July 2011

Powerful.

There stood JD and Thad, A.J. and Daly and Rodolfo Rosario, and Jim Sundberg.  Boyd and Krug and Bobby Crook and Matt Klotsche.  Scott Littlefield and Kip Fagg and Mike Grouse and John Booher and Randy Taylor.

Ron Washington and every coach on his staff, including Scott Coolbaugh, who stood on the mound.

Nolan Ryan.

A half dozen others from the Rangers’ Baseball Operations and scouting crews were on hand as well, and about a dozen media members, plus 400 kids in the stands competing in the USSSA Baseball World Series, ages 7 through 14, all watching intently as a kid who turned 16 less than three months ago and agreed to turn pro this weekend for a reported $5 million took live BP cuts off Coolbaugh.

Nomar Mazara doesn’t hit right-handed like Juan Gonzalez did, and doesn’t switch-hit like Ruben Sierra Sr. did, but he does hit left-handed like Darryl Strawberry did, and the kid’s sleek frame and easy power – and that recognizable high leg kick – conjured up the names of all three as he barreled up from right center to left center, and back.

Soon joining Mazara and 17-year-old Tyler Coolbaugh (dutifully giving Mazara regular breaks between turns in the cage) was Josh Hamilton, whose swing resembles Mazara’s only in the handedness from which the rifle reports are delivered.

But the handy contrast made me think about what Hamilton must’ve looked like at age 16, or what Mazara will look like in two years, when he’ll be 18, the age at which Hamilton was not only the number one overall pick in the amateur draft but also signed for $3.96 million, at the time (1999) the highest draft bonus ever paid.

And a million bucks less than Texas is paying its newest prospect, a mere two years older than some of the kids in the stands cheering every ball that lifted off his bat or Hamilton’s, especially the ones that Hamilton deposited into the upper porch or Mazara blasted into the home bullpen.

It would be pretty cool if Hamilton is still a productive part of this team when Mazara gets back to Arlington three or four years from now, an admittedly optimistic timetable.

But in the meantime they shared somewhat of a little stage today, hours before Hamilton would be the only Rangers starter to go hitless in a brawny 13-5 win that completed a sweep of the Orioles and put Texas back into sole possession of first place in the West.

A lot has happened since Hamilton was the teenaged kid cutting through all the fanfare to get his career started, and it was a lot different for him, a much higher profile prospect who was two years older than Mazara is, who would report immediately to a stateside minor league team rather than stay back in the invisible Dominican sub-leagues (Mazara won’t even play in the Dominican Summer League this season), and who was immediately crowned as the future of the Tampa Bay franchise, while Mazara arrives instead as the latest key piece in an already-steady pipeline of prime minor league talent that Wednesday’s two dozen attentive Rangers officials have played a large part in building, and sustaining.

Hamilton was built a lot more like Mazara at age 18 than he is today, but I wonder as he watched the kid hit baseballs for the first time as a pro if he was able to remember the time, 11 years ago, when he was that kid himself, dreaming big dreams that he’d eventually achieve, even if not exactly on the path he’d imagined.  Eleven years is a lifetime in pro ball.  For Hamilton, eleven years ago is probably hard to even recall.  But maybe seeing the wide-eyed Mazara, confident but deferential, and absurdly young, brought a couple memories back.

That’s a couple guys pretty happy to be Texas Rangers, even if for very different reasons, but I’m going to go ahead and register my hope that the next time we see a scene like that in Arlington, with Hamilton and Mazara alongside one another and suited up for baseball, it’s with the two left-left monsters holding down the outfield corners and treating opposing pitchers like they were throwing batting practice.

C.J. Wilson’s future.

After C.J. Wilson dealt in Yankee Stadium two and a half weeks ago, a New York Post writer asked the lefty whether the fact that his girlfriend has a place in New York City would factor in when Wilson is deciding this winter where to pitch for the next however-many years of his career.

The writer stopped short of suggesting that it would behoove Wilson to sign with the Yankees, instead making the fair point that “it certainly would make sense for the Yankees to pursue him.”  How would Wilson feel about that?  What’s the most important thing going to be in the decision process?  Money?  Madison Avenue?  Girlfriend’s address?

