The mocks have been updated, in some cases as many as three or four times, and the name most often tied to the Rangers at 1.4 is UC Santa Barbara righthander Dillon Tate, widely considered the top pitcher in the draft and, in some projections, a candidate to go 1.1 to the Diamondbacks.
In most (but not all) of the mocks that have Texas taking Tate, shortstops Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt), Alex Bregman (LSU), and Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS, Florida) are projected to go to Arizona, Houston, and Colorado in the three slots ahead of the Rangers’ pick.
The current projections from the national outlets:
Dillon Tate (RHP, UC Santa Barbara)
* ESPN (Keith Law)
* MLB.com (Jim Callis)
* Baseball Prospectus (Christopher Crawford)
* FanGraphs (Kiley McDaniel)
* Scout.com (Jeff Ellis)
Brendan Rodgers (SS, Lake Mary HS, Florida)
* Baseball America (John Manuel)
* MinorLeagueBall.com (John Sickels)
Alex Bregman (SS, LSU)
* Sports Illustrated (David Rawnsley)
* MLB Network Radio (Jim Duquette)
Daz Cameron (OF, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, Georgia)
* MLB.com (Jonathan Mayo)
Kyle Tucker (OF, Plant HS, Florida)
* MLB Network Radio (Jim Bowden)
There will likely be updated projections from some of the publications before things get rolling this evening, and I’ll do my best to pass all of those along via Twitter.
Scott will have a draft preview as part of his Farm Report later today.
The Rangers’ Monday picks are expected to come at approximately 6:27 pm (1.4) and 9:40 pm (2.45), with rounds 3-10 of the draft following on Tuesday afternoon and 11-40 on Wednesday beginning at 11 am.
It occurred to me last night, as I watched the last couple innings of another impact Rangers win, that I wouldn’t write today.
For the last couple weeks I’ve written about walkoff wins and no-hit bids and majestic multi-home run games and jaw-dropping debut bombs and an awesome sacrifice bunt.
Thing is: This is just a good baseball team.
I could invoke the names of Len Barker and Scott Chiamparino and Derek Holland and Edwin Correa this morning in a thousand-word essay on Chi Chi Gonzalez going 9-3-0-0-2-2 against the defending AL champs, in their park, and how, given yesterday’s report, there’s something cool enough about the fact that Gonzalez was teeing it up against Edinson Volquez that I might have pushed two thousand words.
I could point to the Wild Card standings and the tightening AL West and talk about how this team is playing and who could be coming back soon to help, but nah. Not today.
I’m not writing about Texas 4, Kansas City 0. I could write about another signature moment for this team and an exciting rookie pitcher and the front office and player development program that paved the way for Friday night, right in step with lots of other things that are going on with this franchise.
But maybe Chi Chi and his teammates were just handing the ball to the ref, Jason Witten style.
I’m not writing today.
Yovani Gallardo was steady and the bullpen was nails and Delino DeShields was disruptive and Shin-Soo Choo came up big, but perhaps lost in Texas 2, Chicago 1 in 11 was the job Hanser Alberto — who hasn’t been out of the lineup since he entered it a week ago and still hasn’t had a hitless game — did in the final moments of the game.
Leonys Martin had singled, for the third time on the night, to lead off the bottom of the 11th. Alberto was up, with DeShields, Choo, and Prince Fielder slated to follow. The objective was obvious, and with a lefthander on the mound, getting Martin (leading the league in caught-stealings) into scoring position by running him without putting something on probably wasn’t strongly considered.
The play was so obvious, that Alberto betrayed his intentions by squaring before White Sox reliever Dan Jennings kicked toward the plate.
Bunt foul, 0-1.
Chicago manager Robin Ventura thought he could possibly cut Martin down by pitching out on the second pitch, and even if if Martin weren’t running perhaps he could get the rookie Alberto to offer in the high-leveraged situation, in which case there’d be a two-strike count and the Rangers might have taken the bunt off, or risked a strikeout by trying it again on a chase pitch and not dropping the ball fair.
