It’s now been half a month, and The Story remains The Story, left to twist in the wind while the otherwise welcome monotony of spring training does little to throw anyone off its scent.
We can comfortably assume that the folks in baseball operations with the Rangers, however – and this includes Nolan Ryan – aren’t as distracted as the media and fan base by the front office drama (if that’s what you call a narrative defined by inertia), instead immersed in baseball as they work around the clock to get the team ready for March 31.
If they’re distracted at all, really, it’s probably only during those isolated moments when asked to comment about the distraction. And even those opportunities for the media are dwindling, noticeably so when a national writer like Jeff Passan is left to weigh in with his thousand words without a single quote from anyone in the organization.
As for me, I wasn’t distracted one bit by the saga last week, but not because I was immersed in anything baseball-related. I’ve just gone through the longest stretch of non-off-season baseball-less-ness I’ve had since probably the ’90s.
No newspapers. No TV. No radio. A little Twitter, but that’s it.
No Cactus or Grapefruit (well, grapefruit) or WBC.
And I returned to learn that the needle hadn’t moved at all on The Story.
With a little catch-up reading, I learned that Kyle McClellan won’t be ready for Opening Day, and neither will Zack Greinke. That no story about Kyle Lohse or Rick Porcello gets written without a Rangers mention, but there’s comfort in knowing the Rangers are super-protective of assets like that first-round pick (and its assigned bonus pool value) and like Leury Garcia and like Tanner Scheppers and like Luke Jackson and so the odds of a brutal Joey Galloway trade – or one along the lines of Mike Olt for Joba Chamberlain, which one “AL scout” told Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe) “could get done . . . if Texas would give up Olt,” which reminds me that I could get a big league GM job next week if a big league organization would offer one to me – are infinitesimally small.
That Pudge Rodriguez is in camp with the Rangers this week, and by the end of his stay his love of Jorge Alfaro will approach mine. That one of the bright spots this month has been the work of those vying for spots in the center field pecking order, which could include Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry in Arlington, Engel Beltre and Jim Adduci in Round Rock, and Julio Borbon in a different big league uniform.
That Robbie Ross and Nick Tepesch remain in the fifth starter competition, and that Michael Kirkman may be joining it, and that Kirkman’s outstanding spring, since he (like Borbon) is out of options, makes it easier to allow for the possibility that he or Ross could start, as does the early work of Nate Robertson (!!) and Joe Ortiz.
That Chris McGuiness has struggled in Indians camp but that Cleveland manager Terry Francona (who was with the Red Sox when McGuiness was a Boston farmhand) hopes his bosses can get the first baseman through Rule 5 waivers and work out a trade with Texas in order to keep him in the minor leagues.
That, according to Jon Heyman (CBS Sports), the Rangers have “twice tried to lock up All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus to a long-term contract and are expected to make one more run at it this year,” and “that if the Rangers can’t secure him to a multiyear deal they will likely trade him in ‘10 to 12 months,’” and that all that should be viewed in light of the fact that Andrus is a Scott Boras guy, and so is Heyman.
That Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) expects Texas would ask St. Louis to part with righthander Shelby Miller, a second frontline pitching prospect, and perhaps Rockwall catcher Steve Bean in exchange for Andrus, and that none of this is happening until next winter at the earliest, so don’t let it ruin your day.
That Jurickson Profar has joined Team Netherlands and will start at second base tonight.
That Don Welke was spotted in places that led writers to believe he was scouting Chamberlain and Boston relief pitchers and Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka, and maybe you shouldn’t forget the story about how Welke found out who Braves farmhand Neftali Feliz was.
That Baltimore added another former Ranger to the organization, this time Nelson Norman as Director of Baseball Operations for the Dominican Republic, and that’s all kinds of awesome.
That Max Ramirez is hitting .389/.463/.639 in Royals camp, with 14 RBI in 36 at-bats, while Guillermo Moscoso’s camp struggles led Kansas City to release him.