“Winning,” Wilson said when asked what’s important to him for the future.  “The better the team is behind me.  For instance, in Texas here, obviously we have great offense.  You have Elvis [Andrus] and Adrian [Beltre] on the left side of the infield.  You have [Ian] Kinsler at the right side of the infield.  That’s always great.  For me, that’s what gives me the best chance to win.

“And really when you’re 40 or 50 years old, you’re going to look back on your career and say, ‘This is why I did it and I’m cool with it.’  When I was eight years old, I wanted to win the World Series.  When I was 12 years old, I wanted to win the World Series.  It’s just always going to be that.  It’s always going to be the deciding factor, one way or the other.”

I’ve known Wilson for almost 10 years now.  I remember the guy who believed with 101 percent certainty that Tommy John surgery wasn’t going to threaten his ability to get past AA, but only delay his inevitable arrival in the big leagues.  He wasn’t exactly the same guy at age 21 as he is at 31, but he’s probably changed less than you think.

The moment I thought about this morning when word broke that he’ll be going to his first All-Star Game in a week was back on August 5, 2008, when he was brought in to protect an 8-2 lead against the Yankees, and gave up a walk, hit a batter, got a strikeout, walked another, and served up a Richie Sexson grand slam to left center, prompting Ron Washington to come get the ball . . . and to physically yank Wilson back onto the mound after the closer casually flipped the ball his way as he was still walking in the pitcher’s direction.

It turned out to be Wilson’s final act on the field in 2008.  He had surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow days later, but not before apologizing to his manager and teammates behind closed doors.

I thought about that striking moment on the mound and the fact that it was Washington who unilaterally chose Wilson this morning to go with him to Arizona next week as an American League All-Star.  The man who – rightfully so – prompted what had to be Wilson’s most embarrassing moment as a ballplayer, the culmination of the most miserable year of Wilson’s big league career, that same man not only told Wilson this morning that he was an All-Star, but in fact was the man who made it happen.

That thought stuck with me for seven innings tonight.  Washington’s night had ended before Wilson’s did, and Texas was nursing a 2-1 lead, but the game still felt in control the way Wilson had artistically pitched.  I was sort of shocked that, with one out in the eighth and a Marlin on third, that he was lifted – having thrown 96 pitches, his lowest pitch count all year – for Mark Lowe, but OK.

Then, watching things unravel like they did that inning, my thoughts drifted from that August 2008 moment and toward the Post article.

I’m not suggesting that anything that happened tonight will have convinced C.J. Wilson that he can’t win in Texas, not after he pitched for this team in the ALDS and ALCS and World Series nine months ago.  He’s going to pitch for this team in the playoffs again this year.

But I hate it when my team (whether I’m watching, coaching, or playing) loses games like tonight’s was lost.

I seriously hope that when C.J. takes the ball this Friday night, in Arlington against Oakland and Gio Gonzalez, that he pitches as well as he did tonight, that the defense is crisp, that the offense does big damage, that the building is sold out like it was tonight and that he nails down his ninth victory and that his club is still in first place as it has been every day since May 16.

That’s the buzz I want C.J. Wilson riding as he lands in Phoenix, basking in the vibe of the world’s best baseball players and all the national media, feeling like a winner on a winning team and wanting to be here the rest of his career, imagining that when he’s 40 or 50 years old, he’ll look back on his career and say Texas was the right decision, for the right reasons, and that he’s cool with it.

</melodramatic overreaction after one really crummy loss>

</a slam dunk still counts as only two points>

Happy J2.

There are rampant reports this morning, national and local, all generating from an initial tweet from Enrique Rojas of ESPN, that Texas will sign 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Nomar Mazara for a $5 million bonus, which would be the largest ever given to a Latin American amateur, outdistancing the $4.25 million that Oakland gave righthander Michael Ynoa three years ago.

Mazara, a 6’4” L/L prospect, is said to have extraordinarily prodigious power potential (which is ahead of his hit tool) and projects defensively to play on a corner.  Baseball America had him ranked number 10 on its list of what it expected this year’s Latin American class members to sign for (that is, it’s not a talent-based ranking but one tied to expected price tag).  Among the teams Rojas said were “in battles until the last minute” with Texas on Mazara were the Red Sox, A’s, and Mets.  The Blue Jays were also linked to him.

