November 2009

Arbitration offer deadline approaching.

There are a number of likely reasons that the free agent and trade markets have been slow to get rolling this winter, but one impediment goes away a week from now, as the deadline for clubs to offer arbitration to their free agents – in order to get compensation if they sign elsewhere – is on Tuesday the 1st.  

Type A free agents are the only ones who cost teams their own draft picks to sign, but until it’s known which Type A’s around the league are going to be available without draft pick forfeiture tied to them, it would stand to reason that clubs are going to hold off in some cases on adding Type B’s and no-compensation players who they might see as lesser fits.

Texas has no Type A’s among its free agents.  Marlon Byrd and Ivan Rodriguez are Type B’s.  If either signs elsewhere before December 1, the Rangers will get a supplemental first-round pick as compensation.  If they don’t sign by the 1st, Texas will have to make arbitration offers in order to get the supplemental first (a round which in recent years has produced Tommy Hunter, Julio Borbon, and Tanner Scheppers for Texas).  

An arbitration offer to Byrd is a lock; Texas would be happy to get him back on a one-year contract if he were to accept arbitration . . . and he’s not going to accept it anyway, so the offer has no downside.  

As for Rodriguez, that’s trickier.  It’s not that his one-year, arbitration-produced deal would bust payroll if he were to accept the offer, but instead a situation where the club may decide it wants Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden splitting the catcher at-bats in 2010 and would be more comfortable having a veteran backup stashed away at Oklahoma City to protect against injury – in which case Rodriguez wouldn’t make sense.

But with this winter’s unusually flexible roster (not to mention the fact that the young catchers have options remaining), and the lure of that extra first-round pick if Rodriguez were to sign elsewhere, I’d lean toward guessing that we see the Rangers offer him arbitration by Tuesday as well.

There’s no potential draft pick compensation tied to Hank Blalock, Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit, or Andruw Jones (nor was there any tied to new White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel).  Texas won’t offer any of them arbitration.

Baseball America crunched the Pitch F/X data from this fall’s Arizona Fall League season and determined that Scheppers clocked fourth-highest in the league with a fastball that touched 98.2 mph.  Danny Gutierrez (96.2), Evan Reed (95.5), Matt Harrison (95.4), and Brennan Garr (94.0) were all in the league’s top 50 as well.  Scheppers was third in the league in average velocity (95.93 mph), and Gutierrez, Reed, and Harrison each sat between 92.5 and 93.31.

Baltimore signed 27-year-old lefthander Mike Hinckley to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp.  After the Nationals designated Hinckley for assignment in May, the Rangers picked him up and assigned him to Oklahoma City, where he pitched reasonably well in relief for four months, posting a 3.26 ERA, holding the Pacific Coast League to a .276 batting average, fanning 32 and issuing 22 unintentional walks in 49.2 innings, and allowing four home runs.  He was slightly more effective against lefties.

The Mets named Jack Voigt hitting coach for AAA Buffalo, promoting him from their Short-Season A affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones.  

Quick reminder on Bound Edition orders:

1.    Free shipping on November orders.

2.    Starting December 1, a shipping and handling fee (the publisher’s, not mine) of $4.95 per order will be applied.

3.    No shipping fee, of course, if you pick your order up at the Book Release Party, which will be at Sherlock’s in Arlington on Thursday, December 17 or Wednesday, December 16 (most likely the 17th).  But I need to know from you in advance whether you plan to pick your book(s) up at the party, or else your order will ship to you a few days before that and may not arrive in time for you to bring it to the party for player autographs.  (As always, admission to the party is free but the “cost” to get player autographs is the purchase of the book, either in advance or that night.)

If you plan to come to the party and haven’t told me yet, please do that.  Thanks.

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To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

Roster set to change.

The Rangers’ 40-man roster has only 35 players on it at the moment, but that’s about to change, as one window is about to shut and another is on the verge of opening.

The deadline to add non-roster players to the 40 is tomorrow, and the surest bet for Texas is 23-year-old lefthander Michael Kirkman, who went 9-8, 3.48 between Bakersfield and Frisco this year, finishing strong.  For what it’s worth, in the Bound Edition (which is a few weeks from coming off the presses) my prediction for roster protection is Kirkman and fellow southpaw Zach Phillips, who posted a 1.39 ERA between the Blaze and RoughRiders in 2009, pitching primarily in relief and doing an outstanding job harnessing left-handed hitters, keeping the ball in the park and on the ground, and killing the running game.

Among the other candidates for roster protection are corner hitter Chad Tracy, righthander Fabio Castillo, lefthander Beau Jones, outfielder David Paisano, and third baseman Johnny Whittleman.  The Rangers also have a recent history of acquiring a minor leaguer just before the deadline to finalize the roster, so don’t rule that possibility out.

At 11 p.m. tonight, teams can begin signing free agents who finished the 2009 season with other clubs.  Local reports suggested on Wednesday that the chances of Marlon Byrd returning to Texas are “growing dim,” as talks during with Byrd’s agent at last week’s GM Meetings in Chicago reportedly left the club less than optimistic that he’s willing to take what the Rangers are willing to offer.  

