Stratego.

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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

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

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