February 2012

Leap.

This is the fourth Leap Day in the life of the Newberg Report, which has lasted through three Rangers General Managers, four managers, three ownership groups, three Darren Oliver stints, and two Julio Santana’s, and is older than the word “blog.”

The February 29, 2000 Newberg Report passed along breaking news that the Rangers had made their first foray into the Cuban defector market, signing 24-year-old second baseman Spider Diaz and 25-year-old third baseman Osmani Garcia.  After having offered righthander Danys Baez $3.5 million several months earlier, before Cleveland gave him $14.5 million over four years, Texas landed Diaz and Garcia for a combined $75,000.  Diaz lasted one year in the system (mostly at High Class A), and Garcia played parts of both of his two Rangers seasons at the AAA level.

Also noted in that report was that Spike Lundberg had filed the latest installment of his Back Fields Diary.

The lead in the February 29, 2004 Newberg Report was that lefthander A.J. Murray needed shoulder surgery.  Tucked toward the end were notes that: (1) Juan Gonzalez was a no-show on the first day of Kansas City Royals camp in Surprise; (2) a company called Ameriquest was the frontrunner to acquire the naming rights to The Ballpark in Arlington; (3) C.J. Wilson had posted a Back Fields Diary entry; and (4) I wished Progresso pizza sauce, Marathon bars, and pineapple pink grapefruit juice were still around.

The February 29, 2008 Newberg Report was only 78 words long:

Nolan Ryan has officially signed his contract to serve as Rangers team president, and the deal is for four years.  Tom Hicks also extended general manager Jon Daniels’s deal by two years, so that his, like Ryan’s, now extends through the 2011 season.

This comment comes from Ryan: “We think Jon is very capable as a GM.  And we want to establish a working relationship that is going to be a long-term relationship.  He’s thorough, passionate and intelligent.”

A lot of filler until the Ryan/Daniels note.  So what’s out there today that has any substance?

The rotation sequence for the start of exhibition play has been announced as Colby Lewis (Scott Feldman in relief), Derek Holland (Alexi Ogando in relief), Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, and Neftali Feliz.  But local reports suggest not to assume anything from that arrangement – for one thing, the club may prefer not to show lefthanders Holland and Harrison back to back.

One local report suggested Feliz’s BP session against Josh Hamilton, David Murphy, and Nelson Cruz wasn’t great, while others reported that the club was encouraged, especially with the progress of his changeup (and the righthander’s attitude about working as a starter).

Feliz and Darvish could pitch Friday in an intrasquad game.  Darvish is scheduled to face the Padres on March 7, a game that originally wasn’t among those which would be broadcast back to Texas (in fact, it was going to be the only one of the Rangers’ first eight games without TV, radio, or a webcast) – but that game will now in fact be webcast.

It will also be televised in Japan.

I saw footage of Darvish getting in his customary left-handed work the other day.  It’s crazy how smooth his southpaw mechanics look.  And Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker notes that he’s touched 86 from the left side, which is sorta depressing, since that’s the highest I was clocked in high school, when I thought I threw pretty hard – with my throwing arm.

Ogando’s getting early raves.  Michael Kirkman, too.

Lefthander Joe Beimel (elbow) and righthander Matt West (shoulder) missed throwing sessions, with varying degrees of meaninglessness between which my preference for the extinct Progresso stuff probably sits.  For now, maybe a little more concern is warranted as far as the veteran Beimel is concerned.  But maybe not.

According to a note that Jeff Wilson had in Baseball America, the Rangers have told righthander Tanner Scheppers that they’re not looking at him as a starting pitcher any more.  He’s probably behind West but has all the potential to take a step forward and make himself a key bullpen factor soon.

Bengie Molina (Angels), Kenny Rogers (Tigers), and Kenny Lofton (Indians) are in camp with their former clubs as special instructors.

Joe Strauss (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) writes that the Cardinals – one of the two teams (along with Texas) that Roy Oswalt apparently wants to pitch for – increased their offer to the righthander from $3 million to $5 million before he decided to wait until someone gets more desperate, either later in the spring or sometime during the season.

My Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived in the mail.  The publication ranks the Rangers farm system number 2 in baseball (behind the Nationals), and that was before the signing of Darvish (whom BA considers a prospect for the purpose of their rankings).  Texas was ranked number 15, number 4, number 1, and number 2 the previous four years.

BA has the Mariners at number 9 (up from 18), the Angels at number 18 (down from 16), and the A’s at number 26 (up from 28), though that was before the Gio Gonzalez trade or Yoenis Cespedes signing.

BA’s Top 100 prospects features Darvish (4th overall), Jurickson Profar (7), Martin Perez (31), Mike Olt (43), Leonys Martin (79), and surprise entry Christian Villanueva (100).

Also receiving votes were Neil Ramirez (who appeared on all eight ballots, which each went 150 players deep, and was as high as number 60 on one ballot), Cody Buckel (two ballots, high of number 126), and Jorge Alfaro (one ballot, high of number 131).

The Rangers and Padres (along with the A’s and Cardinals) led with six players each on the Top 100, not including Ramirez (who was among nine players who just missed the list) or Padres lefthander Robbie Erlin or righthander Joe Wieland (each of whom landed on seven ballots).  The Rangers, Cardinals, and Yankees each had six players on the list whom they’d originally signed, most in the league.

Washington lefthander Matt Purke and Boston righthander Anthony Ranaudo missed the Top 100 but were named on six ballots each.

BA’s John Manuel puts Profar in a mix along with Washington’s Anthony Rendon, Seattle’s Taijuan Walker, and Minnesota’s Miguel Sano for candidates to be the game’s top prospect a year from now.

The Spokane Indians are auctioning off a bunch of game-used jerseys, including those of Profar, Olt, Alfaro, Robbie Ross, and Rougned Odor, with bidding underway and set to close Friday at 4:00 Central.  Click here for more details.

The Eric Nadel Birthday Benefit, benefiting CONTACT (a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people facing daily life-challenges) and To Write Love on Her Arms (a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide), will feature singer-songwriter Daphne Willis on May 24 at The Kessler.  Tickets are only $10 and $20.  You can find more details here or at www.thekessler.org.

Here we go.

After a long winter of preparations, all the mental transitions to spring locked in when, at long last, we could see the players in uniform and in cleats and in one place.  No more talking or planning or visualizing.  All things coming into focus, like that pixilated Polaroid in “No Way Out.”  Baseball time.

On Friday night, Elite 7U took on Momentum 8U (throw out the records), and came away with a 20-14 win.  Saturday: 14-13 in Game One against the Apaches (after being down, 12-1), and 18-1 in Game Two against the same bunch.

Today, Sunday morning: The Rangers will have their first full squad workout of the 2012 season, after Ron Washington addresses the troops.  Word is he won’t spend much time, if any, on Game 6 or Game 7, not that you’d expect anything different.  Jon Daniels left 2011 in the visitors’ dugout in St. Louis and moved on, most notably at the top of the rotation and the back of the bullpen, and we have enough track record on the guys in uniform to know they moved on long before any of us were able to.

Yu Darvish has something far different to move on from, and while I haven’t watched any video of Jurickson Profar, Ryan Strausborger, Jake Skole, and Leury Garcia tracking his pitches or Mike Olt, Skole, and possibly Hanser Alberto attempting to hit off him, I’ve gotta be honest: Just seeing stills and footage of Darvish wearing Rangers blue and white instead of charcoal gray with a blue tie, and reading that he’s already joking around with teammates (in English – and Spanish) instead of holing himself up with an entourage or answering presser questions about whether he’s tried Texas barbecue . . . that’s all the awesomeness I needed from him for right now.

But, yeah, hearing Olt tell reporters Saturday after his live BP session against Darvish that he’s “never seen anybody make the ball move like that” was pretty great.  And while Skole, the 2010 first-rounder, is only 20 years old with no experience over Low Class A, reading that every BP pitch Darvish threw him ended up in Yorvit Torrealba’s mitt paints a picture I look forward to seeing for myself.

I wish someone asked Santiago Chirino what Neftali Feliz’s stuff looked like.  But there’s time.

