June 2012

The other side of failure.

The game teaches you to fail, a reality that comes in different doses for some and at different stages.  Scott Feldman was the best player on his College of San Mateo team and probably his Burlingame High School squad, too, and surely nobody at Dana Hills High School was any more on Tanner Scheppers’s level than his teammates at Fresno State.  Feldman and Scheppers were probably the premier players in their entire Little League and summer ball leagues.

Chances are the first real adversity of their lives as baseball players came when Feldman had to bounce back from the Tommy John surgery that he needed only 6.1 innings after signing as the Rangers’ 30th-round pick, and when an ominous shoulder injury threw Scheppers off the standard path to pro ball and prompted a detour to the independent leagues, where his St. Paul Saints teammates included a handful of former big leaguers pushing 40 years of age.

The game teaches you to fail, and to respond.

It was the worst night of Scheppers’s incipient big league career, and the latest disappointment in what has to be the worst stretch of Feldman’s eight seasons in Texas.  There will be better days for both, and part of that is they’ll need to forget about June 14 and focus on the next chance to help the team win.

Forgetting is part of responding in baseball, part of the process of shrink-wrapping those inevitable instances or stretches of failure and tossing them out with the same swagger that’s easy to summon up after the good stuff.

C.J. Wilson and Justin Grimm, each a Rangers’ fifth-round pick after a disappointing junior year (Wilson’s 2-10, 6.87 season with Loyola Marymount, Grimm’s 3-7, 5.49 campaign at the University of Georgia), instantly had more success as pros than they did in college, a tribute to the organization’s efforts to find them and develop them and to the pitchers themselves.

But even before that, there were challenges, and responses, potentially devastating events we don’t even remember.  Wilson had Tommy John surgery after his third minor league season.  Grimm spent his entire junior year of high school sidelined with a pin inserted near his elbow due to a broken arm.  There were no guarantees after that.  There never are in baseball.

Once Wilson reached the Major Leagues, his road to big league reliability – and his place now as one of the game’s most effective starting pitchers – was uneven, and uncertain.  Grimm embarks on his own path tomorrow (a year to the day after I wrote this), following just half a season in Low Class A, half a season in High Class A, and half a season in Class AA.

It’s been a spectacular rise, a triumph of scouting and of development and of a pitcher buying in and working his tail off to get to the next level, and the one after that.

But there will be failures.

And chances to respond.

The Elite Baseball 7U club had their share of both last night, and the things that the few dozen of us who were there will remember, spared from having to endure Arizona 11, Texas 3 and instead treated to Elite 25, Longhorns 23 and a trophy ceremony and those championship T-shirts, won’t be the handful of infield miscues but instead a Jackson Villarreal snowcone catch, an intentional walk (!) of the dangerous Jake Storey followed by Kendall Gill making ’em pay, Trenton Kelly doing all this through the thing that gives him strength, Mason Cheney’s opposite-field power and the infectious way he runs the bases, and an offense that lost an early lead but fought back and set the tone for a defense that did the same thing.

And a third baseman hitting near the bottom of the order, contributing a single-double-double-single and six RBI, including the decisive two, chipping in a couple clean 5-3’s in spite of an earlier error, and making the game-ending, title-clinching 5-unassisted play that led to 11 seven- and eight-year-olds moshing between the lines because that’s what you do, as a season that for some of them will be followed by another dozen, or more, came to its ultimate end with a victory.

If the game didn’t teach us, as players and parents and fans, to respond to the failures, the victories wouldn’t come around as often, and wouldn’t be as awesome when they did.

Nobody talks any more about the major arm injuries that Wilson and Feldman and Scheppers and Grimm overcame to get where they are today.  It’s all under the bridge.

Two World Series seasons were full of bad regular-season losses and ominous losing streaks and slumps and injuries.  They don’t matter once the flag flies.

Scheppers will bounce back.  Grimm will have moments he’ll have to bounce back from.

They’ll have their chances to contribute, to mosh, to help get another flag flying forever.

It’s a game of failure, and response, and capitalizing on opportunities to crowd out the bad stuff with the more lasting moments of awesome, like winning two straight pennants, or making a Major League debut, or getting the chance to contribute to a Little League championship, and coming through.

 

Ups and downs and cracked windshields.

It didn’t feel like it was going to be a great baseball night, or a great night at all, considering I’d just driven away from Little League practice through a hailstorm that left my windshield looking like an Elvis Andrus spray chart and the hood like the seat in front of me on Bat Night 1978.

And then Matt Harrison did that.

Craig Gentry (.500/.567/.615 with two strikeouts over 31 plate appearances the last two weeks) rocketed a shot that his former RedHawks teammate Ryan Roberts couldn’t handle.

Mike Adams and Joe Nathan were crazy-great.

And on a night when the Rangers offense was silenced, Texas momentarily gained a half-game in the West, before the Dodgers spit up a first-and-third, no-outs situation against Ernesto Frieri in the bottom of the ninth, losing to the Angels, 2-1.

(Curse the Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar homers and disgusting Dodgers display to end the game if you just, but think about how Angels fans feel about the Roberts play on Gentry’s ground ball, and the fact that Texas was three-hit at home and still won.  Baseball.)

In the last five games, a stretch in which three of the Rangers’ five season-opening starting pitchers haven’t pitched (Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz injured, Yu Darvish skipped), Texas has allowed six runs.

Five of them came in one game.

Same number for Harrison, sort of: Five games (38 innings), six runs.

Three shutouts in those five games, after three shutouts in the first 58.

Runs allowed in the Rangers’ six interleague wins (out of eight): 1, 1, 0, 0, 1, 0.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Arias provided the first indelible moment of a career that wasn’t supposed to be this forgettable, helping Matt Cain earn history.

As did Gregor Blanco, whose place on my list that in recent years has included Callaspo, Ben Zobrist, Josh Willingham, Brennan Boesch, Matt Joyce, Mike Aviles, Marco Scutaro, Sean Rodriguez, Danny Valencia, Jack Hannahan, Michael Wuertz, and absolutely Gerardo Parra isn’t as anonymous any more.