And that Joey Gallo’s Sunday was awesome, not only because he hit a pitch a thousand feet in front of nine thousand hometown fans in Las Vegas, but also because in his two earlier plate appearances he drew hard-fought walks off of big leaguer Carlos Villanueva.
But that doesn’t really count, because I didn’t have to read about it. I was back home, and saw it live.
Joey Gallo’s Sunday kickstarted baseball for me again, quietly and then unmistakably, a progression that I vote for the front office flap to follow, so that distractions can be shed once and for all as we head into what’s now fewer than two weeks of sleeps.
Today at 3:00 Central, Derek Holland gets the win-or-go-home start for Team USA against Team Canada’s Jameson Taillon, and every 20 or 30 minutes during the MLB Network broadcast you can probably expect to see this commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods, starring Rangers minor league righthander Cody Buckel, who shows up on some industry Top 100 Prospect lists but not all of them, unlike Taillon, who’s near the top in most cases and who hails from The Woodlands, which is where Astros owner Jim Crane evidently wants to move that club’s AAA team, a proposition that seems to have a greater chance of success than Crane somehow orchestrating a return of Nolan Ryan, who is expected by the local media to be heard from today about his situation with the Rangers, either before Holland takes the hill across town, or afterwards, or not at all, and I was really wrong about Nick Tepesch, who doesn’t appear in any national TV ads, so I’m not about to speculate on something as elusive as when to anticipate there might be a press release or briefing from the CEO.
I thought about adding a second sentence to this report digging into the history between 2007 Spokane and 2008 Clinton teammates Holland and Canada part-time DH Tim Smith, but I’d rather talk about Jorge Alfaro driving in the eventual game-winner yesterday afternoon in what was his first-ever action in a big league baseball game of any kind, or about Leonys Martin and Jeff Baker, and I’d really like for someone who was in Peoria yesterday to tell me if Yangervis Solarte got any opportunities at shortstop and I’m actually glad Venezuela was eliminated but Jurickson probably isn’t and I don’t think it would be appropriate to go back to sleep since it’s later now than it’s supposed to be but I like driving home from work when it’s still light outside and this report would have been a tick more cohesive if Buckel had done a commercial for Run On! Shoes but not really and second-worst Newberg Report ever and okay enough for now I’ll catch you later.
Be great, Derek.
According to widespread local reports Friday evening, Nolan Ryan flew from Surprise to Arlington at some point yesterday to meet with Co-Chairmen Bob Simpson and Ray Davis in an apparent effort to clarify the club role that ownership envisions for Ryan and to bring a much-needed resolution to the matter of Ryan’s future with the organization.
Simpson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last night that the meeting had “positive” results, adding: “I wouldn’t say it’s resolved, but hopefully we can get there.”
The Dallas Morning News reports that Ryan was on his way back to Surprise this morning, and that, according to a source, the organization is “expected to release word about his future” at some point today, though Rangers officials would not confirm or deny that a Saturday statement would be forthcoming.
As for the rumor that gained momentum yesterday regarding Astros owner Jim Crane’s possible interest in bringing Ryan back to that franchise, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that, according to “two Major League sources familiar with [Ryan’s] thinking,” the 66-year-old would “likely . . . balk at returning to the Astros, . . . [who] purged many of Ryan’s friends and associates [from the organization] last fall,” including a number of big league and minor league coaches and baseball operations officials who had been with Houston for more than a decade and in several instances more than 30 years.
But if the latest local reports are any indication, any questions about a possible Ryan return to the Astros will be moot, as it at least appears that meaningful progress has been made toward a meeting of the minds that will satisfy Ryan and keep him in Arlington.
Because I’m busier at work right now than I’ve been since our family grew from two, I probably should have resisted the urge to pull up the radio call of the Rangers-Dodgers game yesterday afternoon, but for two reasons I didn’t.
One: Vin Scully. C’mon. Vin Scully.
Two: I needed the distraction.
Not so much a distraction from work as a distraction from baseball.
