Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Changes.

Players and managers and GM’s and CEO’s come and go.

Chan Ho Park and Rich Harden were here too long, Jeff Zimmerman and Cliff Lee not nearly long enough.  But they all come and go.

We don’t.

I’ll be on the back fields in minutes, expecting to see Chris Davis take BP and Adrian Beltre take ground balls, hoping to catch Macumba on a mound, Jorge Alfaro in the cage, Robbie Erlin in a tracking session, Jurickson being Jurickson.  Wondering if Michael Thomas is still part of the organization, but also knowing that if he’s not, it doesn’t really change the picture on the Salty trade and won’t be something I give much of a second thought to.

Bobby Reed’s Rangers career ended before he got to Arlington, John Dettmer’s basically did, and so did Shawn Gallagher’s and Spike Lundberg’s, and I’d rather not talk about John Danks.  There have been disappointments when players I pulled for didn’t make it in Texas, but it never made me any less of a Rangers fan.

I got over Pudge’s first departure and the compound fracture of Ruben Mateo’s career arc, and surviving the trades of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and the reality that they didn’t want to continue playing for my team) turned out to be pretty easy sledding.

One day Josh Hamilton will no longer play for Texas, and Elvis Andrus, too, but I’ll still be around.  (I almost said Eric Nadel and Chuck Morgan, but since they’ll both outlive all of us those are bad examples.)  

I’m probably like lots of you in that I rely on sports, and always have, as a diversion, an escape from the problems and stress points that interfere with day-to-day life, with health and family and work and whatever else.  

But then there are those reminders we didn’t ask for, popping up more often than we’d like, that those same problems exist and sometimes interfere with the teams and seasons we look to for some degree of refuge.  Teams may exist for the fans, not just as a marketing pitch but philosophically, but they’re big business for many folks who devote their own day-to-day to making them run and hoping to make them win.  Very big business.

Very big business where the problems get aired out very publicly.  

I respect Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg, just as I respect Jon Daniels and Michael Young, and the last thing I wanted to believe was that there were disconnects between them, issues that they couldn’t work out, clashes that we haven’t exactly had ringside seats for but that still played out, not fully but at least in part, in public.  

Those men have been the faces of the franchise, the reigning American League champion franchise, that I have cared so much about for a lifetime, long before any of them were part of the Rangers family and long after they will have moved on from the organization.  

But Ryan is still here, and that’s massively important.

Some of what Greenberg helped achieve in his seven months here will last a long time.

And while Daniels and Young may not have rebuilt bridges, this team is better with both of them here.  I’d like to think that they both agree with that, but if not, so be it.

I hate it that things aren’t as stable as we’d all hope for them to be, but this is still my team, and that’s the one thing in all of this that I know, with 100 percent faith, will not change.

Chuck Greenberg expected to resign.

I woke up this morning prepared to sit down and type out this year’s 32 Things, as I get set to head to Surprise.
But before opening up my email, I flipped on the TV, and I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around what happened in Japan while I slept, and what they’re bracing for in Hawaii.
And then I saw the instant messages and emails and Twitter posts and newspaper stories, all triggered by a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report from Jeff Wilson that apparently hit the Internet about five minutes after I turned everything off last night.  
Reports are rampant that Chuck Greenberg could announce today that he’s resigning as Texas Rangers CEO in order to pursue other interests.
Rumors of internal differences of opinion swirl, and there’s apparently added detail in a Dallas Morning News story that I don’t have access to because I don’t pay for their online content, but I’m not going to speculate and pollinate on what’s happening.  I don’t know anything.  I suspect we’ll start to get some level of detail soon enough, from the local press and perhaps from the organization itself.
Staggering day, already.

Beer and tacos.

