The wheels probably weren’t even yet up, and I was just 12 pages into the book. The author, breaking down Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey, noted that Melody Maker’s initial review of the 1993 release described it as “promisingly imperfect.”
Ten years ago I’d actually thrown in a comment in a Newberg Report about one Radiohead song’s “imperfect brilliance” (you’ll have to trust me on this, because the report is so badly written that I refuse to link it here). It’s a concept I’ve always been drawn to.
We didn’t know it as we took off Saturday morning, but we were about to be treated to a display of promisingly imperfect, and I swear there’s at least a tangential baseball tie-in coming.
Ginger and I had never seen a professional tennis tournament but it seemed like a good weekend to change that, and the tour had a stop in Memphis. Not a blue-chip field — among the 28 players at the tournament was just one ranked top 10 in the world, and only five in the top 50.
Also in the mix was an unseeded Wild Card entrant in just his third-ever ATP event, a high school senior from San Diego who was born four years after Pablo Honey was released.
We saw Taylor Fritz fire his way through his draw and land in the Memphis Open championship match on Sunday, the youngest American to reach a final since Michael Chang in 1989. It was pretty cool seeing it all play out, at a time when I imagine most of the couple thousand there to see him play (certainly us) knew very little about him. That’s about to change.
Forgive the sacrilege: Watching Taylor play, I thought more than once about that week in mid-March 1990 when I was nearly alone in Port Charlotte — the lockout meant that year’s spring training featured no big league ballplayers and just about the same number of fans — and saw 18-year-old Pudge Rodriguez (virtually the same age then as Taylor is now to the day) put his shin-guarded and chest-protected gifts on display in what would normally be fairly ordinary catcher drills.
Pudge was not in particularly great shape coming out of Low Class A, and there wasn’t thought to be much in the bat. Imperfect, to be sure. But man, the promise.
I’ve seen Pudge dance and throw at 18. I’ve seen Taylor Fritz show the same kind of power in a different sport at 18. I’ve seen Parker Millsap (who Elton John raved about two weeks ago in a Town Hall interview) sing in front of crowd of less than 100 at about the same age. I didn’t see Josh Hamilton take BP at age 18, but I did see Joey Gallo do it.
Taylor fired out of the gate in Sunday’s final against Kei Nishikori (number 7 in the world, and gunning for his fourth straight Memphis Open title), winning the first seven points of the Valentine’s Day match and 12 of 14, charging out to a 3-0 lead in the first set on the strength of a big serve and overpowering ground game.
It was the equivalent of Gallo’s two-run single/two-run homer/line drive double off Jeff Samardzija in the first three at-bats of his Major League debut. Pudge gunning down would-be base-stealers Joey Cora and Warren Newson in his first game in the bigs. Parker belting out “The Train Song” at The Kessler, making us forget instantly that we were there to see a different band.
Gallo ended up hitting .204 in 2015, striking out half the time. Pudge committed 10 errors in just 88 games behind the plate in 1991, and didn’t hit. Pablo Honey wasn’t very good.
Taylor Fritz ended up losing to Nishikori, 6-4, 6-4. After those first three explosive games, he dropped 12 of 17.
(Gallo’s first 11 big league games: .300/.391/.625. The 25 last year that remained: .147/.247/.294.)
Nothing to be ashamed, of course, or dispirited by.
Joey Gallo could be Kevin Maas or Gregg Jefferies, and Taylor Fritz could be the male Jennifer Capriati.
Or they could be Pudge Rodriguez, or Radiohead.
There’s a long story ahead, and we get to see it unfold.
At 18, Taylor reached an ATP final at an earlier age than Pudge and Adrian Beltre were when they arrived in the big leagues. He’ll need some work on his net game and his body language, but in spite of the few flaws in his game, like the holes in Joey’s swing, there’s enough overwhelming upside there that a casual tennis fan could see it, even if he’d been ousted in the first round in Memphis (like he already has this week at Delray Beach).
Just one more sleep before Rangers pitchers and catchers report, and there’s all kinds of awesome associated with that. If for some of you that includes the promise of less focus in this space on tennis and Radiohead and a retraining of all lenses on baseball, hey, I’m right there with you. It’s been a long winter since that seventh inning, but adversity and the opportunity to overcome it is part of what makes sports the best.
Baseball, regardless of how you look at it or who your team happens to be, is almost always imperfect, but that’s part of its greatness, and its promise. It’s time for the chatter, the carioca, the sweet music of slightly asynchronous long toss.