Faced with the possible loss of Byrd (who would net a supplemental first-round pick as compensation), the Rangers seem more intent on replacing his right-handed production than his center field defense, apparently comfortable with the depth at the position that Julio Borbon and Josh Hamilton provide.  It still wouldn’t surprise me to see Texas look into a short-term center field option, with Mike Cameron sitting at the top of my list, at least.

With a Friday deadline looming for the submission of proposals from potential suitors interested in the sale of the Rangers, an interesting wrinkle developed yesterday, as Tom Hicks acknowledged that he’s received commitments from Nolan Ryan and Roger Staubach to join “a number of local prominent families” in a group of potential investors headed by Hicks himself.

I haven’t weighed in much on the ownership issue – mainly because we know very little about what’s really going on with the process and any commentary on it would be pure guesswork – but I’ll say this: Staubach has always occupied a well-earned reputation in this market and community that Ryan and very few others have.  The two of them have always embodied tenacity on the field and unassailable integrity off of it, and just as Ryan has infused a tremendous amount of added credibility to this franchise, Staubach would push that needle even further.  That’s two guys who have always done things right, and are all about winning.

I didn’t know much about Hicks before he bought the Stars and then the Rangers, or about Jerry Jones or Mark Cuban before they came to Dallas to own sports franchises.  I’m not about to suggest I know anything about the various candidates reported to have interest in the sale of the Rangers, or what kind of owners they would make, but I’d be lying if I said the idea of Staubach being involved, even in a minority role, didn’t excite me a bit.

Ron Washington finished fifth in the American League Manager of the Year vote, tied with fourth-place finisher Don Wakamatsu in points but trailing the Seattle skipper in first-place votes, two to one.

Clint Hurdle and Rudy Jaramillo shared an employer in 1994, the year before Jaramillo joined the Rangers’ big league coaching staff.  That season, Hurdle was in his first year as the Rockies’ minor league hitting instructor and Jaramillo managed Colorado’s short-season Northwest League affiliate in Bend, Oregon.

Kansas City reassigned Darryl Kennedy from the High A Wilmington Blue Rocks, a club he managed the last two seasons, to the Royals’ Arizona League squad, which he’ll manage for the first time.  Kennedy’s interesting managerial history includes four stops in the Rangers system – a three-year assignment followed by three two-year stints – and now three gigs with Kansas City, the first of which was a one-year assignment followed by the last two in Wilmington.  

The leaders in most inherited big league runners allowed to score in 2009: Jamey Wright and Ron Mahay, with 22 each (out of 46 inherited for Wright, and 45 for Mahay).

Stay tuned for news flashes whenever the Rangers’ roster begins to build back up toward 40, a process that will begin tomorrow, if not today.  

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To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

Bound Edition update.

Some
good news, some bad news.

 

Justin
Smoak is not going to be able to make it to the Newberg Report Book Release
Party, but today we got a tentative commitment from Ian and Tess Kinsler. 
The Kinsler’s are the Rangers ambassadors for the Toys for Tots holiday toy
drive program, which we’ll benefit at this year’s event as we always do. 
The party will be at Sherlock’s in Arlington (same spot as last year), on
either Wednesday, December 16 or Thursday, December 17.

 

(The
other players who are in, or tentatively in, include Rusty Greer, Scott
Feldman, Tommy Hunter, Chris Davis, and Derek Holland.)

 

We
signed our book deal a couple days ago.  Thank you for helping make that
happen.

 

One
of the things the publisher said we needed to do is add a shipping charge to
the book orders, as they’ll now serve as the fulfillment center (taking that
mountainous task off my hands).  I was told I was sorta crazy to charge
the same price for the book all these years whether someone bought it in person
or had it shipped.  Maybe so.  But that’s been my deal.

 

I
fought them on the shipping charge issue, especially since we’re now more than
two weeks into sales and I didn’t want to blindside you guys with it.  We
reached a compromise:

 

·        
If
you have already ordered the book, or if you do so this month, the total
cost will remain a flat $25 (that is, I will pay the shipping fee to the
publisher myself, out of the sale price).

 

·        
But
if you order it on December 1 or later, there is going to be a $4.95 shipping
and handling fee added to the total sale price (meaning there will be just one
$4.95 fee added to your order, whether it’s one book or two or a dozen). 
Sorry about that.  (But you can avoid it, obviously, by ordering in the
next two weeks.  Ordering details: http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp)

 

·        
Of
course, if you order (or ordered) the book and let me know that you’re going to
pick your order up at the book release party, there will be no shipping
fee. 

 

·        
For
those of you who won’t be at the party, I’m told that the books, which should
come off the presses on December 15, should take 3-6 days to deliver. 
Please keep that in mind in case you’re buying books as holiday gifts.

 

So
the things to key in on:

 

1.     
Kinsler.

 

2.     
No
shipping through November 30 ($4.95 thereafter).

 

3.     
If
you’ve already ordered, or if you do so between now and December 15, please let
me know if you want to pick your order up at the book release party.  This
is important: If you don’t tell me to hold it for you at the party, your order
will ship a couple days beforehand and probably won’t arrive in your mail until
afterwards.

 

Let
me know if you have questions.

 

Jamey

 

A plea to JD.

JD, please make a trade.

