Unless my math is off, I think this is my 25th spring training. I’ve been to camps inordinately early — 1990 comes to mind, when the players on 40-man rosters were locked out and I went to Port Charlotte anyway, a seemingly foolish enough exercise that we were featured on the local news out there in what I think was one of the first times one of my buddies was on TV and was definitely the first time for another one of us, a string of a few days in which I remember playing catch with Tom House’s kid, watching Donald Harris bloody his nose on his own foul ball in BP, and picking my jaw up off the ground with every sequence of blinding footwork and arm action from this 18-year-old Class A catcher named Ivan who was built nothing like Carlton Fisk but was squatting on his nickname nonetheless.
I don’t think I’ve been to a camp this late on the calendar, though. In what has already been the longest spring training in Rangers franchise history, most things have already come together to the point at which nearly everything is in ramp-up-and-lock-in mode.
Like Geovany Soto not only catching Yu Darvish, but also playing all nine exhibition innings (when no other player assured of a big league job was asked to do so), because it’s time to get physically ready to do that.
Like Robbie Ross getting two innings and Tanner Scheppers the same, and Leury Garcia being asked to bunt a couple different times in the game, not because the situations necessarily called for it but because that sort of thing factors into a big decision in the next few days, and there’s Jon Heyman (CBS Sports), tweeting this morning that the Rangers are still “looking to acquire a utility player,” not because of anything Garcia did on Saturday but instead because there’s still a good bit of finishing work to be done on the kid, and you have to weigh the allure of having that kind of runner and defender on the bench against the benefits of getting him everyday work and instruction in Round Rock.
And in the equation you have to factor in the cost of picking up whatever veteran infielder Texas is targeting.
Same with any changes to the bullpen mix, and against all those stories about Rangers scouts monitoring Boston relievers (including Andrew Bailey, writes MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan) and notes about Red Sox scouts roaming the Rangers’ back fields while Boston pro scout John Lombardo continues to show up at big league Rangers exhibition games you have to measure the progress Scheppers has made in camp, particularly in the last week or two.
You see things coming together on the back fields as well, like Preston Beck and Royce Bolinger working with the group most likely ticketed for Myrtle Beach, which may be out of necessity given the crazy-deep wave of crazy-ceilinged outfielders who aren’t going to be held back in extended and are thus Hickory-bound, but on the other hand maybe the two 22-year-olds are ready to prove that skipping a level isn’t that crazy an idea.
If Beck and Bolinger are issued Pelicans gear in a week, they’ll likely be teammates for the first time with Jorge Alfaro and Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor and Drew Robinson, who wasn’t around on the back fields yesterday since the organization put him on the bus to Goodyear for some late-game work, only Jeff Baker’s sinus issues got Robinson into the game in the third inning, and there he was, squaring up twice on Mat Latos with well-struck singles to center.
And speaking of Alfaro and things coming together, there’s that Pudge guy on the back fields again, this time in Surprise rather than Port Charlotte, working with kids like Alfaro who weren’t yet born back in 1990, and now I’m watching all this unfold while playing catch not with Tom House’s kid, but my own.
Later in the day on Saturday, I got to see Elvis Andrus hit a ball 430 feet. I don’t think I’d ever seen that. It’s strange thinking of Andrus, an elite baseball player, as someone whom things might still be coming together for, but there’s still a dimension he could add to his game offensively. He’s never going hit 20 out, but 10-15 would be just fine.
I think back to that 2008 Frisco team when the picture started coming into the frame for Andrus, a team also that featured Julio Borbon and Jose Vallejo and Craig Gentry and all the baserunning mayhem that group created. I think back to Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison pitching for that RoughRiders club and how the hierarchy on that trio has flipped today, and how Gentry seems to be maturing into something different as well, a hitter whose trigger now allows him to do damage to Jonathan Broxton heat, though the triple to left field two innings later on a Manny Parra offering may have been just as impressive.
Triples to left field are rare.
With one week to go before they count, things are coming together before our eyes, though there’s one issue we can’t see, one that I thought about when reading Howard Bryant’s column for ESPN The Magazine on the Rangers’ front office saga. The part that caught my eye was not about Nolan Ryan or Jon Daniels, but a Ron Washington comment about Michael Young.
For all the things Young did on the field that had regressed, there was the part off the field that will be more difficult to replace. And what Wash said on what Michael Young meant here was as pointed as any I’ve seen.
“He came to work every day, took no days off. When we won, he talked to the guys about getting better. When we lost or when he wasn’t playing well, he stood there and accepted responsibility, even though you knew it was eating at him. He never shrunk. He was the guy who made sure the other guys, the younger guys, were meeting the standard, and because he was there, the clubhouse was being policed. Now that he’s not there, a lot of guys are going to find out just how much he protected them.”
When I was in Port Charlotte in 1990, the beat writers weren’t around. The story then was Nolan Ryan and Ruben Sierra and Rafael Palmeiro and all the players who were locked out of baseball in March, not Dan Peltier and Jose Oliva and Robb Nen and all the kids who got full run of the complex in their absence, in front of coaches and club officials and four Spring Breakers from the University of Texas who were just happy to be around baseball.
It’s going to be up to those beat writers to fill us in on how that clubhouse void left by Young’s departure gets filled. Maybe it’s Ian Kinsler’s to take on. Maybe David Murphy. Maybe Andrus matures into it, if Adrian Beltre doesn’t want it. Maybe it’s A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman, if that’s not too awkward. Or Colby Lewis and Joe Nathan and Matt Harrison, though pitchers usually aren’t looked to in that way.
More likely, it’s going to be a collective thing, and that’s cool, too. All that’s coming together right now, though not for us to see and evaluate like the utility infield decision or the makeup of the bullpen and back of the rotation that need to get sorted out before things get real one week from tonight, closing the book on the longest camp in franchise history as the latest march towards 162+ gets underway.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed to the back fields to watch Pudge Rodriguez watch Jorge Alfaro throw.