February 2013

Relax.

Dear Yu,

It’s gonna be OK.  Spring training wins don’t matter.  They don’t matter at all.

Maybe you didn’t notice a year ago, the spring of smaller baseballs and a thousand media and Will Venable, but outside of that haze your team went a measly 12-17 in Cactus League play, the second-worst record of the 15 clubs training in Arizona.  You still won 93 games and played past 162.

The year before, while you were still pitching in Japan, Texas posted a 13-16 record in spring training.  And went to the World Series.

In 2010, the Rangers were a miserable 10-19 club in the spring.  And they went to the World Series.

That 10-19 record was the worst mark in the Cactus League.  And the worst record any American League team posted.  And the worst win percentage (.345) that Texas has had in its 41 spring trainings.

Yeah, .000 would be worse.  Never mind all that.

The last time the Rangers had a winning exhibition record was in 2009 (21-14, third-best mark in the AL).

That was also the last time the club missed the playoffs.

Look, Toronto had a crazy .774 win percentage last spring.  Twenty-four wins, seven losses.  It’s the greatest spring record any team has had since 1984, which is as far back as I could find, and I bet since a lot longer ago than that.

The Jays went on to go 73-89 once the games counted, fourth in the East, 22 games back, and they fired people after the season ended and then overhauled their roster.

There are runs being allowed now by Texas pitchers who are weeks away from no longer being Texas pitchers.  There are failed at-bats going to hitters in Rangers uniforms you’ll never see again.

Some of your teammates have contributed more to 0-5-1 than they’ll ever contribute to a Rangers result that matters.

I don’t know how spring training results were treated in Japan.  Don’t worry about them here.

Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, Miami, and the White Sox have three losses.

Combined.

Out of 23 games.

If anyone’s starting to think those may be the teams to beat in 2013, be my guest.

That thing you did Tuesday?  Keep doing that.

Everything’s gonna be fine.

Lance Berkman plays today.  That’s a bigger deal than any February win or loss.

It’s gonna be OK, man.  Relax.  Do what you do.

Hey, if you know how to reach the two Mantles and Albert, would you send this over their way?  I wouldn’t want them to get too worked up over their club’s own winless record (0-4-2) before their next three-way press event.

Maturity.

I’ve gone to spring training every year but one since high school, but I didn’t start going out to Fall Instructional League until 2007, motivated that October to visit Surprise and get a look at a huge collection of new prospects the club had added that summer, primarily through the trades of Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne, and Kenny Lofton and a draft that included five first-round picks.

I’d read (and written) plenty about trade acquisitions Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Engel Beltre, and Max Ramirez and draftees like Julio Borbon, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, and Mitch Moreland, but not as much about the Rangers’ J2 class from that summer.  In fact, all I’d written in 2007 about the prize of that crop, 16-year-old Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez, was the significant signing bonus ($580,000) the organization had invested in young pitcher, at a time when the Rangers were talking about a resurgence in Latin America but had yet to make too much of a splash.

It was a great three or four days of baseball at its most fundamental, least flashy level, but five and a half years later, one of the lasting memories I carry from that first post-season visit to Surprise was of Perez, walking slowly behind the chain link fence girding the primary back fields diamond, without an expression of any kind on his face.

It wasn’t the look of a kid in his mid-teens who was overwhelmed by the bigness of the environment while slightly older players like Andrus and Beltre and Hunter and Borbon bounced around like fraternity brothers.  It was very different from that.

Perez had this arresting poise and look of quiet confidence that belied his age.  I wrote that he was “16 but looks 20,” though it was more than that – he looked like a 20-year-old too mature to be just 20.

It was the kind of look Feliz has never had.  And the kid was 16.

It was easy to take whatever your estimation was of the pitcher, and tack on a little extra confidence that he was going to figure out what needed to be done to execute on all that promise.

We all know the story.  Perez almost immediately settled in as a top-tier prospect in a top-tier system.  After 2008, his first season of official action, Baseball America ranked him as the number 86 prospect in baseball.  After 2009, he was number 17.  After 2010, in spite of a rough year in AA, he was number 24.  After 2011, he was number 31.  After those four seasons, BA ranked him number 5, 3, 1, and 2 in a strong Rangers system.

Stories focused on his stuff and competitiveness and size, alternating between Johan Santana comparisons and Ron Guidry comps.

Then came 2012, the year that Perez was supposed to follow his trend of pulling things together in his second year at a level.  He would settle in at AAA Round Rock and force his way to Texas at some point.

But when the Rangers needed a starter from the farm, the organization dipped down to Frisco and grabbed Justin Grimm, even though he was pitching at one level lower than Perez and even though he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and Perez was.  Grimm was pitching better, and earned the nod.

But something kicked into gear for Perez at that point, and he was in Texas a week and a half after that.

His time with the Rangers was inconsistent.  Take out the debut against Detroit (two outs, four runs) and the brutal September 26 start against Oakland (two outs, five runs), and his 5.45 ERA would have been 3.44 – but that’s the thing.  You don’t get to toss those out.  He’s got to be more dependable in order to earn playing time on a contending baseball team.

Ron Washington praised Perez early in camp this month, focusing mostly on his ability to keep the ball down and to mix in his slider and change with more consistency.

He did that a week ago today in the club’s first intrasquad game, throwing a scoreless inning that took only nine pitches – all strikes – to complete.

But yeah, that was basically a scrimmage, and in the fifth inning that Perez worked, the Jackie Moore squad batted out of order.  (I assume intentionally.)

It was better than retiring one batter and allowing four to cross the plate, but getting too excited would have been a mistake.  We all know what Perez is capable of.  What’s been missing is the ability to repeat it.  Consistently.

There’s an opening at fifth starter, at least until Colby Lewis returns, but Texas, having missed out on Zack Greinke and perhaps James Shields and R.A. Dickey, has resisted opportunities to bring in someone like Kyle Lohse or Javier Vazquez, both of whom remain unsigned, or other veterans who might have represented a likely upgrade over Perez or Grimm or another young pitcher.  The club, at least at this point, doesn’t want to put any more roadblocks up in front of the kids.

The manager talked yesterday morning, hours before Perez’s spring training debut against Colorado, about the good work he’s done the first two weeks of camp.  But Washington was quick to add: “Now, can he do that when a hitter steps up there?”

He did.

Perez faced six Rockies, all big leaguers.  He got Eric Young Jr. to ground out and Dexter Fowler to fly out and caught Troy Tulowitzki looking at a fastball to end the first.  He got Michael Cuddyer to pop out to first and Yorvit Torrealba to roll out to first and struck Josh Rutledge out by burying a slider at his feet to swiftly end the second inning, and his day.