Max Ramirez and Wilfredo Boscan for Ryan Tucker.  Tim Smith and Manny Pina for Danny Duffy (maybe the Royals won’t notice).  Randy Galloway for Ben Shpigel.  The guy who does the Rangers Ballpark video board prospect features for a couple Carl’s cheesesteaks from Yankee Stadium.  It doesn’t matter.  

Just please make a trade.  In fact, tonight would be much appreciated.

While I’m sitting here at the computer waiting for a breaking news bulletin, let me punch up my Cowboys macro. . . . OK, here we go . . . <ALT-b.s.> . . . overmatched, unprepared, undisciplined, pathetic, sloppy, embarrassing, nauseating.

This football team plays predictably stupid football, and I’m stupid for caring.

It all flows down from the head coach, who is so obviously ill-equipped that it would shock me if there was one person aside from the owner who would even attempt to argue the point.  Force me to sum up the Wade Phillips Cowboys in one play from tonight?  

Ten defensive men on the field – coming out of a timeout – ought to do the job.

Aaron Rodgers still looks like Ellen Degeneres, but my football team plays with the tenacity and focus of Gallagher.  Ten more penalties (and who knows how many more that were declined), countless mental errors and concentration lapses, an inability (indifference?) to color within the lines.  Demoralizing.  The “coach” will surely blame this one on injuries, because the franchise embodies a culture of unaccountability – so why not keep the theme rolling?

Two good friends who know exponentially more football than I do will tell me I’m overreacting, and one will go so far as to try and talk me off the ledge.  Save it.  Marc Colombo’s season ended tonight, and so did mine.

Come on, JD.  Do me a solid.  Trade Jorge Carrion and Bucky Buckles for Stubby Clapp.  Distract me.

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

P.S.  The 2010 Bound Edition special (http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp) ends tonight.  The book goes back to its normal $25 cost tomorrow.

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

To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

Stratego.

Milton_Bradley_Company_logo.jpg

The GM Meetings wrap up today, and the Rangers have been a hot topic nationally, showing up on both sides of various starting pitcher trade scenarios.  The latest circulating rumor involves Kevin Millwood going to the Cubs in a deal for Milton Bradley, with the possibility that cash (and maybe prospects) could be infused to bring one side or the other closer to an agreement.  It’s a fascinating idea, potentially setting up some domino play with the rest of the Rangers’ roster if it were to come down.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry has said he’d like to resolve the Bradley situation before the December 7-10 Winter Meetings.  (Ya think?)  There’s also growing speculation that he’d like to extend Marlon Byrd’s relationship with Rudy Jaramillo by bringing the free agent Byrd in to play center field in Wrigley.

Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to get to this for a few weeks but it slipped my mind.  When teams submit final 40-man rosters in a week and a half (I believe by November 20) in preparation for the December 10 Rule 5 Draft, Texas might add anywhere from two to four draft-eligible minor leaguers to the roster, but I think there’s only one lock, and he was a longshot at best when the 2009 season started.  Lefthander Michael Kirkman, whose career seemed to be in jeopardy in 2006 and 2007 when he couldn’t find the strike zone, went 9-8, 3.48 between Bakersfield and Frisco in 2009 (118 strikeouts and 61 walks in 144.2 innings) and kicked his velocity up to the point at which he was sitting 91-94.  The 23-year-old threw quality starts six of his final seven times out for the RoughRiders.

Among the others who could be under serious consideration for roster spots are relievers Fabio Castillo, Beau Jones, and Zach Phillips, first baseman-outfielder Chad Tracy, and outfielder David Paisano.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirkman is the only consensus addition.

Rockies corner infielder Garrett Atkins has resurfaced as a possible player of interest should Colorado non-tender the third-year arbitration-eligible as expected.  New hitting coach Clint Hurdle would obviously have some important input on the wisdom of bringing in Atkins (who made $7.05 million in 2009) as a right-handed bat for the bench (and possibly a DH platoon).

Derek Jeter won the AL shortstop Gold Glove yesterday.  Such an inspired choice.  My tribute: http://www.bobanddan.com/contact/corbylaughs.mp3

Scott Feldman is the Rangers’ 2009 Pitcher of the Year.

In addition to the hiring of Padres national crosschecker Scott Littlefield as a special assistant with a focus on scouting, which we discussed on Sunday, the Rangers announced a number of other hires and promotions.  John Booher, who had been an area scout for Boston, moves into a pro scout role here.  Former big league infielder Greg Smith was last a pro scout for Cleveland and will serve as a major league scout with Texas.  New Director of Baseball Operations Matt Vinnola spent 12 years in baseball operations with the Rockies.  

Jake Krug, who moved internally from Manager of Baseball Operations to East Coast Crosschecker last December, is the new Assistant Director of Player Development.  Replacing Krug as East Coast Crosschecker will be Phil Geisler, a onetime Phillies outfield prospect who had last been an area scout with Seattle.  Todd Walther moves from Assistant in Player Development and Scouting to pro scout.  Matt Klotsche moves from pro scouting assistant to Assistant in Baseball Operations.

Richard “Hoggy” Price is the new Equipment and Home Clubhouse Manager.  He’s been with the Rangers for 34 seasons, the last 22 as umpire room manager.  