It’s time for baseball, and another first step on a year’s journey of sports peaks shaped by inescapable valleys that we hope leads to another one of those championship bouts, this time, just maybe, ending in that way which to this point has been narrowly elusive. It will happen at some point. The Texas Rangers will convert match point.
One more sleep until another year’s march begins. Perfectly promising.
It’s been a fairly atypical off-season for the Rangers from the standpoint of roster reconstruction, as the heaviest of the organization’s lifting for 2016 took place way back in July. The winter has been relatively slow on a recent Rangers scale, but that’s largely because the blueprint the front office had drawn up for building this season’s club was executed on a few months early, and thankfully so.
Some take the short-sighted view that categorizes Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson as ancient acquisition history — perhaps understandably, as those three gave the pennant race some added fuel without which 162+ almost certainly doesn’t happen in 2015 — but the fact is that Hamels and Diekman and Dyson were targeted because they offered Texas years of club control that other players on that month’s trade market (free agents-to-be David Price and Johnny Cueto and Tyler Clippard and Joakim Soria, for example) did not. Those three are key pieces to the 2016 puzzle, and well beyond that (Texas controls Diekman through 2018, Hamels through 2019, Dyson through 2020).
We are fans, however, of the greatest transaction sport, the one with the hottest stove, and this winter was no different from most in terms of the emails and tweets I’d get demanding that Texas sign this starting pitcher or that corner bat or anyone else with an impact profile or a dash of upside.
Setting aside the Hamels/Diekman/Dyson point for a minute, and even the budgetary line that Jon Daniels says the club has already butted up against, there’s a factor that I think tends to get minimized — if not overlooked — when it comes to the free agent market.
To illustrate the point I’m going to try to make, let’s look back at Mike Napoli for a minute.
There’s not a Rangers fan who didn’t want that guy back here. His bat came back alive after he returned to Texas in August, doing damage at a .295/.396/.513 level that (granted, in a small sample size) he hadn’t posted since his 2011 breakout with the Rangers. He gave the Rangers clubhouse a huge energy boost, in the words of the manager and the general manager and any number of players. He offers a right-handed bat and this is a team that leans heavily to the left, and will only get leftier as it graduates its top hitting prospects to the big leagues. And at his age and career path, it seemed appropriate to assume Napoli wouldn’t command more than a one-year deal.
A perfect fit, it seemed.
Until he signed with Cleveland in mid-December, for one year and $7 million (with an added $3 million in plate appearance incentives).
I’m still getting emails from fans who are upset that “Texas let that happen.”
Those folks aren’t considering one really important factor.
Imagine you’re Napoli. You love it here. You play well here. Your welcome mat here is like no other welcome mat with your name on it.
But it’s not as if you believe your career is a year from expiration.
Yes, your name was in the lineup just about every day in August, September, and October, and that Texas lineup is basically the same going into 2016.
But this team has a fulltime DH.
And a fulltime first baseman.
And that left field experiment in September . . . was probably just that.
There was no solid promise of everyday 2016 at-bats here for Napoli.
The only other legitimate big league first baseman on the Indians’ roster is Carlos Santana. And he’s going to be Cleveland’s everyday DH.
Which is where Napoli can hit on days Terry Francona wants to give Santana a day with the glove on.
Maybe Texas did make real overtures to Napoli this winter. But stand in his shoes: Doesn’t it stand to reason that this wasn’t the best fit for him — unless he’d exhausted his search for an everyday role elsewhere and couldn’t find one?
Hey, I would have loved bringing on-base machine John Jaso (Pittsburgh, two years and $8 million) in here.
But as his time behind the plate diminishes, why would he have chosen Texas? As a left-handed hitter, he wouldn’t take at-bats away from Fielder or Moreland.
Doug Fister at one year and $7 million, which is what he got from Houston?
I would have really liked Fister here, but if his best offers were for one year, wouldn’t he want a situation going into next winter’s relatively thin starting pitcher market where he could be relatively assured of 30 starts this season if healthy?
Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, and — in May — Yu Darvish.
Who would Fister have figured he was a safe bet to unseat here? You don’t sign somewhere basing your opportunity on a teammate getting hurt.
Unless that’s what you have to do.
A.J. Griffin didn’t have the luxury of weighing offers of a rotation spot to lose, like Fister had. Griffin’s last big league appearance was in 2013. He’s logged 14.1 minor league innings since. With his medical chart, he wasn’t going to get a big league contract from anyone this winter.