The six apparent candidates for the final two spots in the Rangers rotation – Dave Bush, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Eric Hurley, Michael Kirkman, and Alexi Ogando – have each gone three innings their last time out.  The composite numbers?
Eighteen innings, nine hits, zero runs, six walks, 13 strikeouts.   
No, you can’t put too much stock in a short sample of spring training statistics, but 18 scoreless frames (for a team whose offense is hitting .304/.355/.511, so this isn’t exactly Dead Ball Era baseball) is pretty impressive.
A key example of the numbers not telling the story is in the case of Julio Borbon, certainly the position player with the most tenuous hold on a starting job.  The 25-year-old is hitting .391 with a .565 slug, has yet to strike out in 23 at-bats, and has three stolen bases in four tries.  Encouraging for a player who’s only being counted on to hit ninth, huh?
Maybe, until you hear from the men in charge of evaluating where Borbon is and determining his fate.
Paraphrasing Jon Daniels from a radio interview he did on Tuesday: “Julio hasn’t had a great camp . . . he’s had lots of hits but mechanically he doesn’t look locked in and focused . . . and he missed a cutoff man yesterday . . . we need to see some improvement . . . we’re not shutting the door on putting Hamilton back in center field but would love to see Julio take the job and run with it.”
Those comments came before Tuesday afternoon’s game against the Angels, during which Borbon frustrated Ron Washington when he got the hit-and-run sign and “swung like he was trying to hit the ball out of the park,” as the manager pointed out during a Wednesday morning interview.  “Julio,” said Washington, “is capable of doing the job.  It’s up to Julio to go take that job.”
And then there’s the occasional performance about which evaluations can differ diametrically.  Regarding Neftali Feliz, who was assigned the sixth through eighth innings on Wednesday, touching 98 and mixing in not only a handful of breaking balls and changeups but also a brand new cut fastball, one scout told Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, “He’s got the best stuff I’ve seen all spring,” noting that the cutter was “unfair – not Mo [Rivera] in his prime, but it’s a hell of a fourth pitch.”  Meanwhile, our own Jason Parks, whose scouting chops are now on display at www.texasfarmreview.com, tweeted that Feliz’s new offering “wasn’t very good; poor arm speed, poor pace, poor location . . . . The cutter showed promise, but that and the [changeup] were poor.”
(And let’s consider the fact that, while Feliz did register four strikeouts, two swinging at fastballs in the upper 90s and two looking at breaking balls up in the zone, the four late-inning victims were Andy LaRoche, Jemile Weeks, Josh Horton, and Jai Miller, two of whom are fringy big leaguers and the other two of whom haven’t gotten out of Class AA.)
One player for whom the numbers and the reviews matched up on Wednesday was Holland, who punished the A’s for three innings, locating a low-90s fastball that touched 95, a swing-and-miss slider, and an effective change down in the zone.  He started nine of the 10 hitters he faced off with a strike, never got to a three-ball count, and overall threw only seven balls to those 10 A’s, in 37 pitches.  
“Pretty sharp,” said Washington, who said Holland made a “statement” with his appearance.  “Very impressive. . . he was on the attack. . . he was pounding the strike zone.  He was bringing the action to them.  He wasn’t waiting.”
Added Mike Maddux about Holland’s effort: “He looked like a pitcher out there today.  He had a plan.  And the firepower to back it up.”
Earlier in the week, Michael Young and C.J. Wilson said that Ogando was the sleeper so far in camp, while a group of 10 Rangers players and coaches made Chris Davis far and away the consensus choice as the player having the most impressive camp.  Ogando did nothing to hurt his standing on Monday (three scoreless innings, two singles, two walks, four strikeouts), but the way Holland dealt yesterday against Oakland gave us a glimpse of the pitcher who was a top 30 prospect in baseball two years ago and has had brief moments of dominance each of the past two seasons.  
The next step for Holland is elevating his consistency.  If he can get to the point at which he commands the baseball like he did on Wednesday more often than not, this will be the last camp in which we’ll be asking whether he’s a big league number four.

The CD universe.

Could Chris Davis factor in for Texas this season?  No question. 
We didn’t expect Davis to struggle like he did in 2009, or 2010.  We didn’t expect Justin Smoak to lose his command of the strike zone like he did in 2010.  We have to leave room for the possibility that the league might adjust to Mitch Moreland at a more advanced pace than he adjusts himself.  Moreland’s having a great camp (.350/.458/.750), but Davis finished camp strong in 2009, too, coming off his own promising rookie season.  It might not feel like a front-burner concern right now but, face it, Moreland could struggle.
Or he could get hurt.
Or Adrian Beltre could get hurt.
Or Mike Napoli could, or Michael Young could, or Ian Kinsler could, making Young the everyday second baseman for some stretch.   
It’s even conceivable that if there are a couple outfield injuries, the club might decide its best maneuver would be to put Moreland in right field, at least for a bit.  
Take a look at Scott Lucas’s fluid organizational depth chart, which sports a projected Round Rock lineup featuring the unproven Chad Tracy and lots of journeymen.  It’s not like the Express pitching staff, which could include two or three of Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, Matt Harrison, and Dave Bush, especially once Brandon Webb is ready, plus Pedro Strop and Tanner Scheppers.  There are a couple Tracy equivalents in Cody Eppley and Zach Phillips, and plenty of Esteban German/Matt Kata types (Seth McClung, Brett Tomko, etc.), but the pitching depth, as it should be, is far more reassuring than what Texas has in position player reinforcements.
You don’t want to have to fight through a dead spot offensively or defensively, or run with what amounts to a short-handed bench, if one of your frontline players goes down for three weeks.
Davis could be very important in 2011, and that one remaining option allows the Rangers to avoid what otherwise might have been a very challenging decision at the end of this month, one way or another.
And that leaves aside the possibility that St. Louis decides at some point this summer that it’s not going to exercise Chris Carpenter’s 2012 option, and isn’t crazy about continuing to run David Freese out there at third base for the next three years while Zack Cox develops.  Or that the White Sox aren’t sold on young third baseman Brent Morel and, out of the race, put Mark Buehrle on the market.  Or that, more immediately, Texas is willing to risk a deal with the Angels, who are said to be hunting for a left-handed bat.
Or that the Twins opt to shop Francisco Liriano and, even if they believe Justin Morneau can still be a two-way player long-term, covet a player out there from a third team that the Rangers might be able to acquire for a deal by using Davis (as in this winter’s rumored attempt to acquire Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos this winter to facilitate a flip to Tampa Bay as part of a Matt Garza trade).
Or maybe there’s a Young trade still to be made.
There are different ways that Davis can help the Rangers, and maybe significantly, this year.  While it’s wise not to make too much of an impressive eight-game run at the plate (.435/.480/.870) and in the field, I think we can all agree that this sort of small sample sure beats a .167/.167/.250 slash or a situation in which the club is trying to hide the player defensively.
And that it’s especially true for a club that expects to win this season and will need more than 25 players to get it done, still has an option it can use on the player in 2011, and, in the words of the general manager, is getting asked about the 24-year-old quite a bit by other clubs who, gradually if not suddenly, may be growing disenchanted with their own infield corner situation and increasingly interested in the possibility that Chris Davis is in fact figuring a few things out. 

