May 2011

Hang in v.2.

Way back on October 27, 2010, Texas had already plated one in the first inning (on a Vladimir Guerrero infield single) and another in the second (on an Elvis Andrus sacrifice fly) off Tim Lincecum, staking Cliff Lee to a 2-0 lead on the road in Game One of the World Series, by time the Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Bobcats tipped off their 2010-11 season at American Airlines Center, 1,700 miles and a full state of awareness away.  The Mavs box score says the opener sold out, but I suspect it was the emptiest sellout in club history.

This morning, the Mavericks season’s opener seems so far away, and of course so does the World Series, for an entirely different reason.  For that matter, things have changed radically for the Mavs since just two weeks ago, when they blew a 23-point third quarter lead in the Portland series, leading talk show game-planners to kick off discussions about Rick Carlisle’s job security, and for the Rangers since three-and-a-half weeks back, when they busted out to a 9-1 start on the season.

The Mavs bandwagon probably started to look like the October 27 AAC crowd after the Portland disaster, and there’s probably a bit of a LOFO phenomenon going on with Rangers bandwagoners who can’t take another minute of the 8-15 run the club is on since Josh Hamilton got hurt.

Texas has been without Hamilton for most of the season and without Neftali Feliz for nearly half of it, has one healthy regular hitting as much as .270, is getting a .207/.307/.360 slash out of Ian Kinsler since Game Three (h/t Joey Matches) and a .187/.272/.308 slash out of Nelson Cruz since Game Four, has the league’s worst defense by some measures, used its 17th pitcher four weeks into the season (compared to 22 all year in 2010), and has had only two consistent starting pitchers, one of whom has a recurring blister issue that regularly threatens to cut his work short if not cost him a start altogether and who some feel needs to be back in the beleaguered bullpen anyway.

And in spite of all of that, the Rangers are two games out of first in the West, one win off last year’s pace, and starting to get a little healthier.

Would we rather be the Twins (8.5 games out) or the White Sox (11 games out), thought by most to be the class of the AL Central this year?

Or the Red Sox, everybody’s Best Team in the World after the haymaker they threw this winter, bringing up the rear in the AL East and getting as much production out of $142 million man Carl Crawford (.200/.244/.275) as they are out of momentary catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.200/.246/.277), and paying $15.25 million per year for the 7.16 ERA and .900 opponents’ OPS that John Lackey is giving them?

Or the Brewers, who have the National League’s worst record and one start out of Zack Greinke?

Or the Mets?

Dallas trailed the Lakers by seven with five minutes to go last night and won by six.  If your stomach for the fight has you tugging on the cord for the baseball bandwagon to pull over and let you off, when there’s still time left in the first quarter of this baseball season, I suppose there will still be room to climb back on down the road.

But if you’d done that in the Mavs-Blazers series, or last year with the Rangers – which a certain segment might have done – you’d have missed some of the best stuff, seeing a team fight back from a flagging set of vital signs before the bandwagon even started up its engines.

One of the things I tweeted last night was that playoff intensity is 90 percent of the return on investment for caring as much about sports as a lot of us do.  The post-season’s even more intense – and rewarding – if you were around for the battle to get there, especially when things looked bleakest.

What is Leonys Martin?

Many of you, for the last four weeks, have emailed me, asking for a detailed report on Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin.

What is he?  When will he be here?  

Is he worth the money?  What does it mean for Julio?  What does it mean for Engel?  

How excited should I be?

Here’s the thing: I’m not a scout, and so when I see a baseball player play baseball, whether it’s for three 108-degree innings on the back fields during Fall Instructs, or every day for three years in a Rangers uniform, I’m hopeful that you recognize that I’m just giving you an unqualified opinion that’s no more authoritative or foundationed than your own.

And I’ve never seen Leonys Martin play.

So understand I’m not going to offer a comp, or forecast a timetable, or try to paint much of a picture here.

I could tell you he hit .398/.497/.564 in Cuba in 2007-08, followed by .311/.491/.492 in 2008-09 and .326/.438/.497 in 2009-2010, and I suppose you’d sort of get an idea.  No telling how competitive the league was, but that sort of separation between average and on-base at least suggests an offensive player who will make pitchers throw strikes.

I could recycle notes like:

  • One scout telling Buster Olney (ESPN) that Martin reminds him of Juan Pierre with a better arm.
  • Another scout telling Peter Gammons (MLB.com) that the better comp is Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Eric Nadel, who has seen Martin play, comparing his game to Kenny Lofton’s.
  • Jim Callis (Baseball America) projecting Martin behind fellow Cuban defector Jose Iglesias but ahead of Dayan Viciedo and Adeiny Hechavarria, and predicting that Martin, not Julio Borbon or Engel Beltre, is the Rangers’ center fielder of the future.
  • Danny Knobler (CBSSports.com) suggesting that Martin “probably would have been the first position player taken” had he been available in this June’s draft, considered one of the strongest crops in years.  Gammons hearing something more along the lines of the middle-to-late first round.
  • The rough consensus that Martin is a plus runner and thrower, contrasted with differences of opinion on the hit tool, but a player who grades out well on makeup, court sense, and the ability to make adjustments.

