March 2010

Tuning up.

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tune up (t??n ?p), verb

1.     
To adjust so as to put oneself in proper condition; to
prepare for a specified activity

2.     
Informal:
To maul; to work over; to deliver a righteous beating to

 

We talked yesterday about how Scott Feldman’s Sunday effort
was the epitome of the first kind of tune-up.

 

What Neftali Feliz did yesterday embodied the second.

 

With Texas nursing a 7-6 lead against Colorado, Feliz was called
on to close things out for Texas in the ninth.

 

Batter one: 97, 98, 100 (according to MLB.com Gameday).  Strikeout looking.

 

Batter two: 99, 99, 101, 81, 100.  Strikeout swinging.

 

Batter three: 99, 80, 100, 100, 80, 100, 100.  Strikeout swinging.

 

Some have written that three of those 100s were actually
101s.  Regardless, of Feliz’s 15 pitches,
11 were strikes.  Said the 21-year-old
after the game: “I was trying to guide the ball and be too fine when I was
pitching as a starter.  I just really had
to get in that state of being a reliever.

 

“It was one of those days where I came out and knew I had
that one inning and gave it my all.”

 

Ron Washington on his expectations for Feliz: “That he doesn’t
take how good he is for granted.  That he
keeps the fire burning in his belly.  That
he realizes that when we put him in the game, we’re putting him in for one
purpose, to leave everything he has out there.”

 

I don’t know if Feliz is eventually going to be a lockdown
starting pitcher in the big leagues, but efforts like Monday’s – and quotes
like the one he delivered minutes later – almost make it hard to resist the
idea of turning the eighth inning, and maybe eventually the ninth, over to the
young Dominican for a long, long time.  Almost.

 

There’s no TV or radio for today’s game against Arizona.  But even if there were, you wouldn’t get a
glimpse of Feliz back at work.  He’ll
pitch on the back fields, in a minor league game. 

 

The consecutive-day assignment is a key one.  The Rangers had him pitch back to back just
once in 2009 – actually, it’s the only time the righthander has done it in his
five-year pro career – and the results were impressive: a scoreless, one-hit
eighth against Round Rock on July 16 (10 pitches, six strikes, no walks or strikeouts)
followed by a perfect eighth against the same club on July 17 (17 pitches, 11
strikes, no walks, two strikeouts).  It was
one of the final minor league tests for Feliz, who was in the big leagues just
over two weeks later.

 

But dig a little beneath the surface and the red flag
emerges.

 

After those two appearances in two days (his sixth and
seventh straight scoreless efforts out of eight games as a reliever), he then
got three days of rest and, while his strikeout rate certainly didn’t suffer,
his effectiveness did.

 

On July 21, he allowed only his second home run of the
season, in a two-inning stint that featured four strikeouts.

 

Then, next pitching on July 25, he gave up two runs on three
hits (including a triple) and two walks in two frames.  He fanned five, but threw only 28 of his 44
pitches for strikes, and allowed two Nashville Sounds to steal safely.

 

Feliz settled down after that, firing scoreless innings
against the Albuquerque Isotopes on July 28 and July 31, after which he was
summoned to Texas, where he was untouchable and indescribable for five weeks
before proving mortal (yet still dominant) over the season’s final month.

 

Still, at no time in that two-month run through the American
League did Feliz pitch on consecutive days. 
He’ll do that today, because the Rangers will need him to in 2010 -
particularly with C.J. Wilson now in the rotation.  The plan is for Feliz and Darren Oliver to
hold down the eighth inning, to preserve leads for Frankie Francisco to close out
in the ninth.

 

Keep an eye on how Feliz fares today – despite the lack of a
broadcast, there will be no doubt be real-time Twitter accounts of his inning
of back fields work and plenty of beat coverage in the papers – but also on what
happens the next time he pitches, which may be once more this week in Arizona
and possibly Saturday in Frisco, setting him up to be available in relief of
Scott Feldman on Monday, when it all counts.

 

In a camp in which consistency of velocity has been issue in
a couple cases (Rich Harden’s down, Matt Harrison’s up), yesterday’s Neftali
Feliz Show – 12 fastballs that averaged 99.4 on the gun – could be as big a
development as any, particularly given the struggles he had early in camp, and especially
if he bounces back with another solid outing today, and the rest of the week.

 

 

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Statements.

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Well, your Opening Day starter appears to be ready to go.

 

 Texas

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

ERA

 Feldman (W, 3-1)

7.0

6

0

0

1

2

0

2.93

 

Now that’s a tuneup.

 

Sure, it’s just one game, but when it’s turned in by the guy
whose next stroll to the mound will be when the games first count, there’s a certain
peace of mind it provides.  We don’t yet
know if the second baseman will be ready to go on April 5, or if the right-on-right
sidearm specialist will be, but it sure looks like the number one starter is.  Scott Feldman needed only 89 pitches to
complete seven scoreless, throwing another 20 pitches afterwards in the bullpen
rather than on the mound just so that Chris Ray and Frankie Francisco could tune
up themselves with an inning each.

 

Another player who seemed to deliver some peace of mind
yesterday was infielder Andres Blanco, acquired Saturday from the Cubs for a
player to be named later or cash (a deal to be consummated by July 1, by the
way, according to MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat – there’s reportedly no pool of
players to choose from; if the clubs can’t agree on a player, the deal is
closed with cash).  It’s easier for a
starting pitcher to make a statement in just one day in March, but Blanco came
close himself, singling twice in four trips from the leadoff spot (he’s now 8
for 13 [.615/.643/.692] between Cubs and Rangers camp) and, more importantly,
making a dazzling 6-3 play in the hole from shortstop.

 

Ron Washington on the utility infield job before yesterday’s
game: “Because no one is trying to seize the opportunity, that makes it
difficult.  I’m looking to see who can
play baseball.  That means understanding
what a situation is asking you do to and doing it.  That’s not asking much.”

 

One of the nagging things about Joaquin Arias’s game is
that, despite his obvious tools, his body language rarely seems to suggest an
opportunity-seizing sense of urgency, and as for that last part, playing to the
situation, Arias seems to fall short of that, too.  You see a guy playing for his big league life
get caught stealing in a situation where he shouldn’t have been running in the first
place, for instance, and the immediate thought is that the manager isn’t going
to trust that guy enough to use him. 

 

Trust plays a big part when it comes to the bench.  Using a role player in the late innings often
means the game is on the line.  Using him
to give a starter the occasional day off is by definition a downgrade in the
lineup.  You have to trust the player to hold
things together.  The Rangers have given
Arias years of chances to earn that trust, and he has one week left to do so before
he’ll suit up in Arlington or hit the waiver wire.

 

At this point, it might be that the only way Arias wins a
job is if Ian Kinsler has to start the season on the disabled list, in which case
Texas would elect to go with two middle infielders rather than one plus a
corner man like Matt Brown or Max Ramirez. 

 

But even if that were the case, Arias may have trouble fending
Gregorio Petit or Esteban German off for that second job.  The frontrunner for the first, after just one
day of work, seems to be Blanco.  He turns
26 on April 11, and at the moment it sure looks like he’ll be celebrating it on
getaway day in Arlington. 

 

April 11 is also the day that Kinsler and Darren O’Day would
be eligible to come off the disabled list if that’s where they’re headed, as
long as they don’t appear in an exhibition game this week.  If they do play this week, the 15-day DL
assignment can’t be backdated past the day they show up in a game.

 

Feldman will throw live batting practice on Wednesday (or
Thursday, depending on which story is accurate), putting him in line for next Monday’s
Opening Day assignment.

 

The 27-year-old made the point that the Opening Day start is
cool and all, but this is actually the first of his career (five years with
some big league service) to begin the season anywhere in the Rangers rotation.

 

The man who will take the mound before Feldman: Roger
Staubach, tabbed by the Rangers to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. 

 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (neck spasms) played five defensive innings
in a minor league game yesterday and could play in the big league game today.

 

According to a local report, if Mike Lowell (now dealing
with a bruised left knee) is no longer a consideration for an upgrade at the
backup corner infield job (over Brown or Ramirez), other names that could fit
are Kevin Millar, Wes Helms, Fernando Tatis, Geoff Blum, and Willie Bloomquist,
but the final two probably make too much money (though each makes about half of
the $3 million that Boston originally expected Texas to assume of Lowell’s $12 million
salary).