Our AZ event and a Feliz development.

The Rangers travel to Scottsdale tonight to take on the Giants, sending close to a starting lineup out against lefthander Jonathan Sanchez, the lone San Francisco pitcher that Texas hung a loss on in the World Series.  The game starts at 8 p.m. Central time.
Calling the game on a free MLB.com webcast will be John Rhadigan, making his Rangers play-by-play debut, along with John Blake.
And speaking of Rhadigan, he and Eric Nadel and Tom Grieve will join us for a free fan event inside Surprise Stadium at 6 p.m. (Arizona time) on Monday, March 14 (one week from tonight).  The Q&A event will last one hour.  No need to RSVP.  More details soon. 
And by the way, if you’re wagering on whether Neftali Feliz will start or close when the season opens in three and a half weeks, bet on a return to the ninth inning.  Among the things the front office has alluded to recently is the importance the club places on the pitcher’s own ambitions, and how C.J. Wilson craved a transition to the rotation a year ago and put every ounce of his energy, both in the off-season and in camp, toward convincing the organization that he should start.
Feliz, according to a handful of tweets just shared by our local beat reporters in Surprise, said today that he’s comfortable in either role but would prefer to close.  
Feliz is expected to start on Wednesday (despite yesterday’s scare when he took a Craig Gentry BP line drive off his left shin), but I’d give the experiment another week or 10 days before he’s back working the ninth.

The JD extension.