But until we see how Martin fares against pro competition stateside, even if only at the AA level to start out, these types of descriptions are probably only slightly more reliable than the dual sources who told Gammons that the Red Sox offered the 23-year-old less than $2 million to sign and Knobler that Boston’s offer was actually $12 million (and one of two bids that were apparently close behind the prevailing Texas offer).

That’s not to discount any of those notes.  I want as many of them as I can get.

But right now Leonys Martin’s game is basically a rumor.  A pretty exciting rumor.  He’s a player that Texas (Jose Fernandez and Mike Daly and Don Welke and A.J. Preller and Jon Daniels and others) believed was worth a big league contract as an amateur, a first for the Rangers since they gave one to the 2007 supplemental first-rounder Borbon, who’s now on clear notice if he wasn’t already that the organization has a contingency plan if he doesn’t advance his game fairly soon.  And even that’s probably putting it lightly.  You don’t pay what’s reported to be a $5 million signing bonus and commit another $10.5 million over a five-year stretch that will begin in the minor leagues to a player you merely view as insurance.  Borbon may take the next step, but if he does and Martin develops the way Texas expects him to, Borbon probably becomes a trade piece.

And that would be the optimal result: Martin forcing his way to Arlington and Borbon putting himself on other teams’ target lists.  As for Beltre?  He’s in extended with Martin right now, serving out a suspension while Martin gets his timing down, and if both are bound soon for Frisco, it’s going to be Martin who gets most of the center field assignments, with Beltre sliding to a corner.

I know next to nothing about the Rangers’ newest roster member, a left-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing leadoff candidate under contract for the next five seasons and under club control for at least two more after that.

But I know that the Rangers have earned my trust with their scouting efforts and my adrenaline with their relentless resourcefulness, and if they believe Leonys Martin, the latest example of the organization expanding both its global reach and its pipeline of premium depth, is worth the major commitment that ownership has stepped up to cover, then I’m good.

Scattershooting.

Scattershooting while wondering how I’m going to come to terms with reports that Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria each had walkoff hits last night, one hour and 250 miles apart, bucking my nagging suspicion that they were the same dude . . . .

Interesting reaction to the hypothetical trade scenario I threw out there late Friday night (Pedro Strop and Leury Garcia for Luke Gregerson).  Got about 80 responses, split almost down the middle, with plenty weighing in at the extremes (“Yes, in a heartbeat” . . . “No way I’d subtract a current reliever, especially one with Strop’s upside”).

Regardless of what your temperature is regarding this team right now, realize that Texas has the American League’s third-best record at 16-11.  The Rangers were 11-12 in the opening month last year, half a game out of first in the AL West and in third place before going on a run that ended in the World Series.  Meanwhile, San Francisco is 13-13 right now, 4.5 games back in its division.

But I get it.  The angst is less over any particular loss or series, and more about the bullpen and a couple starters and the center field issue.  Things have gone on long enough that I guess we pretty much need to accept that Nelson Cruz is the new (and improved) Dean Palmer, good for a massive streak or two each season on both ends of the spectrum, and that many of Ian Kinsler’s outs are going to travel with much more height than length, and that going into a season we’ll never be able to mark Josh Hamilton down for 150 games.  But other areas aren’t so plainly ordained.

Colby Lewis, for instance, pushed the needle back in the opposite direction yesterday, contrary to what Matt Harrison did last time out.  The young lefthander has the chance to turn things back around himself this afternoon, faced on the mound by Gio Gonzalez, who has thrived against Texas in his career, not that Adrian Beltre (7 for 13 off Gonzalez lifetime, with two home runs, seven RBI, and no strikeouts) cares.

For that matter, expect to see Julio Borbon in the lineup, even though Gonzalez is left-handed.  Borbon is 4 for 7 off him.

Buster Olney (ESPN) points out that yesterday’s 11-2 Texas win was the first game all year in which Oakland or its opponent scored in double digits.

Neftali Feliz threw 28 pitches off the bullpen mound in Oakland yesterday and will throw again tomorrow.  He’s eligible for activation in time for Friday’s series opener in Arlington against the Yankees.  What isn’t yet clear is whether the Rangers will have him throw a minor inning somewhere before then.

Tommy Hunter threw 42 pitches over three innings of an extended spring training game yesterday.  Five strikeouts, no walks, no pain.  A rehab assignment could be imminent.

Brandon Webb’s numbers looked fine in his own three-inning extended spring stint (43 pitches, three strikeouts, no walks, two hits, two unearned runs), but for the second straight outing he reportedly sat 78-81 mph, a troublesome range.

The Rangers signed journeyman right-handed reliever Justin Miller to fortify the AAA Round Rock bullpen, giving them a right-handed reliever named Justin Miller at each of the top two levels in the system.

The Texas League suspended Frisco outfielder Engel Beltre for 15 games for his role in an altercation between San Antonio Missions fans and RoughRiders players at the end of Tuesday afternoon’s game between the two clubs.  Beltre reportedly threw a trash can into the stands during the altercation.