It wasn’t a great pitchout, but it was a pitchout, and Alberto could have let it go but he didn’t, extending the bat out of the zone and getting the ball down. It hugged the first base foul line, and Adam LaRoche couldn’t risk letting it roll (the consequence could have been Martin in scoring position with zero outs rather than one). Alberto was out, Martin reached second, DeShields was intentionally walked to set up a potential game-extending double play, and up stepped Choo.
Three pitches later, game over, and Alberto and his teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate another walkoff before heading to the clubhouse to salute a fifth straight series win and a 5-2 homestand before getting on a plane for Kansas City.
The Rangers are exactly one-third through their schedule. And in spite of the decimated rotation, struggles at closer and second base and shortstop, and an offense whose core (with one exception) did nothing in April, Texas is tied this morning for a Wild Card spot.
I was thinking last night as Alberto (who did commit his first error in the game) contributed to a win, which he’s now done several times in his first week as a big leaguer: What if he’s what Leury Garcia was supposed to be, a plus defender who can fill in all over the infield and do some things at the plate to help his team win, at a league minimum salary?
What if DeShields is what Ramon Nivar was supposed to be?
What if Chi Chi Gonzalez, Jake Thompson, and Nick Martinez give this club what “DVD” were supposed to, without all the advance hype?
What if Choo — even if he’s not the .370/.500/.554 beast he was through his first 120 trips to the plate as a Ranger last year — is the player he’s been since the start of May this year (.308/.380/.549)?
What if Nomar Mazara is Ruben Sierra and Nick Williams is what Ruben Mateo was going to be and Joey Gallo is exactly what we think he is?
Hey there, Luis Ortiz and Ryan Cordell and Brett Martin and you, too, Yohander Mendez.
What if Shawn Tolleson is John Wetteland and Tanner Scheppers is Mike Adams and Keone Kela and Luke Jackson and Jon Edwards help make the back third death on offense, Royals-style?
I don’t know what Leonys Martin is. The flashes are awesome. But they’re still flashes.
Nobody will ever be Pudge Rodriguez again, but what if Jorge Alfaro continues to evoke memories even after he gets to Arlington, and turns out to be far more than Cesar King was ever supposed to be?
And what if Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor eventually does the things Michael Young used to do and Ryan Rua is early-days Ben Zobrist and Spencer Patton is Jason Frasor and Tomas Telis is what Max Ramirez was supposed to be?
What if this version of Prince Fielder, DH, lives forever?
What if Alec Asher is Colby Lewis, and while it’s sad enough that I didn’t think to wonder this half a dozen paragraphs up, what if Jurickson Profar is a switch-hitting Julio Franco?
What if Monday’s draft pick, fourth overall, is making All-Star Teams in five years?
Most of this will never happen, but not a whole lot of it can be summarily ruled out, and what if some of those things materialize as Yu Darvish and Derek Holland and Martin Perez and Matt Harrison come back, revitalized and good as new?
And what if Jeff Banister is Jim Leyland, or Clint Hurdle?
It’s probably fair to say I’m jumping the gun a bit and sprinting haphazardly toward a tank of Kool-Aid, and maybe pointing out the Wild Card standings on June 5 is even a bit goofy.
But the way this team has turned things around, not so much in the standings as in the style of baseball and the different ways it can beat you, I’m not unwilling to get ahead of things, maybe way ahead of things, and part of that is seeing how the ballplayers on the back of this roster, scouted and developed by this organization into pieces that could contribute up and down a roster, are doing exactly that.
Two weeks ago today, I wrote:
“Josh and Joey homered in the same game, for the first time and, this year, likely the last.”
As of this week’s unexpected events, I happily take that statement back, but it looks like it will stand for another month, at least.
Minutes after Gallo went upper tank last night, for the second time in his second big league game, the Rangers announced that Wednesday afternoon’s MRI on Hamilton’s tweaked left hamstring revealed a Grade 2 strain. He will land on the disabled list today and is expected to miss at least four weeks.
