So my Rangers week in Arizona was capped off, last night, with Chris Davis stepping up in the seventh inning, as a pinch-hitter for Adrian Beltre, with San Diego closer Heath Bell on the mound and with the bases loaded, that is, with nowhere to put Davis.
Stepping up, and nowhere to put him, each in more ways than one.
Davis deposited Bell’s 92-mph fastball, middle in, 450 feet away to right center, for his fourth bomb of the spring (and second in two days), and he finished his birthday night at .410/.429/.872 in 42 camp plate appearances — but there’s simply nowhere to put him.
Mitch Moreland, having his own outstanding camp (.375/.432/.675), is the first baseman. Beltre is the third baseman. Michael Young reinforces both positions. David Murphy and Mike Napoli are already extra bats that will get to the plate hundreds of times.
Davis doesn’t do what Matt Treanor does (in spite of my pet pipe dream for a few years), and with Napoli being counted on as a bat against lefthanders, you need another backup catcher. Davis doesn’t do what Andres Blanco does, and neither does anyone else on the projected roster behind Elvis Andrus.
Which gets us to Julio Borbon, who made another two errors last night, one throwing (maybe a fluke) and one fielding (a bad play). On the one hand there’s Davis, who has had a tremendous camp despite virtually no shot at a job. On the other, Borbon, who has had a disappointing camp despite being entrusted with a job the organization doesn’t want him to lose.
But even if the Rangers choose to use their final option on Borbon, something they seem resigned to do with Davis, that theoretically means they’ll go with an outfield of David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz. Unless you’re then going to make Moreland the fourth outfielder — and not have a true center fielder on the roster other than Hamilton, a contingency that we will not see — sending Borbon out wouldn’t create a role for Davis.
On the Borbon topic, would you trade him and more stuff for Marlon Byrd? B.J. Upton? Grady Sizemore? Aaron Rowand?
I might be able to get behind the Byrd thing. I’m as into the idea of giving young players a chance as anyone, but notwithstanding Borbon’s relative inexperience (he got to the big leagues very quickly), it’s not apparent that he’s making much progress. Since his 2009 arrival he’s regressed at the plate, in the field, and on the bases, and even though Texas really needs him the way this club is put together, this team’s window is open right now, and between him and Davis it’s the other Scott Boras client I have more confidence in to contribute.
The Neftali Feliz conundrum takes center stage on Saturday afternoon, when the righthander is slated to pitch next, and given that it will come less than two weeks before Opening Day, you’d have to think after that outing it will be about time for the team to make the starter vs. closer decision once and for all. If he’s going to close, he’ll need to get back into a routine in which his arm is conditioned to work on consecutive days.
Mark Lowe isn’t inspiring much confidence right now that he can step in as the ninth-inning solution should Feliz move into the starting five. We’d have to lean toward Alexi Ogando right now, wouldn’t we?
Ron Washington may have different ideas. Then again, his comment earlier this week that he thinks Jon Daniels will have to go get an established closer from another team if Feliz starts seemed more than anything to be a thinly veiled vote to keep Feliz in the ninth.
Mason Tobin had me pumped on Tuesday when he blew Eric Hosmer away on a fastball up and coaxed a flyout off the bat of Wilson Betemit in a back fields “B” game, but then he served up a loud home run to Mike Moustakas, and I don’t even want to get into his two-thirds of an inning last night against the Padres.
There’s plenty of long-term excitement about 17-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro and 18-year-old righthander David Perez, but the two Rangers prospects generating the most buzz on the back fields this week were righthander Neil Ramirez and third baseman Mike Olt. They’ve had consistently good days in camp, and starred in yesterday’s AA exhibition opener. Ramirez fanned four Royals in two perfect innings, sitting mid-90s and touching 97 while mixing in that good-looking curve. Olt cranked a two-strike home run off Kansas City righthander Leonel Santiago and made at least two tough plays look easy at third, both backhanded 5-3’s during lefthander Robbie Erlin’s clean eight-pitch third inning.
There’s no question in my mind that I had Olt (number 19 in my off-season Top 72) and Ramirez (number 30) too low in my system rankings. Probably ought to cut both those numbers in half, at least.
Righthander Barret Loux worked in the mid-90s in the High A game. Lefthander Martin Perez touched 97 himself but had a shaky two frames (the second of which he failed to complete), as the Royals’ putative AAA squad frequently squared up on him when he wasn’t missing the zone altogether.
Here are some very good photographs from the back fields, courtesy of our own Scott Lucas (including a shot of the one player on my week’s bucket list that I never got to see throw — catcher-turned-picher Leonel “Macumba” De Los Santos): http://pix.scottlucas.com/txr/TXST110316.htm
It’s back to Texas now, with my thoughts momentarily fixed on what Feliz does tomorrow and how it impacts the biggest decision this team has to make over the next two weeks, but more generally trained on the first week in April, when the Rangers host the Red Sox — in the unfamiliar position of being the Hunted. It kinda fired me up to see that Boston manager Terry Francona told reporters this week, regarding his decision to slot Josh Beckett fourth in his rotation after Opening Day assignments the last two years: “I just think watching the way last year unfolded, we want him to get off to a good start. We’ll pitch him in [our second series,] in Cleveland. I think that’s a good place for him to start.”
I’m not used to the idea that other teams, especially formidable ones like Boston, might actually be game-planning around Texas, rather than the other way around. But I like it. I like it very much.
I’ve had a very good week in Surprise, but not any better than Chris Davis, with a birthday grand slam off an All-Star closer highlighting what the optimistic want to see as a month-long party for a player whose potential has proven for the last two years to be outside his grasp, at least at the big league level. The bigger party is two weeks from today, and right now it’s hard to come up with a scenario where Davis is on the invite list, but you have to believe he’s part of an important discussion upstairs every day at this point, and a month ago that’s about all the 25-year-old could have rightfully asked for.