Harrison breaking from the pack.

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The moment that
stuck out for me last night as we recorded the latest edition of Rangers
Podcast in Arlington was when our guest Eric Nadel recounted something Fergie
Jenkins told him in Pompano Beach in 1979, Nadel’s first spring with the
Rangers.  It went something like this: “All
this stuff you’re seeing in these spring training games?  Ignore it. 
It’s spring training.”

 

It’s good advice, but when the results belong to players clearly
competing for a job, they probably can’t be discounted completely. 

 

In other words, when you view the work put in so far by Matt
Harrison (outstanding), Brandon McCarthy (inconsistent), and Derek Holland
(sputtering), the three primary candidates for the number five spot in the rotation,
it’s hard not to view Harrison as the leader at this point.  There’s nearly a month to go, and things can
change, but Harrison is off to an encouraging start.

 

And this isn’t just about a couple innings of work.  Harrison came to camp 30 pounds more fit, fully
recovered from thoracic outlet syndrome, toting an extra three ticks on the
radar gun (now touching 97).  As Nadel
points out in the Podcast, results aren’t as important in a competition like
this one as consistency, stuff, command, and efficiency, and right now Harrison
appears to be ahead of McCarthy and Holland in all four categories.

 

Josh Hamilton had two singles in three trips yesterday, his
first game action of camp, and made two uneventful plays in left field. 

 

Tanner Scheppers wowed onlookers on Thursday pumping upper-90s
heat in a swift, perfect seven-pitch inning against the Royals, keeping his power
curve in his pocket.  He unleashed the
curve in a “B” game yesterday, throwing three of them, all for strikes, two of
them going for strike three. 

 

The Scheppers fastball gets lots of attention (ranked by Baseball America
among the top five in minor league baseball), but
BA
also says that, in a system with a number of plus curves (Martin Perez, Danny
Gutierrez, Jake Brigham), it’s Scheppers whose bender is the best.

 

BA
also projects Scheppers to be the Rangers closer in 2013.  Don’t bet against him figuring in somewhere
near the top of the rotation instead. 

 

Lots more from BA‘s Prospect Handbook -
here’s the publication’s top 30 Rangers prospects:

 

1.         Neftali
Feliz, RHP

2.         Justin
Smoak, 1B

3.         Martin
Perez, LHP

4.         Tanner
Scheppers, RHP

5.         Jurickson
Profar, SS

6.         Kasey Kiker,
LHP

7.         Robbie Ross,
LHP

8.         Mitch
Moreland, 1B-OF

9.         Danny
Gutierrez, RHP

10.       Wilmer Font,
RHP

11.       Max Ramirez,
C

12.       Joe Wieland,
RHP

13.       Luis
Sardinas, SS

14.       Engel Beltre,
OF

15.       Leury Garcia,
SS

16.       Michael
Kirkman, LHP

17.       Blake Beavan,
RHP

18.       Tommy
Mendonca, 3B

19.       Guillermo
Moscoso, RHP

20.       Omar Poveda,
RHP

21.       Michael Main,
RHP

22.       Miguel
Velazquez, OF

23.       Pedro Strop,
RHP

24.       Neil Ramirez,
RHP

25.       Jake Brigham,
RHP

26.       Tomas Telis,
C

27.       Wilfredo
Boscan, RHP

28.       Craig Gentry,
OF

29.       Andrew Doyle,
RHP

30.       Richard
Alvarez, RHP

 

BA‘s
assessment of the organization’s best tools:

 

Best Hitter for Average          Justin
Smoak

Best Power Hitter                   Justin
Smoak

Best Strike-Zone Discipline    Justin
Smoak

Fastest Baserunner                  Leury
Garcia

Best Athlete                            Greg
Golson (published, obviously, before he was traded to the Yankees)

Best Fastball                           Neftali
Feliz

Best Curveball                        Tanner
Scheppers

Best Slider                              Robbie
Ross

Best Changeup                        Kasey
Kiker

Best Control                            Blake
Beavan

Best Defensive Catcher          Leonel
De Los Santos

Best Defensive Infielder         Leury
Garcia

Best Infield Arm                     Leury
Garcia

Best Defensive Outfielder      Craig
Gentry

Best Outfield Arm                  Greg
Golson

 

It’s interesting how Perez, considered by most experts to be
one of the two best lefthander prospects in baseball, isn’t even listed atop
any of the “best pitch” categories.  The depth
of this standout system is unquestionably on the mound.