 

Jayson Stark of ESPN writes that the Rangers are “looking
for a veteran starting pitcher.  The
question is, would they move [David] Murphy?  He’d be a pretty good outfielder for a team
looking for an extra outfielder.”  That doesn’t
make any sense.  Any starter that Texas
could get for Murphy would be a back-of-the-rotation type, and the Rangers aren’t
in need of one of those.

 

San Francisco signed righthander Matt Cain to a contract
extension yesterday (maintaining his $4.25 million salary this year, bumping
his $6.25 million club option in 2011 to $7 million, and tacking on $15 million
in 2012, plus a $1 million signing bonus payable in 2011).  That cooks my idea from three weeks ago (“that
[Chris] Davis or [Justin] Smoak gets traded this July, maybe with Derek Holland
or Matt Harrison, plus Wilmer Font or Engel Beltre, to the Giants for
righthander Matt Cain . . . and right-handed corner bat Mark DeRosa (set to
earn $12 million in 2010-2011″), to the delight of many of you.

 

So dial back to a few ideas I came up with back in February:

 

1.     
“If (when) Kansas City is 20 games out in mid-July, despite
a second straight Cy Young-quality season from Greinke, I’d call the Royals and
offer them Holland, Font, [Alexi] Ogando, [Mitch] Moreland, and Engel Beltre
for [Zack] Greinke and a middle reliever or veteran bench piece (whichever
makes more roster sense at that point).”

 

2.     
Or “Smoak, Font, and [Kasey] Kiker for Brandon Webb.”  (Remember, we’re talking about July, so this
assumes Webb is healthy.)

 

3.     
Or “[Omar] Poveda and Engel Beltre for (righthander) Chris
Young, or – if the decision is made to move Feliz into the rotation – Harrison,
Font, and Engel Beltre for Heath Bell, who is under control through 2011 (a
year longer than Frankie Francisco is).” 
(Obviously Poveda is now out of the mix. 
Make it Joe Wieland.)

 

A fourth: Michael Kirkman, Ogando, Ramirez, and Moreland to Florida
for Ricky Nolasco and left-handed reliever Renyel Pinto. 

 

A fifth: if Josh Willingham remains a National at
mid-season, Moreland and Kiker for the outfielder.

 

Boston released lefthander Brian Shouse.

 

A week from today, they count.  Today, Matt Harrison takes the hill against
Colorado, hoping to wrap up his excellent camp with as strong a statement
effort as the one Scott Feldman turned in yesterday.

 

 

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Twitter 
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Roster moves and more.

Texas has optioned lefthander Derek Holland,
righthander Brandon McCarthy, and outfielder Craig Gentry to Oklahoma City and
righthander Alexi Ogando to Frisco, and has assigned non-roster catcher Kevin
Richardson to minor league camp.  The
McCarthy move presumably means the club got the veteran through revocable
waivers, a formality but a prerequisite to the option given the length of time
since his arrival in the big leagues.

 

The pitching moves all but cement the makeup of
the Opening Day staff, with righthanders Doug Mathis and Willie Eyre reportedly
locked up in a competition for the final bullpen spot (though one report
suggests roster member Guillermo Moscoso has a shot at the job as well).  Mathis is on the 40-man roster; Eyre is not.  Bet on Mathis getting the nod, with Eyre and
Moscoso options should Darren O’Day (bone bruise or inflammation in right
elbow) be unable to go to start the season. 

 

The fact that righthander Luis Mendoza remains
in camp suggests the club may be trying now to trade him.  Failing that, he’ll be designated for
assignment (if he hasn’t quietly been already).

 

The roster stands at 38 members but will be at
40 once Ogando and Omar Beltre are reinstated from the restricted list at the
end of camp.  (Mendoza’s removal will
bring it back down to 39.)

 

The Rangers have also announced that, contrary
to several local reports earlier this week, Scott Feldman will get the Opening
Day start, rather than Rich Harden, who will pitch Game Two (followed by C.J.
Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison). 

 

You can view MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” Rangers feature
here: http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=7223471

 


Spring training cellar-dwelling: Should we care?

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A .300 clip

Healthy for hitting safely

Not for the standings

 

Texas is 6-14-1 in Cactus
League play.  It’s the American League’s worst
mark, and better than the Nationals by a mere game.  With nine exhibitions left to play, the Rangers
need to win five to avoid posting the worst spring training win-loss percentage
in franchise history.

 

But here’s the
thing.  If Texas does win five of nine going
into the season, peeking just above the .349 win percentage they recorded in
1973, I think I’ll be OK.  Camp records don’t
mean a whole lot, but losing a lot is losing a lot, and I’d be able to ignore something
as ugly as 11-18-1 as long as it included a decent enough 5-4 run to finish
things out.  Even a little momentum would
be super-welcome over this last week and a half. 

 

So would clean bills of health at second base and catcher
and sidearm reliever.  There’s optimism
that Ian Kinsler is about to shake off the high ankle sprain and get back on
the field (Monday?), that Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s pain-free batting practice
yesterday could mean he will play today (DH in a minor league game, leading off
every inning) and tomorrow (catcher in a Cactus League game), that Darren O’Day’s
elbow inflammation is nothing serious.  But
until they’re playing regularly and without limitation (example: Josh Hamilton putting
that early-in-camp shoulder bruise behind him), they’ll still show up as bullet
points at the end of the daily newspaper stories.  Gotta have those three guys right in a week, especially
Kinsler and O’Day.

 

What do we make of the awful exhibition record?  Small sample size alert: Texas has won at
least 87 games five times in the last 15 years. 
In three of those years the club was great in camp: 1996 (19-11 spring,
90 wins/playoffs); 1998 (21-10 spring, 88 wins/playoffs); and 2009 (21-14
spring, 87 wins).  Once it was mediocre:
1999 (14-14-1 spring, a club-record 95 wins/playoffs).  Once it was bad: 2004 (12-18 spring, 89 wins)
- and that was a club that even the front office admitted played over its head
during the regular season.

 

Another way to look at it: in those 15 years, the three
times Texas has won at least 19 spring games each coincided with one of those seasons
of at least 87 wins. 

 

So maybe there’s some correlation.  It hasn’t been a very good camp in terms of
the results, and while health and repetitions and rhythm are more important than
the team’s Arizona record, it sure would be nice to see the club get on a
little roll before flying back to Texas.

 

All that said, spring records depend not only on the 25 guys
who will start the season introduced along the first base line, or the other veterans
and young players in legitimate competition for those jobs, or the key prospects
who are a year or two away.  Seventy-two
players have appeared in the Rangers’ 21 games. 
A number of the players contributing to wins and losses won’t show up at
all in the regular season. 

 

And again, on that health issue, I’ll take the Rangers’
6-14-1 mark with a reasonable assurance that, other than Tommy Hunter, nobody
being counted on to log significant innings in April will be limited physically
over the Angels’ 7-12 with Ervin Santana (elbow) and Scott Kazmir (shoulder) getting
scratched from their most recent starts. 
But I’m interested in how the next week or so goes.

 

There are all kinds of reasons Texas absolutely has to get
off to a good start this season, and the schedule arguably lines up pretty well.  Seems putting together a good finish to March
would be worthwhile.

 

A thought on the acquisition of infielder Gregorio Petit: While
he may battle for the utility infield spot, his non-roster status is
helpful.  Ray Olmedo was deemed to be of less
value to the club than veteran catcher Matt Treanor, and two days after Olmedo
was shipped away, Petit was acquired. 
Why?  Maybe because Texas doesn’t
expect it can get Joaquin Arias through waivers for an outright assignment to
Oklahoma City.  In other words, Arias
makes the big club, or he ends up in another organization, leaving the RedHawks
with Esteban German, Marcus Lemon, Hernan Iribarren, and now Petit to man the left
three infield spots and be ready in case of injury. 

 

I still don’t see Arias (reliability) or German (shortstop
defense) winning the final bench job.  Ramon
Vazquez?  (We really wouldn’t trade Luis
Mendoza – who is out of options – for Vazquez, as one local reporter suggests?  Really?) 
Augie Ojeda?  Kevin Frandsen?  Willie Bloomquist?  Nick Green? 
Chin-lung Hu?  Someone. 