More specifically, from the overwhelming crush of off-the-field baseball content advancing a dialogue generated to overfill a void that bloats with each extra day of silence from a main character who doesn’t need to be silent.
Scully isn’t what he used to be, and a game ending up with 51 players and a tie score isn’t baseball in its purest form, and even the club CEO sitting in the front row, watching Adrian Beltre take Mark Lowe deep and watching Leonys Martin boost his strong bid further and watching Joe Ortiz look more and more like a big leaguer every time he takes the ball, was probably thinking about a lot of the same things you and I are, surely more frustrated than any of us but also with a far greater ability to put an end to all the speculation than anyone else has.
I’d really like to wake up one morning fired up to write about why Robbie Ross/SP is arguably less of a stretch than Robbie Ross/RP was a year ago. About Jeff Sullivan’s interesting take over at FanGraphs about Derek Lowe, who, he suggests sabermetrically, “as recently as 2011 . . . was arguably better than [Kyle] Lohse.” About the big difference in implication between the lack of command shown by Justin Grimm and Cody Buckel, maybe wedging in a note about Chris McGuiness’s .136/.208/.136 start in Indians camp that will likely lead to a opportunity for the Rangers to take him back, if they want to.
I’d like to write too long a piece about Leonys, and another about Nick Tepesch, who in a roundabout way could end up as the trophy from the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade.
But all this other stuff is taking my eye off the ball, and that’s messed up.
You could even come up with some sort of rallying point, if you tried hard enough, after the Ron Washington cocaine story emerged three years ago at this time. Everyone at the center of that story addressed it, head on, once it landed in the fourth estate.
This one just festers, as long as the silence persists.
I was driving to my son’s baseball practice late in the afternoon a week ago today when news broke of the shift in job titles at 1000 Ballpark Way. Some have suggested the timing of the Friday afternoon press release wasn’t accidental.
I’d be grateful to have another club announcement to process by the time I head back out to practice today.
There’s a 90 percent chance of rain in Maryvale this afternoon, which I suppose increases the percentage chance that Nolan Ryan, without the distraction of a ballgame to take in, decides he’s ready to talk, and to put an end to all the written speculation, to own the plate the way he did back when he was on the mound and Vin Scully was at his best himself.
[T]here were indications here Friday that Nolan Ryan could possibly be out the Rangers’ door, and if he does leave, it won’t be because he was forced out but because ownership has eroded his position within the team.
— Randy Galloway, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
There was that first column that came out late Friday night, so Saturday morning I wanted to address the elephant in the room. So I went in and talked with Nolan and say, ‘Hey, I just want to address this. I don’t want it to linger between the two of us.’ And we talked through it and Nolan indicated that he had no issue with myself or anything else. I’ve got to take it at face value and move forward. We’ve got a big job here to get the team ready.
— Jon Daniels, on 105.3 FM, one of several local radio interviews he’s done the last couple days
Are the Rangers trying to freeze out Nolan Ryan? The short answer is no, that’s not the intent, even if the eventual outcome is essentially the same should Ryan perceive that the promotions of Jon Daniels and Rick George have effectively cut him out of the loop, and he becomes nothing more than an iconic figurehead. . . . The majority of the heavy lifting has been done by Daniels. He made the trades, the drafts and the signings that built the Rangers into the envy of baseball. Ryan’s contribution hasn’t been as great as most fans like to believe, but it’s not insignificant, either. Just as he did as a player, Ryan gave the Rangers credibility as team president, a title he no longer owns.
— Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News
Nolan Ryan remains chief executive officer, but he shed president as part of his title. An icon does not need an elaborate title.
— Gerry Fraley, Dallas Morning News
Ryan is sensing uncertainty now, according to sources, and is strongly considering leaving the club. . . . Many fingers, both in the desert and across Metroplex airwaves, are pointed at Daniels, and all are reluctant to speak on the subject.
— Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Source says it’s “not looking great” Rangers/Nolan Ryan will work out differences. Says Nolan “deserves to have his dignity through this.”
— Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
If he decides to retire from the Rangers in two months, four months or whatever, . . . Ryan’s departure will produce a seismic tremor throughout baseball and, particularly, throughout Texas.
— Gil LeBreton, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The perception of a power struggle would haunt (A) the owners who failed to broker a peace between Ryan and those who opposed him and (B) Daniels, who – fairly or not – would be viewed by some as the guy who helped run Nolan Ryan out of town.
— Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports
Ryan’s shadow is so large than Daniels hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves. I’m not sure whether Andrew Friedman or Billy Beane or Brian Sabean or someone else is baseball’s best general manager, but there’s no way to have that discussion without including Jon Daniels. . . . Daniels built a great baseball organization. He’d done a lot of the heavy lifting before Ryan arrived, and that’s the point a lot of people miss. The Rangers were well on their way to the postseason, and Nolan Ryan had almost nothing to do with the building of the baseball team. Again, that’s a point a lot of people miss. . . . Ryan is such a larger-than-life figure, especially in Texas, that plenty of reporters decided to tell the story the way they thought it should be told. If the facts were otherwise, well, that’s life. I don’t know if Daniels ever felt slighted, but he had every right to be.
— Richard Justice, MLB.com
To put it simply: The reason the Texas Rangers gave Jon Daniels a new title the other day had more to do with assistant GM Thad Levine than it did with Nolan Ryan.
— Buster Olney, ESPN
During the process, on behalf of Mike, I asked only that the Angels compensate Mike fairly for his historic 2012 season, given his service time. In my opinion, this contract falls well short of a ‘fair’ contract, and I have voiced this to the Angels throughout the process. . . . The renewal of Mike’s contract will put an end of this discussion. As when he learned he would not be the team’s primary center fielder for the upcoming season, Mike will put the disappointment behind him and focus on helping the Angels reach their goal of winning the 2013 World Series.
— Mike Trout’s agent Craig Landis, to Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times
(Whoops. Wrong story.)
This was not a Ryan power play as much as his seeking clarification whether the big baseball decisions belonged to him or to Daniels. And Daniels was declared the winner. Remember, it was just two spring trainings ago that, coming off the franchise’s first World Series trip, Ryan said it was going to be either him or Chuck Greenberg. One had to go. . . . Maybe Ryan will be fine for two or three more seasons, sitting in the front row with Ruth and just enjoying baseball. Regardless, the notion that he’s bound to leave because he’s no longer in charge of what he was hired to do is a flawed one. He changed that the day he engineered Greenberg’s exit and grabbed the CEO title.
— Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News
The Rangers have a management team that has been quite successful the past four years, but change has always been the one constant in this organization.
— T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com
With Daniels, Levine, [A.J.] Preller and the likes of [Matt] Vinnola and [Josh] Boyd upcoming on the baseball side, the Rangers have a great working situation. With George and . . . communications czar John Blake, facilities guy Rob Matwick, entertainment guru Chuck Morgan, CFO [Kellie] Fischer and the likes of business partnerships guys Joe Januszewski and customer service man Jay Miller on the business side, Ryan has an exceptional group of lieutenants. Ownership has been quiet and supportive of team building. It is an extraordinary setup, most likely the best in the business. Ryan can set the tone, be involved on the project of the moment or give advice on a key decision and this organization can continue to grow. The thing that would serve everybody best here is to realize that Ryan is a huge asset to the club and that every role evolves and changes over time. If all the parties involved can do that, this bit of drama can help re-center the organization and position it for even greater things to come.
— Evan Grant, Dallas Morning News
Over more than 35 years in the business, I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a pro sports official grow more in the job than Daniels has. . . . He’s a smart guy, as we already knew. Smart enough to know that, despite the differences you’d expect between a Cornell man and one educated in clubhouses and bullpens, they mutually benefit one another. Daniels will never enjoy the affection of Texans like Ryan does. Short of Tom Landry or Roger Staubach or Sam Houston, I’m not sure who would. Ryan has an authenticity cultivated over a long, storied lifetime. There’s nothing phony. What he seems, he is.