And Chris Davis and R.A. Dickey continued on Wednesday to prove that the Rangers were right, at one point, even if Jarrod Saltalamacchia took a night off from doing so and if Brandon McCarthy’s shoulder was back in the news rather than his breakout season and a third that are going to make him a wealthy man this winter.

But what’s past is past.

Through 63 games last year, Texas was 35-28, 2.5 games up in the West.

Through 63 games in 2010: the same 35-28 record, and 0.5 games up.

This year, in spite of all the hand-wringing that has followed the club’s hot start, the Rangers are 37-26, and 3.5 games up.

It’s the second-best record at this point on the schedule in club history.  Texas was better in 1996 and 1998, both playoff seasons.

But not as good in 2010 or 2011, both World Series seasons.

Ninety-nine to play.  Lots of time.  Frieri will give up a run at some point.  So will Harrison.  Gentry will cool off.  Josh Hamilton will heat back up.  My car will eventually have a windshield without a Rorschach test on it.

This season, which has already taken a number of loud turns, isn’t finished doing that, but one thing that’s fairly certain is that there will be more opportunities in 2012 for baseball to salvage what had been a plainly ruined day than those, like in the times of Bat Night and the unceremonious wasting away of R.A. Dickey’s Rangers career, when baseball ruins an otherwise perfectly good day.

Sweep this thing.

Big.

Four 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old, averaging 6’4”, 200.  Their size jumped out at the press conference, and will on the back fields.

But that’s not why the Rangers refer to Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, Collin Wiles, Jamie Jarmon, and Nick Williams as the “Fab Five.”

It’s not because they were all headed to major collegiate programs – Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Texas A&M – each that even a couple weeks ago surely promised a better chance to play in the College World Series at some point than Rangers third-rounder Pat Cantwell, the Stony Book catcher who now sits as the only pick among the club’s first 16 who has yet to sign.

(And he will, in due time.  First, Cantwell’s Seawolves open the proceedings in Omaha against UCLA on Friday afternoon.)

The reason Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg called the club’s three first-round and two second-round picks the “Fab Five” has more to do with the crazy upside, and maybe even the expectations, that brought this particular fivesome together in Arlington this week and on an 8:40 flight this morning from DFW to Phoenix.

Surprise, Arizona is very far away from Gainesville, from Baton Rouge, from Nashville, from Columbia, from College Station, geographically and in just about any other sense you can imagine, but it will be where Brinson, Gallo, Wiles, Jarmon, and Williams will start to play professional baseball, as scouting gives way to player development and the latest wave of Texas Rangers prospects gains pipeline entry and begins its push forward.

The Arizona League kicks its season off one week from today.  The Rangers squad, sixth on the system depth chart, could run a lineup out there that includes Brinson, Jarmon, Williams, and Nomar Mazara in the outfield and DH, Ronald Guzman at first base, Alberto Triunfel at second, Luis Marte at shortstop, Gallo at third, Cantwell at catcher, and Wiles or Yohander Mendez on the mound.

Sick.

Scribble down a lineup of Rangers prospects that includes only teenagers: Jorge Alfaro at catcher, Guzman at first, Rougned Odor at second, Jurickson Profar at short, Gallo at third, the Brinson-Jarmon-Williams-Mazara quartet in the outfield and DH, and a rotation of Cody Buckel, Victor Payano, David Perez, Wiles, Kevin Matthews, and Mendez.

And maybe Jairo Beras lands on both lists, offering the kind of power that, outside of Mike Olt, doesn’t exist in the Rangers system right now – until Gallo takes his reps for the first time today or tomorrow.

Brinson and Jarmon reportedly signed for slot, Wiles a tick above and Williams a tick below, and the Rangers were able to get Gallo signed for what’s been reported to be $2.25 million, which is about $925,000 over his slot – enabled presumably by the Texas strategy to take college seniors in Rounds 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

According to Baseball America, the amount Gallo received above his league-set pick value is the highest paid by any team to a player from this draft so far.

Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose went on to have tremendous NBA careers, but the two Fab Fivers who hailed from Texas, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, didn’t pan out as pros.  Not every one of the five players the Rangers introduced yesterday, taken 29th and 39th and 53rd and 83rd and 93rd last week, will live up to expectations.  That’s the reality.

Colby Lewis, taken 38th overall in 1999, when Brinson, Gallo, Wiles, Jarmon, and Williams were still playing T-ball, certainly didn’t live up to his, before his career took a strange turn and he absolutely did.  Development in baseball is hard to predict, hard to count on.

Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller said yesterday that the organization considered this opportunity – having five picks in the top 100 – a very important one, and part of the plan was to target players who wanted to play.  That may not sound like a big deal, but it’s part of why all five of the Rangers’ first- and second-round picks chose pro ball over big college programs, and why all five signed quickly, and why they’re all on that flight that is lifting off just as I hit “send” on this report, and why they should all be ready to go when the AZL opens its season a week from today.

The Rangers extended their division lead over the Angels by a game last night, but they also extended another gap over Los Angeles in the last week, and aren’t done trying to find every possible way to keep doing that.

“Everything we are facing is a competition,” Jon Daniels once told every employee in the Rangers organization.  “How are you going to help us win today?”

The baseball axiom reminds us that speed never goes into a slump.  The same can be said, over the last however-many years, about the Rangers’ talent accumulation mission, a tangible reminder of which was in large, energizing view Tuesday afternoon.

Looking back on the draft, and forward.

Awesome effort last night from Matt Harrison, the final player selected in the third round of the 2003 draft (97th overall, which was 21 slots after Rangers scouting director Grady Fuson chose Stanford righthander John Hudgins), and from Ian Kinsler, who was taken in that same draft, 14 rounds and 399 picks after Harrison, and from Craig Gentry, the Rangers’ 10th-round pick in 2006.