This afternoon Zack Greinke will stride to the mound in the stadium that, for the first time in his pro career, he won’t call home.  A bit of an upset, some think.
The Rangers’ two biggest off-season pickups, Adrian Beltre and Brandon Webb, are expected to take big steps forward today in their preparation for the season, but neither is ready to make his spring debut. 
It hasn’t been a perfect off-season for Texas, but almost no team’s ever is.  
Still, Beltre is expected to be ready for Opening Day.  Webb could be, too, and if he’s not, remember that Tommy Hunter didn’t pitch until June last year and still won 13 games.
And Greinke?  Love him, wish Texas got him, but if it meant Hunter or Derek Holland, plus Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez, plus Jurickson Profar, plus Engel Beltre, and maybe more?  Maybe if you were a GM on an instant gratification blitz like Atlanta’s John Schuerholz was four years ago.  
Plus, within the next year Greinke could be available again.  As could Mark Buehrle, or Chris Carpenter.  Or Yu Darvish.  
And if, in that time, Holland emerges as a solid number three and Scheppers arrives as a lockdown setup weapon and Profar finishes the year playing shortstop for Myrtle Beach at age 18 (just as Elvis Andrus did when the Pelicans were a Braves affiliate in 2007) and Beltre has a season in Frisco and Round Rock that puts him on the doorstep going into 2012 – or if just a couple of those things happen – it sets the farm system up to pay dividends again, just as it did in July when Cliff Lee became available, and the idea of refusing to grossly overpay for Greinke this winter will have been validated.
Texas could have parted with half a dozen players to get Greinke in December.  Or Matt Garza in January.  
Ask the Mariners how that Erik Bedard trade worked out.
The Rangers could have guaranteed the 32-year-old Lee a seventh year and $161 million.  They could have.
The first half of the contract would have been a risk well worth taking.  Beyond that, hold your breath.
Nobody doubts that Jon Daniels is just as motivated to make sure 2010 isn’t a flash year as he was to embark on the five-step teardown plan four years ago to move the Rangers toward contention.  It would have been easy to view this World Series team as one that needed just a little winter tweaking: lock Lee up or trade some future assets (that wouldn’t really have affected the immediate core) to get Greinke, go find a veteran catcher, consider a change at DH.  The mainstream media would have celebrated the off-season, the fan base would have largely bought in, the clubhouse would have been fully on board.
But Daniels and his group took a few bold steps, apparently set in motion only when the efforts to land Lee or Greinke or Garza reached levels at which they were deemed foolish to act on, and Texas moved in a direction that was neither the easy way out nor an impulsive pushing in of all the chips.  Signing Beltre to improve the defense and taking a flier on Webb were more unconventional ways to address the club’s pitching needs than landing a number one, but evidence that the front office had backup plans that they were ready to move on, something we’ve come to expect these last few years.
Daniels was already positioned to become the second-longest tenured general manager in franchise history when his existing contract expired at the end of the 2011 season, and while his term has been marked by aggressive decisions, I doubt anyone expected that he’d operate this year with a Schuerholz mindset, going all in without the security of a long-term contract and without regard for the young players two and three years away from Arlington.  
It takes nobody by surprise that Rangers have locked Daniels up long-term – his deal now goes through 2015, which would give him a 10-year run matching Tom Grieve’s – but there was also this in one of the local write-ups of the Daniels extension:
The next step is to keep the foundation in place.  Team president Nolan Ryan said that with Daniels’ deal out of the way, the focus can shift to locking up key core players as well as members of the baseball-operations staff.

Assistant GM Thad Levine will be first, and the Rangers plan to have contacted all their targets within a few weeks.

“We’ll work on extending people within the system because we feel like we have personnel that we really count on and are really important to us,” Ryan said.  “That’s going to be a priority of ours to do in the very near future.”
If this team continues to make the type of noise it made last summer, it’s inevitable that Levine will start to get interviews to run someone else’s franchise, and A.J. Preller and Scott Servais and Don Welke head a group of baseball operations assets that other clubs are going to come after, dangling promotions.  But Ryan and the Rangers’ ownership group seem determined to make sure that key folks in the Daniels group aren’t going to reach free agency in eight months (the way Mike Maddux did after the 2008 season), and that’s a very good thing.
There’s no Rangers player with a guarantee that extends now beyond the one given to Daniels (Beltre is locked up through 2015, with a 2016 club option), and whether that was symbolic or not in settling on his contractual term I have no idea.  But the continuity that it recognizes and promises more of, both at the GM post and presumably in other roles on Daniels’s team, makes Friday’s announcement one of the more invigorating made by this organization since the season ended with Texas one of the two final clubs standing.

Erratica.

Professor Jason Parks watched Neftali Feliz pitch yesterday afternoon and he put it best: “First of all, [Thursday] was his first spring training appearance, so unless he gets injured, or strikes out-the-side while throwing 105 mph, it’s best to chew on the performance for a few minutes and then move on.  Today wasn’t a good day for Feliz, but it wasn’t a nightmare either.”  
There were inconsistencies in command and velocity and tempo and the quality of his secondary pitches, and he apparently wasn’t comfortable mechanically from the windup, but it was a two-inning effort that probably didn’t do enough to bolster either camp as far as what his role should be in a month (one team source told a local columnist that righty’s somewhat erratic effort should usefully cool the hype a bit), and the process will continue with another game assignment next week.  
Derek Holland’s two-inning effort across town in Mesa was evidently a mixed bag as well.  The bigger pitching news to come out of that game was Tanner Scheppers’s lower back stiffness, which presumably explains the drop in his velocity in what was an extremely ineffective outing (groundout, walk, infield single, infield single, double, sac fly, single, single, walk: four runs while recording only two outs).  Scheppers was a longshot to make the Opening Day staff, so this development shouldn’t impact any roster plans, but it would be a setback for the righthander if it lingers, and is worth keeping tabs on, particularly since his projection as a power piece for the bullpen at some point this year factors into the idea that the relief corps would ultimately survive any transition of Feliz or Alexi Ogando to the rotation.  
On the subject of the back of the bullpen, enthusiasm for Mark Lowe’s inning at the end of the Feliz game (three outs, two on strikes) ought to be tempered to a point, given that the Indians side he retired was comprised of minor leaguers Juan Apodaca and Nick Weglarz and utility man Luis Valbuena.  But the nine Lowe strikes in 12 pitches was encouraging, as was Eric Hurley’s solid work in the third and fourth innings, as he needed only 21 pitches to dispose of Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Travis Buck, Austin Kearns, and Jason Donald, most of whom figure to be in Cleveland’s starting lineup on any given day.
Big days, too, from Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis, Mitch Moreland and Michael Young, David Paisano and Mike Olt, but focusing too much on a big game at the plate is something we’ll save at least for April.
But Davis . . . man, it’s really good to see him regularly coming up big in both phases.  Would love to see him keep playing with confidence and in rhythm.
Again, though, take these early March box scores with a scrap of a crumb of a grain of salt, which is to say virtual indifference, unless you’re willing to bet that Cliff Lee’s first spring work with the Phillies (a hit-by-pitch and RBI triple to start the game, followed an out later by a run-scoring sac fly, and a leadoff walk in his second inning of work, with a wild pitch mixed in) is a dark cloud forming.
Yorvit Torrealba is expected to play today after his own bout of back stiffness held him out of action for a few days.  Adrian Beltre is reportedly making progress with his calf strain, but the club is pushing back its initial timetable that he’d return in 10 to 14 days (sometime next week).  No specifics, but team officials remain confident that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
The Lee trade in July arguably gave righthanders Josh Lueke and Blake Beavan a better opportunity than they would have had in Texas, but Seattle’s trade on Wednesday of the other minor league piece in that trade, infielder Matt Lawson, essentially put another big league pitcher in their way.  The Mariners shipped Lawson to Cleveland for lefthander Aaron Laffey, reuniting the 25-year-old with former Indians manager Eric Wedge, who plans to look at him in relief.  Neither Lueke nor Beavan was expected to make the Opening Day roster, but a 2011 debut for each is a good bet.
 