 

Oakland assistant GM David Forst told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco
Chronicle
that the Rangers called the A’s about Petit as soon as he
cleared waivers in early February.  Petit
was outrighted a week and a half before news broke that Khalil Greene would not
report to camp with the Rangers.   Even when Greene was here, the situation was
no different with Arias.  The odds of him
returning to the RedHawks are slim.

 

Colby Lewis in a minor league start yesterday: 10 strikeouts
and no walks in six innings, average of 14 pitches per frame.

 

Prediction: This is Frankie Francisco’s final season in
Texas.  If he pitches well, maybe the
club approaches him this summer with a two-year offer, but he’ll want a
three-year deal as he heads into free agency for the first time.  The Rangers won’t want to commit that long,
given his relatively short track record closing games and the presence of
Neftali Feliz, Chris Ray, Tanner Scheppers, and Alexi Ogando as conceivable candidates
for the ninth inning (not to mention C.J. Wilson, under control through 2011,
if the rotation thing falters), and they’ll probably just take the compensatory
first-round pick and let Francisco move on. 
And if he doesn’t pitch particularly well, then of course the club
probably cuts ties for a different reason.

 

Two trades that Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports thinks make
sense: Mike Lowell coming to Texas after all (presumably still for Max Ramirez),
and Brandon McCarthy to Washington (return unspecified).  There are apparently concerns about Lowell’s
mobility in Red Sox camp, which could make Matt Brown’s defensive issues less of
a factor as the club assesses whether to deal for a right-handed corner infield
bat, particularly Lowell.

 

According to ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, a line drive that Nelson
Cruz recently hit over Colorado left fielder Ryan Spilborghs prompted these two
comments:

 

Spilborghs: “It hit my glove and still hit the fence on the
fly.  If I had caught it, the force would
have taken me through the fence.”

 

Rockies manager Jim Tracy: It was “the hardest hit ball I’ve
seen in 35 years in a major league uniform.”

 

Some observations
from ESPN’s Keith Law
, who spent time on the back fields this week in
Surprise:

 

On Martin Perez, whom Law ranks as baseball’s number eight prospect:
“In his outing on Tuesday, Perez was 90-94, touching 96 on one pitch, dialing
up for those 94s when he needed it.  His
changeup, ordinarily his best pitch, was inconsistent, and he overthrew the
majority of them, leaving them straight and anywhere from 84-87 mph, although
he did flash one plus changeup at 78 mph with good arm speed and outstanding
late fade.  His curve was slow at 73-75
mph but had good rotation and true two-plane break.  The Rangers have been working with Perez this
spring on his feel for pitching, getting him to leave the big velocity in his
pocket for when he needs it and avoid overthrowing that good changeup.  He repeats his delivery well and was
aggressive in attacking hitters; the physical comparisons to Johan Santana
stand up well.  He’s a special prospect
but I think 2011 is the earliest you might expect to see him in the majors.”

 

On righthander Matt Thompson: “[S]howed an above-average
curveball in the upper 70s, but his 88-90 mph fastball was straight and largely
up in the zone.  So far he’s shown plus
control in pro ball — walking just 10 of the 307 batters he faced — but he
gave up a lot of contact due to that fastball.  He just turned 20 last month, so he has plenty
of time to find ways to keep hitters from whacking his fastball.  The curveball and control give him a pretty
good shot to succeed in a relief role, since he might miss more bats with added
velocity from working in shorter stints.”

 

On catcher Jorge Alfaro and shortstop Luis Sardinas: “Alfaro
caught two innings and showed a 70 arm, including an incredibly accurate throw
to second to nail a hitter who had singled in a run and was trying to take
second; Alfaro’s throw hitting the shortstop’s glove just ahead of the bag so
that the hitter couldn’t avoid the tag.  Sardinas,
a switch-hitter, took BP and hit left-handed but didn’t play the field; he has
great bat speed, but his swing is long, from his Sheffield-esque wag to a late
bat wrap behind his head, and he was very late on three average fastballs in
his first at bat.”

 

Hope you saw the Rangers edition of “30 Clubs in 30 Days”
last night on MLB Network.  An hour of greatness.  I’m sure it will replay several times over
the next couple days.

 

Righthander Vicente Padilla gets the Opening Day nod for the
Dodgers.  Manager Joe Torre called it an
arbitrary decision, one that lines lefthander Clayton Kershaw up for the club’s
home opener.  Padilla has given up five
runs (4.50 ERA) on 11 hits and a walk in 10 spring innings over three starts,
fanning nine.

 

Minnesota signed lefthander Ron Mahay to a minor league
deal.

 

The Yankees optioned outfielder Greg Golson.

 

The Lincoln Saltdogs of the independent American Association
signed first baseman Phillip Hawke, and the Wichita Wingnuts of the same league
signed righthander Brock Piper.

 

Need a 2010 Bound Edition in time for Opening Day?  Click here: http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp

 

I should have done this already – I’m not going to redo my entire
Top 72 Prospects list from the book, but here’s a revised top 27 after my week
in Surprise:

 

1.         Martin
Perez, LHP (number 3 in December)

2.         Neftali
Feliz, RHP (1)

3.         Justin
Smoak, 1B (2)

4.         Tanner
Scheppers, RHP (4)

5.         Alexi
Ogando, RHP (39)

6.         Wilmer Font,
RHP (5)

7.         Jurickson
Profar, SS (6)

8.         Miguel
Velazquez, OF (25)

9.         Mitch
Moreland, 1B-OF (11)

10.       Michael Main,
RHP (7)

11.       Robbie Ross,
LHP (9)

12.       Engel Beltre,
OF (10)

13.       Jorge Alfaro,
C (U/R)

14.       Michael
Kirkman, LHP (15)

15.       Robbie Erlin,
LHP (48)

16.       Danny
Gutierrez, RHP (8)

17.       Kasey Kiker,
LHP (14)

18.       Luis
Sardinas, SS (22)

19.       Blake Beavan,
RHP (12)

20.       Jake Brigham,
RHP (34)

21.       Neil Ramirez,
RHP (29)

22.       Pedro Strop,
RHP (13)

23.       Wilfredo
Boscan, RHP (16)

24.       Max Ramirez,
C (17)

25.       Joe Wieland,
RHP (18)

26.       Tommy
Mendonca, 3B (21)

27.       Matt
Thompson, RHP (44)

 

Though about 10 of those players have appeared in big league
spring training games this month, nearly all of them are now in minor league
camp, leaving behind a group that I think we’d all like to see win more than
every third game as we’re now down to an even 10 sleeps.

 

 

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and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to
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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

Rotation reportedly set.

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Under two weeks to
go, and we now know, barring health setbacks, how the Rangers rotation will apparently
shake out to start the season.

 

Against Toronto on
April 5, 7, and 8: Rich Harden, C.J. Wilson, and Scott Feldman.

 

Against Seattle on
April 9, 10, and 11: Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Harden.

 

The Rangers
reportedly said coming into camp that Wilson had to emerge as one of the club’s
best two starters to force his way into the rotation, but that’s not why he
pitches Game Two.  The idea there was
apparently to go right-left-right-left with the first four, mixing up
looks. 

 

One benefit of putting
Harden atop the rotation rather than Feldman (who has had a better camp) is that
Harden’s second turn comes in Arlington (against Seattle) rather than in Cleveland,
and his third turn comes in New York rather than in Boston.   

 

So what, you
ask?  Harden against the Mariners
lifetime: 5-2, 1.90, slash line of .186/.265/.257, 55 strikeouts and 19 walks
in 52 innings.  Solid.  In Cleveland, he’s been unhittable in a small,
six-inning sample, but for whatever reason, he’s walked an Indian per
inning.  Still, hard to ignore the effectiveness
against Seattle and the idea of a strong effort on getaway day.

 

Harden in New York:
3.52 ERA, .268/.354/.411 slash, 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 15.1 innings.

 

Harden in Boston:
17.61 ERA, .355/.522/.839 slash, nine strikeouts and 13 walks in 7.2
innings.  Ouch.

 

The other thing, of
course, is Feldman was one of baseball’s most effective road pitchers last
year, going 12-4, 3.56 away from Arlington. 
Throwing him at the Indians in their yard, in what will be their second
home game of the season (after Wilson pitches their home opener), is attractive.