In that 2006 draft, scouting director Ron Hopkins (now a National Crosschecker with the Orioles) found infielder Chris Davis in the fifth round, righthander Jake Brigham in the sixth, draft-and-follow lefthander Derek Holland in the 25th, and lefthander Danny Ray Herrera in the 45th.

But the club had a disappointing start to the draft, taking lefthander Kasey Kiker in Round One (12th overall) after hoping righthander Tim Lincecum (10th) or righthander Max Scherzer (11th) would fall and deciding to pass on righthander Kyle Drabek (18th), who three years later would help Philadelphia acquire Roy Halladay from Toronto.

Texas had no second-round pick that year, forfeiting that selection to the Indians when it signed free agent Kevin Millwood.  Catcher-turned-corner-bat-turned-DH Chad Tracy (3rd) and infielder-turned-utility-player Marcus Lemon (4th) fell short of expectations.

You would have been excused if you’d viewed Gentry as an afterthought pick.  College seniors are generally seen as minor league roster plugs, and in Gentry’s case he hadn’t even been drafted the year before as a junior, due in large part to the fact that the University of Arkansas product needed Tommy John surgery.

But area scout Jay Eddings thought there was some upside there, staying on him despite the elbow procedure and even though he’d also missed time as a senior with a right knee infection.

Today, Gentry has been the second-most productive draft pick in that 2006 10th round, behind Tampa Bay outfielder Desmond Jennings.

And the second-most productive of the 49 picks the Rangers made that year, behind Holland.

And the fourth-most productive 10th-round pick Texas has ever made, behind Rusty Greer, Doug Davis, and Billy Sample, two of whom will resurface later in this report.

The 10th round takes on more significance in the new CBA than it ever has before.  The draft bonus pool implemented under the new rules dictates that teams have a set amount they can pay in the aggregate over the first 10 rounds (subject to monetary and future draft pick penalties should they exceed that amount).  Any dollars, therefore, that are saved in any of the first 10 rounds are available to be spent elsewhere on players in that range whose demands are over the league’s suggested slot.

Significantly, Texas has signed all seven players it selected earlier this week in Rounds 4-10 of the amateur draft, and another 11 players agreed to terms as well.  The list:

Round       Player                          POS

4                Alec Asher                  RHP

5                Preston Beck               OF

6                Royce Bolinger           OF

7                Cam Schiller                2B

8                Cody Kendall             RHP

9                John Niggli                  RHP

10              Casey Shiver               RHP

12              Keone Kela                 RHP

13              Sam Stafford              LHP

16              Janluis Castro              2B

17              Charles Moorman        C

20              Josh McElwee             RHP

23              Coby Cowgill              RHP

25              Gabriel Roa                 SS

26              Austen Thrailkill         LHP

28              Joseph Burns               LHP

30              Barrett Serrato            OF

40              Paul Schwindel           RHP

Again, that bright line drawn at Round 10 is very significant.  The fact that Texas signed Asher, Beck, Bolinger, Schiller, Kendall, Niggli, and Shiver so quickly suggests none were over slot (at least meaningfully so) and that many might have been significantly under slot, chosen on the basis that they’d be willing to take such a deal.

Add in the fact that Bolinger, Schiller, Kendall, and Niggli (as well as unsigned third-round catcher Pat Cantwell, whose Stony Brook Seawolves just lost to LSU in one of the most incredible college baseball games I’ve ever seen) are college seniors – only the equally aggressive Blue Jays front office selected more of those (seven) in the first 10 rounds – and it’s a slam dunk that the Rangers saved significant money on Day Two, likely to facilitate their ability under the new CBA to sign players they chose on Day One.

That’s not to say Bolinger or Kendall might not end up carving out an established big league career like Gentry, but for now it’s clear that the target placed by the Rangers on college seniors in the back half of the first 10 rounds was strategically dictated under the new rules, facilitating opportunities to select and lock up players whose over-slot demands are more difficult to meet than they used to be.

The most challenging sign will probably be supplemental first-rounder Joey Gallo, the third baseman whom Keith Law (ESPN) said a couple days ago would fit in as the Rangers’ number five prospect, behind Jurickson Profar and, in some order, Martin Perez, Mike Olt, and Cody Buckel (thus, ahead of players like Neil Ramirez, Ronald Guzman, Justin Grimm, Tanner Scheppers, Jordan Akins, Leonys Martin, Rougned Odor, and Jorge Alfaro).

College seniors often sign for as little as $5,000, lacking the leverage of a return to school.  The soft slots for Rounds 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9, where Texas took college seniors, add up to $936,000.  If the Rangers are able to sign those five players for something close to $5,000 each, then right there is an added $900,000 to devote to Gallo or someone else.

It wouldn’t be enough alone to sign Gallo (who has committed to LSU) if Kevin Goldstein’s report of a $2.5 million price tag is accurate and non-negotiable (as his slot is $1,324,800).  Stay tuned.

Tuesday morning, after Texas had taken monster center field athlete Lewis Brinson with its first-round pick on Monday, I wrote that “Texas may draft another half dozen toolsy center fielders today and tomorrow.”  I didn’t expect that to include the club’s first two picks that day, second-rounders Jamie Jarmon and Nick Williams, both high school center fielders.

The Rangers feel pretty good about Brinson, Gallo, righthander Collin Wiles, Jarmon, and Williams at the top of their haul.  Said Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg: “We got probably five of our top 50 in this Draft.”

And the Rangers did end up popping six more center fielders on Tuesday and Wednesday: Jarmon and Williams (2nd round), Gonzaga’s Royce Bolinger (6th), South Carolina high schooler Kwinton Smith (14th; a University of South Carolina wide receiver commit), Alabama high schooler Jameis Winston (15th; the top quarterback recruit in the nation, committed to Florida State), and Georgia high schooler Tevin Johnson (39th).

