek?  Jason Witten.

Maybe whoever comes here next will get more out of the Rangers lineup than Jaramillo was able to in 2009.

Or maybe Texas will go through three new hitting coaches in the next 12 months, just as Milwaukee will have done when it fills its currently vacant pitching coach post for the third time since losing Mike Maddux to Texas last off-season.

We don’t know who Jaramillo’s replacement will be (local reports speculate that Coolbaugh, Don Baylor, Thad Bosley, Carney Lansford, and Clint Hurdle could be candidates – and Gary Pettis was thought to be a possibility back when Jaramillo was flirting with the Mets as a managerial candidate), and even when we learn the name we won’t know how much of an impact we can expect him to make – just as I’m not exactly sure h
ow much to credit Jaramillo for Gonzalez and Young and Byrd and DeRosa, or how much to blame him for what happened this season with Kinsler and Hamilton and Davis and Blalock.  We do know this much: the Rangers need to find ways to get on base a lot more often, particularly now that the offense has become far more dangerous on the basepaths.

We know that Jaramillo is going to have a new job before long, and that’s what he wanted.  He acknowledged that it was his decision to leave Texas, that both Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan told him they wanted him back, and that the club offered him a one-year deal – something he’d said publicly he’d be willing to take – that reportedly contained a $45,000 raise from his 2009 salary of $500,000, which was already baseball’s highest for a hitting coach.  Jaramillo suggested that, at age 59, the time was right for him to look around for a different job, for more multi-year security, and pointed out that there are certain jobs presently open that a year from now probably won’t be (the Cubs, who have already requested permission to talk to him before his contract expires in two weeks, seem to be at the top of that list).  “This was my choice,” Jaramillo said.  “It’s on me.”

Hitting coach isn’t as visible a post as manager or pitching coach or general manager or president, but Jaramillo was an institution here, a model of integrity, toughness, loyalty, and, for almost all of his time in Arlington, results.  He’ll be missed, but that doesn’t mean – like Landry, or Joe Torre – that his departure will result in an automatic setback.  

Nobody who has ever said “I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from two great coaches” or teachers or bosses or mentors wanted to see the first one go.  And it’s not as if Rangers hitters won’t continue to employ what Jaramillo taught, and what he reinforced.  

Still, bringing in a different hitter or two could make a difference, and so might a different voice.  Compare the arrival of Maddux a year ago.

The important thing for Texas, going forward without Jaramillo, is that no comparison is drawn to the departure of Maddux a year ago, a mess that the Brewers are still trying to recover from.

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Twitter  @newbergreport

Stuff.

Two years, four months, and six days ago, in my recap of Day One of the Rangers’ landmark 2007 draft, I wrote this:

Rounds six through 50 take place today.  And then we can start to envision how the Rangers might staff the Arizona League and Spokane rotations, with [Blake] Beavan and [Michael] Main and [Neil] Ramirez (should they sign) joining a promising collection of arms that includes pitchers like Fabio Castillo, Jake Brigham, Wilmer Font, Geuris Grullon, and Carlos Pimentel.

And that brings up a point that must be made.  For yesterday and today to pay off the way they need to, it’s not necessary that all, or even most, of those pitchers are wearing Rangers caps four years from now.

In fact, it’s not conceivable.

At least a couple won’t be able to get AA hitters out.  Another one or two might get hurt, as much as we don’t want to think about it.  And who knows, maybe three years from now, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels . . . 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.

It’s not quite three years later yet, but all four players in my silly little hypothetical were in my notes over the past few days.

A couple stories this week suggest the Rockies may shop the Fort Worth native Hawpe, coming off a solid .285/.384/.519 season, right in line with the .288/.384/.518 slash line that the right fielder sports over the last four seasons in Colorado (with his road numbers [.284/.381/.508] only slightly lagging his Coors Field production [.292/.387/.528]).  Cons: he hits left-handed, he turned 30 this year, he’ll make $7.5 million in 2010 (with a $10 club option in 2011 [and $500,000 buyout] that he can void if traded), and he’s not a better defender than any of the outfielders in the current Texas mix.  But he’s a base-reacher, and the Rangers are likely looking at players who can inject some of that skill into the lineup.  What he might be, particularly if Marlon Byrd departs, is a potential bridge at DH to Justin Smoak.