 

As for the idea of
going right-right with Lewis and Harden, two things: (1) it’s impossible with
an odd number of starters to alternate more than once through the rotation; and
(2) they bring a significantly different quality of stuff.  Or are supposed to, at least.

 

The seven-man bullpen,
then, should be manned by Frankie Francisco, Darren Oliver, Neftali Feliz,
Darren O’Day (the inflammation around a bone in the back of his elbow is not thought
to be serious), Dustin Nippert, and two of the following: righthanders Doug
Mathis, Chris Ray, Brandon McCarthy, and Guillermo Moscoso, and lefthanders
Derek Holland and Ben Snyder. 

 

The guess here?  Mathis and Ray get the gigs, and McCarthy and
Holland get optioned (assuming the former clears – though his type of waivers
is revocable and so if he’s blocked from being optioned to Oklahoma City, he
stays in Arlington and Mathis is probably asked to start a fourth tour with the
RedHawks). 

 

McCarthy and Holland
are slated to get their final A game starts today and tomorrow (while Harrison
and Lewis pitch in minor league games the same two days).  Feliz had his finest outing of the spring on
Monday, touching 97 and commanding his off-speed stuff in a three-inning B game
appearance against Milwaukee.  He’ll work
in relief the rest of the way in camp.

 

Lots of Rule 5 picks
around the league have already been returned to their 2009 clubs, and it seems
that Snyder is probably headed in that direction.  If he were to clear league-wide waivers
(which he must do before being offered back to San Francisco – if another teams
claims him, he becomes its Rule 5 property all season, just as O’Day was with
Texas last year when the Mets tried running him through waivers in April, four
months after drafting him via Rule 5 from the Angels), the Rangers might
attempt to work out a trade with the Giants, sending them another prospect for
Snyder, who would then be eligible to be assigned to a minor league roster in
the Rangers’ system. 

 

If Wilson is in fact
viewed now as a starter, and Michael Kirkman is going to be developed further
as a starter, the Rangers might consider Snyder as someone who, even if not
ready, could fill a need foreseeably soon. 
Zach Phillips and Clay Rapada will presumably work in left-on-left relief
on the farm, and though I doubt Kasey Kiker will be used that way in April, I still
think the bullpen might be where he’s headed professionally.  Still, Snyder might be someone Texas tries to
keep in the system if the club can get him through waivers, which seems likely
(though agreeing on a trade with the Giants will be more difficult).

 

In my last report,
discussing Wilson, I mentioned Feldman, Adam Wainwright, and Ryan Dempster as examples
of pitchers who moved from significant relief roles to the rotation and fared
well.  Another obvious example that I overlooked,
maybe more instructive than any of the others: Kenny Rogers, a high-octane southpaw
reliever in his early big league years before becoming a dependable starter,
seeing his walk rate dip and strikeout rate increase once he moved to the
rotation.

 

Wilson admitted not
having his best stuff on Monday, but after a shaky first inning (preoccupied
with his upcoming first at-bat, maybe?) he allowed only two more hits in the second
through fifth, retiring nine straight at one point.  His changeup played up and he worked at a
quicker tempo than the reliever who used to pace behind the mound and stretch
his arms out and sweep the rubber with his glove between seemingly every pitch.

 

You don’t even have
to ask him whether the fourth-inning, opposite-field double off Barry Zito, a
kindred spirit who Wilson was once asked to help recruit to Texas, will be a
lifelong pride point.  The hit didn’t
count anywhere but in the armchair number three hitter’s head.

 

Tommy Hunter’s
ribcage strain will evidently force him to the disabled list to start the
season, and his ramp-up will presumably resume with a minor league rehab
assignment in early- or mid-April.  And
Ron Washington was clear: this will be a meritocracy, not a situation where an injured
player automatically gets his spot back once healthy.  Hunter (who is conditioning again but not yet
throwing) will have to earn his way back and unseat someone the Rangers believe
doesn’t give them as good a chance to win.

 

Ian Kinsler hit off a tee Monday and is about ready to
resume batting practice and test his ankle around the bases.  He’s aiming for a Monday return to game
action.

 

I think Josh Hamilton is supposed to be back in camp today,
after flying to Dallas on Monday for some dental work.

 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia reported improvement in the muscle
spasms in the area of his upper back and neck but won’t return to action today.

 

Warner Madrigal has begun throwing again, coming back from
his latest bout of tightness in his right forearm.

 

Newly acquired catcher Matt Treanor has a March 30 out
clause but isn’t expected to exercise it if not on the 40-man roster by then.

 

According to one local report, 31-year-old journeyman infielder
Nick Green, who had a run last year as Boston’s starting shortstop, could be on
the Rangers’ radar as they continue to evaluate their options for the utility
infielder role.  He’s in Dodgers camp on
a non-roster invite and isn’t a lock to make the Los Angeles club.

 

The Giants are reportedly shopping 27-year-old utility
infielder Kevin Frandsen.

 

It’s an old theme in this newsletter, but one thing that
worries me about attempts to trade for a fringe big leaguer like Ramon Vazquez
is that a team like Pittsburgh may try to hold Texas up for a prospect like
Kiker or Miguel Velazquez, figuring that since they’re tier two prospects for
Texas (but might be virtually untouchable for another club), the prospect-heavy
Rangers can afford to move them for a big league need.  Surely Texas won’t capitulate, but I can see
it getting in the way of a deal.

 

Since being returned to minor league camp, Marcus Lemon has
begun to see action in center field.

 

Another way to look at my recent comment that every team,
even Texas, made a mistake by letting Mitch Moreland fall to the 17th
round in 2007: Like Kinsler, taken in the same round four years earlier, credit
the player for taking to instruction and making himself better, and credit the
organization for one heck of a job seeing what the player could become and getting
him there through development.  It’s not
as if Moreland (Mississippi State) and Kinsler (Missouri) were underscouted,
starring at prominent NCAA programs.  They
fell because teams perceived flaws.  They
thrived because of how they were developed by the Rangers.

 

Several of you asked why I didn’t include Adrian Gonzalez
when I wrote on Sunday: “[Chris] Davis, Moreland, Justin Smoak.  Carlos Pena, Travis Hafner, Mark
Teixeira.  Worth discussing another time?”  The reason is Gonzalez didn’t join the
Rangers system until after Pena and Hafner were gone.

 

The Rangers have released lefthander Glenn Swanson, righthanders
John Slusarz and Chris Matlock, catcher Billy O’Conner, and infielders Mike Hollander
and Denny Duron.  Swanson, whose
tremendous start to the 2007 season was curtailed by an elbow injury that led
to Tommy John surgery, had been experimenting with a new sidearm slot in camp.

 

In addition to outfielder Steve Murphy, lefthander Cliff
Springston and righthander Justin King and outfielder Aja Barto have retired.

 

Scott Lucas has dozens of sensational photos from spring
training on his website.

 

Solid
feature on Michael Young
by Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports.

 

The White Sox released outfielder Jason Botts.

 

Detroit optioned righthander Armando Galarraga to AAA – six days
ago. 


After assigning Eric Gagné to minor league camp last week, the Dodgers released
the former closer at his request.

 

The Laredo Broncos of the independent United League released
outfielder Juan Senreiso.

 

Victor Rojas is onto something: www.yakcy.com

 

Slightly off-topic: Best episode of “Lost” – ever? 

 

Things started to line up just a little bit last night (fun
fact: Nestor Carbonell, who plays Richard, is Rafael Palmeiro’s cousin), though
that’s not to say that I have any idea what’s going to happen in the nine remaining
episodes, and that’s just how I want it.  

 

Different story with the Rangers rotation, which started
lining up yesterday as well, but if it’s all the same, I’d prefer that there
aren’t any more twists or turns in these final 11 spring training games.

   

 

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Surprise report, v.6.

At 3:58 Thursday afternoon, on the batting practice field behind the Batting Practice Field, Vladimir Guerrero stepped in against Ron Washington to take his cuts in preparation for the night’s game.

Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  

Just 150 feet away, on the nearest of the four bullpen mounds, stood Alexi Ogando, stepping to the hill to get loose for entry into the B game that was a little more than halfway done.

Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.
 

Today the 35-year-old slugger and the 26-year-old hurler from Dominican towns 60 miles apart have little in common other than the sound of bat on ball and ball on mitt, but that wasn’t always the case.