My job is to oversee baseball operations, and I report to Nolan.
— Daniels, to Evan Grant, Dallas Morning News
And, in a half a week in which many have spoken and written in an attempt to connect the dots – if not fill in the blanks – the greatest volume spoken has been this one:
Everybody wants to hear from you, Nolan.
We’ve always wanted to hear from you. We all stop down whenever you speak. In your unvarnished and often outspoken manner, you speak, and we listen. We may not always agree – but we always listen.
Everyone wants to hear from you, Nolan.
On the one hand, it sounded huge. Jon Daniels and Rick George get promotions into presidency positions, in Daniels’s case while also maintaining his post as General Manager, a dual title that only Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski could currently claim. They continue to run their departments under CEO Nolan Ryan, who earlier in the day (and for nearly two years) was CEO and President Nolan Ryan.
On the other hand, Daniels tells the press that there won’t be a dramatic difference in how baseball operations conducts its business under the new arrangement. After all, the tripartite structure when Ryan was CEO/President and Daniels was GM and George was Chief Operating Officer wasn’t really changing, even if new business cards would need to be printed. Just about every local beat writer and columnist was quick to interpret the announcement as such.
There were two things that jumped out as I was trying to process what all of this meant, and why it was done now.
The first was Randy Galloway’s take toward the end of his afternoon radio show, when the news broke. He must have said “Keep a close eye on this” a dozen times. He suggested this could be a signal that Ryan, 66, perhaps not all that happy about the turn of events leading up to it, might be considering walking away from the organization, perhaps even before the season ends.
Health reasons? Pace? Family time? Office politics?
Galloway wouldn’t say, or even guess – and refused to suggest there was any sort of power play involved – but he did note in a column up on the Star-Telegram website tonight that “[t]here were rumblings over the winter that Ryan was considering retirement, and at least one player’s agent has been telling other people in baseball he believed Ryan was leaving the Rangers,” adding that “if [Ryan] does leave, it won’t be because he was forced out but because ownership has eroded his position within the team.”
The second thing that caught my attention was a note that Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) and Anthony Andro (Fox Sports Southwest) each had toward the end of their respective stories on the announcement.
Fraley: “[O]wnership has asked [Daniels] to do everything possible to keep the baseball operations team together.”
Andro: “One thing the [ownership] group wants Daniels to focus on in his new role is keeping the organization’s top personnel from leaving for other opportunities.”
Particularly given those comments, it stands to reason, does it not, that moving Daniels into a Presidency role could pave the way for an eventual promotion of Assistant GM Thad Levine to GM, and of Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller to Assistant GM (or, I suppose, Preller to GM if that’s the shakeout)? Levine has had interviews to run other clubs. If Preller hasn’t, he will.
Theo Epstein, President. Jed Hoyer, GM.
Mark Shapiro, President. Chris Antonetti, GM.
John Shuerholz, President. Frank Wren, GM.
We’re all trying to figure out if it’s possible to keep both Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, right?
Then, later tonight, I re-read the press release, and noticed something interesting.
Paragraph 1 announced the Daniels and George promotions.
Paragraph 2 noted that they would oversee their operations “under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Nolan Ryan.”
Paragraph 3 contained a five-sentence quote from Co-Chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, covering: (1) the organization’s enormous strides under Ryan’s leadership; (2) Ryan’s impact on Daniels; (3) Ryan’s work with George; (4) the promotions as a reflection of the responsibility Ryan has entrusted to Daniels and George; (5) the strength of the organization’s leadership team, led by Ryan.
Paragraph 4 was Ryan’s own quote.
Paragraph 5 bullet-points Daniels’s tenure. Paragraph 6 highlights George’s achievements. Paragraph 7 concludes the statement with a sentence remarking on what Ryan has accomplished in baseball.
While Daniels and George earned the promotions – and the extra job security that you’d expect comes along with them – the organization was nonetheless intent on focusing much of its Friday announcement on Ryan.