Finally, we’ve gotten a few exciting commitments and near-commitments from Rangers players to sign autographs at this year’s Newberg Report Book Release Party, which will probably be sometime during the week of December 14.  More details on that very soon.

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the Bound Edition’s prospect rankings section – one of the 72 prospect features that appear in the front of the book:

*    *    *

Tanner Scheppers, RHP

The Padres made one of the worst top overall picks in recent draft history when they chose local high school shortstop Matt Bush in 2004 rather than Old Dominion righthander Justin Verlander.  

San Diego would pay Bush $3.15 million to sign, which was $30,000 more than Detroit, who had the second pick, would pay Verlander (though to be fair, his Tigers deal included another $1.3 million guaranteed over the following five years).  

There will be a lot more than just one team regretting the decision to pass on Tanner Scheppers in the 2009 draft.  The 22-year-old hasn’t yet thrown a professional pitch that counts, so to start up the Verlander comparisons would be hasty.  Overly ambitious.  Irresponsible.

Guilty.

It apparently wasn’t money that veered clubs away from calling Scheppers’s name with any of the first 43 picks in June.  It was his history of shoulder problems, issues that caused him to fall to the second round (48th overall) as a Fresno State junior in 2008 and, despite a healthy spring in the independent Northern League and a clean bill of health from renowned physician Dr. Lewis Yocum, pushed him in 2009 to the supplemental first round (44th overall), where Texas called his name.  Dr. Yocum’s employer, the Angels, had picks at 24, 25, 40, and 42, but chose to go in a different direction each time, taking two high school outfielders, a high school lefthander, and Oklahoma University senior righthander Garrett Richards and leaving Scheppers for the Rangers.

Having used their first pick on high school lefthander Matt Purke, considered a signability risk, the Rangers could have gone conservative with pick number 44, and nobody would have blamed them.  But Texas, who had Scheppers in for a pre-draft physical and MRI, jumped on the big righthander.  It took until mid-September to get a deal done – Scheppers, having voided his college eligibility by pitching in the indie leagues, wasn’t subject to the August 17 signing deadline – and it’s fair to say that coming to terms took on added importance once the club’s negotiations with Purke broke off short of a deal.

The most prominent national sources – Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein, ESPN’s Keith Law, and John Sickels – all had Scheppers ranked not only as one of the top nine prospects going into the draft, but also ahead of Purke.  His fastball was considered second only to Stephen Strasburg’s, his power curve a true out-pitch – a combination giving rise to the Verlander comps.  He’d proven in four spring starts with the independent St. Paul Saints (1-1, 3.32) and in a number of side sessions – all of which Texas was present at – that he was not only throwing well but also pitching healthy, convincing the Rangers that his previous shoulder issue, while a risk, was not enough of one to push the club away from investing seven figures in him.  Scheppers signed for $1.25 million, the most of any supplemental first-rounder and nearly double his slot.

There were teams who passed on Tim Lincecum in 2006 (taken 10th overall) out of fear that his unorthodox delivery would lead to arm troubles, even though he’d never had any.  There were obviously teams who didn’t take Scheppers in June because
of his shoulder history, even though he pitched in full health in the spring and passed pre-draft physicals and claimed his arm never felt better.  All pitchers have some level of injury risk.  Scheppers may carry one bigger red flag than the average first-year pro, but he unquestionably promises a greater reward than most as well.  

The big righthander was the talk of the Arizona Fall League, sitting in the mid-to-upper-90s and flashing a devastating curve to go along with a slider and a change.  Baseball people remarked about how easy the ball came out of Scheppers’s hand, and he showed no lingering effects of a tweaked hamstring he suffered early at Fall Instructs.  Though he was working in relief in the AFL, the Rangers plan to prepare him in spring training to pitch out of the rotation when the 2010 season gets underway, possibly in Bakersfield or even Frisco.

It would be premature to predict that Scheppers will reach Arlington in his first pro season, but it can’t be ruled out, and while it’s not as common for a pitcher to arrive in the big leagues that quickly as it is for a hitter, it’s not as if there’s no precedent for it.  Especially with Verlander as the Scheppers prototype.

*    *    *

Book ordering details: http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp

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

To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

Rising stars on the mound?

Hope you caught the visitor halves of innings five and seven from last night’s Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Showcase game.  Righthander Tanner Scheppers did what he does, sitting 96-99 in his perfect inning of work and spinning a couple big curves.  But righthander Danny Gutierrez?  Wow.  He gave up a single and issued a walk, but struck out the side – with all three strike threes coming on devastating 12-6 hammer curves – while sitting 93-95, and touching 97.  

Outfielder Jermaine Dye, whose 2010 option was bought out on Friday by the White Sox, is getting some mention as a veteran right-handed bat the Rangers might be interested in bringing in.  I’d rather have Mike Cameron, a free agent whose job in Milwaukee has already been taken, as the Brewers have traded shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota for center fielder Carlos Gomez, whose shockingly bad throwing ability I’m sorry to see departing the American League.

Rangers veterans Marlon Byrd, Hank Blalock, Ivan Rodriguez, Eddie Guardado, and Joaquin Benoit have filed for free agency, and Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones will soon follow.  Texas has made it clear it wants Vizquel back, and the interest is reportedly mutual.  Byrd, too, but he’s understandably going to explore the open market once the exclusive negotiating period expires on November 19.  There’s interest in re-signing Rodriguez but that one’s a little trickier, given the club’s depth at catcher.