The December 11, 2005 Newberg Report, days after that winter’s Rule 5 Draft:

Outfielder Alexi Ogando, whom Texas acquired in the AAA phase of the draft out of Oakland’s system, is fascinating.  Not long ago, he was ranked right with and sometimes ahead of A’s outfield prospect Javier Herrera, who went into the 2005 season as their number three prospect.  But the player that some scouts have compared physically to a young Vladimir Guerrero missed the 2005 season due to visa problems and there remains a risk that he won’t be able to cure them for the 2006 season.  Still, it’s a terrific $12,000 risk for Texas to take.  His power to all fields is judged to be major league average right now — despite the fact that the 22-year-old has yet to play above Short-Season A — and his right field arm is among the strongest in organized ball.  The 6’5″ outfielder hails from shortstop hotbed San Pedro de Macoris.

The Rangers planned at the time of the draft to take Ogando and make a pitcher out of him.  Bet they never envisioned that they’d have Guerrero in a Texas uniform before they could get Ogando to the States, but they’re both here now, and both are going to make an impact on the big league club in 2010.

Between 2006 and 2009, Ogando — quarantined in his homeland and denied re-entry into the United States due to the visa-marriage scam he got caught up in, and even rumored at one time to be considered for sale to the Japanese leagues when Texas wasn’t sure the immigration issue would ever get cleared up — put up absurd Dominican Summer League stats that were the pitching equivalent of the offensive numbers Guerrero terrorized the Rangers with over the same period.  In 81 relief innings, featuring crazy command of a lively upper-90s fastball and a devastating slider, Ogando allowed 65 hits (.223 opponents’ average), including just one home run, and issued only 10 unintentional walks, striking out 114.  That’s one walk per nine innings, and nearly 13 strikeouts per nine.  Tack on 2.4 groundouts for every flyout (a ratio that actually sat at 10:1 in 2009).  Sensational, despite the level of competition.

I’d seen Omar Beltre pitch years ago before he was lost to the same immigration snafu, but I’d never seen Ogando pitch, and there was a reason I had him near the top of my list of “32 Things” a week ago today:

2.      Alexi Ogando.  Omar Beltre, too.  But Ogando has a better chance to make me come away from Surprise with the same feeling I got after seeing Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland, and [Tanner] Scheppers for the first time in camp.

As Ogando got loose, I paid little attention to the Guerrero BP session (though the systematic report was hard to ignore) or the difficult inning Edwar Ramirez was fighting through in the B game that Ogando was preparing to enter.  I was watching the lanky righthander throw bullpen pitches.

He was standing on a remote mound in a remote part of a spring training complex in a remote town in Arizona.  I can’t begin to imagine how uniquely surreal that moment, because it was on United States soil, might have been for the 26-year-old, if he took a second to think about where he was and what he was doing as he finished his bullpen work and waited for the home half of the inning to wrap up.

The crowd for this informal Rangers-Brewers matchup, for which the scoreboard was never turned on and which featured at least two innings that rolled before three outs were recorded, featured lots of Texas and Milwaukee braintrust (including Brewers GM Doug Melvin and Assistant GM Gord Ash) and lots of media and lots of fans, many of whom had presumably carved out a plan to see Scheppers pitch.  He was impressive if a little inconsistent in his inning and two-thirds — keeping the ball down, showing an impressive slider and curve, touching 97 with his fastball — but Ogando gave the surprising crowd an extra reward for being there.

He needed 10 pitches to retire Milwaukee in order.  Nine were strikes.  Three swings and misses (two on the slider, one for strike three), a couple called strikes (both on the slider), two fouls back, a fastball low and in, and a couple harmless flyouts to right field.  

He’s going to help this year.  Scheppers will, too, and everyone is writing about that and making back field appointments to chronicle his ramp-up.  You won’t see many (any?) mainstream media writeups on Alexi Ogando this morning, even though he relieved in the same B game that Scheppers relieved in, but that’s a mistake.  They are both wildly part of the picture here, and soon, though neither has thrown so much as an official minor league pitch stateside.

There’s a reason that Scheppers and Ogando remain in big league camp, while Beltre and Kasey Kiker and Zach Phillips and Clay Rapada have been reassigned to the minor league side.  It’s no knock on the latter four, who weren’t going to make this club out of Surprise and are in need of innings that are becoming more scarce, but it says something about Scheppers and Ogando, who, like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland a year ago, are being kept around big league coaches and teammates and games just a little bit longer, by design.

One last trip to the back fields this morning, and I’ll dump some final spring training notes on you (as well as thoughts on the potential implications of the Tommy Hunter strained ribcage muscle and Matt Harrison performance last night) in the next report.

Stateside Alexi
Quietly making his case
For a short farm stay

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Surprise report, v.5.

I swear this is the truth.

I printed an old newspaper article about Miguel Velazquez last week, preparing to write his story while here.  I’d seen him at Instructs in September but not at full strength.  He’s not only among the most promising position player prospects in the system, he’s also among the organization’s most fascinating stories.

I realized Tuesday night that my week was nearing its end and I still hadn’t seen much of Velazquez (number three on my “32 Things”) in action.  He was top priority Wednesday morning.

I tracked number 98 down as he stepped in as one of righty Tim Steggall’s live BP foes.  Velazquez saw six pitches, and let four go by.  I had my super-corny hook: This would be a story about a player with enough restraint, enough discretion — now — to be different from the kid sentenced to three years’ probation in Puerto Rico for an incident in which his brother shot a man who’d tried to kill their sister, to let borderline pitches go by during a brief batting practice session that wasn’t going to last long.

Then the day changed.

The story was no longer about a 22-year-old kid in the process of overcoming a kind of adversity few in this game are faced with, of proving to the organization that he’s worth believing in, of putting his past in the past and moving forward with the desire to be something better, to eliminate doubts, to win in this game.

Wednesday would instead be about a man nearly three times older, facing those exact challenges.

Note to the nearly 100 new subscribers in the last 24 hours: If you want details on Ron Washington’s transgression, a failed MLB drug test that turned up positive for cocaine, evidently between June 8 (when his contract was extended through 2010) and July 14 (when the All-Star Game was played) (likely during the West Coast road trip the final week before the Break, based on one local column last night), I’m not your guy.  Just about every beat writer in town was at the press conference at which Washington delivered an emotional, contrite statement and took questions until there weren’t any more, as were at least three or four national baseball reporters.  You can get the facts, the timeline, and the baseball implications from them.

Also in the room, filling each of the 50 or 70 chairs that weren’t occupied by the dozen or so writers, and lining the back and side walls of the room, were just about every one of Washington’s players and plenty others who are auditioning to be.  His coaching staff.  A number from the baseball operations department.  Washington’s wife, Gerry.  Nolan Ryan.  And Jon Daniels.

It was an impressive show of support by the players in particular, all in street clothes and all there by choice, not asked by Washington or the front office or anyone else to attend.  They’d just learned the news moments earlier in the clubhouse, as the 57-year-old man addressed his club privately.  They didn’t need to be at the press briefing a few hundred yards away, having already heard from their manager everything they’d hear at the presser (if not more).  A 40-man roster showed up to support him.

According to one local report, Michael Young spoke up during the emotional team meeting, after Washington had apologized and before another handful of teammates got up and spoke, saying: “I’ve got his back.  Anybody who doesn’t feel that way isn’t a Texas Ranger.”

Washington reportedly avoided league suspension by virtue of the fact that he went to MLB and confessed before his positive test results.  He avoided dismissal as Rangers manager because, as he explained it, Ryan and Daniels declined his offer to resign.  Not without considering it, they admitted.  

“Just because someone in your family makes a mistake,” Ryan said, “doesn’t mean you stop loving them.”

Daniels added that when Washington came to him and Ryan with the admission, they were shocked, angry, disappointed — like he expects Rangers fans might react to Wednesday’s news — but then they decided to work through things with him.  “We still believe in him,” Daniels and Ryan each repeated several times to reporters.  The man known as a coach who believes in and fights for the underdog is now more of one himself.  

Man, I don’t know what to think about all of this.  It’s a setback for the man and the organization, a potential distraction for the ballclub.  Can it serve as a rallying point for the players?  Yeah, I guess, maybe, but this is a club of guys who didn’t need another rallying point.

