This is not a slide puzzle, or part of Mike Olt’s latest battery of vision testing.
Those, on top, are the 24 Rangers pitchers who reported to big league camp in February as members of the 40-man roster. Among them were Jeff Beliveau and Roman Mendez and Justin Miller and Matt West and Rule 5 pick Coty Woods.
On bottom are the 14 pitchers who were invited to big league camp even though not on the roster.
That group included big leaguers who couldn’t find roster jobs but were given a chance by Texas to win a job (Derek Lowe, Neal Cotts, Kyle McClellan, Yoshinori Tateyama, Randy Wells, Evan Meek, Collin Balester), longshot journeymen (Nate Robertson, Yonata Ortega), minor leaguers off the roster that the club wanted to see against big league hitters (Nick Tepesch, Cody Buckel, Jake Brigham, Johan Yan), and Ben Rowen, a minor leaguer who started camp on the back fields but forced his own look late in March.
Texas ran 38 pitchers through big league camp, looking not only for the 12 to go to battle with out of the gate but also another five or 10, or maybe 15, it would likely take to get through the season.
Ross Wolf: Not in the picture.
Now, to be fair, the 30-year-old, though not in big league camp, was one of the 43 pitchers who appeared in a spring training game for the Rangers. Teams bring “just in case” arms to every exhibition game so that when a scheduled pitcher can’t get out of a prescribed inning it doesn’t disrupt the plans for when the other scheduled pitchers will pitch.
Sometimes those are prospects a year or two or more away rewarded with the opportunity (Jerad Eickhoff, Jimmy Reyes, Victor Payano).
Sometimes they’re Ross Wolf, and even the hardest-core of you might decide when Ross Wolf takes the ball against the Padres in an ugly seventh inning in early March that it’s a decent time to go buy some Dippin’ Dots, or a Rangers hoodie.
Wolf did get into four spring training games, and completed 2.1 total innings that Texas didn’t have to stretch someone else out to take care of. In those 2.1 innings, opposing hitters, some of whom were late-inning journeymen, if not just-in-case players themselves, hit .417, with five base hits and two walks. Two of the hits cleared a fence, in fair ground.
If you asked 100 diligent Rangers fans in late March which was more likely – that Wolf would be released before camp broke, or that he would start a game in Arlington in May – the percentage choosing the latter would surely have been lower than the percentage of empty boxes in the graphic above.
I wrote the other day about Texas officials squinting their eyes and seeing a starting pitcher this spring in Josh Lindblom, in spite of the fact that he hadn’t started so much as a minor league game since May 2010.
Wolf’s last start was in 2005. He made one start that year, in mid-May, in Class AA for the Marlins, and lasted three innings.
Before that, Wolf’s last start came in 2002, the summer in which Florida drafted him in the 18th round out of Wabash Valley College.
The Marlins were still called “Florida” then. The year before that, the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos, who drafted Wolf in the 47th round out of Newton High School in Wheeler, Illinois, but didn’t sign him.
After his 11 starts (4.66 ERA) in that 2002 season, in the following decade Wolf made the one May 2005 start and 483 relief appearances.
Fourteen of those 483 games pitched in relief were out of Florida’s big league bullpen in August and September of 2007 (11.68 ERA).
Another 11 came in the second half of the 2010 season, when he posted a 4.26 ERA for Oakland. Texas saw him three times, putting five runs on his ledger over 3.1 innings – and that doesn’t count the three of four inherited baserunners who also scored.
Wolf’s stint with the A’s came after seven years with the Marlins and a year and a half with the Orioles. The Oakland experiment lasted a few months, after which Wolf signed with the Astros and spent the 2011 season in Oklahoma City. Baltimore brought him back in 2012, but three weeks into the season released the righthander from its AA roster. Texas signed him to provide bullpen depth that season in Frisco and then Round Rock and then Frisco and then Round Rock and then Frisco.
The Rangers decided to bring Wolf (2.09 ERA in AA, 4.76 ERA in AAA) back for the 2013 season.
But he wasn’t in the picture.
And he said this would be it. He’d planned to retire at the end of 2013.
Texas put him in the Frisco rotation to begin the season. He pitched the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings of a RoughRiders loss to Arkansas on April 6, blowing a save in the eighth and taking the 4-3 loss in the tenth.
When Texas designated Beliveau for assignment to make 40-man roster room for catcher Robinson Chirinos a week into the AAA season, the organization moved the experienced Wolf up to Round Rock, where he was expected to work out of the bullpen.
When Matt Harrison was shut down and Justin Grimm was recalled, Wolf was moved into the Express rotation.
He would make six starts, allowing more than two earned runs in none of them.
Nick Tepesch develops a blister on his final pitch against Detroit on Friday night.
That same night, Wolf held Colorado Springs to two earned runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings, fanning six.
Yesterday was Tepesch’s and Wolf’s day to pitch, and Tepesch couldn’t go.
The A’s, having disposed of Lindblom and not allowing Texas to get anything going offensively on Yu Darvish’s day, were poised yesterday for a sweep in Arlington, with Wolf getting the ball in front of an offense struggling lately to score. In fact, the Rangers wouldn’t make any noise on this day after their fourth batter of the game.
Texas hadn’t been swept at home since the summer 2010, when Wolf was last in the big leagues.
Thanks to Wolf, it wouldn’t happen again yesterday.
He gave Texas five innings. Allowed three hits, two walks, one run. Got into trouble at times, and got out.
He earned his first big league win, in his first big league start. On a day when Texas needed a win, as much as a first-place club can need a win in May.
Now, it’s far too soon to assume that this will be any more than a Brian Sikorski or Bryan Corey story, or that Wolf will even get a second start for Texas, or that he won’t go ahead and retire in five months.
But if Tampa Bay doesn’t designate Robinson Chirinos for assignment and doesn’t then agree to trade him to Texas, and if Matt Harrison doesn’t hurt his back, and if Nick Tepesch’s right middle finger holds out for one more pitch – if any of those things doesn’t happen – Ross Wolf probably never sees the big leagues again.
Here’s another picture.
That’s Scot Engler. He’s a pro scout for the Rangers, and I’d bet more of you had heard of Ross Wolf a week ago than had heard Engler’s name.
The former University of Montana tight end has scouted baseball professionally for 13 years, these last six with Texas.
In 2001, he was with the Expos, when they drafted Ross Wolf.
In 2003, he joined the Marlins, who had drafted Ross Wolf the summer before.
Since joining the Rangers, he’s been responsible for recommending Neal Cotts, whose awesome story I’ll get to another time. He was one of a few pro scouts Texas dispatched to Japan to scout Darvish. He and fellow pro scout Keith Boeck were instrumental in recommending Darren O’Day. This year he recommended outfielder Jim Adduci, who had an outstanding camp and, after a slow start, has been on fire for Round Rock and could be an option down the road, if needed.
Engler was also the one to endorse Jeff Beliveau, and then the man who took Beliveau’s roster spot, Robinson Chirinos.
Which set things up for Ross Wolf, another of Engler’s recommendations.
There are lots of Scot Engler’s we never hear about, guys who are part of the spine of this organization, guys who make the Rangers one of the elite talent-accumulating franchises in the game.
You may not be familiar with many of them, but make no mistake: They’re a huge part of the big picture.
I’ll make sure you hear about Engler again when I get around to the Neal Cotts story.
Ross Wolf, in the meantime, made sure, on one afternoon in May, you’ll never forget his name.