Blalock will be somewhere else in 2010, as will Jones.  Guardado is expected to retire.  Benoit is going to have to take a non-roster deal somewhere, and I suppose it can’t be ruled out that it could happen here.

Byrd and Rodriguez are Type B free agents.  If they sign with another club this month, or if Texas offers them arbitration (a safe bet with Byrd) and they sign elsewhere after that, the Rangers would get a supplemental first-round pick as compensation.  (The supplemental first round is where Texas has drafted Tommy Hunter, Julio Borbon, and Scheppers the last few years.)

Ben Sheets?  Back on the market, after his deal with the Rangers in late January was killed by a failed physical.  Texas remains interested.  But with Neftali Feliz and maybe even C.J. Wilson in line for rotation looks, Sheets might be less of a target than he was a year ago.

As far as possible trades are concerned, there will probably be some around the league this week, as the General Manager Meetings are set to take place in Chicago tomorrow through Wednesday.  And there will be groundwork laid for trades that will come down later in the off-season.

In February, San Diego general manager Kevin Towers denied the Rangers’ request for permission to interview Padres national crosschecker Scott Littlefield, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time that he “didn’t think that (the Rangers’) job description for him was a promotion – it looked to be a lateral move, and we valued him too much on the amateur side to grant it.”

Towers is gone from the Padres, Jed Hoyer is in, and according to USA Today, the Rangers have hired Littlefield to become a special assistant – a week after Baseball America‘s Jim Callis had speculated that Hoyer might promote Littlefield to the Padres’ scouting director position.

I’m gonna be honest here.  I’d be very happy if you ordered the 2010 Bound Edition in the next couple days.  I’ve got a publishing house interested in my book for the first time, and have a real chance at a book deal.  It won’t mean much extra money, if any, but I’d really like the book deal.  I need to decide in next few days, and if I’m gonna do it, I owe the publisher a huge production cost check that will be doable if I get a lot of preorders in the next day or two.  

So if you’re a fan of Peter Gammons forewords, of a back cover featuring Tanner Scheppers and Justin Smoak and Martin Perez, of doing your part to boost the national economy and cementing your reputation as a Great American, and of me possibly getting my first book deal – and if you’re interested in the Bound Edition – I’d be really fired up if you ordered books today or tomorrow.

(Ordering details: http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp )

Thanks.

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

To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

The phenomenal Clint Hurdle.

hurdle_cover.jpg

There are probably fewer than 10 Sports Illustrated covers that, for whatever reason, branded themselves for life on my brain.  The March 20, 1978 cover was one of those.  At age nine, I can’t swear I read the cover story on Clint Hurdle.  But I always remembered the cover photo.

I’m not sure why.  Hurdle didn’t have a baseball card yet so it’s unlikely I had any idea, in the pre-SportsCenter days, who he was.  (I doubt at age 20 he’d been invited yet to steal the Superstars Competition crown from Kyle Rote Jr. or Wayne Grimditch on Wide World of Sports.)  I don’t think in third grade I was quite yet a subscriber to The Sporting News, though if I was I certainly would have learned about Hurdle from Joe Falls or Peter Gammons.

We were about to move in March of 1978 from Farmers Branch to Dallas, where I’d be in a new school with all new friends, and I’m sure there was some anxiety about that.  Maybe I was unusually in tune with the things that stirred my imagination, choosing without realizing it to avoid thinking about the more scary realities laid out in front of me.  

Maybe it was that, apprehensive or not, by mid-March in 1978, like every year since, the onset of spring training (and then, of the Little League season, which for me was about to be my first with Coach Prager’s vaunted Henry S. Miller squad, having graduated from the Metropolitan Mets) had me fired up for baseball of any kind, and the smile on that player’s face, and that Ian Kinsler mop (not a whole lot unlike what I was sporting back then), and those batting gloves, one on and one off, captivated my attention and stuck with me.

The Rangers were training in Pompano Beach that month, coming off a 94-win season in which they finished second in the AL West to the 102-win Royals.  Hurdle had debuted in September 1977, hitting .308/.357/.538 in nine games, but none against Texas.  But again, no SportsCenter, and Hurdle didn’t make Kansas City’s playoff roster, so there’s no chance I’d seen him play.  Still, he played for the team Texas was chasing, and that likely grabbed my attention, too.

If I did flip to the story itself, it was probably to look at photos, maybe of George Brett or John Mayberry or Whitey Herzog.  I doubt this Hurdle quote from the Larry Keith story jumped out:

“I’m not getting any younger.  My career has been like a book and this is the climax.  I’m just going out and deal.  I’ve got my chance and if I don’t make it I won’t have anybody to blame but myself.”  

But it does now.  Hurdle made that comment as a 20-year-old, less than two years after turning down both an academic scholarship to Harvard and a football scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Miami, 26 at-bats into a major league career (with fewer than 1,100 pro at-bats, including in the minors) that seemed destined for greatness.  He wasn’t a Yankee or a Dodger or a Red, but to SI he was still worthy of the label “This Year’s Phenom.”