Even if, taken at face value, yesterday’s news doesn’t impact Washington’s immediate standing with the franchise, does it affect his future?  How could it not?  He said he hoped the Rangers will continue to allow him to lead the club.  Ryan and Daniels have given him that opportunity by refusing last season to accept his offer to step down.  But going forward?  It’s not the reason his contract doesn’t extend beyond 2010, but it’s a reason, says team management.  How his team deals with this development won’t determine his fate in and of itself, but it’s a factor.  

This much I expect: There will be some in the media who will try and drive a wedge internally, suggesting Washington has lost his players and the ability to lead.  Get ready for it.  It’s already afoot.  

I thought T.R. Sullivan nailed this: “In this business, it’s not whether you are right or wrong but it’s how loudly you scream that counts.  Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter set the standard on that score and all others have blindly followed. . . . Righteous indignation and a call for draconian measures [are] the obvious card to play in such matters.”  

Guess I’m guilty myself of bringing a writer’s name into the discussion (aggravating the offense: I recommend reading Sullivan’s entire piece — http://trsullivan.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/03/of_ron_washington_rush_limbaug.html) — but rest assured there will be plenty who will see to it themselves that their names are part of the talk show prattle and water cooler talk.

(Stated another way, by Evan Grant: “[T]ypical of today’s media, the minute the story broke, we acted to try and make the story more juicy than it was.  In the first 12 hours after the story broke, columnists were jumping all over one another to make the most provocative claim about the incident.  Work in a charge of blackmail or hint at potential racism, and you are likely to draw more attention.”)

Even if there’s no truth to a wedge in the clubhouse or an extortion attempt or some other fraction of what’s written, stories will beget stories and will grow into become something bigger on the first trip into every city this season, and will drive local blog posts and radio segments as soon as the team has lost four of five, especially if that happens before the Cowboys report to camp.

And don’t get me wrong: The media is not to blame for any of this.  Washington is responsible for his incredible mistake and for creating a public relations mess and a point of embarrassment and humiliation, and it’s hard to imagine that gets erased from the ledger as long as his fitness to continue at the helm of the team is evaluated, now, the next time the team finds itself in an extended skid, next winter.  The men who preserved his job say they still believe in him, and I don’t doubt that, but his bad decision, however out of character, has to have endangered that trust, even if it’s intact at the moment.

Ron Washington has always been an advocate of the second chance, managing for an organization that believes in extending them — Josh Hamilton, Danny Gutierrez, Khalil Greene, Miguel Velazquez (whose story will have to wait for another day) — and he now he gets one himself.  

There’s honor in that, and a chance at some level of redemption, I suppose, but this is a franchise that feels it’s on the brink of something great, that’s heading toward a new ownership group (one that includes Ryan) intent on strengthening the club’s image, that had just about everything that really matters pointing in the right direction.  

Though I thought things were handled by Washington and the organization as well as could possibly be expected, Wednesday was a disappointing day, and in an unforeseen way, it may be critical for Washington’s club to get off to a strong start to the season to sustain the stability that the franchise has worked so hard to establish.

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Surprise report, v.4.

I stared down the barrel of the gun.  Looked into the eye of the beast.  Pitched to Joe Mauer.

I took Grand Avenue.  Willingly.

The details are unimportant.  I knew better, but a late change in Tuesday afternoon plans and a quick look at directions to Mesa for Cubs-Rangers led me to believe I could outsmart The Grand and force it, once and for all, to do my bidding.

I got to the game an hour late.  

(To be fair, the sold-out crowd of more than 13,000 in a stadium and parking lot not set up to handle much more than that factored in.  But The Grand won.  Again.)

I walked in just as the game’s two pivotal at-bats took place.  Neftali Feliz was evidently sharp in innings one and two and to start off inning three, taking care of the Cubs the first time through their order — two strikeouts in a one-hit first, two strikeouts in a one-hit second, and an infield pop-out and fly to left to quietly start the third.  

But then the top of the order came back up: single, double, and the two at-bats I arrived to see — a two-run Xavier Nady double and, after Marlon Byrd was down 0-2, he worked the count full before shooting a hard single through the box, driving home the third run of the inning and staking Chicago to a 3-0 lead that would hold up in the 4-1 Cubs win.  Feliz was slated to go four innings, but his trouble the second time through the lineup ended his day after three.

This team expects to win this year, and Feliz simply isn’t ready for the responsibility of giving the club six or seven strong, every fifth day.  Not yet.  That’s OK — there are other candidates making strong cases to round out the rotation, and Feliz may still develop into a lockdown rotation horse.  But he’s not there yet.

As for C.J. Wilson, his unlikely candidacy for the starting five gains momentum.  After Omar Beltre pitched the fourth (interesting; missed low from time to time, but had several Cubs hitters guessing wrong in a scoreless frame that included two strikeouts), Wilson came on for the fifth, with a plan for him to log four innings of his own.  Pitch counts have long been an issue for the lefthander, even in his late-relief assignments, and first-pitch strikes have been a problem in camp.  

Wilson met the challenge.  He faced 15 batters, starting 12 off with strikes (including the final nine he faced).  His first inning of work, in fact, went from uh-oh to dazzling quickly — after starting leadoff hitter Ryan Theriot off with three pitches out of the zone, he came back to strike Theriot out looking and, overall, fire seven strikes in eight pitches to retire Chicago in order.  In his second frame, nine strikes and five balls.  In his third, seven strikes and one ball, locking up the opportunity after just 33 total pitches to go out for a fourth inning of work.  He needed 14 pitches in that inning, but did a good job wiggling out of a mess he created after Tyler Colvin singled sharply to center on a full count and Nady clubbed a ground-rule double to right center on the next pitch.  Faced with runners at second and third and nobody out, Wilson got a grounder to third and two grounders to second to strand the runners, end the inning, and complete his day.  

In his four innings of work (47 pitches, 32 for strikes), Wilson gave up one run (a no-doubt Jeff Baker homer in the seventh) on three hits, no walks, and five strikeouts — all looking.  His pace seemed good, he mixed a sharp breaking ball with a fastball that he located well, and he did a good job working both sides of the plate.  But the big thing may have been pitch one: those 12 out of 15 first-pitch strikes followed an effort his last time out when he was just 4 of 12.  

Wilson’s biggest disappointment of the day might have been that the Cubs opted to use the DH in the game, stripping from him a long-awaited opportunity to hit.

Interesting top of the fifth: Justin Smoak and Taylor Teagarden each worked the count full and forced Cubs pitcher Esmailin Caridad to throw six pitches, but given their minor league track records, that wasn’t so surprising.  But then Joaquin Arias worked a seven-pitch walk, which on some nights is as many pitches as he’ll see in four at-bats combined.

I still just don’t see Arias (who proceeded to get caught stealing) winning the utility infield job, and my guess is that he’ll be traded rather than exposed to waivers.

Josh Hamilton’s bruised left hand is better, but he had a tooth infection yesterday.

Ian Kinsler could miss another full week with his right ankle sprain but is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Warner Madrigal’s MRI showed no structural damage, and he’ll try to work back from his forearm tightness in hopes of getting back on the mound before the end of camp.

Eric Hurley looked like a quarterback getting in his pregame warmup tosses yesterday morning, as a nearby coach was hauling in the return throws from the catcher during Hurley’s bullpen session (a concession to Hurley’s broken left wrist).

A few notes from live BP on the minor league side Tuesday morning:

Lefthander Glenn Swanson is now throwing from a Venafro-esque low slot.

Righthander Danny Gutierrez’s power curve wasn’t quite as nasty as Matt Thompson’s the day before, but it’s a true swing-and-miss pitch.

Righthander Wilmer Font had trouble getting on top of his curve, but the 19-year-old looks physically more and more like a big league pitcher every time I see him.  Hunch: He gets traded in July.  Sold high.

Another hunch: While Font is considered anywhere from the fourth-best pitching prospect in the Rangers system to the seventh-best in most reputable rankings, this time next year righthander Neil Ramirez will be in that same tier.

Lefthander Robbie Ross is far from imposing physically but always seems to be in command on the mound.  Love his future.