The 3-1 counts on Young and Fowler to start the game led to a 16-pitch effort to complete the perfect first, a slight blemish on that opening frame.  Eleven pitches in the second was better.

Washington spoke after the game about that poise that Perez has always flashed.  “He’s been looking like that since he arrived in camp,” said the skipper.  “The experience he got last year, he’s picked it up and ran with it.  He looks like a mature kid – all business.”

Perez talked about what he learned from 2012 and what he’s doing to correct it.  “I overthrew last year and missed a lot of the zone.  Now I know I don’t have to throw hard.  I just need to throw strikes.  Throw more strikes.”

He’s doing that.

Asked if he feels the pressure of having to compete for a rotation spot, the lefthander, now 21, said, “No.  It’s an opportunity and you don’t need to think too much.  Just go to the mound and do your job.  I trust my team and the team trusts me. . . . If they give me an opportunity, I just want to do my best and do my job.  We want to win the World Series, and that’s all I think about is win, win, win.  You’re not a baby up here.  Up here, it’s all about winning.”

That’s the guy I saw in October 2007, the kid whose maturity stood out as much as the sharp breaking ball and Bugs Bunny change.

Perez is number 81 in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects ranking this spring, his lowest slot since his age 17 season.  Jason Parks is a bit more bullish, tagging him at number 59.

The fact that he continues to be thought of in that sort of context, in spite of his 2012 struggles, says a lot about the upside that’s still there.

But it’s time for raw and inconsistent to give way to effective and reliable.  The Rangers are contenders, and while the number five starter opening may basically turn out be a placeholder role, this is nonetheless a club that’s not in a position to be conducting auditions when the games count.

There’s an important month ahead for Perez, but so far, really good.

Title. Waves.

On Wednesday, Jurickson Profar’s 20th birthday, a package landed on my desk at work containing this:

BA book 2013

I remember when Jon Daniels joined us for his annual 90 Newberg Report Night minutes on August 2, 2009 and said of the 16-year-old his club had signed a month earlier for $1.55 million, agreeing almost uniquely that he didn’t have to pitch, that he wouldn’t be surprised if, one year later, Profar would be widely considered one of the top 10 shortstop prospects in baseball.

The reason I remember it is it basically sounded insane – especially coming from the unfailingly understated JD, said in front of more than 300 Rangers fans who would be running to Twitter and to blogs and to message boards to broadcast what the GM had said about a player yet to play a minor league game.

Today, Profar is almost uniformly considered the number one prospect in baseball, the only Rangers player to land that Baseball America honor in the 24 years the publication has been rolling the Top 100 list out other than Mark Teixeira, 10 years ago.

That year, 2003, even though Teixeira topped the list (beating out Rocco Baldelli, Jose Reyes, and Joe Mauer), BA ranked Texas only 19th overall, though the Rangers did have three other representatives on the Top 100 that year: righthander Colby Lewis (32), lefthander Ben Kozlowski (80), and outfielder Laynce Nix (85).

Teixeira spent all of 2003 in the big leagues and accordingly was ineligible for the list the following year.  So were Lewis and Nix, who also exhausted their rookie status, while Kozlowski pitched only two AA months before Tommy John surgery and thus fell off the list, too.

Yet Texas moved up slightly in 2004, up to number 16 overall (even though only Adrian Gonzalez [52] and John Danks [80] made the Top 100).

The point is this: Profar is a strong bet not to be on next year’s list.  Same with Mike Olt, who is this year’s number 22 prospect.  And Martin Perez (81), who if he’s still under 50 big league innings this time a year from now won’t deserve to be on the list any longer (hey, if Tuesday’s nine-pitch, nine-strike scoreless intrasquad inning signals something he can come close to sustaining this spring, he’s going to lose rookie status by the end of April).  And Leonys Martin (97), who in actuality isn’t a rookie any more due to active days in the big leagues.

None of those four players will be repeat Top 100’ers, and Texas may necessarily drop out of the top three organizations overall given that the real strength of the system after those guys is probably two waves away, if not three.  But this shouldn’t be a situation like the Indians falling from seventh in 2011 to 29th in 2012 (having graduated Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, and losing Alex White and Drew Pomeranz via trade), or the Nationals dropping from the top spot in 2012 to 16th in 2013 (due in large part to Bryce Harper graduating and four key prospects heading to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez).

Lewis Brinson could leap forward in 2013, and nobody would be shocked.  Same for Jorge Alfaro.  It could be a big year for Cody Buckel and Luke Jackson and Nick Tepesch, and I’d have said that about him even if he didn’t strike Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz out with his plus cutter in a scoreless first yesterday.

Justin Grimm, too, but if he advances things in 2013, he won’t be a rookie in 2014.

Luis Sardinas and Leury Garcia could take the next step, if not fellow middle infielders Rougned Odor and Hanser Alberto and Odubel Herrera.

No telling what 2013 could bring for corner bats Joey Gallo (who just missed the BA Top 100) and Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman and Jairo Beras.

And for whoever Texas drafts at number 24 and number 30 or 31 in June, two slots well ahead of where Gallo (39th pick) fell last year.

Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras was BA’s number 74 prospect last year.  He’s now number three.

Marlins righthander Jose Fernandez wasn’t on the Top 100 last year at all, and sits now at number five.

Righty C.J. Edwards will not be baseball’s number five prospect next winter.  I’ll be good if he rockets up to number five in the Rangers system.

This system is really, really deep.

A note about all this, but first, here’s BA’s top 30 Rangers prospects:

1.  Profar
2.  Olt
3.  Perez
4.  Martin
5.  Grimm
6.  Jackson
7.  Sardinas
8.  Buckel
9.  Alfaro
10.  Gallo
11.  Odor
12.  Brinson
13.  Roman Mendez, RHP
14.  Edwards
15.  Alberto
16.  Mazara
17.  Guzman
18.  Beras
19.  Tepesch
20.  Garcia
21.  Drew Robinson, 3B
22.  Wilmer Font, RHP
23.  Neil Ramirez, RHP
24.  Zach Cone, OF
25.  Nick Williams, OF
26.  Keone Kela, RHP
27.  Nick Martinez, RHP
28.  Matt West, RHP
29.  Randy Henry, RHP
30.  Joe Ortiz, LHP

And Baseball Prospectus’s top 10, courtesy of Jason Parks:

1.  Profar (Jason’s top 101 will be revealed in a few days)
2.  Olt
3.  Perez
4.  Alfaro
5.  Sardinas
6.  Brinson
7.  Grimm
8.  Mazara
9.  Guzman
10.  Gallo

And Keith Law’s top 10 for ESPN:

1.  Profar (1st overall)
2.  Olt (71)
3.  Buckel (90)
4.  Perez (93)
5.  Brinson
6.  Mazara
7.  Gallo
8.  Alfaro
9.  Sardinas
10.  Jackson

And Jonathan Mayo’s MLB.com list:

1.  Profar (1st overall)
2.  Olt (22)
3.  Sardinas (84)
4.  Buckel (87)
5.  Alfaro (88)
6.  Perez (95)
7.  Font
8.  Beras
9.  Gallo
10.  Grimm
11.  Odor
12.  Mazara
13.  Jackson
14.  Mendez
15.  Brinson
16.  Guzman
17.  Ramirez
18.  Tepesch
19.  Garcia
20.  Edwards

And John Sickels’s top 20:

1.  Profar
2.  Olt
3.  Martin
4.  Buckel
5.  Grimm
6.  Jackson
7.  Perez
8.  Odor
9.  Sardinas
10.  Alfaro
11.  Gallo
12.  Mazara
13.  Guzman
14.  Font
15.  Williams
16.  Brinson
17.  Edwards
18.  Ramirez
19.  Alberto
20.  Martinez

My own top 30 (with the full top 72 here):

1.  Profar
2.  Olt
3.  Perez
4.  Brinson
5.  Alfaro
6.  Mazara
7.  Gallo
8.  Guzman
9.  Buckel
10.  Beras
11.  Grimm
12.  Sardinas
13.  Edwards
14.  Odor
15.  Jackson
16.  Font
17.  Garcia
18.  Williams
19.  Tepesch
20.  Jose Valdespina, RHP
21.  Mendez
22.  Engel Beltre, OF
23.  Ramirez
24.  Kela
25.  David Perez, RHP
26.  Jordan Akins, OF
27.  Collin Wiles, RHP
28.  Alec Asher, RHP
29.  Alberto
30.  Yohander Mendez, LHP

Now, for that note.

I’m not sure if he said it yesterday, or if it was simply yesterday when MLB.com’s Richard Justice decided to recycle it, but Brewers GM Doug Melvin, whose Rangers clubs ranked 28th, 16th, and 8th in BA’s farm system rankings going into their three playoff seasons under his watch, was credited for saying, “I’d rather be on the cover of Sports Illustrated than Baseball America.”

Melvin’s comment was evidently made in the context of parting with top prospects for big league help, and that’s something we talk about here all the time, but the more general point is worth reminding ourselves of as well.

It was fun to celebrate the Rangers’ number four farm system ranking going into 2008, and its number one position going into 2009, and its number two spot going into 2010, but as much as I focus on prospect development, it’s all because of the impact it has on the real endgame, staged every October.

The BA rankings don’t always correlate with playoff success, but they do a lot of the time.

Cheers to Profar for his number one ranking, and here’s hoping that it leads to the kind of success that fellow number ones Mauer, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Profar’s countryman Andruw Jones enjoyed before him, and that he doesn’t instead go the way of Brien Taylor, Rick Ankiel, Delmon Young, or Daisuke Matsuzaka.

More importantly, here’s hoping that the Rangers’ fifth top five billing as an overall system in the last six years leads to a lot more of what October 2010 and October 2011 gave us, and that the new BA Prospect Handbook cover boy is a big reason why – maybe even along with the second player identified on that cover, thanks in part to the next couple waves of Rangers minor league talent barreling in behind the one about to hit shore.

Say less.

With that smirk of “lemme let you in on something oh yeah there’s a camera rolling well still lemme let you in on something” self-assuredness, he proclaimed that the fans in Texas who will boo him are the ones who don’t get it.

Then he booed the fans.

Don’t know which category I fit neatly into as far as he’s concerned, since I’ll be silent when he comes up to bat, and since I don’t care.

Whatever.  Consider how ridiculous it is to let “Hey guys it’s me – it’s gonna be something weird” define you as a baseball fan, or judge this baseball community.  All that was missing was a snappy “What am I in this for?

He’s deciding who “gets it.”

Mm hmm.

The thing that irritates me most about the CBS 11 interview Sunday night is that I spent this much space commenting on it.

Earlier that day I was in the middle of cleaning out a bunch of old stuff at the house, and found a letter I’d received 27 years ago.  It was from the person who (outside of my family) had the greatest impact on me, until then or since, and in it she said some things that I wouldn’t ever forget.

They were the last words she shared with me before she died, five weeks later.

She was one of those people who led by example, who motivated by letting go of the reins, who empowered by setting expectations unimaginably high.

The best teachers and coaches go about it all kinds of different ways, but the truly great ones, I’m convinced, have this in common:  They push.  We may not always like it.  But they push.  Push us to do more than what we believe we can do, and to take what we know we can do and do it better.

And then they let go.

There’s the X’s and O’s and The Chicago Manual of Style, and all that stuff’s important, but when we’re coached to trust the process and each other and ourselves, to not only play the game but to play it right, that’s when something really cool has a chance to surface.

Integrity doesn’t always fill the box score, but it lasts.

In my head this was going to be a feed-in to Ron Washington telling his club Saturday morning before their first full workout: “The handcuffs are off.  The ankle chains are off.  Let’s see what you can do.”  It was evidently a baserunning edict for 2013, but I think more than that, too.

I thought about what Wash said as I was reading that 1986 letter on Sunday.

I thought less about Wash’s comment Sunday night, as I watched the Angels outfielder wink at the camera.  I thought about respect.  Reliability.

Integrity.

And how saying less is almost never a bad idea.

(Suggests the blogger who’s sure to be 0 for 2 after this one.)

Judy would have turned 82 this Saturday.  She wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I’m pretty sure she still would’ve been drawn to Elvis, would’ve instantly recognized Adrian’s artistry, would’ve loved everything about Jurickson.

Thing is, she would have loved everything about the Angels newest outfielder, too, even the things she’d have cringed at a little.  Her patience was as stout as her genius.

She also would have expected more from him.

She would have expected more from me, too, if she saw me roll out a snarky line about urging you to set aside your excitement about the NFL Scouting Combine – one sleep! – long enough to read Professor Parks’s tasty review of the Rangers’ top 10 prospects for Baseball Prospectus, published minutes ago.

She’d have preferred that I exercise a little more restraint.  Maybe with some understated reference to Wednesday being both the start of the Combine and Profar’s 20th birthday, or a simple recommendation that you read this (now), a minimalist approach that I shun too readily, just about every time.

I look back at the Plan II thesis I wrote over 20 years ago (and dedicated to her), and the first few Bound Editions from over 10 years ago, and know that while I still have a long way to go, there’s been some small amount of progress.

I’m still learning from Judy.

There are people who move on and you never forget.

