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.  

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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.

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