Hamilton reportedly first felt a tweak in his hamstring on the Mike Napoli double to the right field corner that ended Chi Chi Gonzalez’s debut on Saturday, and then it tightened up as he rounded first base on Sunday’s pinch-hit, walkoff double.
Gallo has played six games in the outfield defensively as a pro — all left field assignments in the last two and a half weeks in Frisco — and though he will play mostly third base in Adrian Beltre’s absence, you can probably expect an occasional start in left over these next few weeks, mixing into the rotation of Leonys Martin, Delino DeShields, and Jake Smolinski in the center field/left field equation.
If that takes hold — Gallo is athletic enough for the position and certainly has more than enough arm, though a lack of experience will likely show up at first on routes and decisions (as with Ryan Rua last summer) — it could increase the odds that Gallo’s stay in Texas extends past Beltre’s return, and in turn the chances that he and Hamilton will go deep in the same game this summer, and not while the latter is in Round Rock rehabbing his latest injury.
Given the opportunity by the schedule-makers to spend Monday focusing on next week’s draft, the Rangers’ baseball operations group was likely holed up in nearly full force up on the fourth floor for a very long day, but an unfortunate slide at second base in the fifth inning of an otherwise spectacular day between the lines on Sunday put another item on Monday’s agenda.
Adrian Beltre had singled to center in the fifth inning of a 2-2 game, after driving in runs in his first two at-bats, and a pitch later he went in hard at the second base bag to make sure that Mitch Moreland’s ground ball to Dustin Pedroia resulted in a fielder’s choice rather than a double play. Elvis Andrus then lined out to right and Leonys Martin struck out, and the breakup slide ended up insignificant, at least as the ballgame was concerned.
And of course that’s not really true, as it was Beltre’s spot in the order that Boston manager John Farrell chose to get to when he walked Prince Fielder intentionally in the ninth, bringing Josh Hamilton up in Adam Rosales’s place in what had been Beltre’s number four slot, and bringing on a victory scrum in the middle of the field.
But the medium-term impact of Beltre’s slide was a sprained and lacerated thumb that will sideline him for two to three weeks, and what the Rangers front office had to decide yesterday was how to address his absence in that time.
One idea would have been to recall Rougned Odor, whose approach (and results) at the plate in AAA have been outstanding but whose defense at second reportedly still has some things to smooth out, and let Rosales and Hanser Alberto hold third base down until Beltre’s return.
Another would have been to purchase the contract of 33-year-old journeyman Ed Lucas, who has had a solid spring at Round Rock but wouldn’t necessarily have promised any sort of upgrade at third over the Rosales/Alberto option, plus Lucas would have required addition to the 40-man roster, meaning someone else would have to come off in the event that Ryan Rua or a pitcher on the 60-day disabled list were ready to return before Beltre. Plus, Lucas would certainly be dropped from the 40 once his presence in Arlington was no longer needed, which potentially would put a dent in the club’s depth — not an overriding factor, but like with Tommy Field, who’s currently in designation for assignment limbo, Lucas is a player the Rangers would probably prefer not to have to expose to waivers.
The other obvious option, and the one that naturally had media and fan traction as soon as Beltre accompanied the trainer off the field Sunday, was to make Joey Gallo a big leaguer.
There were downsides to consider.
Like Lucas, Gallo was off the 40-man roster (lacking enough service time to require rostering before now) and would take up a spot — but unlike Lucas, Gallo would obviously not be dropped from the 40 when his time in Arlington was done, which means there would be one more player on the roster who would need to be let go when players like Rua, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, and Nick Tepesch return.
Also, when Beltre returns, Gallo would be optioned back to the minor leagues — which means one of his three option years would be burned. (If he were called up in September, or beforehand, and not returned to the farm in 2015, there would be no option exhausted.)
Further, Gallo’s service clock would start ticking, which would theoretically impact things like his timetable for arbitration eligibility and free agency.
But this front office believes this Rangers team can win, and that Gallo gives the club its best chance to get something out of the position in the infield and in the lineup that Beltre vacates for much of this month.
The rest will sort itself out: Let’s go.