And I have no criticism of that. Ryan has meant a tremendous amount to this franchise in all kinds of ways, and will continue to do so, no matter what his title is, as long as he wants to. To whatever extent this development was his wish, should it effectively keep some key members of the inner circle around, at least for a longer time if not indefinitely, then one more slow clap for the big man.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the folks in baseball operations and in business operations not named Friday but whom Daniels was quick to praise when asked for comment. As he put it, today’s announcement was, “more than anything, . . . a recognition of the work of not just myself or Rick, but our corps under strong leadership and what the organization has accomplished over the last eight years.”
The franchise is in great hands. The roster is strong, the farm system is deep, the coaching staff added a star this winter, the business side is killing it, the fan base is formidable.
And ownership has the financial muscle, the desire to win, and the determination to constantly get stronger, which in pro sports frequently includes finding ways to hang onto key assets.
Nobody was added to the organization on Friday, but while the announcement might be viewed as nominal and little more, it could turn out that the news will ultimately represent addition by delaying subtraction.
And if that’s part of the outcome here, congratulations to Davis and Simpson and the group they lead, to Daniels and George for their well-deserved promotions, and perhaps to a few other folks in the organization who might end up in bigger roles.
And if that really is where this is headed and today’s development ultimately helps this franchise win, then regardless of his official baseball title, Ryan gets a seat in front of the motorcade, and whether he’s CEO or CEO/President or Team Ambassador to Everything, I think we’d all be OK with him adding “grand marshal” to his Texas Rangers job description.
It’s gonna be OK. Spring training wins don’t matter. They don’t matter at all.
Maybe you didn’t notice a year ago, the spring of smaller baseballs and a thousand media and Will Venable, but outside of that haze your team went a measly 12-17 in Cactus League play, the second-worst record of the 15 clubs training in Arizona. You still won 93 games and played past 162.
The year before, while you were still pitching in Japan, Texas posted a 13-16 record in spring training. And went to the World Series.
In 2010, the Rangers were a miserable 10-19 club in the spring. And they went to the World Series.
That 10-19 record was the worst mark in the Cactus League. And the worst record any American League team posted. And the worst win percentage (.345) that Texas has had in its 41 spring trainings.
Yeah, .000 would be worse. Never mind all that.
The last time the Rangers had a winning exhibition record was in 2009 (21-14, third-best mark in the AL).
That was also the last time the club missed the playoffs.
Look, Toronto had a crazy .774 win percentage last spring. Twenty-four wins, seven losses. It’s the greatest spring record any team has had since 1984, which is as far back as I could find, and I bet since a lot longer ago than that.
The Jays went on to go 73-89 once the games counted, fourth in the East, 22 games back, and they fired people after the season ended and then overhauled their roster.
There are runs being allowed now by Texas pitchers who are weeks away from no longer being Texas pitchers. There are failed at-bats going to hitters in Rangers uniforms you’ll never see again.
Some of your teammates have contributed more to 0-5-1 than they’ll ever contribute to a Rangers result that matters.
I don’t know how spring training results were treated in Japan. Don’t worry about them here.
Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, Miami, and the White Sox have three losses.
Out of 23 games.
If anyone’s starting to think those may be the teams to beat in 2013, be my guest.
That thing you did Tuesday? Keep doing that.
Everything’s gonna be fine.
Lance Berkman plays today. That’s a bigger deal than any February win or loss.
It’s gonna be OK, man. Relax. Do what you do.
Hey, if you know how to reach the two Mantles and Albert, would you send this over their way? I wouldn’t want them to get too worked up over their club’s own winless record (0-4-2) before their next three-way press event.
I’ve gone to spring training every year but one since high school, but I didn’t start going out to Fall Instructional League until 2007, motivated that October to visit Surprise and get a look at a huge collection of new prospects the club had added that summer, primarily through the trades of Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne, and Kenny Lofton and a draft that included five first-round picks.