Not all of them will stick in center field – and they probably won’t all sign.  (Though Jarmon hinted on Twitter that he plans to.)

But the Rangers have positioned themselves with the strength and depth of their farm system to take chances on high-end, risk-reward talent, and Texas went in that direction over and over this week, hedging against the reality that they won’t all be able to stay in the center of the diamond and won’t all pan out.

Some other draft notes:

According to Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News), Gallo is high school teammates with Greg Maddux’s son.

Wiles threw one more game that eluded all the reports that came out on Draft Day.  It was a sixth straight shutout, improving his season record to 9-0, 0.12 (one earned run in 56.1 innings, including 43 consecutive scoreless innings to end the season).

Fifth-rounder Preston Beck was reportedly told by the Yankees that he’d have been their pick at 187th overall – had Texas not taken him at pick number 186.  He’d played on a summer league team coached by Greer.

Lefthander Sam Stafford, the club’s 13th-round pick, was the Yankees’ second-round pick in 2011.  After reportedly agreeing to a slot deal of approximately $400,000, New York evidently backed off when his physical revealed a small tear in the shoulder.  Stafford turned down a reduced $200,00 offer, returned to the University of Texas, and ended up having shoulder surgery in February, missing the season.  The Rangers have acknowledged that the 22-year-old is still recovering, and not ready to pitch.

The Red Sox chose Stafford in the 40th round in 2008 out of Spring Klein High School.  At the time, the Rangers’ current Southeast Crosschecker, John Booher, was Boston’s area scout in Texas.

Winston is fascinating.  The Rangers understand that he will play football for the Seminoles.  NCAA rules, however, permit college football players to play baseball without forfeiting their college eligibility.  The Rangers aren’t going to pay a huge bonus to Winston, a player with certain designs on an NFL career, but if he’s interested in giving pro baseball a shot – which he has said for some time that he is – Texas will give him that opportunity.

I was sort of joking when I wondered on Twitter on Tuesday when the Angels would draft a Creighton University catcher.  (During the time that former Creighton catcher Scott Servais was in charge of the Rangers’ farm system, the club tended to draft a Creighton player each year, twice a catcher [Chris Gradoville, Carson Vitale], and traded for another [Tim Gradoville].  Creighton’s head coach is Ed Servais, Scott’s uncle.)

Los Angeles did it on Wednesday, taking Creighton senior catcher Anthony Benboom in the 22nd round.

The Angels, under a new regime, took one high school player in the first 15 rounds and only five overall.

Not exactly a high-risk, high-reward philosophy.  Whatever the gap was between the Rangers and Angels was a week ago in terms of farm system strength and the potential for making future impact trades, you can probably argue that – if the Rangers hit on some of these “lottery picks” (as Goldstein calls them) – the gap was widened this week.

This afternoon, the Rangers attempt to win a series against the Giants, after losing three straight series to their AL West foes.  The ball goes to Scott Feldman, who went to high school (Burlingame) and college (College of San Mateo) just outside of San Francisco before going to Texas in the 30th round of the 2003 draft, 789 slots after Harrison and 390 after Kinsler did.

Feldman was drafted in the 41st round by Houston in 2002, a year in which the Astros were led on the mound by second-year big leaguer Roy Oswalt, who would go 19-9, 3.01 and finish fourth in the NL Cy Young voting.  Today, Feldman probably holds down a rotation spot until Oswalt is deemed ready to return from AAA to the big leagues, a former 30th-rounder keeping a spot warm for a former 23rd-rounder out of a Mississippi community college.

It no longer matters that current Wasserman Media Group agent Len Strelitz, engineering his one draft as Rangers scouting director in 1996, went with Wichita State outfielder Casey Smith (who wouldn’t sign) in Round 23, one pick before the Astros chose Oswalt.  Or that the six players from the Rangers’ crop that year who would go on to establish big league careers (R.A. Dickey, Travis Hafner, Doug Davis, Joe Beimel, Mark Hendrickson, and Warren Morris) did so primarily with other clubs.

Nobody locally paid much attention to the draft that year as the Rangers were headed toward their first-ever playoff berth.  But times have changed – a lot – and even though Texas is more relevant at the big club level than ever, its exploits in the draft remain hugely vital to the overall picture.

And if we’re able to look back five or eight years from now at this draft, the year when a future five-tool center fielder was brought into the fold, and another one helped key a critical trade for an impact July addition, and a college senior not only helped facilitate the signing of a potentially elite corner power bat in the supplemental first round but also went on himself to contribute at a Craig Gentry level, then some of us might look back fondly on the time we spent reading and thinking about the amateur baseball draft in this pretty great era of Texas Rangers baseball, and one of us won’t feel so silly for writing another 2,014 words about the subject.

Recapping Day One of the Rangers’ Draft.

Cameron Maybin keyed Detroit’s 2007 trade with Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.  Maybin was a High Class A center fielder with a week of experience at the AA level.

Austin Jackson headlined a Yankees deal with Detroit to get Curtis Granderson.  He was a AAA center fielder.

Adam Jones was shipped in front of a five-player Mariners package to get Baltimore’s Erik Bedard.  Jones was a AAA center fielder who’d had two cups of coffee in Seattle.

Grady Sizemore was part of Cleveland’s four-player demand from Montreal in the Bartolo Colon deal.  Sizemore was a High Class A center fielder.

Lorenzo Cain helped Milwaukee acquire Zack Greinke from Kansas City.  He was a AAA center fielder with a couple months in the big leagues.

Franklin Gutierrez and a Dodgers player to be named later got Milton Bradley from Cleveland.  Gutierrez was a AA center fielder.

Chris Young and two others were used by the White Sox to go get Javier Vazquez from the Diamondbacks.  Young was a AA center fielder.

Michael Bourn was the centerpiece of a three-player package Philadelphia put together to get Houston closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett.  Bourn, developed by the Phillies as a center fielder, had just completed his rookie season.