I would suggest the effect on the back end of the 40-man roster was possibly the biggest reason not make this move — Gallo should never need three options (something will have gone horribly wrong with his game if we ever got to that point), these two or three weeks shouldn’t accelerate free agency (if he makes the Opening Day roster next April, there’s no impact, and if he doesn’t, it means he’ll need to stay on the farm for four or five weeks rather than just two weeks in order to stave free agency off an extra year, and my bet is Gallo will earn a long-term deal well before he’s a sixth-year player anyway), and as for arbitration eligibility, this is mathematically also very unlikely to have an effect, and this isn’t a franchise that makes baseball decisions based on whether a player might make a couple extra million dollars three or four years from now — but the Rangers believe the reasons not to do this were outweighed by the reasons to go for it.
Today, Joey Gallo is a Texas Ranger.
And he will be in the starting lineup tonight against White Sox righthander Jeff Samardzija (though he might not be against left-handed beast Chris Sale tomorrow . . . but I bet he’s back in there against lefty Carlos Rodon on Thursday).
Gallo, who at age 21 was more than three years younger than the average position player in the AA Texas League, was a .314/.425/.636 hitter in Frisco this year. That’s after he hit .232/.334/.524 at the same level last summer. His strikeout rate is down. His walk rate is up. He has more extra-base hits (20 in 34 games) than singles (18). There are plenty of reasons to believe he was ready for a promotion, which probably would have been an imminent one to AAA if not for the Beltre injury. The organization has already suggested Gallo will go to Round Rock once Beltre returns, rather than back to Frisco.
But the other point stems from the first part of that paragraph. Gallo had his struggles in AA last year before opening a can on Texas League pitching this year. There will be an adjustment with this promotion, and Gallo could end up looking overmatched a lot of the time. But the Rangers aren’t overly concerned about that possibility, or its long-term impact.
“The deciding factor was that we are really confident in the environment, the culture, and the clubhouse,” Jon Daniels said to local reporters yesterday. “It’s a good spot for a young player. We have a lot of confidence in our staff and in the value of sitting next to Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder and learning.”
That’s the now. What about the future, the downside if things don’t go well — that is, if he hits a wall immediately, unlike Odor, who didn’t hit his until his second run in the big leagues?
Daniels: “Even if [Gallo] struggles, which is possible for a young player jumping from AA to the Majors, he’ll be better long-term for the learning experience. He will have a better idea of knowing some of the things he will have to work on. . . . This will help his development.”
Gallo will hit low in the lineup, at a time when the offense is clicking and Josh Hamilton is hogging the buzz and Jeff Banister is the leader and other coaches like Steve Buechele and Jayce Tingler know Gallo well. The kid dated Mike Maddux’s niece in high school, and we can assume it’s all good on that front, too.
The Rangers, coming off their second straight World Series but in no mood to get any less aggressive on the player development front, hunkered down in draft prep meetings three years ago with a plan to go big on Gallo if they got the chance. Using the 39th overall pick, which they received as compensation for C.J. Wilson’s departure, they took Gallo knowing that it would take far more than the $1,324,800 million slot to lure him away from his commitment to LSU.
Texas had five picks in the first two rounds, and used all of them on high school players. The Rangers took outfielder Lewis Brinson first (29th overall) and paid him slot money. In the supplemental first and second rounds, the club took righthander Collin Wiles (53rd), outfielder Jamie Jarmon (83rd), and outfielder Nick Williams (93rd), paying the three a combined $5,000 under slot.
The draft rules limit what teams can spend in the first 10 rounds collectively, and in order to reserve what they believed would be needed to get Gallo signed, the Rangers focused on college seniors and players with significant medical histories in rounds 3 through 10, and were able to sign many of them at significantly under-slot amounts. Catcher Pat Cantwell took $50,000 in a $381,700 slot. Righthander Alec Asher took $150,000 in a $277,600 slot. Righthander Cody Kendall took $5,000 in a $132,000 slot. Others cooperated as well.
All told, the Rangers were able to pay Gallo $2.25 million, over $900,000 more than his slot called for. Many other teams, looking back at how their top 10 rounds went in 2012, probably regret not taking the same chance before the 39th pick rolled around.