 

BA‘s
projected 2013 lineup:

 

Catcher                        Taylor
Teagarden (same as last year’s 2012 projection)

First Base                    Justin
Smoak (same)

Second Base               Ian
Kinsler (same)

Third Base                   Michael
Young (same)

Shortstop                     Elvis
Andrus (same)

Left Field                    Josh
Hamilton (last year: Julio Borbon)

Center Field                Julio
Borbon (last year: Engel Beltre)

Right Field                  Nelson
Cruz (last year: Hamilton)

Designated Hitter       Chris
Davis (same)

No. 1 Starter               Neftali
Feliz (same)

No. 2 Starter               Martin
Perez (last year: Derek Holland)

No. 3 Starter               Derek
Holland (last year: Perez)

No. 4 Starter               Scott
Feldman (last year: Michael Main)

No. 5 Starter               Tommy
Hunter (last year: Matt Harrison)

Closer                          Tanner
Scheppers (last year: Blake Beavan)

 

After several years of multiple changes in the projected
lineup, there’s some stability now in terms of how the position players project
three years down the road. 

 

BA
ranks 88 Rangers prospects position by position, and while I won’t run all of
those down (I’d encourage you to buy the book, whose Rangers chapter was
written by Aaron Fitt), I’ll tell you for example that, after the left-handed
starters who show up in the top 30 (Perez at 3, Kiker at 6, Ross at 7, Kirkman
at 16),
BA
ranks further southpaw starters this way: Robbie Erlin, Chad Bell, Richard
Bleier, Tim Murphy, Paul Strong, and Edwin Escobar.

 

According to BA, righthander Matt
Nevarez is the number 15 prospect and infielder Jose Vallejo is not among the
top 30 in the Astros system, which is ranked last overall among the 30
organizations.

 

Neither catcher Manny Pina nor outfielder Tim Smith is among
Kansas City’s top 30 prospects.  Gutierrez,
obtained by Texas for those two, is the number nine Rangers prospect, though
he’ll start the season under a 50-game league suspension after testing positive
for a prescribed ADHD medication called Adderall that he didn’t obtain a
therapeutic use exemption for in advance. 
The Royals are ranked 17th overall, while the Rangers are number two.

 

Outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was eligible but not ranked
among the Phillies’ top 30 prospects.

 

Righthander Thomas Diamond is not listed among the Cubs’ top
86 prospects.

 

Righthander Graham Stoneburner, the younger brother of
Rangers minor league infielder Davis Stoneburner, is the Yankees’ number 21
prospect.  Not sure where Golson would
have fit; he was still with Texas at the time the book was printed, and not
among the top 30 Rangers.

 

BA
revealed yesterday that the 17-year-old Profar, who has yet to play a
professional inning, got Top 100 Prospect votes on three of the four ballots (each
of which included 150 players) though he failed to crack the overall top
100.  He was number 74 on one voter’s ballot.  Ross was also listed on three ballots,
getting a high vote of number 96.  Font
was number 57 on one voter’s ballot – and not listed among the top 150 on the
other three.  Also listed on one ballot: Kiker
(number 112) and Moreland (130).

 

Smoak got treatment for his sort left hip flexor yesterday
and hopes to play today.

 

Hank Blalock is back in Port Charlotte, where he first made
noise a decade ago as an uber-prospect on the verge of becoming a perennial contender
for batting titles.  The 29-year-old has signed
a minor league deal with Tampa Bay for $925,000, with an extra $350,000 based on
plate appearance incentives.  Those bonuses
may be hard to come by unless Carlos Pena or Evan Longoria gets hurt, or unless
Blalock is able to take at-bats away from Pat Burrell.

 

While it’s not confirmed, there’s speculation that Blalock
has an out clause if he’s not added to the active Rays roster at some point
late in camp.  Makes sense.

 

Click here
to listen to Kevin Goldstein’s Monday morning segment with Ben & Skin on
ESPN Radio.  The 11-minute topic: Why Goldstein
doesn’t think Elvis Andrus was very good in 2009.  There’s a little Smoak talk in there as
well.  Good stuff.

 

I’ll shoot you an email once Ted Price gets last night’s
Podcast episode uploaded.

 

 

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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

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