I’d read (and written) plenty about trade acquisitions Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Engel Beltre, and Max Ramirez and draftees like Julio Borbon, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, and Mitch Moreland, but not as much about the Rangers’ J2 class from that summer. In fact, all I’d written in 2007 about the prize of that crop, 16-year-old Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez, was the significant signing bonus ($580,000) the organization had invested in young pitcher, at a time when the Rangers were talking about a resurgence in Latin America but had yet to make too much of a splash.
It was a great three or four days of baseball at its most fundamental, least flashy level, but five and a half years later, one of the lasting memories I carry from that first post-season visit to Surprise was of Perez, walking slowly behind the chain link fence girding the primary back fields diamond, without an expression of any kind on his face.
It wasn’t the look of a kid in his mid-teens who was overwhelmed by the bigness of the environment while slightly older players like Andrus and Beltre and Hunter and Borbon bounced around like fraternity brothers. It was very different from that.
Perez had this arresting poise and look of quiet confidence that belied his age. I wrote that he was “16 but looks 20,” though it was more than that – he looked like a 20-year-old too mature to be just 20.
It was the kind of look Feliz has never had. And the kid was 16.
It was easy to take whatever your estimation was of the pitcher, and tack on a little extra confidence that he was going to figure out what needed to be done to execute on all that promise.
We all know the story. Perez almost immediately settled in as a top-tier prospect in a top-tier system. After 2008, his first season of official action, Baseball America ranked him as the number 86 prospect in baseball. After 2009, he was number 17. After 2010, in spite of a rough year in AA, he was number 24. After 2011, he was number 31. After those four seasons, BA ranked him number 5, 3, 1, and 2 in a strong Rangers system.
Stories focused on his stuff and competitiveness and size, alternating between Johan Santana comparisons and Ron Guidry comps.
Then came 2012, the year that Perez was supposed to follow his trend of pulling things together in his second year at a level. He would settle in at AAA Round Rock and force his way to Texas at some point.
But when the Rangers needed a starter from the farm, the organization dipped down to Frisco and grabbed Justin Grimm, even though he was pitching at one level lower than Perez and even though he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and Perez was. Grimm was pitching better, and earned the nod.
But something kicked into gear for Perez at that point, and he was in Texas a week and a half after that.
His time with the Rangers was inconsistent. Take out the debut against Detroit (two outs, four runs) and the brutal September 26 start against Oakland (two outs, five runs), and his 5.45 ERA would have been 3.44 – but that’s the thing. You don’t get to toss those out. He’s got to be more dependable in order to earn playing time on a contending baseball team.
Ron Washington praised Perez early in camp this month, focusing mostly on his ability to keep the ball down and to mix in his slider and change with more consistency.
He did that a week ago today in the club’s first intrasquad game, throwing a scoreless inning that took only nine pitches – all strikes – to complete.
But yeah, that was basically a scrimmage, and in the fifth inning that Perez worked, the Jackie Moore squad batted out of order. (I assume intentionally.)
It was better than retiring one batter and allowing four to cross the plate, but getting too excited would have been a mistake. We all know what Perez is capable of. What’s been missing is the ability to repeat it. Consistently.
There’s an opening at fifth starter, at least until Colby Lewis returns, but Texas, having missed out on Zack Greinke and perhaps James Shields and R.A. Dickey, has resisted opportunities to bring in someone like Kyle Lohse or Javier Vazquez, both of whom remain unsigned, or other veterans who might have represented a likely upgrade over Perez or Grimm or another young pitcher. The club, at least at this point, doesn’t want to put any more roadblocks up in front of the kids.
The manager talked yesterday morning, hours before Perez’s spring training debut against Colorado, about the good work he’s done the first two weeks of camp. But Washington was quick to add: “Now, can he do that when a hitter steps up there?”
Perez faced six Rockies, all big leaguers. He got Eric Young Jr. to ground out and Dexter Fowler to fly out and caught Troy Tulowitzki looking at a fastball to end the first. He got Michael Cuddyer to pop out to first and Yorvit Torrealba to roll out to first and struck Josh Rutledge out by burying a slider at his feet to swiftly end the second inning, and his day.