More than 30 years later, and a couple days after listening to Hurdle’s press conference announcing his arrival as the Rangers’ new hitting coach, those very words he uttered as a kid who was a year younger than Elvis Andrus – or Tommy Mendonca – resonate as something that might be part of the message he has for the hitters, phenoms and veterans and longshots alike, whose offensive game he’s being entrusted to maximize.

When I wrote about the hiring of Mike Maddux as pitching coach a year and four days ago, I said this:

” . . . I had the chance to listen to Mike Maddux for about 20 minutes tonight, talking about the job he just accepted, the challenges he’s eager to take on and how he plans to confront them, the things that made this organization and this opportunity so appealing for him.  And man, my day has come and gone, but I want to pitch for that guy. . . .

I came away with a similar feeling during Hurdle’s Thursday press conference.  He talked about helping players “get to a place they’ve never been” but doing so by keeping things as simple as possible.  He talked about his duty, as he sees it, not to overhaul anything, not to ask players to adapt to his methods, but instead for him to adapt to his players’ strengths.   He doesn’t impose a “my way or the highway” mentality, as he puts it: he’ll challenge his hitters “to paint a picture of themselves and we’ll go from there.”  To come to a two-man consensus about what the player is, and is not, and figure out, through a relationship of trust, what the next step is to be better.

“I’ve got my chance and if I don’t make it I won’t have anybody to blame but myself.”  

Talk is cheap?  Maybe so (though I’d argue otherwise when talking about coaching big league hitters or pitchers or baserunners, where the instructor’s role includes serving as a mind coach), but there’s a track record here, too.  Yes, the Rockies were always markedly better hitters at Coors Field than on the road, but you had to admire the way Colorado hitters performed late in the season, especially in recent years, under Hurdle, who was the Rockies’ minor league hitting instructor from 1994 through 1996, big league hitting coach from 1997 through late April 2002, and manager from that point until his dismissal in May of this year.  

There were a number of factors – struggles – to which Hurdle’s disappointing career as a player gets attributed.  A 10-year career that was celebrated before it really ever got started produced 32 home runs, a .259 batting average, and just two seasons with as many as 80 games played.

The “All-American boy,” so dubbed by venerable Royals scout Art Stewart, responded to the celebrity pedestal, by all accounts, by living the life of a rock star.  There were late nights.  At some point there was evidently a battle with alcoholism.

There was a serious, lengthy back injury.

There was a conclusion that he’d been rushed to the big leagues.

There were the pressures of failing to meet boundless expectations, to live up to the hype thrust upon him that he’d embraced himself.

Each of those experiences that Hurdle lived through as a player ought to resonate, in some cases more than others, with a number of the Rangers hitters whose productivity in this game, to some extent, now lies in Hurdle’s hands.

“We’re prepared for our future through our paths,” Hurdle has said.  “I’ve been given a lot of preparation for different situations.”

Hurdle admitted he has no direct past relationships with any Rangers hitters, other than from across the field.  He does have ties to Jon Daniels (2001) and Thad Levine (2000-2005), who were in the Rockies baseball operations department while Hurdle was there, and to Rangers director of player development Scott Servais, who played for the Rockies in 2000 and scouted for the club in 2005.  Hurdle was on Don Baylor’s Colorado coaching staff with Jackie Moore in 1997 and 1998.  (He’s never teamed up with Nolan Ryan, though he did single, double, and triple in nine at-bats against Ryan, adding a sac fly.)

And although Hurdle and Ron Washington were both Kansas City minor leaguers in 1975 and 1976, they never wore the same uniform.  That wouldn’t happen until 1992, when the 40-year-old Washington served as a coach on the 34-year-old Hurdle’s AAA Tidewater staff in the Mets system.  

Ron Washington’s managerial career b
egan the following year, in 1993, when he skippered the Mets’ Low A club, the Capital City Bombers.  But not really.

It was just before the 1992 Tidewater season ended that the Mets decided that Washington would manage the Bombers in 1993.  Hurdle let Washington manage the final two games of the Tides’ season, to get a little head start.  It’s something Washington never forgot.

Hurdle is apparently fond of saying, “It takes courage to have patience” (one in a series of self-help-esque Hurdle aphorisms that includes “They never care how much you know until they know how much you care”).  While he’s probably talking about a larger message, those words also tie in to the ideas of pitch recognition and command of the strike zone that Texas hopes Hurdle (here on a one-year contract with a club option for a second) can help instill in the Rangers offense.  

More than once during his press conference, his job as hitting coach was rebranded as “offensive coordinator.”  Hurdle reduced strikeouts as Rockies hitting coach, increased walk totals, and brought the team’s road batting average up (though it remained below the median).  All of those things would be quite welcome here.  Hurdle talks about utilizing all 27 outs, about taking this club’s “usable speed and power” and improving its “hittability,” at-bat to at-bat.

Among the things Texas raved about when Maddux arrived was his proficiency as a communicator and motivator, as important if not more so than his abilities as a technician.  The same goes for Hurdle, who calls this career decision (which he apparently chose over an offer to return to the Rockies in a front office position) “the right move at the right time with the right people for all the right reasons.”

The Rangers believe it, too.  They feel they’ve got the right guy to coordinate this offense, to make a team-first concept and lengthier at-bats and lengthier innings as contagious as last season’s lineup malaise was.