But for Griffin, could you ask for more than a non-roster opportunity that includes a real chance to win a rotation spot in camp (while Darvish is rehabbing)?
Right-handed hitter Justin Ruggiano can play all three outfield spots, but he wasn’t going to get the $5.25 million (up to $6.475 million after incentives) that Rajai Davis got from Cleveland. You can bet there were other opportunities for a legitimate center fielder who hits lefties well to take the $1.65 million base contract (only $500,000 guaranteed) that he accepted from Texas.
But, even setting aside the geographical allure, the Rangers offer Ruggiano an opportunity to play the most significant role he’s played in three years, as long as he produces. Left field is either wide open or in need of the right-handed half of a platoon, depending on how you feel about Angels consignment piece Josh Hamilton’s status, and it’s hard to imagine there’s a team out there — certainly no other contending team (a role with whom would diminish the odds of having your family traded mid-season) — offering better possibilities.
Why did catchers Bobby Wilson and Michael McKenry choose minor league deals with Texas?
For one, Robinson Chirinos isn’t a 130-game catcher, and Chris Gimenez, despite coming off a really solid season (his best), has spent a career on a journeyman’s path. There’s a chance to win a backup job here.
Plus, after his solid work last summer, Wilson has a familiarity factor with and — presumably — the trust of Jeff Banister.
As does McKenry, who spent 2011, 2012, and 2013 with the Pirates.
Tony Barnette doesn’t really fit the analysis as cleanly as the others, as the Rangers’ bullpen is already deep and this is nonetheless the organization he chose for his second run at the big leagues after spending six years in Japan — unless Colby Lewis blazing that trail before him was enough inspiration to tip the scales. (Kidding, sort of.)
Lewis, on the other hand, fits the profile perfectly. Unlike Napoli, there’s a fairly clear role here for Lewis to claim, aside from the hundred other reasons Lewis and Texas have a rock-solid baseball marriage that has only gotten stronger since his second run with this franchise was arranged six years ago.
Which brings me to the one player I’m still thinking about as camp is now less than a week away.
I will never not want Cliff Lee to wear the Ranger uniform again.
Is he healthy?
Nobody knows yet, as he hasn’t thrown for teams this winter (unlike Tim Lincecum, for instance).
Does he still want to pitch?
Apparently he does, at least according to his agent.
Would he want to be here?
Don’t know, but you would think the chance to win, in a place he’s won before, with his former teammate Hamels now part of the picture, would check a few boxes. He’s not at a point in his career where Hamels is, but as long as he’s healthy, he’ll have options.
I’m not sure the chance to compete for and hold down a rotation spot while Darvish mends fits Lee’s idea of where he fits on a big league club right now. He’s not going to be money-whipped — certainly not here — but he’s made so much cash in his career that an offer from one team guaranteeing $2 million more than another shouldn’t tip the scales, one would think.
It’s probably going to come down to where Lee feels he has the best shot at making starts for a team he wants to be part of. For Lee, it’s likely all about opportunity — just like it was for Napoli, and Fister, and Griffin, and Ruggiano, and McKenry.
The reality is that if Lee shows teams he’s healthy and the ball’s coming out of his hand well, he’ll probably have better options — like Napoli weighing Cleveland against Texas — and if he’s not healthy enough to start camp on track with the rest of the pitchers, Texas doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, as the primary opportunity here is more likely to be right out of the gate, when at least Darvish is still sidelined.
As much as I hold out hope, it’s a longshot.
Here’s the thing: Griffin and Ruggiano weren’t the only free agents out there who fit what the Rangers needed and what they could afford — but a free agent deal has to make sense for both sides, not just the team’s, and in Griffin and Ruggiano’s cases it absolutely did. Others, not so much.
I doubt we’ll see a second Rangers stint for Lee, but I wouldn’t rule it out — nor would I rule out a third run here for Napoli, as I stick with my spitball prediction two months ago that Texas, this coming July 20, will send 20-year-old righthander Jonathan Hernandez to the Indians for Napoli.
But trades are different. With few exceptions (Hamels being among them), players don’t have a say. It takes two sides to get a trade done, obviously, but unless the player wields a no-trade clause or owns 10/5 rights (10 years of big league service and at least the last five with the same team, giving him full trade veto power), he doesn’t get to decide where to play, or where not to.
There are two sides involved in a free agent deal as well, and one of those seems like it frequently gets overlooked — not the team assessing whether it can afford the player or how the makeup of its roster would benefit from his addition, but instead the player, and whether he sees that team as his best available opportunity, at that stage of his career, to be productive and make himself just a little more indispensable going forward.