I went to a tryout for the Reds in Georgetown, Texas in the spring of 1990.  One stage that day was a BP set-up where pitchers and hitters each toed in, one at a time, facing each other for one series of pitches before stepping out for the next pitcher and hitter.  I figured out with about a dozen hitters ahead of me that I was going to miss Austin McCallum lefty Robbie Beckett (who would be San Diego’s first-round pick a couple months later) by one hitter.  A left-handed hitter, I think I lost three pounds in those 15 minutes hoping no hitter would duck out ahead of me, forcing me to step in against Beckett, a huge kid with huge velocity and huge unawareness of where his pitches would land (he’d walk about a batter per inning in more than 860 pro innings of work).

I thought about that experience yesterday for the first time in many years, as left-handed hitters Jacob Kaase and Tommy Mendonca both got buzzed up and in by filthy but erratic southpaw Geuris Grullon during back-to-back BP turns.

I finally saw something out of Jurickson Profar yesterday that I wasn’t crazy about: an Alfonso Soriano look to his right-handed cuts.  (But Profar is half Soriano’s age.  He’ll get straightened out.)

Mike Lowell is seeing action for Boston at first base (he has one hit and a strikeout in four trips over two appearances) but “is not moving well,” according to scouts who talked to ESPN’s Gordon Edes.  (Edes then pointed out that Lowell has never run well.)  The Marlins are said to have shown some interest in bringing the veteran back to Florida.

Kevin Millwood got a back-fields Orioles intrasquad assignment this time and was a little better: three runs on four hits over five innings (88 pitches).

Interesting: Washington released controversial 25-year-old outfielder Elijah Dukes.  Not even a designation for assignment?

H
ouston got infielder Jose Vallejo through waivers and outrighted him to AAA Round Rock.

Kansas City optioned catcher Manny Pina to its AA club.  It will be Pina’s third run at the Texas League.

Righthander Derrick Turnbow ended his comeback attempt with Florida due to shoulder pain.

Righthanders Sidney Ponson and Jake Dittler signed with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

On the punch list for today and tomorrow: Hoping to see Alexi Ogando, Miguel Velazquez, Vlad Guerrero, Michael Main, and Tommy Mendonca at work.

And no more of The Grand.

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

Surprise report, v.3.

At some point each March I write about the sensory overload that the back fields will hit you with between the eyes, as four diamonds are buzzing with activity simultaneously, while four or five pitchers are busy throwing sides just a hundred feet away.  You just can’t see everything you want to see, and each year lately there’s more you’re sick about missing.

The scene Monday morning around the Eagle’s Nest on the back fields was ridiculous.  With minor league camp just a few days old and games not set to get underway until Thursday, pitchers have been getting their work in by warming up in four-barrel bullpen mode and then taking the hill on one of the four fields, pitching to hitters in what are called “tracking sessions,” simulated pitcher-to-hitter confrontations where the bats stay on shoulders.  Part of the objective is to get hitters used to seeing pitches for a few days; the other is for pitchers to get their early work in with more than just a catcher on the other end.

The Rangers had half of the minor league pitchers in camp throw tracking on Monday, close to 40 arms that moved swiftly in groups of four, first alongside each other in the bullpen and then each to one of the four fields fanning out from the Eagle’s Nest, with motorized efficiency.  This was “Group II” on Monday, and I’d be shocked if there are more than a couple organizations in baseball with as deep a stable of pitching prospects as yesterday’s half of the Rangers’ mound inventory that got their work in.  Martin Perez threw yesterday morning.  As did Michael Main.  Blake Beavan and Wilfredo Boscan.  Joe Wieland, Kennil Gomez, Corey Young.  Braden Tullis, Richard Bleier, Richard Alvarez, Edwin Escobar, Matt Thompson.  Robbie Erlin and Chad Bell and Tanner Roark, Beau Jones and Randol Rojas and Nick McBride.  To name a few.

Maybe the most celebrated onetime two-way player among the Rangers’ pitching prospects is Main, who had teams interested in drafting him in 2007′s first round as a center fielder.  Certainly the least heralded of the players Texas has converted from the field to the mound is 21-year-old Tim Steggall, who is four months older than Main but has yet to play a professional inning.  Three years after Main was the Rangers’ second first-round pick, the unimposing Steggall is in camp as an undrafted free agent signed toward the end of the 2009 season after a career as an infielder for the University of Puget Sound, Central Arizona Junior College, and UTA.  Nobody drafted the .255-hitting shortstop.  But Texas scout Jay Eddings liked the arm.  

Main and Steggall got loose alongside each other as part of one of the first foursomes.  Once they moved to the fields, Main to the southwest diamond and Steggall to the northwest, I headed straight for Main’s field to see how he looked (he remains a favorite, even though he has yet to put together that breakout season I’ve been hoping for), but found myself darting a glance over at Steggall’s field several times.  Main didn’t have his top command but looked physically strong (key for him) and had his fastball life back.  Steggall didn’t strike the same figure, nor should he have.  He’s a project without much projection, but there’s some pop in that arm, and while any anticipation of what he might do pales substantially in comparison to what Main might do in 2010, he’s an intriguing story nonetheless, a guy fighting to prove a scout and an organization right as he tries to make himself a prospect in a system as heavy on pitching prospects and as light on soldiers as it’s ever been.

Watching Martin Perez pitch, no matter the nature of the drill, is an exercise in astronomy.  As for this scene:

perez2.jpg

It isn’t going to last much longer.  Perez can still blend into a crowd.  For now.

As Perez was warming up, 100 feet away Alvarez (whose comparisons to Perez are as unfair as Perez’s to Johan Santana) looked like he’d put on a few pounds since last summer and was sitting a tick or two higher on his fastball.  

Boscan is definitely bigger.  Good bigger.  Still love watching that guy pitch.

Ever sat around a table in a quiet, methodical, business-like meeting at work, come up with a reasonably good idea before the group, and everyone unexpectedly started hollering and laughing in celebration?  Your good idea would have been the equivalent of a Matt Thompson curve ball.  

I don’t know how much bigger the 5-foot, something-inch righthander Rojas (the 2009 Dominican Summer League Co-Pitcher of the Year: 8-0, 0.80, 48/6 K/BB in 67.1 innings) is going to be, but the 19-year-old Venezuelan was impressive in his tracking session.  Rojas may be more polish than projection, but there’s something there.

Among the hitters who stood in against Rojas was fellow 5-foot, something-inch, 160-pounder Teo “Cafe” Martinez, an interesting center field prospect whose father, Carlos Martinez, was just as skinny but played in the big leagues at 6’5″.  Have to wonder if Cafe, who turns 18 today, isn’t finished growing.

Neil Ramirez didn’t throw yesterday, but his name is coming up a lot this week.  In a positive way.

Observations on three lefthanders: (1) Erlin may not be generating as much buzz as a guy like Ramirez, but I’m not sure he shouldn’t be.  The Robbie Ross comps are practically inevitable given his size and handedness, and if Erlin were to flourish in his first full season (2010) the way Ross did in his (2009), it won’t surprise me at all. (2) It’s unfair of me to keep saying I wish lefthander Escobar were three inches taller.  (Hey, I wish Julio Borbon threw better, too.)  There’s a real good chance I’m wrong about Escobar. (3) Bell isn’t the kind of pitcher who will dazzle in a bullpen or tracking session, but he’s impressive.  Deep assortment, good size with maybe a little projection, mound savvy.

Jason Parks has been posting his own Surprise scouting reports on Rangers prospects at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Baseball-Time-in-Arlington/273254723463?ref=ts.  Always worth checking out what Professor Parks has to say.  These aren’t your average fan observations, or even your above-average fan observations.  These are scouting reports.

This is one of the bigger days in camp as far as roster battles are concerned.  C.J. Wilson and Neftali Feliz are each slated to go four innings against the Cubs as they try to sustain their shots at a rotation spot.  On the to-do list for Wilson: greater first-pitch strike efficiency.  On Feliz’s: better command of his secondary offerings.

I didn’t see Rich Harden’s effort last night, but it sounded like a mixed bag, better late than early in his 3.32-inning, 80-pitch (50-strike) effort.  The Harden ERA is now 9.72, but he and Ron Washington sound less concerned with the results than the upticks in velocity, pitch counts, arm strength, and consistency.

X-rays on Josh Hamilton’s left wrist (after he’d been drilled by Giants starter Madison Bumgarner) came back negative.  He’ll likely be held out of action a couple days.