There’s always that short list of pitchers who get the “impressing early in camp” tag.  Always.  And when the talk is generated from bullpen sessions and a dozen pitches with a Class A hitter in the box, the sensible reaction is to not react.

But, yeah, I kinda like it that three of the names being mentioned in that context are Koji Uehara and Martin Perez and Wilmer Font, each for a different reason.

I have no interest in reading (or writing) about Josh Hamilton’s contract or who owes whom.  None.  (Though his comment this morning that, when he reaches free agency eight and a half months from now, he’ll give Texas the first opportunity to sign him does resonate a bit.)

But the apparent fact that he’s come to camp 15 pounds lighter and feels no residual effects of his off-season sports hernia surgery, I’m into that.  I’m a lot more zeroed in on what Hamilton can do for the Rangers in 2012 than what (and where) he’ll be a year from now.

Same with Mike Napoli and his ankle, and his contract.

Soon, I’ll profess my boredom with camp workouts and eagerness for games against people in other uniforms.  Soon after that, I’ll be weary of Cactus League games and ache for April and the games that count.

But now?  It’s all good.

As I watched three intense Little League games the last two days, with the kind of normally out-of-place chill in the air that feels a little more familiar now that we’re growing accustomed to late-October baseball in Texas, it reminded me that ever since a few months into fatherhood, I wondered what I ever worried about before and I couldn’t remember what it felt like not to be a Dad.

I’m happy to say that, this morning, as Wash gets ready to do what he does in a room full of Texas Rangers ballplayers and coaches and nobody else, in a way the fully official start to the 2012 season, I can’t remember what it felt like when every single Texas Rangers season ended in some degree of irrelevance, leaving me after a long baseball-less winter hoping desperately (and, I knew at some level deep down, probably uselessly) that it might be about to change.

Because all of that has changed.

A lot.

Bring it.

Pitching & the Texas Rangers.

While you can flip around the Web and immerse yourself in all things Yu this morning, let me offer up Reason No. 3,411 that this is a different era in Texas Rangers baseball.

The franchise that tried but failed to bring Roy Halladay, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Johan Santana, Mike Hampton, Matt Morris, Dave Stewart, Doug Drabek, Jimmy Key, and Greg Swindell and others to Arlington is now a franchise that tells good Major League starting pitchers who want to pitch here, “No, thanks.  Not interested right now.”

And that’s an awesome thing.

Roy Oswalt has decided not to sign with anyone, for now.

He wanted to be a Ranger and wanted to be a Cardinal, but he didn’t want a bullpen spot and neither team wanted to pay him $10 million (like the Tigers had reportedly offered to).

Instead, he’ll conduct his own personal spring training, keeping his arm and legs in shape on his own, and hope for a phone call sometime between now and whenever from a team that finds itself needing a starter, even if it’s well into the season.  And he’s hoping that call will come from one of last year’s World Series clubs.

It’s such a radically different time for this franchise, in so many ways.

Don’t forget that Eric Nadel will DJ at 1 p.m. today on public music radio station KXT-FM 91.7.  You can listen live at http://kxt.org/listen/.

Thanks for the early sales on the e-Book project.  First 48 hours: 900 copies sold.  That’s cool.  Appreciate it.

If you need some weekend reading, it may hold you down a while.  Details here.

It even includes a whole section on the five-year pursuit of Darvish, in case you find yourself suffering from Yu-withdrawals.

“JD: Building the Team That Built a Winner”: Now available.

Pitchers & Catchers in the morning.

But before one final sleep, you can now go to www.newbergreport.com and order “JD: Building the Team That Built a Winner,” the project that I’ve been working on since September.  I’m pretty sure things are working from a technical standpoint, because about 50 copies have already sold in the last hour or so.

The e-Book is a look at Jon Daniels and his team of advisors and scouting and player development officials who make up the Rangers’ formidable baseball operations group.  The feature digs into where many of them came from and how, in coming together, they’ve helped change the fortunes of a franchise that had never won.  It includes a focus on the philosophies and objectives that drive the group and a detailed look at the club’s fortunes on the trade market since Daniels was made the franchise’s eighth General Manager after the 2005 season.