39 Texas Rangers playoff games.
20 of which were wins.
4 in the World Series.
2,593 regular season games.
1,301 of which were wins.
2 AL MVP’s.
2 ALCS MVP’s.
Very nearly 1 World Series MVP.
2 batting champions.
1 Rookie of the Year.
2 Managers of the Year (should have been 3).
13 Gold Gloves.
13 Silver Sluggers.
2 Pudge Rodriguez stints, 2 Kenny Rogers stints, 2 Colby Lewis stints, 2 Ruben Sierra stints, 2 Darren Oliver stints.
2 Josh Hamilton trades, 2 Mike Napoli trades, 2 Matt Harrison trades, 2 Jake Thompson trades.
2 Adrian Gonzalez trades.
1 Cliff Lee trade.
Michael Young’s Rangers career.
A second Sandy Alomar and a second Mike Bacsik.
More than 0 Rangers farmhands who learned to walk.
2 Newberg kids born.
But, alas, no Esteban Beltre’s.
4 Presidential elections.
And there will be a 5th. At least.
It’s been 5,835 sleeps, and all of the above, since Texas last went to an arbitration hearing with one of its players. On February 19, 2000, the Rangers prevailed over Lee Stevens, as a three-member arbitration panel in Tampa elected to award the 32-year-old first baseman the $3.5 million salary that the club had proposed for the 2000 season. Stevens had submitted a $4.7 million demand.
Early this morning, hours before a panel was set to hear Texas ($4.675 million) and Mitch Moreland ($6 million) make their cases, the two sides settled at $5.7 million, which Moreland will now be paid in 2016, his final season before free agency.
Several weeks after the Rangers defeated Stevens, they traded the 32-year-old to Montreal in a three-team deal that brought first baseman David Segui from Toronto to Texas. Don’t expect history to repeat.
Stevens (coming off a 24-homer, 81-RBI, .282/.344/.485 playoff season at first base and a little DH) and the 30-year-old Moreland (coming off a 23-homer, 85-RBI, .278/.330/.482 playoff season at first base and a little DH) bear some similarity offensively, but Moreland is much more important to this team than Stevens was to the 2000 club, and if Moreland gets moved before the season starts, it’s going to be for an impact starting pitcher or impact corner bat — even though, given how baseball’s economy and its CBA work, this could very well be his final season in Texas.
At least this stint.
Lee, you can go ahead and call Mercury. Your bullet point lives.
Football’s final stand of the season was half over, two quarters of clock time away from two shoehorned beer endorsements by the winning quarterback, when the broadcast went to commercial and a man holding center stage — in a moment that was as authentic as Peyton Manning’s double-dipped Budweiser tribute wasn’t — said to a room full of men he shared a uniform with: “You showed up every day. We ain’t done yet. . . . I love every one of you. Keep it going. I told you: You let us hang around, they’d be pissed off. Well, ya know what? THEY’RE PISSED OFF.”
(In case you missed it last night — or even if you didn’t — here you go.)
In that room, in the current estimation of MLB Network, were none of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball and none of the top 10 relief pitchers in baseball and none of the top 10 catchers in baseball and none of the top 10 first basemen in baseball and none of the top 10 second basemen in baseball and none of the top 10 shortstops in baseball and none of the top 10 left fielders in baseball and none of the top 10 center fielders in baseball and none of the top 10 right fielders in baseball. (The game’s number three third baseman was there.)
CBS Sports didn’t stop at recognizing 10 players at each position, stretching instead recently to 15, and in its rankings the third baseman that heard the speech shown last night at halftime had ranked company at second base and designated hitter (plus the number 17 and number 25 starting pitchers, as CBS went even deeper there). Still, not just a whole lot of baseball’s best on an individual level, at least according to some who hold forth on a national level.
And yet that team, the team that showed up every day and hung around and ticked off a lot of people on the other side of the field, was one of the final eight standing in 2015, and really should have been among the final four.
Aristotle (likely dissed in MLB Network’s ranking of B.C. philosopher-scientists) apparently threw down the idea that, in certain instances, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts — the word “synergy” came around a couple thousand years later, a good bit earlier than the sabermetric set that tends to dismiss it — though nowadays it’s in sports where we hear it invoked most often.
That unmathematical concept is one of the things that stuck in my mind as that Texas Rangers ad aired locally at halftime last night.