Hurdle’s way of doing that will vary from player to player, as he tries to make Rangers hitters better at what they do, rather than better at what he wants.  If you heard him talk on Thursday, the former star prospect who never became a star player, you know how motivated he is to motivate again.  As a player and as a coach, he’s seen what works, and what doesn’t.

Eager to get his tenure as Rangers hitting coach underway, Hurdle is gathering video and scouting reports and data, preparing to get a job done here, which will start with the 52-year-old connecting with Michael Young, with Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton, with Chris Davis, and, season to season, with whoever this year’s phenom happens to be.

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

To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

Stuff.

I’ve been warding off a cold for a few days and have some things to say about Clint Hurdle, the Rangers’ new hitting coach whose presence at his Thursday press conference reminded me of Mike Maddux during his own introduction to the media almost exactly one year ago, about the free agency filings of a number of Rangers veterans, about this Jermaine Dye idea, about a few fall and winter ball developments.  Bear with me.  I’ll get to those things in a day or two.

I’ll have nothing to say, however, about the Yankees’ World Series win and the national media’s sympathy card to the team and its fans for having to fight through nine grueling years to reclaim what apparently belonged to them.  I had no idea how punishing that must have been.  I now realize what a crummy, insensitive baseball fan I’ve been.  Thank you, national media.  

In the meantime, this week’s Friday haiku:

                  Hearing Hurdle talk
                  Makes me want to grab a bat 
                  (Umm, in a good way)

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

To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

Rangers expected to name hitting coach today.

According to local reports, “chances are good” that the Rangers will announce their new hitting coach today.  Each of the four finalists – Rusty Greer, Thad Bosley, Gerald Perry, and Clint Hurdle – interviewed for two hours yesterday with Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington, Thad Levine, and Scott Servais.  Daniels told the local press that the club was “going to sleep on it [and] discuss it internally, and there’s a decent chance we’ll make an offer Tuesday.”

Another thing that Texas is discussing internally, according to a local story, is the possibility of trading for Cubs hitter Milton Bradley, though the club doesn’t expect to make a deal.  The same writer reported three weeks ago that the Rangers had no interest in reacquiring Bradley.

Set your DVR’s.  Righthanders Tanner Scheppers and Danny Gutierrez were selected to play in the Arizona Fall League “Rising Stars” All-Star Game, which will be televised at 7:15 p.m. Central time this Saturday by MLB Network and online via MLB.com.

Baseball America, in a look back at the 2009 draft, ranked Scheppers’s fastball as second-best to Stephen Strasburg (just as BA had done before the draft), and had lefthander Matt Purke atop the “One Who Got Away” list of high school draft picks who didn’t sign.  Outfielder Jabari Blash, the Rangers’ unsigned ninth-rounder, was fourth on the “One Who Got Away” list of college draftees.

Rangers Vice President of In-Park Entertainment Chuck Morgan will be honored with a tribute at VideoFest 22 this Friday night at 7:00 at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station.  As part of the event, Morgan will show and discuss several of his early Rangers video compilations.  For more information, go to http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/10/this_years_dallas_video_festiv.php and visit http://www.videofest.org.

Jim Reeves is retiring from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  Nobody in this market did the human interest story any better.

Mike Brumley is now Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu’s new third base coach.  Brumley was the Rangers’ minor league field coordinator from 2005 to 2007, during which Wakamatsu was on the Rangers’ big league coaching staff, and the two also crossed paths in the Angels organization in 2001 and 2002.  Brumley joins pitching coach Rick Adair, bullpen coach John Wetteland, and performance coach Steve Hecht as former members of the Rangers organization now on the Mariners’ big league coaching staff.

According to Kiley McDaniel of Baseball Prospectus, the Rangers are among a number of teams in on 20-year-old Cuban lefthander Noel Arguelles.

The Traverse City Beach Bums of the independent Frontier League released lefthander Jared Locke.  The Sioux Falls Canaries of the Independent American Association released righthander Pat Mahomes.

You guys set a record for day-one Bound Edition sales.  Thanks a ton.  Keep ‘em coming: http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp

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

To join the free Newberg 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 http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

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

2010 Newberg Report Bound Edition: Preorders underway.

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THE
2010 BOUND EDITION OF THE NEWBERG REPORT

 

Newberg-Report-2010-cov-FC.jpg

I’m
now taking preorders for the 2010 Bound Edition of the Newberg Report, my 11th
annual book on the Texas Rangers.  It’s over 300 pages commemorating the
2009 season, an intense, dynamic year of baseball that gave us more ups and
downs than we’d seen from this franchise in a long time.  It’s all
chronicled in the book.

 

The
2010 Bound Edition, with forewords written by Peter Gammons and Kevin
Goldstein,
not only looks back on 2009 but also serves as a primer on what
you can expect from this organization for years to come.  Nowhere can you
find more information and analysis on the players that the Rangers are
developing as future members of the major league team and, in some scenarios,
as ammunition to trade for veterans brought in to join the core of the club.