It’s about 31,000 words (reference point: 65 pages in Word, single-spaced, with photos) and is available in e-Pub, PDF, and .mobi formats (compatible on the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, as well as on your computer in the PDF format).

The cost is $2.99, and I’m donating a portion of every purchase to charity.  I’ve never charged for content like this before, but this is substantially larger than anything I’ve done other than the Bound Editions, and releasing it in an e-Pub format gives us a chance to test the process and see if we might be able to offer next year’s Bound Edition not only in hard copy but in e-formats as well.  If you’re not satisfied with this project, I’ll refund your $2.99.

Thanks again to my pals Mike Hindman and Adam Zaner for the edits and the guidance, to Devin Pike and Don Titus and Brian Rhea for the work going on right now to turn the document into an e-Thing, to the great Brad Newton for sharing his photography, and to all the folks I talked to for the story itself.

If you’re a media member interested in a complimentary copy, email me.

And to everyone who orders a copy: I’m very interested to hear your feedback, both on the content and the e-format.

Thanks.

Major project about to roll out.

As I noted last night on Twitter, the project that I’ve been working on since September, titled “JD: Building the Team That Built a Winner,” is now in the can.  It’s a look at Jon Daniels and his team of advisors and scouting and player development officials who make up the Rangers’ formidable baseball operations group.  The feature digs into where many of them came from and how, in coming together, they’ve helped change the fortunes of a franchise that had never won.

It’s about 31,000 words (reference point: 65 pages in Word, single-spaced, with photos) and will be available within a week in e-Pub and PDF formats.  I’m told that the e-Pub will read on the Kindle & Nook, and the PDF will read on the Kindle and iPad, as well as on your computer like any other PDF would.

The cost will be $2.99, and I’m donating a portion of every purchase to charity.  I’ve never charged for content like this before, but this is substantially larger than anything I’ve done other than the Bound Editions, and releasing it in an e-Pub format gives us a chance to test the process and see if we might be able to offer next year’s Bound Edition not only in hard copy but in e-formats as well.  If you’re not satisfied with this project, I’ll refund your $2.99.

Thanks to my pals Mike Hindman and Adam Zaner for the edits and the guidance, to Devin Pike and Don Titus and Brian Rhea for the work going on right now to turn the document into an e-Thing, to the great Brad Newton for sharing his photography, and to all the folks I talked to for the story itself.

Six sleeps until the next important day on the baseball calendar.  We’re hoping to roll this project out by then, if not sooner.  Thanks for your patience.

Signals: The Andrus extension.

After yesterday’s random Conor Jackson-Ian Kinsler coincidence-arama, I’m happy to report I have another one to shoehorn into your day.

A few weeks after my “Which team wouldn’t?” trade hypothetical – “On December 12, 2013, the Texas Rangers trade shortstop Elvis Andrus, lefthander Martin Perez, righthander Cody Buckel, and third baseman Christian Villanueva to the Los Angeles Dodgers for lefthander Clayton Kershaw and catcher Gorman Erickson” – news emerged yesterday that both Andrus and Kershaw had signed multi-year contracts on Tuesday to avoid upcoming arbitration hearings.

Pending a physical, Andrus gets a three-year deal (for a reported $14.5-15 million) that fully wipes out his arbitration window.  He’ll be a free agent after the 2014 season unless the contract is ripped up beforehand and replaced with a lengthier one.

Kershaw gets $19 million for two years.  According to Dylan Hernandez (Los Angeles Times), the Dodgers proposed a four-year commitment that would have bought out the lefthander’s first year of free agency (2015) as well as a package that included a fifth-year club option.  But Kershaw rejected both.

The Kershaw contract is reminiscent of the one Texas signed Mark Teixeira to in January 2006, a two-year, $15.4 million commitment that covered his 2006 and 2007 arbitration seasons but left open his final year of arbitration (2008) before he could become a free agent.

With the right to control Teixeira only through 2008 (at an unknown but predictable number), Texas traded the first baseman in July 2007.  (Yes, for a package including Andrus.  Irrelevant to this discussion.  But you knew I couldn’t resist.)