(Colorado will also continue to look to move 29-year-old arbitration-eligible corner infielder Garrett Atkins, coming off a $7.05 million contract and a third straight season of offensive decline.  A right-handed hitter, he’s better against lefties and could fill the backup first baseman role, but at his compensation level he’s a possible non-tender candidate.  It’s probably more likely that the Rangers, if at all interested, would wait to see if the Rockies cut him loose, as opposed to trading for his arbitration case.)

Main tells Lone Star Dugout’s Jason Cole that the mysterious illness that crippled his 2009 season was an unidentified viral infection of the liver whose onset may have been as early as last January.  He’s healthy again, and Main, my top 2009 breakout candidate, will probably be near the top of that list in the 2010 Bound Edition as well.

Solis, who signed for a reported $525,000 out of the Dominican Republic in July 2006, hasn’t hit much in his four pro seasons (.212/.284/.332), and the Rangers are experimenting at Fall Instructs with a shift of the third baseman to the mound.  Early reports on his velocity are encouraging – he’s reportedly touching 94 (but righthander Tanner Scheppers is sitting 95-96 and touching 98, with a plus breaking ball).

Tracy has played 160 games in AA over the last two years and has hit .288/.341/.490 with 35 Frisco doubles, 30 home runs, and 122 RBI in that span, prompting roving minor league hitting instructor Mike Boulanger to recently call him the most overlooked hitter in the system.  Said Boulanger: “This guy can flat-out hit.”

Chris Ruddick of The Sports Network is one of dozens of writers suggesting in the past couple days that Boston could shop closer Jonathan Papelbon this winter, but he’s the first to predict that Papelbon will be shipped to Texas for Smoak, and converted back into a starting pitcher.

Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan have both hinted that Neftali Feliz will go to spring training as a candidate to win a spot in the Rangers’ rotation.

Feliz will be eligible for Rookie of the Year votes in 2010, having not reached 50 big league innings or 45 pre-September days of active service.  Julio Borbon’s 157 at-bats exceeded the 130-at-bat threshold and thus his rookie eligibility was exhausted in 2009.  (Why the league measures by at-bats rather than plate appearances makes no sense, not that it would change Borbon’s status.)

For all his flaws, Nelson Cruz – in what was his first full big league season – was ninth among American League outfielders in OPS in 2009.  Among those behind him: Ichiro Suzuki, Bobby Abreu, Byrd, Nick Markakis, Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson.

In Baseball Prospectus’s season-ending “Hit List” power rankings, the website had the Rangers as baseball’s 10th-best team in 2009, based on win-loss records and run differentials, actual and adjusted.  Minnesota was 12th.

Contrary to popular belief, Texas didn’t exactly change Scott Feldman’s slot in 2008.  The club changed Feldman’s slot back.  When the righthander went 25-2, 1.26 in two seasons with the College of San Mateo, he did so with a three-quarters slot not unlike the one he featured in 2009.  It was only after the Rangers drafted him the 30th round in 2003 that he began to drop down sidearm.

Texas will draft 15th and 22nd in the June 2010 draft.  The earlier pick is compensation for the failure to sign high school lefthander Matt Purke with the 14th pick in 2009.  The latter pick is subject to forfeiture should the Rangers sign a Type A free agent this winter who was offered arbitration by his 2009 club.

Texas has let longtime equipment manager Zack Minasian and veteran scouts Jay Robertson and Mel Didier go.  Minasian (whose son Calvin, a clubhouse assistant, won’t return either) had been with the Rangers in some capacity for 22 years.  Robertson had been a special assistant to the GM in Texas for both John Hart (with whom he’d also spent 11 years in the Indians organization) and Daniels.  The 83-year-old Didier, who has spent more than 60 years in the game, was a Rangers senior advisor out of Arizona for seven seasons.

Toronto promoted Minasian’s son Perry from pro scout to director of pro scouting, and named former Rangers catcher Doug Davis minor league field coordinator. 

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune suggests that the Cubs, who dismissed Von Joshua as the club’s hitting coach, ought to wait until Rudy Jaramillo’s contract expires at the end of this month and money-whip him, not unlike the move the Rangers made last winter to lure pitching coach Mike Maddux away from the Brewers once his contract expired.  Said Rogers of the Jaramillo-to-Chicago idea: “This marriage should be a slam dunk, even if the Cubs offend other teams by paying Jaramillo at a premium.”  Rogers notes that Cub disappointments Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley were far more productive in Texas under the tutelage of Jaramillo, who is already the highest-paid hitting coach in baseball.