A few more things, quickly:
Jonathan Mayo (MLB.com) weighs in with his Top 10 Rangers prospects, plus a sleeper.
Chuck Morgan posted a message on the Newberg Report forum about the new main video board at Rangers Ballpark, which is now in place.  Check it out here.
If you were lucky enough to have missed my mystery caller segment on the Ticket yesterday, in celebration of Dan McDowell’s birthday, you can double down and lose everything by listening here: Part 1 and Part 2.  You’ll get the rare opportunity to hear my voice get modulated into that of a mouse, and to cringe at ill-advised Steve Olin and Bill Robinzine references.
(It was actually a lot of fun, and managed to avoid candidacy in this morning’s Emergency Break of the Week segment.  But man, what a letdown for Dan once he realized it was me . . . . )
If you missed MLB Network’s excellent “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature on the Rangers last night, you can catch a reairing of the hour-long show this morning at 10 a.m. or again at noon, or at 1 a.m. tonight.

Stuff.

I wasn’t there and so this is based only on a box score and a couple game recaps, and I don’t wish I’d been in Surprise yesterday rather than at our last Peanut basketball game of the season (a 31-27 barnburner that cost me my voice), but I know just enough about Royals 4, Rangers 2 that I’m hoping Tanner Scheppers and Pedro Strop will bottle some of that stuff up until I get therein 11 days.
The video on (new leadoff hitter) Ian Kinsler’s play up the middle was enough of a reminder that, among the many Rangers players who have a legitimate chance to improve his production in 2011 (more of whom exist than those who had what could be considered career years in 2010), the 28-year-old could help things out quite a bit if he can avoid the disabled list for the first time in his big league career.  He’s too important to this lineup and defense to miss another 40 days this year, which is what he’s averaged on the shelf. 
Chris Davis’s defense, this time at third base, makes me aggressively crave a breakthrough at the plate for the 24-year-old.  
In 2008, Davis went into the season judged by Baseball America to be the number 65 prospect in baseball and was number 74 on Kevin Goldstein’s equivalent Baseball Prospectus list, rankings that seemed light eight months later after he’d smacked big league pitching around that summer at a .285/.331/.549 rate, stacking up 17 home runs and 23 doubles in a mere 295 at-bats.
It serves as a reminder that prospect rankings may be persuasive but are never conclusive, not when BA had Franklin Morales at number 8 on that same 2008 list and Joey Votto at 44 (Goldstein: 13 and 21), not to mention Taylor Teagarden at 80 and Neftali Feliz at 93 (though Goldstein put Feliz at 30).
But that’s not to say we should close our eyes to the rankings, which I’d certainly pay more attention to than a home run served up by David Bush on February 27 (or one hit two innings later by Doug Deeds), and with that I share with you that BA and Goldstein each have three Rangers on their freshly unveiled Top 100/101 Prospects lists for 2011: lefthander Martin Perez (BA 24, KG 33), shortstop Jurickson Profar (BA 74, KG 78), and Scheppers (BA 84, KG 79).  
For what it’s worth, BA projects the big league arrivals for those three to be 2012, 2013, and 2011, respectively.  The Profar evaluation is particularly interesting, as he won’t turn 20 until after pitchers and catchers report that season.
Jim Callis identifies lefthander Robbie Erlin among six players who, for him, “didn’t make [BA’s] 2011 Top 100 [but] could rise the highest on our 2012 list.”
Goldstein will have a monster chat session today regarding his Top 101, and I’ll share any Rangers-related comments when I next write.
Despite some national media reports suggesting he could miss a month, Adrian Beltre and the Rangers are sticking to their estimation that his Grade 1 right calf strain won’t keep him out any more than 10-14 days, which signals a return to play sometime next week.  He continues to take batting practice and throw, and should start taking grounders in the next couple days.
Brandon Webb threw 28 pitches in a 10-minute bullpen session yesterday, his first work off a mound in 10 days, and if he reports no unusual soreness today, he could be back on a mound tomorrow and resume his effort to be ready in time for Opening Day.
We know Wilson is slated to get the ball that day, and now it looks like Matt Treanor will be the club’s Opening Day catcher, as the Rangers want to keep those two together in spite of the plan to have Yorvit Torrealba serve in 2011 as the club’s primary backstop.  