If the Dodgers, under new ownership, can’t get Kershaw to commit long term before this time two years from now, they’ll go into that final arbitration season with the specter of the Dallas native hitting free agency when the 2014 season ends.

So even with yesterday’s announcements, my December 2013 trade idea stands.

But the real reason I wanted to write something this morning was to address an issue that I assume bothers some of you, if a handful of Tuesday night emails raising identical concerns is any indication.

Some of you asked:  What sort of signal does the Andrus contract send to Jurickson Profar, who should be ready long before the contract expires?

Answer: An awesome one.

The Rangers did it for Hank Blalock, Michael Young, and Kinsler, and on a smaller scale for Teixeira, Josh Hamilton, and Scott Feldman – committing multiple years before they needed to for players they identified as part of the core, even when those players weren’t yet in a position to command extended guarantees.  Taking care of Andrus fits the pattern.

Yesterday’s announcement signals a commitment from Texas that sets Andrus’s family up for life.  He probably gave up some earning potential in exchange for that long-term security, and in that sense everybody gets to call it a win.

But the win for the franchise goes beyond the cost certainty it now has with Andrus in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  This move sends an important statement to Profar.  And Perez.  And Mike Olt.  And Buckel and Jorge Alfaro and Matt West and Yohander Mendez and this June’s draft class and this July’s international crop.

The three-year contract that Texas and Andrus have agreed to doesn’t mean the shortstop won’t leave after that as a free agent, and it doesn’t mean he won’t be a Ranger for life.  What it does is reward Andrus right now financially, and symbolically, too, the latter of which may not be quite as important to the Rangers as the ability to define (if not contain) costs going forward.

But it’s not a trivial point (like, say, Andrus-Kershaw and Jackson-Kinsler commentaries), because the signal this contract sends to the next Andrus or the next Kinsler or, we can all hope for one day, the next pitcher on a Kershaw arc, is one that helps lock in the brand internally, designed in part to increase the chances that they might be players, when it’s their turn to sit at the table, who have very little interest in leaving for another place to play.

El Camino Real.

They were Pac-10 opponents in 2002, at Arizona State and Cal.

Northwest League opponents in 2003, at Spokane and Yakima.

Texas League opponents in 2004, at Frisco and El Paso.

Pacific Coast League opponents in 2005, at Oklahoma and Tucson.

And at every one of those steps, Conor Jackson was more highly regarded than Ian Kinsler, at certain times exponentially so.

The two right-handed hitters, each of whom broke into the big leagues in the other’s home state (Jackson was born in Austin but would attend El Camino Real High School in the Los Angeles area), could realistically have become teammates in 2007, when Arizona finished as runner-up in the chase to acquire Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, with a package that was fronted by Jackson, AA outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, and possibly lefthander Brett Anderson as a player to be named later (once he’d been a pro for 12 months in early September).

Texas then wanted to make them teammates in June 2010, but the Diamondbacks weren’t going to help subsidize the cash-strapped Rangers without getting a significant prospect or two in return.  (The A’s came away with Jackson that summer [for TCU product and former Rangers draftee Sam Demel] because they were willing to take on more of the $1.5 million or so that remained of his 2010 salary than Texas was.)

Instead, Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia became Kinsler’s teammates in 2007, and in 2010 it was Jorge Cantu rather than Jackson who came in to give Texas a right-handed bat for the pennant run.

Andrus and Feliz and Harrison remain integral parts of what in some ways might be viewed as Kinsler’s team, and now Jackson will suit up with them later this month.

On a minor league contract.

One that probably has an out clause permitting him to find another team by a specified date if it’s looking like he’s headed for Round Rock rather than Arlington.

This shouldn’t be viewed as a huge longshot.  At age 29, it’s conceivable that Jackson (who is six weeks older than Kinsler) might have something left, with his 2009 valley fever and pneumonia scare and 2010 major hamstring issue and abdominal surgery well in his past.

But he may not.

Sometimes they refind themselves, and turn into Marlon Byrd or Gary Matthews Jr.

