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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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

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