There are others who just move on, making it progressively easier every time they speak for us to do the same.  All of us.  Those who get it and those who don’t and those who pledge silence.

He’s who he is, and that’s very unlikely to change.

We are who we are, and our mistake would be to care what he thinks about that.

The manager addressed the players on Saturday, and challenged them.  Let’s see what you can do.

He gets it.

In one direction the expectations have been ratcheted up.

In the other?

Forget it.  I’ve already said too much.

I’m choosing silence, and planning this time to stick to it.

Arid zone.

Ron Jenkins/FWST

Ron Jenkins/FWST

 

Depicted: Fifteen men and women who, I’d guess, would really rather not talk about it.

Peace,
The Sixteenth

Of meteorites, visions of Surprise, and snark.

Yesterday I put myself through an annoying nationally televised Angels presser for the second time in the last couple months, which I think justified my second snarky Twitter exchange with my good friend Victor Rojas.

(Victor on February 1:  “Hot Stove QOTD: Who will the #Angels miss the most this season? Zack Greinke, Torii Hunter or Kendrys Morales. #AngelTalk”

My response:  “Hamilton?”

Victor last night“#AngelTalk Question of the Day: What is your favorite #Angels souvenir/keepsake? It can be memorabilia/autograph/etc – thanks for listening.”

My response“Mike Napoli.”)

Actually, now that I think about it, there was a nauseating Angels press conference a year ago, too, so I think it’s probably fair game for a third Rojas response.  Assuming he doesn’t Twitter-block me first.

I’ll leave room for the possibility that my snark levels have been boosted a bit the last few days by this cleanse I’m on, but in truth I think I’m over the hump, feeling pretty good, and if I seem a little cranky, it’s probably less because of vegetable shakes that because of the half hour of irritainment yesterday that Albert Pujols appeared to endure only slightly more willingly than I did.

No quips this morning about slow-moving cruise ships or about supersonic hurtling meteorites giving me the chance to write Chelyabinsk for what’s probably the first time, or about one Angels outfielder’s eye-opening weight loss or another’s interesting weight gain, or about University of Florida righthander Karsten Whitson and the embarrassing writing about his unfortunate situation that hit the Interwebs yesterday.

While I’d like to write a few hundred words down about this Australian kid Todd McDonald the Rangers just gave almost half a million dollars to, I’m going to hang tight on that for a bit, because I have the luxury of not having to write something every day during camp.

The Rangers are right up there in terms of who has the best group of beat reporters in the league, but man, I feel for those guys.  Especially now, when nothing’s happening.  It seems like there’s already been more content filed about Julio Borbon this week than there was in 2012.

Thinking back, these are the things I was probably most looking forward to the last handful of times I went to Surprise:

Fall Instructs, 2009: Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas, and Tanner Scheppers, none of whom had played so much as a minor league game yet (my first Profar report included this comment about the 16-year-old: “What I’m about to say is not an exercise in overhyping, and isn’t really hype at all.  Don’t take this the wrong way.  Jurickson Profar reminds me of Elvis Andrus.”)

Spring Training, 2010: Alexi Ogando, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jorge Alfaro, in the first Rangers camp for each

Fall Instructs, 2010: Supplemental first-rounder Mike Olt, coming off his impressive debut run in the Northwest League

Spring Training, 2011: Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli

Fall Instructs, 2011: Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman (though it turned out to be Jordan Akins and Guzman who stole the show)

Spring Training, 2012: Yu

Fall Instructs, 2012: Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, Jairo Beras, and C.J. Edwards

I was thinking this morning about what I’m looking forward to seeing when I get out to Surprise this spring.  Maybe by then, ESPN’s Jim Bowden will have correctly predicted that Kyle Lohse will be a Ranger (or a Brewer, which I think makes more sense for the pitcher and the clubs).  Maybe the back field reports on McDonald will match the salted hype from the Baseball America story.  I’d love to be there for a very un-irritating press conference announcing that Elvis Andrus has agreed to eight more years in Texas.

Right now, I’m pretty sure that what I’ll be most eager to see each morning is Profar and Olt and Leury Garcia in defensive drills.  I want to see Profar around the bag from both sides.  I want to see Olt track fly balls and drill cutoff men in the chest.  I want to see Garcia run and catch and throw from six different positions, and to steal a glance toward the skipper from time to time and at least pretend I caught some sort of reaction.

Pretty boring, maybe.

Not for me.

And that’s still a month away, at least in my own case.

Anyway, I’ll be back around soon with something to say.  Maybe three or four days from now, maybe this afternoon.  Just don’t know.  There’s just not much grabbing me right now in what’s started out to be an unusually quiet camp for this club, and that’s totally cool, because – say it with me – no news is almost always good news in spring training.

Catch you later.  I’m gonna go stalk Rojas’s Twitter feed.

Five keys.

It’s far too soon to try and make too much of anything that’s happened in Arizona so far – though hearing that Joakim Soria threw without incident is far preferable to the news the Angels shared yesterday on Ryan Madson’s elbow setback – but I need to write about something, if for no other reason than to distract my brain from the early side effects of this purification/cleanse thing I’m putting my body through.

(Yeah, I think it’s weird that news came out yesterday, about 36 hours into my own cleanse, that the Angels’ new outfielder put himself through one this winter and reported to camp 20 pounds lighter than usual.  Still, don’t care.)

Not wanting to write too many words about the possibility of Ryan Theriot or about the fact that Michael Kirkman is just as out-of-options as Julio Borbon, or to speculate on whether Texas was the mystery team in until the end on Michael Bourn, I’m going to start a Newberg Report tradition this morning, hours before Rangers’ pitchers’ and catchers’ first official workout of spring, a tradition that I’m very liable to ditch (or forget) before the First Workout a year from now.

Five keys to the 2013 season.

Five Keys!

schlüsselbund

Obviously, things are likely to happen in camp that will jump past a couple of these before too long.  Expect that.

And I’m not going to include “stay healthy,” even though that’s basically number one, every year.

Really, going through this exercise now is exceedingly premature.

But it’s baseball season now, and I gotta write something.

So, rather than comment on the King Felix extension (pretty much a slam dunk to have happened) or to roll out a COFFEY dump just to let you know that Mark Lowe (Dodgers) and Kam Loe (Mariners) have each signed minor league contracts or to draw parallels between Vladimir Guerrero and Jaromir Jagr that go beyond the suffix, here we go – the five keys to the Texas Rangers season, in my very temporary (and very protein-deprived) opinion.

5.  Leonys Martin.  As Jon Daniels said a couple weeks ago, if the club isn’t going to give the center fielder a serious look now, then when?