A lot more often they’re Chris Shelton or Ryan Garko.

Like his dad, Conor Jackson is now relegated to playing a supporting role, at best, something few would have guessed would be his lot as a 29-year-old after the way the former first-round pick tore through the minor leagues and established himself early with the Diamondbacks.

But at least Jackson stands a good chance to be playing pro ball when he turns 30, somewhere, which is more than could be said for Hank Blalock, whose place on Top Prospect lists as he was coming up was in territory that not even Kinsler or Jackson would ever touch, and whose last game in pro ball came on June 27, 2010, batting eighth and DH’ing for a Rays team that fell on that day to the Diamondbacks, 2-1.

Blalock’s final act was a harmless groundout to first baseman Rusty Ryal, who was manning the position that on some days Jackson had occupied before being traded away two weeks earlier.  Blalock finished the game on deck, with the bat on his shoulder, as B.J. Upton flew out to center with the tying run on first.  He was designated for assignment two days later, and after clearing waivers Tampa Bay released him, not even asking him to return to AAA Durham, where he’d started the season.

It’s a game of failure.  Some, like Kinsler, find ways to keep getting better, and it’s around those types that winning teams are built.  Others, like Blalock, shine bright and fade quickly.  Jackson was supposed to be the former but wasn’t, yet he now has the chance to do what Blalock couldn’t and what Byrd could, to bury the failed expectations and, at some level, reestablish a once-promising career.  It’s not necessarily too late.

Sobering.

My playing days ended in high school, as did my journalism training, and I’m not a scout.  I’m no expert on this stuff I write about.

I can understand most parts of the conversation at some level when it comes to baseball.  But I’m not an expert.

And I’m far, far less qualified to understand what happened in Josh Hamilton’s life this week, let alone to weigh in on it.

I do understand that there are baseball implications to all of this – the same implications that were there in January 2009, and in December 2007 when Texas traded for Hamilton, only now they’ve become news again and not just an incidental risk factor to weigh when evaluating how long a baseball commitment to make to an extraordinary baseball player.

There’s so much we don’t know about Monday night’s facts, even more that most of us don’t know about the other part of all this.  My thoughts are with Josh and Katie and their daughters, and that’s all I’ve got.

I have nothing else to say right now.  Spin the dial or pull up Google and you can find a thousand people offering commentary, some of it quite good and helpful.

But as far as this space is concerned, this story is more about someone’s life than it is about contract extensions or whiteboarding a future roster, and with that I’m gonna just hit “send” and do a little reading.

Scouting up.

When Major League Baseball announced a set of draconian new restrictions on spending in the draft and the international market a couple months ago, teams like the Rangers and Rays and Blue Jays and Reds and anyone else not positioned to spend in more conventional markets like the Yankees and Red Sox can were penalized.

The competitive advantage that Texas had developed in Latin America, for instance, was watered down considerably because of hard composite spending caps, the requirement that international amateurs register with the Scouting Bureau, and the rumored implementation of combine-like showcase events where the top players from that pool would be spoon-fed to all 30 clubs.  The upshot seemed to be that tenacious scouting would be less advantageous, and theoretically less essential.

And yet the Rangers added to their scouting staff this week.

With the ability to score internationally diluted, Texas fortified its stateside scouting effort substantially.  While spending in the draft will be capped, the strike rate on finding high school and college players can always improve, and the Rangers are seeing to it that more talent evaluators will see more draft-eligible players going forward.

In 2011, Texas employed 17 full-time area scouts.  That number increases to 18.  Several new scouts were brought in to replace those who departed for other organizations or were promoted or dismissed, and the added post comes in the State of Texas, where Randy Taylor’s job will now be handled by two men, Jay Heafner (who will cover Lousiana in addition to Southern Texas after having had the Northeast United States region, where he scouted and signed Mike Olt) and Steve Watson (entering his first season as a scout).  The Rangers also have two part-time scouts in North Texas, Mike McAbee and James Vilade.