 

More
than 1000 of you on this mailing list are past customers of the Bound Edition,
but for those of you who are relatively new to the Newberg Report, here is what
you can expect from the book:

 

THE FEATURES

 

The
book picks up right where the 2009 Bound Edition left off, taking you from
October 13, 2008 to October 12, 2009 and containing every report I wrote in
that span.  It’s the most thorough account you’ll find of the many twists
and turns that the 2009 season took, and of the implications of the personnel
moves that highlighted it.  Not just a complete record of the Rangers’
2009 season, the book includes a feature section comprised of more than 50
pages of new material that won’t ever appear on the website or in any e-mail
deliveries.  Included in that section are rankings and analysis of more
than 70 Rangers prospects, broken down by position.

 

The
“Poised” rankings of the 10 minor league position players and 10 minor league
pitchers that I’m predicting breakout years for in 2010 are back, as is the
annual “40-Man Roster Conundrum” chapter, in which I look at the roster
decisions facing the organization this winter plus an explanation of how the
Rule 5 Draft works. 

 

The
Bound Edition contains complete 2009 statistics for every player who appeared
with the Rangers’ big league club, all six minor league affiliates, and the
Dominican Summer League squads, plus full details on the Rangers’ 2009 draft.

 

The
glossy front and back covers once again feature action shots – taken by some of
the best photographers in the business – of some of the Rangers’ top young
players, perfect for autographs.  The cover art was designed by the
exquisitely talented Drew Sheppard and, as usual, the great Marty Yawnick of
Type A Design masterminded the layout.

 

The
book itself is full of player photos as well.

 

THE PRICE

 

As
always, the 2010 Bound Edition is $25.

 

Because
I have to front the costs, if you plan to buy copies of the book I would
appreciate it if you’re able to send payment now.

 

If
you pay for your order by November 15, I will waive the standard $2-per-book
shipping charges.  Accordingly, the book will cost you only $23 if you pay
by November 15, either by (1) check or money order, or (2) credit card through www.PayPal.com .  Since sales of the
book have increased each year, it’s easier on me if I know early roughly how
many to have the printer generate for the first run.  The books should be
ready for delivery around December 15 at the latest, in time to help you not
only stock your own reference shelf or coffee table but also fill Christmas and
Chanukah lists for your friends and family. 

 

I
know the $2 discount isn’t much, but I don’t have much of a margin to deal
with.

 

As
we’ve done the past several years, we’ll have a book release party, with
players in attendance to sign autographs and shake hands and do a Q&A with
us.  Details soon on the location, and the date.

 

I
also have all the previous editions of the Bound Edition for sale.  The
price breakdown is as follows:

 

2010
Bound Edition – $25 (but $23 if you pay by November 15)

2009
Bound Edition – $20

2008
Bound Edition – $15

2007
Bound Edition – $15

2006
Bound Edition – $15

2005
Bound Edition – $15

2004
Bound Edition – $15

2003
Bound Edition – $15

2002
Bound Edition – $15

2001
Bound Edition – $15

2000
(a.k.a “1999”) Bound Edition – $10

 

SPECIALS

 

1.
Again, if you pay by November 15, the price of the 2009 Bound Edition is
reduced from $25 to $23.

 

2.
A gift set of all 11 Bound Editions is available for $150, which is a
$25 discount.

 

ORDERING

 

For
those who are in a position to pay now, I’d appreciate it.  You can order
by credit card through PayPal (more on that in a moment) or you can send a
check or money order in whatever amount your order comes to, payable to “Jamey
Newberg,” at:

 

Jamey
Newberg

Vincent
Lopez Serafino Jenevein, P.C.

2001
Bryan Street, Suite 2000

Dallas,
TX 75201

 

In
addition to your check or money order, please make sure I have your mailing
address, and specify how many of each book you want.

 

Ordering
by credit card through PayPal is very easy.  Just go to www.paypal.com, select the “Send money”
option, and type in GJSneaker@sbcglobal.net
where it asks for the e-mail account (and again, make sure you identify exactly
what years of the Bound Edition you want, so we know what to ship to you).

 

If
PayPal is new to you, signing up is extremely user-friendly, costs you nothing,
and is completely secure. Go to https://www.paypal.com/refer/pal=gjsneaker%40sbcglobal.net
and follow the simple instructions.

 

For
inventory and printing purposes, I would appreciate it if you would respond to
this e-mail and let me know how many copies of the books you plan to order,
whether you’re sending payment to me immediately or not.

 

TO SUM UP

 

I
want you to know how much I appreciate the level of support you all have given
me in every phase of the Newberg Report.  Your support in the form of
buying the Bound Edition is a concrete way to sustain it.  If you have
questions about the book, please ask.

 

Again,
here’s the drill:

 

1.
Respond to this e-mail and let me know what you plan to order, even if
tentatively (please do this whether you are taking advantage of the early discount
or instead plan to pay later on).

 

2.
Pay by credit card at www.PayPal.com,
sending it to the gjsneaker@sbcglobal.net
account.  Payment now helps a bunch, if you’re in a position to do it.

 

3.
Or send payment by check or money order to:

 

Jamey
Newberg

Vincent
& Moyé, P.C.

2001
Bryan Street, Suite 2000

Dallas,
TX 75201

 

 

Thanks
again for your continued support of the Newberg Report.

 

Jamey
Newberg

www.NewbergReport.com  

 

 

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