Rojas also tweets that the Rangers are close to signing Ronald Guzman, a 6’5” L/L Dominican outfielder whom Boston and Toronto had been linked to as well.  BA expected Guzman (who, along with outfielder Elier Hernandez, “have been the two highest-profile prospects in Latin America for July 2, with scouts split on which of the two is the better prospect”) to fetch the number two signing bonus in this yar’s class.  (Sports Illustrated is reporting that Guzman agreed to something in the $3.3 million neighborhood.)  And BA ties Texas to a handful of other Latin American free agents as well.

The addition of Leonys Martin, Mazara, and Guzman to this system, not to mention supplemental first-rounder Zach Cone (and maybe sixth-round pick Derek Fisher, who apparently wants first-round money not to go to the University of Virginia and will have to decide whether to turn pro over the next six weeks), obviously overhauls the organization’s outfield prospect inventory dramatically.

Speaking of which, for those questioning why Texas didn’t use pick 33 or 37 on Jesuit high school outfielder Josh Bell a month ago, the Rangers appear to be on the verge of bringing both Mazara and Guzman into the system for about what Bell alone was said to be demanding – if he was going to sign at all, rather than going to the University of Texas.

The Mazara-Guzman outfield infusion, if the reports are accurate, has the feel of the Rangers adding the J2 shortstop duo of Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas in 2009, with higher stakes.  It builds depth, it adds potentially big bats to a system relatively light on those, it makes it a little easier to part with minor league outfield talent in trades if something along those lines is being considered.

We’ve been used to the strength of this organization’s scouting efforts in Latin America for years, and now we’re getting a good look at the new ownership group’s financial commitment to that part of the program, starting two months ago with Martin and continuing today, as Texas is apparently on the verge of making as big a splash in this year’s J2 class as any franchise in baseball.

A trade.

This morning’s report finished up this way:

The opener of the second 81 games got underway last night in far different fashion from the opener of the first 81, but I choose to dump memory of Houston 7, Texas 0 and focus on what feels like a huge game tonight, not because the struggling Marlins are coming in but because Alexi Ogando gets the ball and an opportunity to calm fears that he’s hit an insurmountable wall. 

With O’Day and Feldman and Hunter each likely coming back sometime this month, the staff is about to take on a different look, probably one impacted not only by activations off rehab but by trades as well . . . .  The nature of how all of that shakes out, though, is dependent in part on whether Ogando continues to get the ball every fifth day or if he’s instead headed back to the eighth inning, and the next data set to be fed into that evaluation comes in less than 12 hours, the first game of what it unquestionably going to be a fascinating month for this franchise.

We all know the reason that Alexi Ogando got the ball on April 5th and roughly every fifth day since then is that Tommy Hunter got hurt in camp, again, foiling the blueprint that had Ogando owning the eighth inning in 2011 the way he did in 2010, with Hunter once again holding down a spot in the back of the rotation.

Instead, Ogando is tied for a first-place team’s lead in wins, while Hunter may be on the verge of claiming the role that was supposed to belong to Ogando.

A closer for part of his draft year at the University of Alabama, Hunter has one big league relief appearance – a manufactured two-batter effort on September 28 last year as the club was getting its playoff rotation in order – and had only two other pro appearances out of the bullpen since his draft year (his first two games pitched in 2009 for AA Frisco).

But he’s going to have another on or before his 25th birthday (this Sunday), and if reports from Round Rock were accurate – that Hunter touched 96-97 on Thursday, mixing in a cutter at 90-91 – the eighth inning could be his before long.

In which case we can stop monitoring the trade rumors involving take-a-chance options like Todd Coffey (.385/.433/.577 slash in his last five appearances).

As eager as I was to see what Ogando had in his bag tonight, I may be even more fired up to see what Hunter looks like chugging in from the pen, getting all vicious in short doses.

That could change this thing.  A lot.

Pouring out the 40.

If you’ve ever bought the book, you know that it’s broken into month-by-month chapters, each of which begins with a snapshot of the 40-man roster on the first day of that particular month.

It struck me this morning as I plugged the roster in to begin the July 2011 chapter that it could look very different when I paste it in again on August 1.