A Jaramillo hiring would qualify as an instant splash by the new Cubs ownership group.

Houston got infielder German Duran through waivers and outrighted his contract to AAA.  The 25-year-old hit .136/.250/.159 for the Astros’ AA affiliate in Corpus Christi after Houston claimed him from Texas off release waivers in July. 

Former Rangers farmhand Johnny Washington is the hitting coach for the rookie-level Ogden Raptors in the Dodgers system.

The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association released outfielder Wally Backman Jr.  The Pensacola Pelicans
of the same league exercised their 2010 option on infielder Marshall McDougall. 

Arizona Fall League play has gotten underway.  The Surprise Rafters, whose roster includes lefthander Matt Harrison, righthanders Scheppers, Danny Gutierrez, Evan Reed, and Brennan Garr, catcher Doug Hogan, infielder Marcus Lemon, and outfielder-first baseman Mitch Moreland (as well as hitting coach Brant Brown), won their opener yesterday, 17-4.  Lemon, Hogan, and Garr each appeared late without distinction.

The Fall Instructional League schedule concludes today, and my work on the 2010 Bound Edition is underway.

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

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport

Time to win.

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We’re catching the playoffs
in bits and pieces, and Max, at age five going from a little confused to more
than a little upset, isn’t quite on board with the fact that baseball is still
being played but the Rangers aren’t.  Not
unlike his favorite player.

 

Not interested in celebrating
the club’s second straight second-place finish, and its first winning record in
five years, a better win-loss mark in fact than the Twins, whose season lasted
until yesterday, Michael Young had these things to say to the local press as
the regular season was coming to an end:

 

“Right now, I don’t care about the future or
how our team shapes up for next year. 
It’s about winning or going home. 
We did not get it done.  And that
is really an unpleasant feeling.”

 

That first sentence in
particular: Do you want your team’s front office or ownership thinking that
myopically?  No.  Is that how you want the media to analyze
things?  No.  Is that the mindset that you, as a core
Rangers fan, adopt?  Probably not.

 

Is that the attitude you want
from the players on your team?

 

Better believe it.

 

More from Young:

 

“The Angels deserve a lot of credit for
overcoming a lot of adversity and doing what it took to win.  From our side, we’ve got to get better.  It’s as simple as that.”

 

We can all agree on that.

 

“I’m mad. 
I don’t buy moral victories or look at the so-called positives.”

 

Leader.

 

Days later, Young’s tone was
a little different, a bit more upbeat, but the message was basically the same:

 

“We fell short of the ultimate goal, but I
think we believe we’re a winning team now. 
We expect to win when we play. 
That’s a good feeling.”

 

What about all this talk that
2010 is The Year, that it was going to be The Year all along?

 

“Winning should never be assumed.  It isn’t easy.  You can’t just put your finger on a year and
say ‘That’s going to be the year.’  The
big leagues are a lot harder than that.”

 

The organizational message to
the fan base after 89 wins in 2004 advocated “managed
expectations.”  Not that the players
excused what happened thereafter.

 

“After ’04 we took steps backward.  That can’t happen again.”

 

Certainly true the way this
team, as opposed to the 2004 club, has been built, the way it’s positioned.

 

“The simple fact is we can’t have any weak
links.  Anaheim has good depth, and twice
our payroll.  We know we’re going to be
young, but we need to step on the gas. 
Like I said: The aftermath of ’04 can’t happen here again.  It’s time.”

 

Time to what?  To take the next step, to expect more out of
the team’s young players, to make sure there’s not a 2005-like regression? 

 

Sure, but it’s simpler than
that.

 

“We’re all upset right now, but right
around Christmas, we’ll get the juices flowing and get fired up.  Time to win.”

 

Time to win.

 

The idea that 2010 is this
franchise’s time to win has been the popular media and fan mantra for more than
a year now, and maybe an organizational mission statement as well, even if
internal, unspoken, unlike 2005′s “managed expectations” reticence.

 

The players didn’t buy into
that idea going into 2009, and you wouldn’t want them to.  Regardless, for the Rangers and 24 other
teams, 2010 is now.

 

The arrows in Texas are
collectively pointing forward.  The
defense improved dramatically.  The
pitching showed more moxie, more consistency. 
The offense regressed in most spots (Texas suffered a greater decrease
in runs scored this season than any other team), but hitters are easier to
acquire than pitchers, and Jon Daniels has hinted that while Texas may not
participate at the highest levels of free agency this winter, one way to alter
the offensive attack may be through the trade market.  (David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution speculates that the Braves are going
to come after Nelson Cruz.)  (Braves
outfielder Matt Diaz crushes lefthanders, and has a lifetime on-base percentage
of .358, including .390 in 2009.  Hmm.)  (But Diaz is two years older than Cruz, is already
in his arbitration years, and isn’t the defender that Cruz is.) 