He’ll be 25 in three weeks.  He hit .359/.422/.610 in 260 plate appearances for Round Rock last summer, fanning only 39 times.  Texas doesn’t have a clear picture in center field – for that matter, the situation is less than rock-solid in the outfield as a whole.  Martin hits from the left side, allowing Texas to deploy Craig Gentry ideally.  It adds up.

The AAA slash line isn’t meant to serve as an indicator that Martin’s about to go all McCutchen on big league pitching, but it does suggest he doesn’t really have anything left to prove on the farm (at least offensively), unless he proves in camp he’s just not ready for regular big league work on a team that expects to win.  Martin will exhaust his third option in 2013 if he spends 20 days in the minor leagues, but that’s not so much of an issue since he’d be entitled procedurally to a fourth option.

It’s just time to see if Martin is ready.  If he can do a reasonable amount of damage at the plate and take a step forward with his recognition and judgment defensively, he and Gentry could combine to give the club a solid year in center field and at the bottom of the order, at less than $3 million combined.

4.  July.  I could write 3,000 words on this subject (and like it or not, I probably will more than once before we get there), but for now let’s just say that there are all kinds of reasons Texas should be able to make an impact at the trade deadline this year, from payroll allocations that weren’t made in the winter to a ripe farm system to the likelihood of a tight race that will justify a July splash.

The big unknown, as usual, will be who will be out there to be acquired.  King Felix is no longer a possibility, and Clayton Kershaw isn’t going to be shopped, either.  David Price’s availability will probably depend on Tampa Bay’s ability to survive in the East this year, while Giancarlo Stanton’s may depend on Jeffrey Loria’s mood.

Forget Andrew McCutchen.

But Miguel Cabrera?  Hmm.  Tuck that one away.

Matt Garza.  Carlos Gonzalez.  James Shields.  Yovani Gallardo.  Cliff Lee.

Maybe a second-tier player like Bud Norris or Billy Butler or Ricky Nolasco or Josh Willingham.

We don’t know now what impact names will be available at the trade deadline, and probably won’t until close to the deadline in this era of multiple Wild Card slots.  But we know that Texas (barring a really strange and miserable first half, which would put Elvis Andrus on the list himself) will be in on all of them to some extent.  The burden will be on Daniels and his crew to come through as the season embarks on its final third.

3. Wash.  Speaking of the final third, the manager has acknowledged, both in the aftermath of the dreadful conclusion to 2012 and in the weeks leading up to Pitchers & Catchers, that he needs to do a better job this year of getting his bench involved.  He’ll admit that it’s because his veterans were gassed in September, an obvious problem as his club limped to the finish and got bounced in such ugly fashion.

What he won’t admit publicly, because it’s not his style, is that he might also be armed with a couple young players on his bench who can impact a game from time to time.  Daniels has said he expects the 2013 club to play with more energy than last year’s roster, and that’s easier to envision if there’s an infusion of youth folded in.

The makeup of the bench – and whether it will include Jurickson Profar or Leury Garcia, and possibly Mike Olt – is going to be a fascinating story line this spring.  It’s become common around here to talk about how veteran infielders with alternatives are unlikely to sign on for bench roles with Texas since starting Rangers infielders rarely rest.  So if the choice is between going with a 4-A infielder that the manager doesn’t trust, or a phenom whose development would arguably be stunted by irregular action off the big league bench, one way to feel better about the roster makeup would be an expectation that Wash is going to get those guys involved, and not just once a week.

If he did that last year, it sure feels like there wouldn’t have been a one-and-done game in Arlington on October 5.

2.  Derek Holland.  Sure, you want to see Yu Darvish take the next step.  And Matt Harrison repeat.  And Alexi Ogando prove that he’s a starter.  And someone hold things down at number five until Colby Lewis is ready.

But no Rangers starting pitcher has a beta as volatile as Holland, who may be just as likely to lose his rotation spot to Lewis in May as he is to lead the club in 2013 wins.

Ninety big league starts and 569 innings is enough of a trial period, and that doesn’t even count his 35.2 playoff frames which included the greatest start in franchise history.

I always believed more in Holland than I did in Neftali Feliz, as the two shot through the system together.  Lots of folks have a ton of faith in Holland.

It’s time for him to validate.

1.  Ian Kinsler.  I almost want to just stop right there, without explanation.

The dude just needs to be better.

His second half was brutal, his overall season was his worst, his decline was not what you expect from a supreme athlete who’s still only 30.

He’s still one of baseball’s best second basemen.  I firmly believe that.  I don’t know whether the added responsibility as a team leader is going to be good for Kins or bad, or if it matters at all.  I don’t know whether having Dave Magadan around will reignite his offensive game, but I sure like to think those two could be a fantastic fit.  I’m hoping a rejuvenated ankle means rejuvenated defense.

Right now this feels like Adrian Beltre’s team, or maybe Andrus’s, but if we get to the summer and the Texas Rangers appear to be Ian Kinsler’s team, then I’m going to say right now that 2013 will be damn special.

If most of those five things work out, I like this team’s chances.  Yeah, Lance Berkman needs to be in the lineup, and it sure would help for the bullpen to hold things together until Soria and Feliz get back.  I’m never going to predict how many games Texas will win this season, a silly exercise on March 31, let alone February 13, but if Martin and Holland and Kinsler are better in 2013 than they were in 2012, and if Wash gets everyone on his roster playing time – and days off, and if JD strikes in July, that new “Hello Win Column” ad campaign is bound to get some heavy play, and we could be in for another year of 162+.

I realize there’s not much in here that’s particularly enlightening.  Call it the Newberg Report equivalent of “Rogelio showed up in camp in the best shape of his life,” an exercise in throwing a few words together that have little meaning but serve as a land marker to help move us from the cold of the off-season to the images that “Cactus” and “Grapefruit” are designed to summon up.

Then again, it’s apparently 36 degrees in Surprise right now, and although I expect to feel like I’m in the best shape of my life myself after finishing this cleanse, I’m not feeling that way right now, so apparently nothing makes sense and maybe this was all a bad idea, and I’ll get right to work on a piece breaking down Ryan Garko’s non-roster deal with the Rockies, Bengie Molina’s new gig as the Cardinals’ assistant hitting coach, and the mind-blowing possibilities of what would happen if Josh Hamilton, evidently inspired to juice this winter by a TV pitchwoman in the middle of the night, were to wake up one night instead to C.J. Wilson pitching Head & Shoulders.

Happy New Year.

rangers ballpark fireworks 4

Shawn O’Connell

Happy New Year.

Do-overs.

It was a brilliant game plan.  It really was.

I was coming off my second Rotisserie League title in three years, with much of the core of my roster still under contract for another year, at least.  I calmly told the catbird he’d have to scoot over.