San Antonio’s promotion that day?  If you look at the Missions website, you’ll notice that it was “Cricket $2 Tuesday” – $2 tickets, $2 parking, and $2 beer.  For an 11:00 a.m. game.

But that’s no excuse.  Beltre deserved the suspension.  He has to be better than that.  A lot better.

Beltre is serving the suspension in Surprise, where Hunter and Webb are getting their work in, and where converted third baseman Matt West has now been clocked at 99 mph off the mound.  This is a story.

Guess whose offense has the fewest strikeouts in Major League Baseball.

Texas, and it’s not particularly close.  The Rangers have fanned only 139 times (only four teams in baseball have played more games than the Rangers, and 13 teams have played fewer).  The next-smallest total is 155 (Minnesota), and the league average is 188, with eight clubs in the 200’s.

The Rangers have the third-highest OPS (.806) in baseball.

Tanner Scheppers has now been on the seven-day AAA disabled list (his second stint of the season) for two weeks.  Not sure how soon he’s expected to return to the mound, having been limited thus far by lower back weakness to one outing (back on April 16).

Mark Lowe so far with Round Rock: three runs (3.68 ERA) on six hits (.214 opponents’ average) and four walks in 7.1 innings, nine strikeouts, 3.33 groundout-to-flyout rate, two inherited runners both stranded.  With a guy like that, actual scouting is critical, but to the extent that the numbers matter, they aren’t terrible.  Lowe says he’d recognized an issue with the manner in which he’d been coming set with his front shoulder, and is now working off that adjustment.

I haven’t seen anything definitive on when Michael Young’s 10-5 rights kick in (10 years of big league service, the last five with the same team, triggering full trade veto rights as long as he’s with that team), but the two most popular guesses have been May 7 and May 8, which are next weekend.

The Rangers will have a Dominican Summer League entry despite ending their five-year association with former big league reliever Solomon Torres and leaving the new San Pedro de Macoris academy they’d been in since it opened in 2006.  Texas will work out of Boca Chica for now while exploring a more permanent arrangement going forward, while the Brewers will move into the Torres facility.

Have I mentioned that Oakland moved Rich Harden to its 60-day disabled list?

Revisiting something we talked about three weeks ago:

Vernon Wells ($20.25 million of the Angels’ money per year for the next four years): .174/.216/.248, one home run, five walks and 22 strikeouts in 109 at-bats.

Mike Napoli ($5.8 million this year): .267/.431/.733, six home runs, 13 walks and eight strikeouts in 45 at-bats.

Adrian Beltre ($16 million over the next five or six years): .269/.306/.529, seven home runs, four walks and 10 strikeouts in 104 at-bats.

Question: If Napoli keeps producing like this, do you go to arbitration with him this winter?

A factor in that: I still think there’s a decent chance Texas trades Young this winter, which because of his 10-5 rights would basically mean he requested a deal to another team.

Among players who qualify, Jose Bautista leads baseball in home run frequency this season, going deep once every 9.1 at-bats.

Napoli sits at one homer every 7.5 at-bats.

Vladimir Guerrero hasn’t walked this season.  In 104 plate appearances.

Myrtle Beach lefthander Robbie Erlin is number three on this week’s installment of Baseball America’s Hot Sheet, on the heels of his scoreless seven-inning, 10-strikeout effort (two singles, no walks) on Monday.

The Rangers apparently signed undrafted second baseman Humberto Miranda to a minor league deal.  The BA note says Miranda played at Longwood, but I think he was at Northwood University in Cedar Hill, earning first-team All-Conference honors from the Red River Athletic Conference in 2010.  Looks like he was coaching with the Knights this spring before signing with the Rangers.

Houston designated infielder Joe Inglett for assignment.

Zack Greinke makes his Milwaukee debut on Wednesday.  Keep an eye on the Brewers’ record (currently 13-13, 2.5 games back in the NL Central and 3.5 back in the Wild Card standings).

Kevin Millwood has opted out of his minor league deal with the Yankees.

Boston hired Bill Haselman to serve as its assistant minor league catching instructor.

The Fort Worth Cats of the independent Northern League signed third baseman Travis Metcalf and catcher Johnathon Moore, son of Rangers bench coach Jackie Moore and the club’s 45th-round pick last June.  He hit .364 in limited duties with the Arizona League squad last summer.

From earlier this week, this is my favorite independent league agate type in a long time:

Frontier League

Florence Freedom: Signed C Jonathan Cisneros and SS Chris Curley.

River City Rascals: Signed C Jonathan Cisneros and SS Chris Curley.

TCU draft-eligible sophomore lefthander Matt Purke, recently shut down with shoulder soreness, was diagnosed with bursitis and cleared to return to the mound.

San Francisco minor league first baseman Joe Koshansky, who was on the Rangers’ 40-man roster for five days in 2009, went 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts in an 18-inning AA game last night.

Says Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein: “I have no idea what kind of hat that is.”

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