And the four times I saw Pearce Theatre crush it the last two weeks as it performed “Singin’ In the Rain” in a high school auditorium that needed every one of its seats to to hold crowds of as many as 1,400.
There are lots of players wearing the Texas uniform who it can be argued are under-appreciated when it comes to (meaningless) individual league rankings.
But at the same time, there aren’t are a whole lot of people who say the Rangers overachieved in 2015, unless it’s in the context of all the injuries the club overcame. This team is widely considered a favorite to repeat atop the division in 2016.
Because of the whole.
There’s an awesome culture (a synergy, maybe) that leaders cultivate — not only coaches but also the leaders who count among those parts. That third baseman, for example.
You can bet when a theater group or a high school baseball team or a World Series club gets back together 20 years down the road, it’s more than just memories that get shared. There’s that bond, too, the bond that may get tucked away but never expires. There’s no formula for that. No math.
It’s been awesome to see that develop for Erica with Pearce Theatre, and for Max with the Pelicans, and I saw it resonate in that 30-second spot between football halves last night, on clear display between a manager and his baseball players, and it raised the hair on my arms and got me to doing some countdown math in my head.
Heather Biddle. Mike Tovar. Jeff Banister.
Jake Griffin and Kenadi Paredes. Ty Holt and A.J. Haley. Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor.
The parts are impressive.
The whole, even better.
I’m a Theater Dad, something I was no closer to saying a year and a half ago than Josh Morgan was to saying, “I’m a catcher.”
I’m a Theater Dad, and a really proud one.
A year and a half ago, Erica wasn’t yet in theater, Banny wasn’t yet in Texas, and the Rangers were 25 games out of first, about to lose another 23 out of 32.
All those things seem like an eternity ago.
Pitchers & Catchers in 10 sleeps, as the parts begin to reassemble to form the whole of the defending AL West champs, and in a way that seems like an eternity away, like it can’t get here soon enough.
Especially since halftime last night.
My annual National Signing Day clarification, take 18:
I’m not gonna write about Rashan Gary, ever.
He’s not gonna write about Michael Matuella, at any time.
Though Shane Buechele’s probably fair game for both.
Have a great Wednesday, whether or not this day, for you, is all about fax machines, hot tubs, and letters of intent . . . or Pitchers & Catchers in just 15 sleeps.
Following Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’s announcements, MLB.com revealed its own Top 100 Prospects list this weekend, and its wake offered a relatively objective assessment of whose farm systems are strongest, as well as one subjective evaluation.
On the subjective side, MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis, former executive editor of Baseball America, tweeted that he would rank the best systems in baseball in this order: Dodgers, Braves, Rockies, Rangers, and Red Sox.
But based on formula — assigning 100 points to the player MLB.com judges to be the number one prospect in the game, 99 points to the number two player, and on down to one point to the prospect ranked number 100 — Texas finished first by a healthy margin, amassing 353 points, followed by the same four other teams (Rockies 325, Dodgers 319, Red Sox 316, Braves 302).
That’s not why I wanted to write about this today.
If the players Texas sent Philadelphia for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman were still Rangers property, including the three who land on MLB.com’s list (Nick Williams at 25th overall, Jake Thompson at number 34, Jorge Alfaro at number 70), the Rangers would have 527 points under the formula.
Again, the number two through number five teams earned 325, 319, 316, and 302 points. If the Rangers hadn’t made the Hamels/Diekman trade, they’d be at 527.
Instead, they’re at 353 — still best in baseball by MLB.com’s estimation and math — and by virtue of that trade have absurdly affordable control over Hamels for the next four seasons and absurdly affordable control over Diekman for the next three.
Not to mention the 2015 playoff berth (and an ALCS date that was within painfully short reach), which we can probably all agree wouldn’t have happened without those two lefties arriving at the end of July.
Those 353 points come courtesy of Joey Gallo being ranked number 9 overall (and owning what MLB.com considers the best power in minor league ball and the third-strongest throwing arm among position players), Lewis Brinson checking in at number 16, Nomar Mazara at number 18, Dillon Tate at number 36 (with the minor leagues’ best slider), and Luis Ortiz at number 73 (third-best in evaluation of pitchers’ control).
Baseball Prospectus, as discussed last week, has Mazara (5), Gallo (8), and Brinson (15) ranked as three of the five best prospects in all of the American League, with Tate (59) and Ortiz (68) showing up on its Top 101 list as well.
MLB.com also notes that the Phillies lead baseball with seven prospects on its Top 101.