Rangers players will receive their American League Championship rings in a ceremony before Game Two against Boston (Saturday night, April 2).  Every player who appeared in a game for Texas in 2010 will receive a ring, even if they didn’t make the post-season roster.
Michael Young will start at first base today, something he has never done.  Even when he was Mateo’s age.
A Philadelphia Daily News article suggests that while the Phillies checked with Texas on Young last month because of Chase Utley’s knee issues, there’s not much of a chance that the two teams move those talks any further.
Check out Scott Lucas’s drill-down into the idea that Nelson Cruz isn’t ready to handle cleanup duties, which will go to Beltre.
The unusual arrangement that Texas has with 25-year-old Cuban first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz is similar to the one he had when signing with Tampa Bay in June.  Ruiz’s deal with the Rays was for the balance of 2010 with a four-year, $4 million club option that they declined in November.  The Rangers signed him to a one-year deal with a three-year option (at a lower figure) that they must act on when the season ends.
Cleveland signed righthander Chad Durbin.  Tampa Bay signed utility player Joe Inglett to a minor league deal.
The Mets named Jack Voigt their minor league outfield/baserunning coordinator.
Need a book?  Need a T-shirt?
Eric Nadel and Dave Barnett broadcast today’s Rangers-Royals game (2:05 CT) on ESPN 103.3 FM.  The sound of Eric’s voice, like the first spring training box scores and the BA and Goldstein Top 100/101’s, will be yet another signal that the real thing is gaining on us, and quickly.  Bring it on.

Two cents on two quotes.

Springboarding off a couple recent quotes from camp:
* * *
 
“Don’t go to sleep on Chris Davis.” – Jon Daniels, in a radio interview 
Easier said than done, maybe, considering that of the eight Rangers infielders on the 40-man roster, seven are locks to make the team barring injury (Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Andres Blanco, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, Michael Young) and one is a lock not to (Davis).  
And that Davis was rumored at different times this winter to be traded in something short of a headline deal (perhaps to the Cubs for catcher Robinson Chirinos, who might have then been flipped to Tampa Bay as part of a package for Matt Garza – the Rays ended up getting Chirinos from the Cubs in the eventual Garza trade).  
And that the Rangers are so committed to Moreland that Davis, the club’s best defensive first baseman, has reportedly been fully transitioned back to third base.
Yet the general manager is singling Davis out as a guy to keep an eye on.
He’s still just 24, eight months younger for instance than non-roster invite Chad Tracy, a corner infielder with some possibilities and one year of AAA ball under his belt.  Davis has parts of three years in the big leagues.
Where Davis distinguishes himself from, say, Jason Botts is not only in the glove and arm tool, pluses both, but also in the sustained run of big league success he’s had.  In 2008, a mere two years after signing with the Rangers out of Navarro Junior College, Davis hit a robust .285/.331/.549 in 317 Texas plate appearances, with 17 big league home runs in half a season (to go along with 23 bombs in the first half between AA Frisco and AAA Oklahoma City).  Compare Moreland’s .255/.364/.469 slash in his 173 plate appearances for the Rangers last summer.
Moreland’s six months older than Davis himself.
This is not to suggest that Davis should be the Rangers’ first baseman.  Moreland has earned the position, at least as a job to lose.  The way the roster is constructed, Davis isn’t really an ideal fit, even on the bench.  Young and Napoli provide depth at first base, Young and Blanco at third.
But even if Davis never fulfills all that Ryan Howard promise at the plate, as a player with 70 raw power (conservatively) and the versatility to make plays at two corners and maybe four, he could have a lengthy big league career contributing to good teams.  And there’s more to dream on, to not sleep on.
The Rangers have Davis hitting daily in a group in camp with Beltre, Josh Hamilton, and the player who should serve as his supreme inspiration.
Nelson Cruz was older than Chris Davis is now before he made his big league debut.  He got to Milwaukee in 2005 but spent most of his time that year in AAA, just as he did in 2006, 2007, and 2008 (1,058 AAA plate appearances, 603 Rangers plate appearances).  While Davis has one remaining option, Cruz had exhausted his in 2008 when Texas decided it nonetheless couldn’t carry him on Opening Day (opting for Botts instead), designating Cruz for assignment and succeeding in getting him through league-wide waivers, as a 27-year-old with all the tools but no real big league success.  
 