Texas picks fourth overall six days from now, and 45th and 78th, and much of yesterday was probably spent evaluating not only the players expected to be available to them in those slots, but also how the organization might spread its draft pool allotment out to maximize its return.
Gallo was probably discussed on two fronts in that war room yesterday, and that’s exciting. He’s a talent that Texas can only hope to have a shot at with the fourth pick next Monday, and while starting today the BP sessions featuring Hamilton and Gallo will be majestic and ridiculous, Texas believes there will be some big moments when the umpires are on the field, too, and even if those are scattered, or missing altogether, the club is confident Gallo will grow from this experience, and as a result the team will benefit in the long term as well.
Neither did the Rangers, but this team is playing very good baseball right now, has by all accounts a tremendous clubhouse, and an immediate need at third base, and Joey Gallo has proven he’s ready for a bigger challenge than AA. For now, at least, the math worked out to make that next step in Arlington rather than Round Rock, just as the math worked out just right three June’s ago to make Gallo a Texas Ranger.
He was getting ready to hand me the ball.
I said: “No. You need to wait.
“Listen to the noise, the crowd. That’s for you. It’s getting ready to get real loud.
“Don’t ever forget this.”
And with that, Jeff Banister took his hands off of Chi Chi Gonzalez’s shoulders, and pointed demonstratively toward right center, as if to say: “This young man has put this baseball game in your hands, Bullpen. Your turn. Come get the torch.”
No, wait. Listen. Never forget this.
Banny, of all people, understands.
“It meant a lot,” the pitcher said. “He kind of slowed it down for me. I saw the manager coming in and was going to give him the ball and go, but he slowed me down and made me enjoy what was happening.”
The hands on the shoulders got me off my couch. The intent look in Chi Chi’s eyes, with the brims of his and his manager’s caps basically touching, choked me up. For some reason, Banister’s point to the bullpen gave me stinkin’ chills.
Twenty-four hours after Jon Daniels told local reporters that the start he was bringing Gonzalez up to make on Saturday was not a one-and-done assignment — “It’s his spot to lose,” Daniels said — Gonzalez took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, working the edges of the zone all night, pitching inside, keeping the ball on the ground, puzzling Boston hitters with late life on everything he showed them.
Gonzalez’s five-plus before permitting a base hit was the deepest in a career debut for a Rangers pitcher since Roger Pavlik, who went 5.1 hitless on May 2, 1992.
When Gonzalez was three months old.
Texas 8, Boston 0 was the Rangers’ first shutout of the season — they came into the game as the last team in baseball without one — and their first since beating Seattle, 1-0, last September 7, which was Tim Bogar’s first win as Rangers’ manager. It came less than two years after Gonzalez was drafted 23rd overall, on a night when the Rangers had figured he’d be snapped up well before their slot came up.
That was on June 6, 2013.
On May 30, 2015, seconds after David Ortiz broke up Gonzalez’s no-hitter and stood on second base: “[Ortiz] looked at me and I looked at him and he gave me a little clap, and a head nod, which was awesome. Just giving me respect, which I didn’t think — I’m a new guy, a rookie. It was awesome.”
Minutes later, after his moment on the mound with Banister and his walk toward 20 teammates standing in the dugout, along with nearly 43,000 in the stadium, more than any time this year aside from Opening Day, in a game televised to a national audience: “I wasn’t expecting the loudness of it. But it was awesome having the support of Rangers Nation. It was awesome having them scream for me and support me even though I’m the new guy. It just made me feel at home. I want to be here and stay here.”
It’s Chi Chi’s spot to lose.
He listened, and gave us a baseball moment we won’t forget.
After Neftali Feliz’s ninth-inning blow-up on May 16, resulting in the Rangers’ third straight loss and fourth out of five, Jeff Banister shared with local reporters that he’d told his bullpen that all roles would be undefined going forward.
Sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth, ninth: Be ready. The phone call could be for you.