Not all young center fielders get traded.  Matt Kemp didn’t.  Neither did Andrew McCutchen.  Maybe if Josh Hamilton’s development went differently, B.J. Upton would have been, but he wasn’t traded, either.  The Dodgers probably wish they’d traded Shane Victorino, rather than leaving him exposed three times to the Rule 5 Draft and losing him twice, the second time irreversibly.

Dexter Fowler wasn’t, and won’t be.  Same with Mike Trout, though Peter Bourjos probably will be at some point.

This isn’t a suggestion that Texas drafted Florida high school center fielder Lewis Brinson in order to deal him, but if he and Leonys Martin and Jordan Akins develop as the Rangers hope they will, one or two of them will be traded, and will make Texas better in the process.

Young players with star potential who play in the middle of the field are super-valuable.

As are power-hitting corner prospects, unusually scarce in today’s game.  Like Mike Olt.  And maybe Joey Gallo.

When I sat down yesterday to pull together the following data for last night’s First and Supplemental First Rounds of the 2012 draft –

1st round (29th overall).  LEWIS BRINSON, OF, Coral Springs High School (Fla.)

(scout: Frankie Thon)

(MLB slot: $1,625,000)

(last year’s first-round pick: Kevin Matthews; recent Rangers first-round picks include Jake Skole, Kellin Deglan, Matt Purke, Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Kasey Kiker, Thomas Diamond, John Danks, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Pena; best number 29 pick in last 25 years: Adam Wainwright [Braves, 2000])

Supplemental 1st round (39th overall, pick awarded for loss of C.J. Wilson).  JOEY GALLO, 3B, Bishop Gorman High School (Nev.)

(scout: Todd Guggiana)

(MLB slot: $1,324,800)

(last year’s supplemental first-round pick: Zach Cone; recent Rangers supplemental first-round picks include Mike Olt, Luke Jackson, Tanner Scheppers, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis; best number 39 pick in last 25 years: Todd Hundley [Mets, 1987])

Supplemental 1st round (53rd overall, pick awarded for loss of Darren Oliver).  COLLIN WILES, RHP, Blue Valley West High School (Kan.)

(scout: Dustin Smith)

(MLB slot: $954,800)

(best number 53 pick in last 25 years: Sean Casey [Indians, 1995])

– something struck me about the organization’s recent history in the first round, which led me to tweet this:

Not counting sandwich round, here’s the list of all TX 1st-rounders still in the org: K.Matthews (’11), J.Skole/K.Deglan (’10).  That’s it.

(Tom Grieve doesn’t count, either, since he was drafted by the Senators in 1966, six years before they moved to Texas.)

But that’s not meant as an indictment on the Rangers’ track record in the first round.  Mark Teixeira and Blake Beavan and Michael Main were traded for players who helped Texas reach the World Series, as were players like Tommy Hunter (supplemental first), Robbie Erlin (third), Joe Wieland (fourth), Chris Davis (fifth), and a handful of others.

Who knows what the future holds for 2006 sixth-rounder Jake Brigham, 2010 fifth-rounder Justin Grimm, 2010 fourth-rounder Drew Robinson, 2010 third-rounder Akins, 2010 second-rounder Cody Buckel, or supplemental first-rounders Luke Jackson (2010), Tanner Scheppers (2009), and Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez (2007)?

Some will be traded.

And that’s OK.

In two years, Scheppers could be working in the eighth inning or in the ninth inning or in San Diego.

Olt could be at third base or first base or left field in Texas, or added to the core of a young team that had a controllable top-of-rotation starter it grew willing to trade.

Arranging your draft board by best player available, rather than by any perceived system need, means you don’t pass on Smoak just because you have Davis, or Brinson because you have Martin and Akins, or Gallo because you have Olt.

Texas may draft another half dozen toolsy center fielders today and tomorrow.  Best player available.

But none will be as toolsy as Brinson.  Not all the experts agree on the likelihood that the 18-year-old reaches his potential, but there’s little debate on how extraordinary that potential is.

Jason Parks invites Rangers fans to “welcome a monster toolshed into your system,” calling Brinson “a project, but [with a] ceiling [that] is absolutely enormous.”  Kevin Goldstein suggests Brinson “arguably has the highest ceiling of any high school position player in the draft, but there is fatty tuna in the finest sushi restaurants that isn’t as raw.”  John Manuel notes that the University of Florida commit “fits [the] Rangers’ high-risk, high-reward profile.”  According to ESPN, “Brinson has as high an upside as any player not named Byron Buxton [who went number two overall] in this draft, with an ultra-projectable frame and plus tools galore,” and notes that, on the 20-80 scouting scale, “[h]e will flash 70 speed, 70 glove, 60 arm and average raw power that you could turn into a 60.”

That’s All-Star level, if it all comes together.  Big if, of course.

Brinson himself considers his outfield instincts and throwing arm to be the best part of his game, and Texas believes he’ll be able to stay in the middle of the field defensively.  Long and lean at 6’4”, 180, the Maybin comps are inevitable, but there’s something instructive there: Maybin turned 25 two months ago, and is with his third organization.

The move to San Diego, his third, is partly because he’s been a disappointment.  But the move to the Marlins, his second, was because Detroit had Granderson in place, didn’t pass on Maybin on Draft Day in spite of that, and when Cabrera and Willis were made available, nobody could match the Maybin-Andrew Miller-plus package that the Tigers were able to offer the Marlins.

If it sounds by the tone of this report that I’m already cooking up a 2015 trade that involves Lewis Brinson and Yovani Gallardo, I’m not.  But we’re at a point in the Texas Rangers cycle where the relentless replenishment of the pipeline serves multiple purposes, one of which Erlin and Wieland – wish ’em the best – served quite nicely 10 months ago.

To be fair, Brinson is drawing a handful of Greg Golson comps as well, a reminder that baseball is hard and players don’t always pan out, even the ones whose tools redefine the chart.  Like Golson, if Brinson doesn’t work out in Texas, three or four or seven other organizations are going to see if they can unlock him.  There are very few things on the baseball field that scouts think Brinson will never be able to do.  But the road will be long.