I had eight open spots to fill in the spring auction, but no huge holes.  I’d pick off a couple ordinary regulars who had a chance to help keep the train rolling, but my focus would be mostly on young players who seemed ready to contribute big.  I’d grow the pipeline, extend the window, lose another shirt to a Yoo-Hoo casualty.

Buying low on Vinny Castilla ($4) coming off an unusually bad season fit the plan perfectly early in the draft.  Landing the versatile, quietly productive Rob Mackowiak for $3 early worked, too.  Those two would help set things up so I’d have plenty of cap space left at the end of the day to make sure nobody could outbid me on the player I really wanted, Houston rookie righthander Brad Lidge.

The strategic genius, however, turned into a kick in the gut when, as teams around me started running out of money, I was able to land Lidge to round out my 25-man roster – leaving me with $8 out of the precious $260 that I never got to spend.  In hindsight, I wanted to go back and leave Mackowiak for someone else, and to have taken those extra eight bucks and grabbed Marcus Giles at the $11 he ended up going for to fill my empty second base slot.

But do-overs were no more available in Rotisserie League baseball in 2003, however, than they are in the real thing, and that bungled blueprint bugged me until the games got underway.

Imagine the possibilities if you could get a mulligan in pro ball.  Revoke Chan Ho Park’s deal.  Undo that Adrian Gonzalez trade.  Take Mike Trout or Shelby Miller instead of Matt Purke.  Hire Jim Leyland instead of Doug Rader.

It’s been a disappointing winter for the Rangers, given all the high-end opportunities that they were reportedly very much in on, but I wonder how much of it the club is second-guessing.  How many Marcus Giles are there that they’d like a redo on?

Think if Josh Hamilton had given Texas that final conversation, the club would have matched the 5/125 that the Angels are paying him – assuming a match would have even kept him from heading to Hollywood?

No way.

Do the Rangers wish they’d put another million or two per year on the table for Zack Greinke?

The better question is whether anyone really believes that would have brought about a different result – other than kicking the Dodgers’ offer up accordingly.

In retrospect would they have done anything differently in order to bring James Shields in?

Kansas City put Wil Myers in the deal.  To beat that, Jurickson Profar would have had to go.  Though I suppose the Rays would have taken Yu Darvish.

Outdistancing the Jays’ package of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to get R.A. Dickey would have been silly.

Does Texas second-guess itself on not tendering a one-year, $13.3 million offer to Mike Napoli, whose medicals were so bad that he ended up having a three-year, $39 million offer scaled back to a guarantee of $5 million?  If he and his agent knew how doctors assessed his hip condition going into the winter, he’d have taken the one-year tender and the Rangers not only wouldn’t have gotten the compensatory draft pick but likely wouldn’t have gone out and signed A.J. Pierzynski – and maybe not even Lance Berkman, given the financial commitment to Napoli.

The greater regret in that case obviously belongs to Napoli, who reportedly turned three years and $38 million down from Texas after the 2011 season, figuring he’d boost his market value even further in 2012 on his way toward a relatively weak free agent class.

Whoops.

Justin Upton?  Again, the Rangers weren’t going to include Profar or Elvis Andrus then, and they wouldn’t do it now.  If they really offered Mike Olt, Leury Garcia, either Martin Perez or Cody Buckel, and a fourth prospect, and Arizona declined that package, how much higher do you think they wish now they’d gone?

Let’s say Texas makes that deal by agreeing to put both young pitchers in it, something Jim Bowden of XM and ESPN hears the Diamondbacks would have accepted.

Without Olt and Perez and Buckel around, it would be a lot tougher to come up with the ammunition and pounce once David Price or Giancarlo Stanton hits the trade market, and not have the system decimated in Pyrrhic proportions.  Whatever competitive advantage the Rangers have right now over most clubs in that regard would be severely compromised.

And Upton is no Price or Stanton.

Texas is guaranteeing Berkman, Pierzynski, Joakim Soria, and Jason Frasor a combined $11 million less than Boston committed to Shane Victorino.  Doubt there’s any buyer’s remorse there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m certainly not saying this winter has gone the way Texas wanted it to.  It hasn’t come close.

But I’m not sure where the obvious do-over is – unless the club decided it was time in one case or another to overpay in prospects, which seems to be an unusually prevalent trend this winter on the trade market in particular, given the Shields and Dickey trades, the one the Diamondbacks had teed up with Seattle before Upton killed it, and whatever Arizona was thinking in its three-team deal with Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Hoggy’s equipment truck pulled up the ramp and away from 1000 Ballpark Way Friday, embarking on an 1,100-mile voyage to Surprise, and tucked away among the baseballs and bats and sunflower seeds and laundry detergent was a modular storage thingy full of loose letters and large numbers that can be sewn onto white or red or gray or blue jerseys, and on a loosely related subject I ask you the following question:

How many players on the Rangers’ current 40-man roster whose primary position is outfield are under club control past this season?

Three.

OK, now name them.

Craig Gentry.

Leonys Martin.

And Engel Beltre, who will be out of options when this season ends.

Sure, there’s Olt, who six games in the outfield this winter are more than he’d played in his minor league and big league career combined.

And Mitch Moreland, who was more of an outfielder in the minor leagues than a first baseman or pitcher, but who since June 2011 has played in 177 big league games and in that stretch has started exactly one game in the outfield.

And Berkman, whose fitness to play first base these days on that right knee is enough of a question mark that the prospect of future days in the outfield is probably not worth spending more than a sentence on.

And Garcia, who first saw the outfield late this June, in what was his fifth pro season.

The four games he logged in the Frisco outfield this summer are four more than Ian Kinsler and Profar have had professionally, just in case you’re making plans in your mind for one to settle in eventually on a corner and the other in the middle.

Those guys will be around past 2013 too, as long as Texas wants them to be, but that’s not a real inspiring outfield picture going forward.

To be fair, there are rumors that the club and David Murphy could rip up the one-year deal they struck two weeks ago and replace it with some sort of multi-year commitment.

On the other hand, Nelson Cruz will almost certainly be gone after this season.

Which was pretty much a slam dunk even before last week’s off-the-field development.

And that brings us back to the immediate picture.

Texas wanted to sign Hamilton, and maybe Torii Hunter.  Met with Cody Ross.  Tried to trade for Upton, and (according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports) Michael Morse.  Is surely keeping tabs on Stanton, and Carlos Gonzalez, the first of whom is said to be unavailable – for now – and the other of whom may practically be, given Tracy Ringolsby’s MLB.com report that the Rangers “never got past a preliminary chat with Colorado about [Gonzalez] when they refused to consider giving up prime prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt.”

None of them are here.