Taylor is the new Midwest Crosschecker, part of the organization’s effort to boost the tier of the scouting department that reports to Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg.  Last year, Texas had three crosscheckers, responsible for specific regions of the country (Western, Central, and Eastern) and the area scouts who scour them.  This year, the role will be split into four territories (West Coast, Midwest, Southeast, and Eastern), and an extra tier above those four is being reinstated in the form of two National Crosscheckers.

Phil Geisler remains the Eastern Crosschecker, John Booher moves from pro scout to Southeast Crosschecker, and Casey Harvie comes in from the Angels organization (where he scouted and signed Mason Tobin) as the West Coast Crosschecker.  Before joining the Angels, Harvie served as an area scout for Cleveland (overlapping in part with John Hart and Mike Daly) and Colorado (coinciding with Thad Levine).

The National Crosscheckers are Mike Grouse, who has scouted for the Rangers for 20 years, mostly recently as Central Crosschecker, and Clarence Johns, who comes over from the Astros, where he was East Coast Crosschecker the last four seasons after scouting for the Dodgers (at a time when A.J. Preller and Don Welke were there) and Rockies (including one year while Levine was still there).

The key bullet point for both Grouse and Johns came in the 17th round of the draft.  Grouse, at the time an area scout with coverage of six Midwest states, recommended Ian Kinsler in 2003, a year after Johns, who was scouting in Florida for the Dodgers, had traveled to Chipola Junior College to scout the school’s starting catcher, a draft-and-follow that Los Angeles had chosen in 2001.  He didn’t like the catcher, but was convinced that Chipola’s third baseman, Russell Martin, could be a tremendous catcher prospect himself.  The Dodgers took him in 2002’s 17th round.

The Rangers’ 18 area scouts will report to Taylor, Booher, Harvie, and Geisler, who will report to Grouse and Johns, who will report to Fagg.  They’ll all see players.

Texas employed 10 pro scouts in 2011 and will go with that same number in 2012, though the group includes two new men, Chris Briones (who caught in the Rangers system in 1995 and 1996 and was most recently a hitting coach in the Diamondbacks’ farm system) and Ross Fenstermaker (who began last season as a pro video scout for the Rangers).  They replace Booher and Greg Smith, the latter of whom was promoted to Special Assistant, Major League Scout, a key advisory position in Jon Daniels’s cabinet.

Joe Furukawa, Hajime Watabe, and Curtis Jung, all integrally involved in the scouting and recruitment of Yu Darvish, are now officially listed as international scouts for the organization.  Jim Colborn’s title was amplified from Director of Pacific Rim Operations to Senior Advisor, Pacific Rim Operations.

I don’t know whether Roy Oswalt is going to sign with Texas (despite Dave Cameron’s proclamation at FanGraphs that “[n]o team in baseball needs a starting pitcher less than the Texas Rangers”) and I don’t know what the club has planned next if he does.

But I do know that Texas will pick four times in the first two rounds of the draft in June, positioned (for now) at 29, 39, 53, and 81, a range in which the club has made plenty of noise the last few years (2007: Julio Borbon [35], Neil Ramirez [44], Tommy Hunter [54], Matt West [80]; 2008: Robbie Ross [57]; 2009: Tanner Scheppers [44], Tommy Mendonca [62], Robbie Erlin [93]; 2010: Luke Jackson [45], Mike Olt [49], Cody Buckel [72], Jordan Akins [103]).  And even though the specifics of some of the CBA changes are still murky, I know that each team’s league-imposed draft budget will be amplified to cover extra picks.

And I also know that, no matter what measures the league implements in an effort to even the playing field by amputating the clubs that have scouted the most aggressively and effectively, the Rangers aren’t going to surrender that advantage they’d created for themselves.  We’re already seeing how resources might be reallocated, how strategies might be adjusted, with this week’s expansion of the scouting roster.

That’s not to say that Texas won’t remain at the forefront internationally – because it’s not about who spends the most money in that market as much as it’s about who spends it most intelligently – but it’s clear this week that the Rangers are taking steps to be even stronger in the draft, as they strive to find the next Ramirez and next Erlin and next Olt and keep a top-five farm system in that same tier, even as waves of prospects continue to graduate.

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