Four of those seven arrived via trade.
Three of them were Rangers, until six months ago today.
The equipment truck leaves for Surprise on Tuesday, and attention turns full-scale to the big club — whose initial workouts will include Gallo and Mazara, who are on the 40-man roster, and Brinson, who was invited to join them even though he’s not yet on the 40 — but for now, we can wrap up the prospect focus that helps annually to get us from the Winter Meetings to Pitchers & Catchers, regardless of how much activity there is on the big league acquisition level.
Happy Half-Year Anniversary to the Phillies, whose acquisition of Williams, Thompson, and Alfaro helped accelerate their hopes to become a factor once again.
And to the Rangers, whose allocation of those three, plus Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher and Matt Harrison’s contract, announced formally on July 31, helped get them to 162+ in 2015 and boosts their chances to repeat the feat in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 . . . and whose farm system, in spite of taking that considerable hit, is still considered, by at least one measure, to be the very best in the game.
Rev up that truck.
“Few teams have a better 1-2-3 prospect trio than the Rangers,” wrote Baseball America’s Ben Badler on Tuesday, in conjunction with his publication’s ranking of Texas minor leaguers.
He was referring to Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, and Nomar Mazara, the same three that front any assessment of the Rangers’ system — though not always in that order, as Baseball Prospectus, for instance, goes Mazara-Gallo-Brinson, the same sequence I went with in the Bound Edition.
As a matter of fact, BP has those three ranked number 5, number 8, and number 15 in all of baseball — and has them as three of the top five prospects in the American League, along with Minnesota outfielder Byron Buxton and Boston infielder Yoan Moncada.
Yes, this is the Beltre/Darvish Window, but that’s not anything like the Pujols Window, given that the Angels are committed not only financially but also by virtue of an empty farm system to throw pretty much everything they can at winning now, at the expense of all else, as evidenced by their decision to trade their top two prospects (per BA) to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons.
Texas is (and should be) in a mode to win now, because the club has control of one of the best starting pitchers in the game for two more seasons and a third baseman whose game, at some point, will reportedly recede.
But there are plenty of key veterans who should be here and in their primes longer than those two — the rotation and bullpen are full of them, for instance — and the farm system is poised to continue paying off, as it has here for years.
BA has Gallo, Brinson, Mazara, righthander Luis Ortiz, righthander Dillon Tate, outfielder Eric Jenkins, infielder Josh Morgan, infielder Andy Ibanez, outfielder Leody Taveras, and righthander Michael Matuella as its Top 10, while mine goes Mazara-Gallo-Brinson-Tate-Ortiz-lefthander Andrew Faulkner-lefthander Brett Martin-righthander Luke Jackson-Jenkins-outfielder Ryan Cordell (Taveras 11, Matuella 12, Morgan 14, Ibanez 19), and if you want to take a shot at slotting where BA’s number one Angel (catcher Taylor Ward) or number one Mariner (outfielder Alex Jackson) would fit on a Rangers list, be my guest.
Certainly not in the top five. You could start debating after that.
Would it be nice if Texas had a guy like Ward standing out behind the plate and figuring squarely into the long-term plans? You bet. The last time Texas went with the same two primary catchers in consecutive seasons was in 2000-02, when Pudge Rodriguez and Bill Haselman held things down, and Jorge Alfaro’s potential now belongs to someone else. The system’s best bet at catcher, according to Badler, is Jose Trevino (the organization’s number 22 prospect, on my list), but he’s years away and there are questions about how his offensive game will translate as he moves up.
Don’t be shocked if a year from now, Morgan is ranked higher than number 7 on every Rangers prospect list.
As a catcher.
Just don’t be shocked.
Robinson Chirinos was a second baseman-third baseman-shortstop when his pro career began, too.
Baseball America made no mention of the idea of Morgan at catcher, but Texas launched the experiment at Fall Instructs (see page 14 of your Bound Edition) and wasn’t discouraged.
Of course, even if that were to come together, Morgan would be years away himself — he and Trevino were teammates with Low A Hickory in 2015 — and catcher will still be an open question going forward.