Look at what Akins did in his first pro season.  And, after a breakout fall and spring going into 2012, check out the regression this year (even though he appears to be clawing himself out of it a bit).  There’s a ways to go with the hit tool, which is also the biggest question in Brinson’s projection (some scouts apparently feel he actually took a step back this year in that regard).  Baseball is hard.

It’s sort of extraneous to point out that Brinson gets good marks for his makeup, since character issues are often deal-killers for the Rangers, but they show up a lot in the scouting reports for the teenager, whose father Lewis Jr. lost a battle with lung cancer when Brinson was 11 years old.

While the new CBA introduces a whole new brand of signability issues, all indications – including some from Brinson himself – are that he’s prepared to forgo the scholarship to the University of Florida and begin his pro career.  “There’s still a little work to be done, but it’s pretty close,” he says, after noting that he “was a Marlins fan growing up,” which is a crazy reminder that we’re now in the age of players who never lived in a world where the Florida Marlins (1993 – ) didn’t exist.

Parks describes Brinson as “a tools werewolf [and] monster athlete” whose “upside is crazy,” quoting a league scout as saying, “He’s a project, but the ceiling is superstar,” while summing up his own thoughts with this: “This is a very, very promising pick.  The Rangers went upside here at #29, and man oh man oh man does this kid have upside.”

Almost every reputable mock draft I saw had Gallo going ahead of Brinson.  Goldstein had the left-handed-hitting slugger going 11th overall to the A’s, noting that he “has as much raw power as anyone in the draft, and scouts that believe he can end up adequate at third base have pushed him up some boards.”  Law had Gallo going 11th as well.

Interestingly, some experts suggest Gallo was more likely to land one of those spots in the top half of the round had he expressed a desire to stay on the mound with velocity that touches the upper-90s.  But he wants to hit, and while this wasn’t a case in which the Rangers were nearly alone in their preference for the bat over the arm (as in the case of Jurickson Profar), the club sounded thrilled that he fell to their slot at number 39, a compensatory pick awarded for the loss of C.J. Wilson to the Angels.

Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller and Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg noted last night that there’s a premium in the league these days on young run-producing, power-hitting types, which helps explain why the Rangers targeted and landed Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara, hope to be able to effectuate their agreement with Jairo Beras, and popped Gallo with their first of two supplemental first-round picks last night.

You can read between the lines.  When the organization talks about a “premium in the league,” it suggests that there’s a real value here that goes beyond finding more power to develop and bring to Arlington.  Young power hitters are very tradeable.  Justin Smoak.  Jesus Montero.  Brett Lawrie.  Anthony Rizzo.  Yonder Alonso.

The MLB Network studio panel called Gallo “the most feared power hitter among high school players” in this draft, offering up an Adam Dunn comp that has surfaced in a few places.  Part of that is there’s some miss in the swing, like there is with Dunn, like there is with Olt.  But Law, for one, doesn’t think it will keep Gallo from getting his exceptional power to the big leagues, suggesting simply: “I think he’ll hit enough to get to the crazy power.”

That adjective surfaces in Parks’s comments as well – “Big, strong, physical frame; power is reported to be near elite; hands are crazy fast; bat speed is present” – though he too is skeptical of the hit tool, as well as his range at third base.  But the arm strength is certainly playable on an outfield corner, if it comes to that, and first base is an option as well.

Parks calls Gallo’s arm an “easy 7” (on the 2-8 scale, equivalent to the 20-80 version).  Jim Callis put an 8 on it and called Gallo “one of [the] draft’s most intriguing talents.”  That arm strength has one camp tantalized by the idea of the 6’5” righthander on the mound, but ESPN noted that “his preference for hitting is so strong that he [didn’t] tell scouts when [he was] scheduled to pitch.”  Frankie Piliere wrote of the LSU commit: “Typically, teams don’t expect to land the best power hitter in the draft outside of the first round.  But the Rangers added just that when they landed Gallo.”

High school statistics matter less than just about anything else worth looking at, but you might consider it notable that Gallo holds the Nevada state high school records for career home runs (65) and RBI in one season (80, in this year’s 43 games) since Bryce Harper was a Nevada prep as well – until you’re reminded that Harper left high school after his sophomore year to get his GED.

Gallo and Harper were youth baseball teammates for several years.  Gallo has the measurably better baseball name.  Probably two grades better.

And do with this note what you will: According to Perfect Game USA, which organizes showcases for the top high school players in the nation, the 442-foot home run Gallo hit to right center field in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at San Diego’s Petco Park in August (with a wood bat, off righthander Lucas Sims, who went 21st overall to Atlanta last night) was the 10th-longest home run ever recorded at the Padres’ home stadium.

Not just in Perfect Game events.

Ever.

Though they profile as very different players, the key question on both Brinson and Gallo is how the hit tool will come along.  The Rangers trust the player development program they have in place.  Once those two sign – and early indications are positive in that regard (possibly even well ahead of the July 13 deadline) – they’ll be turned over to a group of coaches and instructors whose job will be to begin the process of turning exquisite raw tools into actualized, productive baseball skills.

The same will be true as far as Kansas high school righthander Collin Wiles is concerned,  but it’s easy to come away with a different set of initial expectations when industry writers put the three players in these frames:

Brinson: perhaps the highest ceiling of any high school position player in this draft

Gallo: the most feared power hitter among high school players in this draft

Wiles: not among the 218 players that MLB Network profiled in preparation for last night’s 60 slots

The fact that Baseball America had Wiles ranked number 268 going into the draft at least suggests that Texas might have taken a player that it liked but felt it could get several rounds later, using the supplemental first only after learning that he would take a below-slot signing bonus (hypothetical: sixth- or eighth-round projection [if the BA assessment closely matches up with scouting sentiment], first-round pick, takes second- or third-round money), something the Rangers and many other teams wouldn’t have game-planned until the new CBA rules were implemented.