 

July 2011

40-MAN ROSTER (40)

PITCHERS (22)

Dave Bush, Fabio Castillo, Miguel De Los Santos, Cody Eppley, Scott Feldman, Neftali Feliz, Wilmer Font, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Eric Hurley, Michael Kirkman, Colby Lewis, Mark Lowe, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver, Zach Phillips, Arthur Rhodes, Pedro Strop, Yoshinori Tateyama, Ryan Tucker, C.J. Wilson

CATCHERS (2)

Taylor Teagarden, Yorvit Torrealba

INFIELDERS (8)

Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Andres Blanco, Chris Davis, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, Michael Young

OUTFIELDERS (8)

Engel Beltre, Julio Borbon, Endy Chavez, Nelson Cruz, Craig Gentry, Josh Hamilton, Leonys Martin, David Murphy

60-DAY DISABLED LIST (4)

Omar Beltre, Darren O’Day, Mason Tobin, Brandon Webb

 

Someone will need to be dropped when O’Day is activated.   You could move Wilmer Font to the 60-day disabled list.  You could end the Dave Bush Era.  You could run someone through waivers in an attempt to outright his contract, Ryan Tucker perhaps being the most appropriate candidate (though when you get past the 5.04 ERA, the AAA numbers don’t look too bad).

If Chris Davis is coming back, a possibility (probability?) that has been rumored the past couple days both locally and nationally, no 40-man roster move will be needed, but if the active roster casualty is Endy Chavez, then he has to come off the 40 by virtue of being out of options.

Then there’s Arthur Rhodes, who is now pitching mop-up innings in 7-0 losses.  Then again, even though his seven appearances in the last four weeks have come in six losses, over that span he hasn’t given up a run in 4.2 innings (though two of five inherited runners have scored).  Still, he has to be part of the roster-trimming conversation.

And from now until August 1 is trading season, of course.  A year ago today, Texas added Bengie Molina and subtracted Chris Ray from the 40-man roster, which over the course of the month was also stripped of Justin Smoak, Brandon McCarthy (60-day disabled list), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia while taking on Cliff Lee, Mitch Moreland, Jorge Cantu, Cristian Guzman, and – temporarily – Mark Lowe (who was acquired July 9 but moved to the 60-day disabled list on July 29 to create a spot for Cantu).

If Tanner Scheppers comes up sometime this month, which can’t be ruled out, someone else will have to come off, but that’s a different situation from adding a veteran starter or reliever or two, trades for whom could involve players on the 40.

Davis?  Julio Borbon?  Taylor Teagarden?

Kirkman?  Strop?

E.Beltre?  Castillo?  De Los Santos?

Torrealba?

Murphy?

There’s obviously a much deeper inventory of prospects that selling teams will be asking about, and that list will include players who will need to go on the 40-man roster this winter.  Texas won’t make room on the roster for more than three or four of Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, Matt West, Roman Mendez, Jose Felix, Jake Brigham, Joseph Ortiz, Johan Yan, Tomas Telis, Chad Tracy, Mike Bianucci, Wilfredo Boscan, Mark Hamburger, Carlos Pimentel, Trevor Hurley, Justin Miller, Tyler Tufts, Ben Snyder, Corey Young, Ryan Kelly, Geuris Grullon, Kasey Kiker, Jonathan Greene, Kennil Gomez, Ovispo De Los Santos, and Macumba, and just like Josh Lueke, Matt Lawson, Ryan Tatusko, and Evan Reed a year ago, players in that procedural situation are going to be involved in trade discussions, at least from the Rangers’ standpoint.

The opener of the second 81 games got underway last night in far different fashion from the opener of the first 81, but I choose to dump memory of Houston 7, Texas 0 and focus on what feels like a huge game tonight, not because the struggling Marlins are coming in but because Alexi Ogando gets the ball and an opportunity to calm fears that he’s hit an insurmountable wall.

With O’Day and Feldman and Hunter each likely coming back sometime this month, the staff is about to take on a different look, probably one impacted not only by activations off rehab but by trades as well (I’m not holding my breath that Scott Kazmir will ever show up in Arlington, even if Texas signs him after a recent audition).  The nature of how all of that shakes out, though, is dependent in part on whether Ogando continues to get the ball every fifth day or if he’s instead headed back to the eighth inning, and the next data set to be fed into that evaluation comes in less than 12 hours, the first game of what it unquestionably going to be a fascinating month for this franchise.

 

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