Cruz, whether or not humbled by the 30-team neglect, was in the midst of his second straight insane Oklahoma City season in 2008 (.342/.429/.695) when Texas purchased his contract in late August, dropping Jason Ellison from the big club.  Any subsequent effort to get Cruz to the minor leagues – ever – would entail not only another designation for assignment but also, if he were to slide through waivers again, a certain departure for another organization, as a player outrighted more than once in his career can refuse subsequent outrights and take immediate free agency.  The August 2008 chance that Texas was giving Cruz would be his and the club’s one final shot at avoiding divorce.
He hit .330/.421/.609 over those last five weeks with the Rangers.  Only one hitter in the entire American League (Shin-Soo Choo) had a higher OPS in that stretch.  
The Hanshin Tigers came calling that winter, asking the Rangers if they’d be interested in selling Cruz.  They weren’t, obviously, but you have to wonder how that conversation might have gone a year earlier.
Before he settled on an approach at the plate that worked and before he figured out how to adjust to big league pitching in his fourth run at them, Cruz was a 28-year-old, .316/.402/.602 AAA hitter.  At the moment, fighting for a chance to make his own fourth run at big league pitchers, Davis is a 24-year-old, .328/.395/.547 AAA hitter, with an option remaining.  
Davis has plenty of work to do on the approach and the adjustments, and has a third big league hitting coach in three years who will attempt to unlock all that offensive potential, but I still believe in that guy.  With Beltre’s calf injury and the importance of getting Young extensive work at first base and second base in camp, Davis is going to get a good amount of third base starts early on, which is key since big league pitchers tend to work early in games at the start of the exhibition schedule, giving way to jerseys with “87” on the back in the late innings.  He’s got an opportunity here to make people reevaluate what he might be.
Don’t forget what Davis was able to do against big league pitching just two years out of junior college, don’t forget how young he still is, and don’t go to sleep on him.
* * *
“It wasn’t fun.  It buckled me, actually.  It’s a good pitch.  I’m glad I’m on his side now.  I thought he had good arm action on the slider today.  Last year he would kind of slow up a little bit and give it away.  I couldn’t tell any difference in the arm speed today.” – Mike Napoli, assessing the slider that Neftali Feliz froze him on down and away for strike three (and in fact had him walking back to the dugout before the umpire’s call) in a Friday intrasquad game at-bat
Everyone else has written about The Pitch, so I figured I might as well pile on.
No, the crippling back-fields pitch didn’t have quite the impact of the Feliz breaking ball that froze A-Rod and ended the Yankees’ season four months ago, and it didn’t cement a spot in the starting rotation for the 22-year-old closer.  But given where the Feliz-to-starter audition ranks among the stories early in camp, and the fact that the pitch was fired past (1) a teammate, that is, someone willing to offer wordy praise to reporters afterwards and (2) someone who has faced Feliz the past couple years, the Napoli appraisal was very interesting. 
If David Murphy had been the victim of the pitch, his comments would have been worth noting (as they were a week ago when he talked to reporters about the Feliz breaking ball and changeup he stood in against in live BP).  If Matt Treanor talked about the progress Feliz was making with his secondary stuff, I want to hear that, too.
But to hear from a player who has hit against Feliz when it counted, and who had developed a book on how to cheat a bit on that breaking ball – suggesting it might have been an issue others in the league were in on – it carr
ies extra weight, no?
Just for fun, Napoli’s five lifetime at-bats against Feliz:
August 7, 2009 (Feliz’s third big league appearance), bottom of eighth:
Pitch 1: fastball (99 mph), called strike 
Pitch 2: slider (86), ball (low and away)
Pitch 3: fastball (100), ball 
Pitch 4: fastball (100), called strike 
Pitch 5: fastball (101), foul 
Pitch 6: slider (85), swinging strike three
September 18, 2009, top of sixth: 
Pitch 1: slider (77), ball (low and away) 
Pitch 2: slider (76), ball (low and away)
Pitch 3: fastball (94), called strike 
Pitch 4: fastball (94), ball
Pitch 5: fastball (96), ball four
May 17, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (96), flyout to center
July 22, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (97), called strike
Pitch 2: fastball (96), flyout to center
September 30, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (96), swinging strike 
Pitch 2: (after throw to first) fastball (96), swinging strike 
Pitch 3: (after throw to first) fastball (94), ball
Pitch 4: slider (79), foul
Pitch 5: (after throw to first) fastball (96), foul
Pitch 2: fastball (95), swinging strike three
Now that you’ve skimmed over that waste of time (though it does illustrate that Napoli isn’t unwilling to take a bunch of pitches . . . and may also be a reminder that the punishment he tends to deliver comes off left-handed pitching), recognize that one pitch doesn’t make much difference, especially in an intrasquad game in February, but a similar one made history for Texas in October, and if Feliz truly is adding consistent location to (and confidence in) his breaking ball, and subtracting a significant tell, and if the changeup is staying down with some deception, and if he proves into mid-March that he can sustain his velocity and mix up his looks a third time through a lineup, then maybe this year’s rotation audition will end the way last spring’s C.J. Wilson trial did, and turn out just as well.
It’s a bunch of if’s, but February isn’t the time of year when a whole lot of if’s go away.