Texas brought Jeff Baker and Aaron Cunningham and Jim Adduci in on non-roster deals, but collectively that bunch looks like this year’s version of Conor Jackson (not that you should write Baker off), a Doug Deeds, and another Doug Deeds.  Brandon Snyder will be back in camp, and Joey Butler will be there, too, but we’re talking about impacting the top of the outfield rotation, not the back end.

The Rangers have also reportedly kicked the tires on free agent Michael Bourn, who remains available, though at age 30 the prospect of giving him four or five expensive years – and forfeiting the 24th pick in the draft – doesn’t seem all that palatable.  Plus, as Daniels has said regarding center field: “If we’re not going to look at Leonys now, when are we?”

He said that before the Cruz story surfaced.

Does the timing of JD’s comment matter?  ESPN’s Buster Olney wonders, along with a whole lot of folks, “in light of [the] Cruz allegation, . . . if [Texas will] now pursue” Bourn.

The front office is saying no.  Maybe because there’s no guarantee Cruz will miss time, and even if he does it will amount to less than two months – almost like couple of those typical hamstring deactivations – and you’re not going to invest a stack of years and a first-round pick in a player you didn’t want before just to cover for a 50-game penalty that may not ever get imposed.

On the other hand, if you sign Bourn, as opposed to trading for an impact outfielder, you lose the pick but keep all your prospects – and that doesn’t compromise your ability later to go get Price or Stanton or whoever you want to fill the blank with.  All that’s surrendered (besides cash) is the 24th pick in June.

Sort of.  Truthfully, it’s probably less about the 24th slot than the $1.75 million or so that the pick will be worth as far as the draft bonus pool in the new system is concerned.  Having the 24th and 35th picks (the second of which could be higher depending on what happens with Bourn and Kyle Lohse) and the $3.25 million or more that the two picks are worth combined could make it easier for the Rangers to go large on someone like they did last year at number 39, when they took Joey Gallo and went significantly over slot to get him signed.  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, for what it’s worth, says the Rangers were “one of the teams that vehemently opposed the new draft rules,” which amputate aggressiveness on the scouting and acquisition front.  But they are what they are, and Texas, like everyone else, is left to figure out ways to maximize opportunities.

But back to the threshold question: Does the potential loss of Cruz – and let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that he’s likely to serve the full 50 games – mean Texas ought be rethinking its position on adding an outfielder, even with Hamilton and Hunter and Upton off the market?

As Rob Neyer (SB Nation) points, Cruz measured out to be worth roughly a win and a half more than “a good AAA hitter” while playing 159 games last year, which arguably means a 50-game absence would be worth half a win if Cruz is no better a baseball player in 2013 than he was in 2012.

And I know there are those of you who bristle at my belief that a player’s frame of mind has an effect on his play, but I worry about how Cruz will respond to the glare that will follow him all season unless and until he’s exonerated.  I worry about that with him maybe more than I would with any other player on the club, next to Neftali Feliz.

The point is that I’m not sure losing Cruz for 50 games, if that happens, now turns Bourn into a need if he wasn’t thought of one a week ago – but at the same time, I’m not expecting huge “contract year” numbers from Cruz, no matter how his situation shakes out.

I don’t dislike Cruz.  Far from it.  He’s done a remarkable job converting what was uniformly considered to be a 4-A career – remember that he slid clear through league-wide waivers just before his breakout 2008 season – into one of a core piece of a two-time World Series offense, with a resume full of October heroics at the plate that will never be forgotten around here.

I don’t hate him for the bad swings, or for the mediocre outfield play (outside of an extraordinary arm) that’s degenerated into something worse.  He is what he is.

And part of what he is is a 32-year-old who will be 33 when he reaches free agency for the first time at the end of the year, a player that won’t make a lot of sense, regardless of the off-the-field circumstances, to invest heavily in here.

The Texas infield, in one scenario (Kinsler to first base), could boast four former shortstops (which doesn’t even include Garcia and Luis Sardinas, who head a formidable wave of shortstop prospects behind Profar), and I’ll take that over having three center fielders in the outfield like the Angels do, but the Texas outfield picture, already murky past 2013, is suddenly out of focus in the present.

Olney had an interesting article a month and a half ago, noting that there were teams considering a sign-and-trade arrangement to acquire a player like Bourn without forfeiting a first-round pick.  Olney used Cleveland as an example, suggesting the Indians – whose first-rounder is protected since it’s in the top 10 picks and who already surrendered their second-round pick by signing Nick Swisher – could sign Bourn, losing their third-round pick as a result, with plans to then trade the outfielder (with his permission, as free agents can’t be traded without their consent until June 15) to Seattle (in Olney’s hypothetical) for something more valuable (and predictable) to Cleveland than its third-round pick, but less valuable to the Mariners than the first-rounder they’d sacrifice by signing Bourn themselves.

Creative idea, if far-fetched.

The Nationals’ rotation is in somewhat of a similar situation as the Rangers’ outfield.  Washington was said to be on the hunt for one more starting pitcher even before Gio Gonzalez was implicated in the same Miami New Times piece as Cruz; now it would stand to reason that the Nationals are even more intent on adding a starter before camp.

The difference is that while Lohse – tied like Bourn to draft pick compensation – remains on the market, so does a guy like veteran righty Javier Vazquez, an interesting lower-cost alternative whom Washington is reportedly very interested in.

Vazquez, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have a very good equivalent among available outfielders.  To bring in a player that would relegate Murphy, Gentry, Martin, or Cruz to a different role from the one they are slated for now would take a big move, basically Bourn or a trade, and neither seems very likely at this point.

(For what it’s worth, Bowden thinks Bourn ends up with the Rays, Mets, or Mariners, while he suggests the Red Sox, Rangers, Angels, Brewers, and Orioles may make the most sense for Lohse.)

Do you load up for Stanton or Carlos Gonzalez?  The Marlins and Rockies would have to be blown away, if they’d even be receptive.  Bowden thinks a package headed by Profar and Olt “would have to make Miami listen” on Stanton – even though Bowden professes not to be an Olt guy, he thinks Arizona will regret choosing Martin Prado over the younger third baseman – but he bets Texas is probably more inclined to hang onto its top chips until the Rays decide it’s time to field offers for Price.