Texas has $6,568,200 to spend in the first 10 rounds.  Every dollar it saves in any given round leaves more it can spend in another round where there’s an opportunity to go above slot on a player perceived to be slipping due to bonus demands.

We don’t know that that’s the case, but under the new CBA (which, to be accurate, doesn’t impose a hard cap but instead levies monetary sanctions, and in some cases future draft pick forfeitures, if a club exceeds its league-assigned budget) there are new strategies that are essential to consider.  Either the Rangers are wild about Wiles and sensed at least one other team situated somewhere between 53 and 83 was poised to pounce on him if Texas didn’t, or something along the lines of the above scenario is in play and the club may believe it can reallocate some of the $954,800 slotted for the pick toward an over-slot effort to get things done with Brinson or (more likely) Gallo or someone else they plan to select today.

In any event, Wiles told reporters that the Rangers “matched what we were looking for, so it’s basically a done deal.  Just pretty much waiting on a signature.”  Interpret the first part of the quote, and the hypothetical laid out above seems fairly likely.

In other words, even if high school lefthander Matt Smoral, projected in several mock drafts to be the Rangers’ top pick, fell all the way to number 53 (Toronto popped him at 50), I’d say it’s doubtful – given the new rules – that Texas would have taken him.

Interestingly, leading up to the draft BA wrote that Wiles was “considered all but unsignable and likely will slide in the draft.”  The opposite appears to have been the case, as the 18-year-old will apparently let Vanderbilt know he’s choosing to turn pro.

Preller and Fagg described Wiles as a premium strike-thrower with good arm action and a “very projectable body.”  Reports tell us the lanky 18-year-old sits in the upper 80s with the ability to reach back for more (and certainly projects for more as he fills out), offers a promising slider with tight spin, and has some feel for a changeup.  He posted an ERA of 0.10 in 49.1 innings, which I don’t think is correct because giving up one earned run over that span would produce an 0.18 ERA, or an 0.14 ERA using a modified seven-inning basis, but the point is it looks like the kid gave up one earned run all season.  He fanned 76.

The Wiles pick didn’t pop like the Brinson and Gallo selections that prompted Goldstein to tweet that “the Rangers should be awfully happy at this point to get that kind of upside at 29 and 39.  Wow.”

But the Wiles pick may serve the dual purpose of adding another high-upside righthander to the system and improving the chances to get a guy like Gallo signed.

Five years ago, Jon Daniels and his crew set out on a critically important mission, as the decision had been made to trade Mark Teixeira as the first piece in a strategic teardown designed to make the Texas Rangers a perennial contender.  As Evan Grant would report in a piece for Baseball America (and as recounted in the JD e-Book):

“‘Now is not the time to be shy about taking risks,’” [Daniels] told his team of scouts. “By definition, these trades were going to be risks.  We focused on high-ceiling players with athleticism that played premium positions, and pitching depth. . . . To make this [plan] work, we needed impact players.”

No to Joe Saunders and Casey Kotchman, effective big leaguers with limited upside.  Yes to 22-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 21-year-old Matt Harrison, 20-year-old Beau Jones, 19-year-old Neftali Feliz, and 18-year-old Elvis Andrus, not to mention 17-year-old Engel Beltre, acquired from Boston the same day.

And yes to 18-year-old Lewis Brinson and 18-year-old Joey Gallo and 18-year-old Collin Wiles.  Three high school picks.  Three projectable high school picks.  Three projectable high school picks who are evidently ready to turn down elite college programs like Florida, LSU, and Vanderbilt to start their pro careers.

The strength of this baseball team at the big league level, and the depth on the farm, both brought about by what the Daniels group whiteboarded in 2007 and executed with assassin’s precision, facilitate a draft strategy where you can go younger, and go for impact upside.

In organizations thinner on minor league talent, rolling the dice can be a shakier proposition, because making key draft picks pay off (higher floor, lower ceiling) is more critical to the big picture.

But as Goldstein tweeted late last night: “With a packed system and late picks, the Rangers tend to focus on upside athletes, regardless of the risk.”

Texas can afford to play the player procurement game that way because of how it’s positioned itself over years of killing it in scouting and player development.

The “best player available” philosophy that guides the Rangers defines “best” in a way that doesn’t take into account how quickly the player might get to the big leagues, or how likely it is that he reaches his potential (whatever that potential is), or what the state of the position he plays happens to be at that moment in the system.

You can never have too many good baseball players, and to be more precise, you can never have too many toolshed center fielders or power-hitting corner bats.

It may be true that you can’t put six center fielders on the field or play a handful of those corner bats up the middle, but if they’re the players you think they might be, someone out there will need them, or someone else they can replace, and that presents impact opportunities to get better, the moments that drive Jon Daniels and A.J. Preller and Kip Fagg and dozens of scouts out there doing the grindwork while the rest of us watch the big club fight to maintain a league-best division lead and find its way to a third straight World Series.

Chasing happiness.

One streak was snapped, and another one lives.

Frisco shortstop Jurickson Profar’s run of games reaching base ended at 50 on Sunday.  But his teammate Mike Olt homered twice in the game – for the third straight day.

Another streak was killed on Sunday, and a new one was started, as Texas got out of Anaheim with a win, holding the Angels off all day in a very tense ballgame that never felt comfortable until the ninth.

A few interesting things about the six games that the Rangers and Angels have played so far this season, in which the home team has won two of three in each series:

Texas has won by scores of 10-3, 13-6, and 7-3, while the three Los Angeles victories have been by the scores of 4-2, 4-2, and 3-2.

And get this:

In all three games of this weekend’s series, the Rangers starter took a no-hitter into the fourth inning.  In fact, the only blemish on what otherwise would have been three perfect three-inning starts was an Elvis Andrus throwing error on Saturday.