Chirinos and Chris Gimenez were good enough last year (once Carlos Corporan fell out of the mix) and stand to be the tandem in 2016, in spite of persistent rumors that the Rangers and Brewers could match up on Jonathan Lucroy (Phil Rogers of MLB.com proposes Brinson, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Tanner Scheppers for Lucroy, though he acknowledges that “[m]aybe [it’s] too much to give up”; David Schoenfield of ESPN wonders whether Texas would move Gallo for him [no]; Jeff Sullivan of FanGraph spitballs Brinson or Tate, plus Gonzalez or Matuella or Faulkner or Patrick Kivlehan), as well as Ken Rosenthal’s (Fox Sports) suggestion that San Diego’s Derek Norris — arguably a poor man’s Mike Napoli with his ability to produce from the right side while playing catcher and an occasional first base — is also available in trade.
There will probably be two or three more frontline catchers here before Trevino or Morgan gets to the big leagues in a best-case scenario, and that’s OK. Texas won a pennant with Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina one year, and Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba the next, and has played 162+ with a Napoli-Geovany Soto duo, an A.J. Pierzynski-Soto tandem, and a Chirinos-Corporan pairing last year, at least early on, before Gimenez and Bobby Wilson came to an unexpected rescue.
Once upon a time this was a franchise that transitioned at catcher, more or less, from Jim Sundberg to Pudge. Roger to Troy, Montana to Young, Magic to Kobe. Modano to Benn.
The days of Sunny to Pudge are long gone, and missed. This team, of course, has won at unprecedented franchise levels without long-term stability at catcher, but man, I can’t wait until there’s a Yadi or Buster or Salvy, or a Sunny or Pudge, holding things down again in Texas for the better part of a decade.
Short of an unlikely pickup of Lucroy or Norris, Gimenez goes into Rangers camp with (for him) a rare spot on the 40-man roster, giving him the edge on the second catcher spot alongside Chirinos. Wilson gets a non-roster invite to big league camp along with fellow catchers Michael McKenry, Brett Nicholas, and Kellin Deglan. (No Pat Cantwell, which is interesting.) Teams regularly bring added catchers to camp, as a large group of pitching hopefuls need someone to throw to early in camp, but of that group Wilson and McKenry are probably the only ones with a real chance to earn the confidence of the staff as in-season reinforcements.
Quick aside about another catcher that Texas gave a big league invite to, only he’s no longer a catcher. You’re probably a whole lot less familiar with right-handed pitcher Scott Williams than a number of other non-roster minor league arms in the Rangers system, but the college catcher is on a bullet train toward becoming a Major League pitcher.
Williams caught for the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 1,000 miles from his Berwyn, Pennsylvania hometown, after missing his high school senior season and redshirt freshman year at the University of Virginia due to injury. In his one season with the Manatees, Williams mixed 10 innings in on the mound, catching the eye of Rangers area scout Cliff Terracuso. Texas used its 11th-round pick on Williams in the 2014 draft, and made him a full-time pitcher right away.
Assigned to Hickory his first summer, Williams struggled, walking 16 hitters and uncorking seven wild pitches in a mere 17 innings, permitting 17 earned runs (9.00 ERA) on 21 hits (.300/.425/.414) as a middle reliever for the Crawdads.
Williams was sent right back to Hickory in 2015, and he took off. As the Crawdads’ closer, he held the South Atlantic League to 27 hits (just seven for extra bases) and 12 unintentional walks (.188/.267/.285) in 43.1 innings, fanning 49 while saving 10 games in a two-month stretch. His fastball touched 97, and his slider kept improving.
When I started putting my Top 72 Prospects list together for the book this winter, I had Williams on it but near the bottom. I talk to a lot of folks in the game when I’m working that list up, and just about every time I visited with someone about the Rangers system this off-season, I found myself moving Williams up a bit. He shows up at number 27 for me right now, and not long from now even that may seem low. (He’d probably show up on a BA Top Ten for the Angels or Mariners today. Not joking.)
The 2014 draft was the Ortiz/Martin/Morgan/Trevino draft for the Rangers, but from that class (and the 2015 Crawdads roster) it’s the Day 3 selection Williams who makes it to big league camp first.
Yes, this is the Beltre/Darvish Window, but the difference between that and the Pujols Window is not just that the Rangers are in better shape to win right now, but also that Texas has Mazara, Gallo, and Brinson on the verge of arriving — providing potential impact both between the lines and in payroll relief — not to mention Ortiz and Tate and Jenkins and Morgan, at one position or another, and Jurickson Profar and Ibanez and Taveras and Matuella, and Faulkner and Martin and Jackson and Cordell, and Ariel Jurado and Connor Sadzeck and Jairo Beras and Yohander Mendez, and Trevino and Williams, and plenty more behind them.