Ben Sheets allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in Oakland’s game against Cincinnati yesterday, getting chased without recording an out.  His spring ERA is now 31.15 (15 earned runs in 4.1 innings).

Texas decided not to make a first round of reassignments yesterday, as had been speculated
in several local reports.  Other teams are a couple days into widespread options, and the Rangers should follow suit later this week.

Among the Braves’ first cuts: reliever Steve Marek, optioned for the second straight March to Atlanta’s AAA club.  He was half of what the Braves got for Mark Teixeira, along with Casey Kotchman, one year and two days after they’d shipped Elvis Andrus, Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Beau Jones to Texas for Teixeira and Ron Mahay.

Arizona signed Kris Benson to a minor league contract.  The Dodgers reassigned Eric Gagne to minor league camp.  Milwaukee did the same with A.J. Murray, and the Mets did so with R.A. Dickey.

The Sioux City Explorers of the independent American Association released outfielder Anthony Webster

I believe the tracking sessions give way to live BP on the back fields this morning.  Should have more hitter observations for you tomorrow.

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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

Surprise report, v.2.

I’m sure the fact that 17 players and coaches were gathered as Tanner Scheppers threw his side early Sunday morning was mere happenstance, but it seemed sort of fitting anyway.  

Tanner3.jpg
The fascinating thing about this camp is how much buzz Scheppers and Alexi Ogando and Michael Kirkman, for instance, are getting as pitchers who could make impacts this season, when at this time last year one wasn’t yet Rangers property, another seemed sentenced to never becoming a Rangers reality, and the third wasn’t really on the map.  

A year ago the camp buzz, properly so, was about Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, two AA blue-chippers for whom places were being held by veterans whose time in Texas was likely temporary at best.  Feliz and Holland were in big league camp on non-roster invites but kept around until the buses left Surprise for Arlington.  Even though neither was deemed ready for major league work, everyone knew it was a matter of time, and that both would show up in September, if not forcing their way to Texas sooner.

The difference in 2010 is that there aren’t really any placeholders who figure to make this staff.  In fact, despite having stretches last summer when they were indispensable to a contending Rangers club, Feliz and Holland are not locks to come out of camp with jobs themselves, and not because of a Kris Benson or Jason Jennings who has the club’s momentary confidence.  The staff is deeper now than it was a year ago, and younger, both in the rotation and the bullpen.  It’s simply tougher to win a job than it used to be.

I remember hating that Boston could get away with optioning Clay Buchholz in 2008, less than a year after he’d thrown a big league no-hitter.  Texas is getting there.  If you had to snapshot the rotation battle right now, Holland would probably settle in as the seventh starter (though his Sunday effort probably keeps him in the hunt), and Feliz is all but out of the race to get the ball every fifth day.  But then you get a comment like this one today from Baseball America’s Jim Callis:

I’m stingy when it comes to anointing prospects as potential No. 1 starters.  I want to see one dynamic pitch, at least one plus pitch to go with plus command and plus makeup–and even then I err on the side of caution.  That’s why there are only six pitchers [on BA's Top 100 Prospects list] whom I would stamp as having legitimate No. 1 starter potential: Stephen Strasburg (No. 2), Brian Matusz (No. 5), Neftali Feliz (No. 9), Martin Perez (No. 17), Tyler Matzek (No. 23) and Jacob Turner (No. 26).

Feliz has major league experience — major league success — and can’t come close yet to cracking this rotation.  As for Perez, in a year he’ll be where Scheppers and Ogando and Kirkman are today, probably earning lots of ink dedicated to a timetable that stands to shrink with every Cactus League outing.  Along with Perez will be a couple other young arms as unforeseeable now as Scheppers and Ogando and Kirkman were a year ago.  The phrases “waves of talent” and “prospect pipeline” get used a lot with this organization.  It’s no longer a mission statement, a promise.  It’s a reality now.

It’s sort of the same thing that’s going on at first base.  Chris Davis is having one of the best camps in baseball, Justin Smoak is getting real close (the missile he hit to the deepest part of the park yesterday for a left-center field, warning-track double came off Diamondbacks lefthander prospect Tom Layne, who allowed one home run in 97 innings last year), and then there’s Mitch Moreland, who every time I see him seems to barrel the ball with video game consistency.  Productive pre-arbitration bats aren’t quite as in demand as high-end young pitching, but there’s a definite market for them.  And Texas is deep there.

Where the Rangers are not deep (though it’s not as critical as on the mound or at first base) is at utility infielder, a role on the roster that’s wide open right now.  Joaquin Arias showed me again on Sunday morning that he’s a back fields All-Star, but I still don’t sense a tremendous amount of confidence from the manager in what he can do when the games count.  Ray Olmedo has hit a little in camp (though he struck out in three of four hitless trips yesterday, lining out to right field his other time up), but is a career .228/.276/.293 hitter.  Esteban German can do lots of things with the bat but has eight games at shortstop in eight big league seasons.  Hernan Iribarren isn’t a shortstop, either, and I still see Marcus Lemon as strictly a second baseman.

The idea of Ramon Vazquez coming back is something I could get behind.

Charlie Hough in the 1980s.  R.A. Dickey in the ’00s.  Who’s the latest Ranger to wield the knuckleball?

Photographer Ginger Newberg preserved the evidence: http://trsullivan.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/03/which_rangers_pitcher_is_this.html

There are few better days at the ballpark than 65 degrees and sunny, a spot on the berm, snow cones for the kids, and a half hour with Don Welke.

Josh Hamilton went deep and homered in his first two at-bats yesterday, fulfilling a promise to his daughter Julia on what was her ninth birthday, but I was as happy with his third at-bat, in which he took four straight pitches, the first three for balls, before flying out.  Vladimir Guerrero, who has probably taken more pitches in camp than he’s taken against Texas in his entire career, watched ball one sail by before crushing a missile to center on the next pitch, a double that shot off his bat like it was jai alai.

The numbers were OK, but Frankie Francisco didn’t look great in the ninth inning of the home game yesterday.  Ben Snyder and Chris Ray weren’t at their sharpest, either.

Engel Beltre entered the game late and had a solid at-bat in the eighth, singling the other way.

New Rangers reliever candidate Edwar Ramirez may be skinnier than Arias.

Since I was at the split-squad game in Surprise, I didn’t see the “one inch from a disaster” moment for Kirkman in Glendale.  The lefthander took a one-hop Reed Johnson comebacker off his left ear (the ball shot into right field for a double) in the seventh inning, knocking him to the ground.  Kirkman was on his feet before the play ended, but the Rangers lifted him from the game.  Everything seems to be OK.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia played for the first time in six days, reportedly throwing well and contributing a double.

Another 2 for 3 day from Chris Davis, raising two of his three numbers (.538/.571/.731).

Answer: Veteran sluggers Vlad Guerrero and Paul Konerko, 2009 rookies Randy Ruiz and Kyle Blanks, and Rangers third base coach Dave Anderson.  

Question: Who has Darren O’Day drilled with a pitch since joining the Rangers?

When O’Day accidentally plunked Anderson during a pitchers’ fielding practice drill yesterday morning, it was rip-roaring-hilarious to everyone on the field other than Anderson, who proceeded to fungo-rifle a one-hop screamer to O’Day on the next pitch, nearly handcuffing the sidewinder.

Warner Madrigal will have an MRI today due to continued soreness in his throwing forearm.

Eric Hurley, already on the 60-day disabled list as he rehabs from shoulder surgery, will miss 7-10 days of camp work due to surgery to repair a broken bone in his non-throwing wrist.

TCU lefthander Matt Purke threw a complete game on Saturday, allowing one run on four h
its and no walks, fanning eight Texas Tech hitters.

Ted Price will be Rangers-Podcasting out here this week, with a video stream that can be found at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/rangers-podcast-in-arlington.  I think if you head there now, you can set up a “follow” so you’re alerted when new content is posted.

The Rangers, according to local reports, could make a first round of cuts today, shipping some players to minor league camp as regulars and key roster candidates (both pitchers and position players) start to command more playing time.  Minor league games begin on Thursday.

But minor league workouts are now in full swing, and I’m headed that way this morning.  More farm observations on the way 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
If you want to be removed from this list, please e-mail me at newbergreport@sbcglobal.net

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