Pop the corn. Or, you know, something.

Hours from now the first competition of the 2011 Rangers season gets underway, with C.J. Wilson taking the ball for one intrasquad group not because he’s already been awarded the Opening Day start against Boston but because Mike Maddux’s schedule for Wilson based on that April 1 assignment makes today an excellent day for him to pitch an inning.  
Dave Bush’s pitch for a roster spot gives us more than just manager and pitching coach and catcher quotes to overreact to consume today, as he starts for the opposing squad in what is slated to be a 5.5-inning game.  
Wilson will throw again on Sunday, when Texas opens the exhibition schedule against Kansas City.  So will Bush.
Today Wilson will be followed by a group that is supposed to include Tanner Scheppers, one of the It Guys from the first week of camp, as well as Ryan Tucker, Seth McClung, Zach Phillips, and Zach Jackson.  Mark Lowe (who (1) has wowed Mike Napoli and (2) was a dealbreaker in July for Texas, who wouldn’t have put Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee trade unless Seattle included the righthander, according to John Hickey of AOL FanHouse) headlines the relief group behind Bush, joined by Pedro Strop (who has been singled out in praise by Yorvit Torrealba, who was in the Rockies system along with Strop from 2006 through 2009, though their only conceivable work together would have been in spring training), Yoshinori Tateyama, and Cody Eppley.
Among those who aren’t slated to pitch today are Colby Lewis and Michael Kirkman, who will work in another intrasquad game tomorrow; Darren Oliver, who will go against the Royals (along with Lewis and Kirkman) on Monday; and Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin, who’s dealing with a bout of “general arm soreness.”  Others limited at the moment are Eric Hurley (hamstring), Miguel De Los Santos (biceps), Fabio Castillo (foot), and Scott Feldman (knee), not to mention Brandon Webb, whose prescribed course of long toss may already be the most notable (most noted, at least) in franchise history.
Much will be made of today’s 11 half-innings.  The action won’t be broadcast, the stats won’t “count” (not that Cactus League game numbers do, but intrasquad results really don’t count), and there may be innings that roll over because of pitch counts.  
But it’s the first semblance of baseball since Nelson Cruz’s very slow walk to the southwest 115 days ago, so cue up the overreactions, and feel free to embrace a little over-the-top.  It’s very likely that nothing that happens on the field today will have any more of an impact on the 2011 season than the bullpens, live BP, and infield drills that have led up to it, but you can bet the players are looking forward to a little umpire chitchat, a pine tar turn in the on-deck circle rather than behind the cage, and that underrated moment when the third base coach first flashes the signs, so it’s probably OK with everyone in Surprise if we play along and get our popcorn ready (for a handful of beat writer tweets telling us Zach Jackson fanned Jose Felix on six pitches).
</melodrama>
We’ve all been around this game long enough to concede that the anticipation of all these spring training mileposts is what counts, not the moments themselves, and so while it’s not advisable to pull the kids from school in time for first pitch of the Wilson’s against the Bush’s, I’d say we all have a good excuse for feeling a little keyed up this morning for yet another spring training piece to cross off the punch list as we get closer to Wilson’s April 1 trot to the mound, followed by eight exhilarating warmup pitches as Jacoby Ellsbury gets set to march from the visitors’ on-deck circle to the batter’s box, six weeks after reporting to Boston camp in what I’ve been told is the best shape of his life.
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