Helping in Arlington or, as we saw in July, enabling the Rangers to bring in game-changing pennant race impact via trade.
Last week, Buster Olney (ESPN) ranked the Rangers as the number five team in baseball (owning the number two lineup).
At the same time, Baseball America will soon judge Texas as having a top 10 farm system — even having divested itself of three players who will show up this winter on top 100/101 lists as Phillies, and two others who have already taken regular turns in the Philadelphia rotation.
It’s not the case everywhere, pretty clearly, but in Texas it’s a matter of keeping the picture window wide open while, if you take a look, the sun is peeking through another window over there, and a couple more around each corner.
Hey there, Nomar, Joey, and Lewis.
Eric. Josh. Yeyson. Leody.
I got to listen to Anthony Iapoce talk about hitting today. For 55 minutes.
What a beast.
It probably surprises nobody that I was fired up about every one of your careers yesterday.
Not as much as I am today.
Impact add, man.
Pass the eye black, please.
While my days are a series of a whole lot more “tons I’d like to write about but can I find the time?” than “feel like writing today but what is there to say?,” that stretch between the Winter Meetings and Pitchers & Catchers is always relatively slow, and sometimes content is more of a reach, a written foot-tap or knee-bounce that says “man, I really need baseball to start up again” without really advancing the conversation otherwise.
Today is that.
There’s just not that much to say yet about the Rangers’ arbitration cases, four of which have settled (Tom Wilhelmsen, Robinson Chirinos, Tanner Scheppers, Jurickson Profar), leaving three (Mitch Moreland, Shawn Tolleson, Jake Diekman) positioned — at least for now — for February arbitration hearings.
There are some in the national media devoting tweets and columns to the idea of Texas signing Justin Upton to a short-term deal or trading for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy. OK. Both seem unlikely.
Part of me wants to write about catcher Vin DiFazio, playing nothing but indie league ball since finishing his run in the Rangers system in 2012, signing a minor league deal this weekend with the Dodgers, but it just didn’t seem ripe for a few hundred words.
Facebook has this feature that gathers things you posted on this date the last few years, and two of my posts from January 17, 2015 jumped out at me this morning.
One of them: “Just saw Luis Sardinas shopping at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Frisco. Tick tock.”
Two days later, Texas traded Sardinas in the deal to get Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo.
The other: A link to that morning’s Newberg Report, titled “You’re Philadelphia.”
The premise was that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to decide whether the time was right to trade Cole Hamels, and if so, to get the trade right if he was going to be able to save his job.
In that article, I wrote this, on the idea of the Rangers trading for Hamels:
“It’s reasonable to assume that the Phillies, if [CSN Philly writer Jim] Salisbury’s note on [Joey] Gallo and [Nomar] Mazara was triggered by some intel that any talks between the clubs have moved beyond those two, would expect [Jorge] Alfaro to be paired with either [Jake] Thompson or Chi Chi Gonzalez, and then another player or two from the tier that includes pitchers Luke Jackson, Luis Ortiz (as a player to be named later), Andrew Faulkner, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, Corey Knebel, Keone Kela, and Marcos Diplan, and hitters Lewis Brinson, Nick Williams, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Cordell, Travis Demeritte, and Jairo Beras.”
“If the offer were, say, Alfaro and Gonzalez and Eickhoff and Williams — which would surprise me — I would expect the Rangers to insist on a tremendous cash infusion from the Phillies, turning Hamels into something along the lines of a $15-17 million pitcher annually (with most of the subsidy front-loaded), rather than one toting the $24 million AAV that his contract guarantees.”
A little less than 200 days later, I was surprised.
(It was Thompson instead of Gonzalez, of course, and Asher and Matt Harrison were added on the Texas side, while Diekman was included on Philadelphia’s side.)
Surprised, and fired up.
Though the Phillies had (and have) to be as thrilled with the outcome of that deal as Texas was (and is), Amaro didn’t keep his job. He’ll be coaching first base for the Red Sox when they visit Arlington late in June to face Hamels and Diekman and the Rangers.
By then, Eickhoff and Asher could be regulars in the Phillies rotation, and maybe even Thompson, too, with Williams roaming left field. Alfaro is less likely to be in the big leagues the first half of this season, and the same can probably be said about Harrison.
Maybe Upton is manning left field in a Rangers uniform that weekend, and maybe Lucroy is behind the plate, but neither of those longshot situations seems ripe for a “tick tock” reference that Facebook will trigger a look back at a year from today.
So, uh. Yeah.
That’s all I got today.