 

(Milton Bradley?  The reports are all over the place, but the
latest local story says, point blank: “The Rangers are not interested in Milton
Bradley.  Sources have made that clear.  He is not coming back.”)

 

And there are young players
all over the roster who fought through acclimation erratics in 2009 and, with
an added year of experience, could take the next step in 2010, like Tommy
Hunter did this year.

 

No franchise had a greater attendance
improvement in 2009 (22 teams actually saw their attendance drop).  One team had a greater TV ratings increase in
2009.  I’m seeing more Rangers caps
around town, and the growth in Newberg Report subscribers this year was about
400 percent greater than in any previous year. 
There’s room for improvement everywhere, but the trends are good: This
fan base is a sleeping giant.

 

Lots of the club’s loyal fans
were at Rangers Ballpark on Saturday Morning, taking part in the annual Season
Ticket Holder Play Day event.  Max was
among them, hitting in the cages under the tutelage of Ellis Valentine . . .  

 

 

max__cages.jpg

max__cages.jpg         

max__Ellis Valentine.jpg

 

 

max__Ellis Valentine.jpg

. . . getting pitching tips in
the bullpen from Mike Bacsik . . .

 

 

max__Mike Bacsik.jpg

max__Mike Bacsik.jpg

 

 

. . . taking grounders on the
field from Todd Van Poppel and Jeff Russell . . .

 

 

max__Jeff Russell and Todd Van Poppel.jpg

max__Jeff Russell and Todd Van Poppel.jpg

 

 

. . . and squeezing in a bunch
of other memories.  I still remember, at
age 6 or 7, getting to meet Jim Fregosi and Bill Fahey and Roy Smalley and a couple
other Rangers players at Northaven Field at a North Dallas Chamber of Commerce event
that kicked off the Little League season. 
But that was Northaven Field, not Rangers Ballpark, and the players were
in golf shirts and Bermuda shorts, not Rangers jerseys.  Pretty awesome day for me and Max on Saturday,
one that he’ll probably remember forever.

 

He wasn’t real happy, though,
that the Angels and Yankees – the two teams in all of sports he detests – finished
off sweeps on Sunday.  The off-season is
tough enough for him (my trick of recording a couple Rangers games in 2008 so
he could have something to watch all winter worked when he was four; I don’t
think I’ll be able to slide that by him this winter).  Having to endure Angels-Yankees in the ALCS
in the meantime is going to be sorta unpleasant.

 

(For Dad, too.)

 

All I’m saying is that there
are five-year-olds, and adult baseball fanatics, and journalists, and an organization
and its players, who all seem to share an expectation at this point that, a
year from now, the Rangers will still be playing, and that Season Ticket Holder
Play Day is going to have to pushed way back on the calendar, and that there
won’t be any quotes from Michael Young about moral victories or backwards steps
or not getting it done.

 

For all those people,
everyone who works for the Rangers or plays for them, everyone who makes a
living covering them, and everyone else who cares about the team the way we do,
we all subscribe, maybe in different ways, but maybe not, to the same notion:

 

It’s time to win.

 

 

max__tip of the cap.jpg

 

michael-young-cap.jpg

max__tip of the cap.jpg          

michael-young-cap.jpg

 

 

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

 

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Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the
newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News
Flashes, go to www.newbergreport.com
and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

 

 

(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter  @newbergreport

If you want to be removed
from this list, please e-mail me at newbergreport@sbcglobal.net

 

Levine reportedly in mix for SD job

According to John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus, Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine’s name has surfaced as a candidate for the recently vacated GM post in San Diego.  Fox Sports reporter Jon Paul Morosi reported on Friday that the Padres had shown interest in Levine but hadn’t yet sought the Rangers’ permission to interview the 37-year-old.  

A number of stories have Boston assistant GM Jed Hoyer as the frontrunner for the Padres job.  Another name apparently in the mix is that of Diamondbacks assistant GM Peter Woodfork, who was reportedly the other finalist, along with Levine, to become assistant GM in Texas when Jon Daniels got the GM job after the 2005 season.

Jamey 

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