The Texas bullpen threw 5.1 scoreless innings over the weekend.

The Rangers outscored the Angels in the series, 11-10 – and outhit them in all three games.

But the Angels won the series.

Baseball.

Texas will make three draft picks tonight (29, 39, 53), and two more tomorrow morning (83, 93) before the Angels get to speak up for the first time (114).

Olt was the 49th player chosen in 2010, and few Rangers fans had ever heard of him.  Now, he’s one of the top prospects in baseball.  And even though his path to the big leagues is uncertain, only because he’s extraordinarily good at a position at which Texas has an extraordinarily good player locked up for years, he’s going to make the Rangers better, one way or another.

The draft accomplishes several things.

You don’t draft for need.  You draft talent.

“I think you take the best player available,” says Rangers amateur scouting director Kip Fagg.  “That’s always been my philosophy.  Just because you have a bunch of shortstops you think are prospects doesn’t mean you don’t take a shortstop.”

“It’s critical,” Daniels says of the draft, while he and his group await the result of MLB’s lengthy investigation into Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras’s age.  “It’s a talent-hungry, borderline talent-starved industry.  It’s extremely competitive in all facets, whether it’s big league free agency, international, minor league free agency, the draft.

“They’re all important parts.  It’s hard to rank them.  They’re all huge parts of what we do.”

Baseball.

In last night’s episode of “Mad Men,” Don Draper said: “What is happiness?  It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

It’s true in baseball, whether you’re a two-time American League pennant winner or first-place team after a big win against the team chasing you in the standings or an elite farm system relentlessly determined to keep killing it internationally and in the draft.

Tonight the Rangers work to keep more than one streak alive.

50 days.

The last time the Angels were within 3.5 games of Texas was 50 days ago.

Right after that, Texas continued on a hot streak that would roll for another week.  The Los Angeles hot streak didn’t come around until this past week and a half.

But overall, since that day 50 days ago, the Rangers have won four more than they’ve lost, and so have the Angels, and here were are again, back at 3.5.

Last night was brutal.  Just brutal.  The umpiring shouldn’t have mattered.  It mattered because of the way Texas played the game.

But I look back on what I wrote that day, 50 days ago, because reader Pelham Swift suggested last night that I should.  It helped.  I needed it.

=============================

April 14, 2012

There will be stretches this year when the Rangers struggle to execute. They’ll drop the ball, they’ll leave runners on base, they’ll get too much of the plate, they’ll run into outs.

There just will be. And when those things happen, every columnist and talk show host and weatherman in town will quote Wash and Merle Haggard, and some will conclude, in the throes of a frustrating run of baseball, that it’s just not going to happen in 2012 like it did in 2010 and 2011.

And that might be true. Or might not. Overreacting to bad baseball is easy.

And so is overreacting to great baseball. The opposition being what it’s been, 6-2 could be a little deceiving.

Some of you will want to email me (like a handful already have) and suggest this team should be 8-0. Before you do that, admit to yourself that it could also very, very easily be 5-3. Maybe worse.

Baseball.

The point is that sometime in May or August or even during this Minnesota-Boston-Detroit trip or when the Yankees and Jays come to town, the pitching and defense and baserunning and Ian Kinsler and Matt Harrison will stop being this consistently extraordinary.

And when that happens, we’ll be able to look back on 6-2, and on that good-looking 3.5 that jumps out from among all the numbers plotted out on the standings page, and recognize that while it’s just an eight-game stretch in early April, eight games in April count the same as eight games in September, and if your reality check includes the Rangers’ strength of schedule, take a look at who the Angels have played so far.

Appreciate this while it lasts, no matter how long it lasts. They all count, and those games-back numbers in the far right column are very young but you can bet the club on the negative side of that 3.5 understands that it’s very real.

=============================

Texas, in spite of this four-game skid, one that’s included four very ugly losses, has the American League’s best record and baseball’s healthiest run differential, by a lot.

It still does.

And that’s because of how this club started this season.

We obviously all feel like it’s sort of time to be that team again, but the truth is that, because of the way the Rangers got out of the gate, and the way the Angels did themselves, all Texas really needs to do is be the team it’s been the last 50 days.

The Rangers have had an eight-game win streak and now a four-game losing streak this year.

The Angels have had an eight-game win streak and a five-game losing streak.

Take those stretches away, and the Rangers are better.  Two very good teams.  One that’s better.

The Angels made their impact trade a month ago.  Texas will make its in a month and a half.

Or maybe not.  It will still be OK.

The Draft is tomorrow, but the next step in this gripping race between rivals is this afternoon, and it would be all right with me if, before Round One gets underway, Matt Harrison helps the Rangers get on a new streak and helps the Angels get on a new one as well, as we hit the one-third mark of another season of Appointment Baseball, a season in which everything will be just fine if, on October 3, the Angels are three or four games back just like they were on April 14, and just like they are today.

Stop it.

With so much last night that will drive a baseball fan crazy – runners in scoring position left on base, bad outfield instincts, double play groundouts, a low outfield fence, a Little League seventh, Mike Trout, the Frieri phenomenon, an abstruse batting order issue, the Vernon Wells injury, the West Coast clock – I find myself strangely content this morning.

There’s an underlying hint of ugly going on here that I can’t quite put my finger on yet, but Los Angeles 4, Texas 2 isn’t staying with me like I thought it might.

Still . . . .

On a day when C.J. Wilson and Roy Oswalt each gets set to face a former team of his, my thoughts are somewhere else.

From the May 17 report:

[Yu] Darvish has pitched three times after a Rangers loss.  His record in those three starts: 3-0 with an ERA of 0.78.  In 23 innings over those three starts, once in white and once in gray and once in red, he’s scattered 15 hits and six walks while punching out 26 Yankees, Blue Jays, and A’s.

That’s what the very good ones do.  They shoulder the load and kill losing streaks.

The record stands, unaltered.

Need ya, Big Man.

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