Every trade possibility that Texas has been rumored to be in on – from Shields to Dickey to Upton and probably every other impact player who’s drawn Texas into a discussion (not to mention Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and Gio Gonzalez and Josh Johnson last year) – has involved Olt, at least according to all the reports we know to take in with a pinch of salt.  Considering:

  • Olt’s primary position is also Adrian Beltre’s
  • Olt’s ability to play that position makes up a great part of his value
  • The details on almost every Rangers trade rumor include Olt in the exchange
  • Profar is the prospect we’re all holding our breath over
  • This winter has seen a new market develop, one that has seen blue-chip prospects moved – and not necessarily for blue-chip superstars . . . three of the game’s top six prospects on Jonathan Mayo’s recently published list for MLB.com have been traded this winter: Myers (in a deal for Shields), d’Arnaud (in a deal for Dickey), and Taijuan Walker (in Seattle’s deal for Upton that he vetoed) . . . and two more in the top 10 have been traded as well (lefthander Tyler Skaggs from the Angels to the Diamondbacks in 2010 and righthander Zack Wheeler from the Giants to Mets for Carlos Beltran in 2011)

. . . on some days it feels like Olt’s hardly more than an asset to be inevitably converted into something else, almost like a draft pick as Draft Day draws near.

Should we tap the brakes?

Hank Blalock was the top prospect in baseball 11 years ago, at least among position players.  Colby Lewis was number 82 on the list put together by Baseball America.

Two years after that, Kinsler was BA’s number 98, thought of as a lesser prospect than Thomas Diamond and John Danks and Joaquin Arias.  A few months before that ranking, Texas had traded Kinsler to Colorado, only to have Larry Walker bang the deal with his no-trade clause.

Just because Olt isn’t considered the Rangers’ top prospect, and just because he’s a standout defender at a position where he shouldn’t be needed until well after his bat is ready, doesn’t mean trading him is something we should be resigned to.

When MLB Network and MLB.com unveiled Mayo’s Top 100 Prospects list last week, Olt was number 22.  Now, I think that’s probably a bit high, but Mayo built the rankings based on conversations with dozens of scouts, scouting directors, and other club executives.  There’s a faction in the business, charged with evaluating these things, that sees Olt on a pretty rarefied level – which might help explain why so many clubs are evidently zeroing in on him whenever the opportunity to trade with Texas presents itself.

Even clubs like the Mets and Rays who are set at third base.  Compare the Rangers’ rumored efforts to pick up shortstop Andrelton Simmons from Atlanta just to flip him to Arizona in an Upton deal early this off-season.  There are teams who want Olt even if he doesn’t fit for them at third base, either because they believe they can flip him for something else they need (but can’t presently get) or because they think the bat will play at another corner.

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, winner of two straight Gold Gloves, played zero games in the outfield until 2010.  Drafted in 2005, he was strictly a third baseman, with a little first base peppered in, until roster makeup in Kansas City brought about the shift to the outfield.

Will Olt’s bat play in the outfield, where Texas has needs now and as far into the future as you want to look?

There are only three corner bats who rank higher on Mayo’s list than Olt: Myers (4), Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (12), and Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos (21).  (That’s if you categorize Oscar Taveras [Cardinals, 3] and Christian Yelich [Marlins, 13] as center fielders, which we will, for now.)

Myers was a catcher his first two years in pro ball.

Sano was originally a shortstop.

Castellanos was strictly a third baseman until a shift to the outfield late in 2012, his third year in pro ball.

Now, to be fair, those three shifted to less demanding positions because of defensive issues, which there are none of as far as Olt’s play at third base is concerned.  On the flip side, they’re also thought to be surer things at the plate, at least in Myers’s and Sano’s case.

But the point is Olt – purely a third baseman until a couple dozen games at first or right field in 2012 (and then six of 18 games in the outfield in winter ball) – is the fourth-ranked corner bat on at least one reputable prospect list.  Maybe the folks in charge of deciding on his future aren’t as ready to trade him as every national writer in the business.

And maybe, like with Kinsler, that will turn out to be the correct decision.

Unless he’s needed in a deal for Stanton (who’s a year younger than Olt) or Price or Felix Hernandez, at which time you thank Jay Heafner and Randy Taylor and Kip Fagg and A.J. Preller and Josue Perez and Tim Hulett and Jason Wood and Steve Buechele for finding Olt in Connecticut and molding him into a player ranked higher today among prospects in the game than he was less than three years ago among prospects in the 2010 draft.

But I bet Dave Magadan, who has already begun working with Olt, is eager to see the process continue to unfold here.  Maybe, like with Kinsler, we’ll look back one day and wonder how close Texas actually came to trading him before his career took off.

And so to an abrupt and clumsy end comes a 4,000-word exercise in saying pretty much nothing, a polyphonic spree of ideas with all the orderliness of an Elvis Andrus spray chart,

[which reminds me: sign a long-term deal in Texas Elvis c’mon do it do it now think about the Napoli lesson it-is it-is do it do it do it]

a painful memory jog for one of us of the highly disappointing 2003 season for Rob Mackowiak and the Exprestos, a momentary brain cramp as to why I even brought Mackowiak into all of this, oh yeah the clumsy do-over point, and how am I gonna get outta this mess, maybe I’ll cook up an imaginary flash drama starring Rangers International Scouting Director Mike Daly unable to enjoy Baseball America praising the organization’s “unusual . . . ability to avoid the landmines of high-priced international amateur free agent busts” because he’s tormented by the thought of his former LSU teammate Ryan Theriot coming in and essentially costing his former amateur find Leury Garcia a real spring shot, or maybe instead I’ll just pour one out for you, Kevin Millwood, and you too, Brandon Webb, and wait, Fernando Tatis, really?, and dang it I still haven’t written up Lisalverto and Coty and Cory and Jeff, and hey, Angels, having the number 30 farm system could be worse, no it couldn’t, and look who needs the do-over now, and man I really need to hear Eric dust off those three magic words.

Those three glorious, heartfelt, sorely missed words.

Hello again, everybody!

In the second and a half that it’ll take Eric to say that into a microphone high above Billy Parker Field in Surprise Stadium, 17 days from today, he will have packed more substance than I have in this box, but, hey, to paraphrase JD, if I wasn’t going to write this report now, when would I?

Easy, now.

Tell us hello, Eric.

Tell us soon.

Almost there.

I’ve been working on a new report for about five days, but for a dozen reasons, the last of which was a better football game than I expected, I haven’t had the time to wrap it up.  Hope to have it out tomorrow morning.

It’s already 2,400 words, and may be just half done.

Course, Texas will probably make a trade today, and I’ll have to toss the report into the circular bin.  I’m not expecting a trade, but then again I probably wouldn’t have predicted that Paul Harvey would be the mad men and women’s star last night.

So plan on four or five thousand words in the next day or two, bundled up in one email that will take too long to read and may not resonate with you any more than the stupid Coca-Cola desert commercials, but then again I’m spending about $11 million less than Coke to throw it out there.

In the meantime, with a hearty scram to another lousy 100-day football intermission, here’s a thousand words from the great Louis DeLuca of the Dallas Morning News:

 

Beltre_03

 

Tick tock.

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