“It’s my job as manager and our job as a staff to find the solution,” Banister told the beats. “I believe the solution is in that clubhouse. I still believe in these guys. . . . This coaching staff and I have to find the right mix that’s going to lead to W’s for this team. . . . We’ll see where this takes us and what mix of pitchers step up and shut the door for us.”
Since that edict, the Rangers relief corps of Shawn Tolleson, Ross Ohlendorf, Keone Kela, Tanner Scheppers, Sam Freeman, Alex Claudio, Anthony Bass, and Feliz has been entrusted with 31 innings over nine games.
The results: Seven runs (2.03 ERA) on 21 hits and 12 walks, with 28 strikeouts.
Two wins and six saves, with the team record 8-1 over that stretch.
Remove Bass’s mop-up inning at the end of the 15-4 win over the Yankees, and the bullpen ERA over those nine games is 1.50.
Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) said in a televised report yesterday that the Rangers “know they need a second baseman and two relievers.” That may be true — and there are several relievers in Round Rock right now whom I expect to be factors in Texas this summer, starting with Jon Edwards and including Luke Jackson, Spencer Patton, Roman Mendez, and possibly Jimmy Reyes or even Jared Burton — but for the moment, Banister and his staff have found the right mix, in their own clubhouse.
And another thing:
In 1996, AL MVP Juan Gonzalez was hitting .298/.352/.556 (.909 OPS) through 45 of his own games played.
In 1998, repeat AL MVP Gonzalez was hitting .314/.342/.580 (.921 OPS) through 45 games.
In 1999, AL MVP Ivan Rodriguez through 45 games: .324/.351/.551 (.902 OPS), with 80-grade defense.
In 2003, AL MVP Alex Rodriguez through 45 games: .301/.391/.568 (.959 OPS).
In 2010, AL MVP Josh Hamilton through 45 games: .287/.345/.519 (.865 OPS).
Prince Fielder may not win AL MVP this year, but through 45 games he’s hitting .371/.422/.597 (1.018 OPS). He has the best batting average in baseball, and the most RBI (38) in the American League.
Hard to imagine Fielder’s arena league numbers (including .484 with five home runs and 15 RBI over the club’s current seven-game win streak) were any more ridiculous when he was terrorizing 9U pitching.
I’m not sure Gonzalez or Hamilton at-bats were ever any more fun to watch.
I don’t know that I can predict that Fielder will finish the season with a four-digit OPS with any more conviction than I would in suggesting the Rangers will ride things out with the current bullpen corps or even a couple AAA reinforcements and not go out and trade for another weapon or two for the late innings.
But I’m feeling very good right now about a whole lot of Jon Daniels moves — from the blockbuster trade for Fielder to the waiver claims and scrap-heap pickups of players like Tolleson and Ohlendorf and Kyle Blanks to the Rule 5 drafting of Delino DeShields to the steadfast faith in Colby Lewis and Mitch Moreland — and that ledger absolutely needs to include his decision in October, when there was at least one easier and obvious direction he could have gone, to entrust the field management and leadership of this baseball team, and all that that entails, to Jeff Banister.
There was the Jon Morosi (Fox Sports) tweet late in the morning yesterday, in which the national columnist thought out loud that he could “[e]asily see [Texas] becoming a Wild Card contender.”
Then, just as yesterday’s Rangers-Indians series opener got rolling, after Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre preceded Josh Hamilton’s return moment with a pair of bombs, Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) suggested: “[T]hink Rangers may surprise some folks. Prince hitting like .350. Some pitchers on [the] way back. Under the radar team.”
This morning, Buster Olney (ESPN): “Rangers’ current focus and investment in each other really stands out — starts with Beltre, Fielder. Dangerous team.”
With eyes wide open to the risk of making too much of a small sample, I’m going to say this about Jeff Banister because it’s not really about statistics: I can count on one hand the number of managers — any team, any level — about whom I’ve thought, “Man, he really knows how to manage a bullpen.”
Maybe bullpen isn’t the adequate word.
Under the radar.
It wasn’t long ago that they weren’t talking at all about the Rangers on a national level.