The 3-1 counts on Young and Fowler to start the game led to a 16-pitch effort to complete the perfect first, a slight blemish on that opening frame. Eleven pitches in the second was better.
Washington spoke after the game about that poise that Perez has always flashed. “He’s been looking like that since he arrived in camp,” said the skipper. “The experience he got last year, he’s picked it up and ran with it. He looks like a mature kid – all business.”
Perez talked about what he learned from 2012 and what he’s doing to correct it. “I overthrew last year and missed a lot of the zone. Now I know I don’t have to throw hard. I just need to throw strikes. Throw more strikes.”
He’s doing that.
Asked if he feels the pressure of having to compete for a rotation spot, the lefthander, now 21, said, “No. It’s an opportunity and you don’t need to think too much. Just go to the mound and do your job. I trust my team and the team trusts me. . . . If they give me an opportunity, I just want to do my best and do my job. We want to win the World Series, and that’s all I think about is win, win, win. You’re not a baby up here. Up here, it’s all about winning.”
That’s the guy I saw in October 2007, the kid whose maturity stood out as much as the sharp breaking ball and Bugs Bunny change.
Perez is number 81 in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects ranking this spring, his lowest slot since his age 17 season. Jason Parks is a bit more bullish, tagging him at number 59.
The fact that he continues to be thought of in that sort of context, in spite of his 2012 struggles, says a lot about the upside that’s still there.
But it’s time for raw and inconsistent to give way to effective and reliable. The Rangers are contenders, and while the number five starter opening may basically turn out be a placeholder role, this is nonetheless a club that’s not in a position to be conducting auditions when the games count.
There’s an important month ahead for Perez, but so far, really good.
On Wednesday, Jurickson Profar’s 20th birthday, a package landed on my desk at work containing this:
I remember when Jon Daniels joined us for his annual 90 Newberg Report Night minutes on August 2, 2009 and said of the 16-year-old his club had signed a month earlier for $1.55 million, agreeing almost uniquely that he didn’t have to pitch, that he wouldn’t be surprised if, one year later, Profar would be widely considered one of the top 10 shortstop prospects in baseball.
The reason I remember it is it basically sounded insane – especially coming from the unfailingly understated JD, said in front of more than 300 Rangers fans who would be running to Twitter and to blogs and to message boards to broadcast what the GM had said about a player yet to play a minor league game.
Today, Profar is almost uniformly considered the number one prospect in baseball, the only Rangers player to land that Baseball America honor in the 24 years the publication has been rolling the Top 100 list out other than Mark Teixeira, 10 years ago.
That year, 2003, even though Teixeira topped the list (beating out Rocco Baldelli, Jose Reyes, and Joe Mauer), BA ranked Texas only 19th overall, though the Rangers did have three other representatives on the Top 100 that year: righthander Colby Lewis (32), lefthander Ben Kozlowski (80), and outfielder Laynce Nix (85).
Teixeira spent all of 2003 in the big leagues and accordingly was ineligible for the list the following year. So were Lewis and Nix, who also exhausted their rookie status, while Kozlowski pitched only two AA months before Tommy John surgery and thus fell off the list, too.
Yet Texas moved up slightly in 2004, up to number 16 overall (even though only Adrian Gonzalez  and John Danks  made the Top 100).
The point is this: Profar is a strong bet not to be on next year’s list. Same with Mike Olt, who is this year’s number 22 prospect. And Martin Perez (81), who if he’s still under 50 big league innings this time a year from now won’t deserve to be on the list any longer (hey, if Tuesday’s nine-pitch, nine-strike scoreless intrasquad inning signals something he can come close to sustaining this spring, he’s going to lose rookie status by the end of April). And Leonys Martin (97), who in actuality isn’t a rookie any more due to active days in the big leagues.
None of those four players will be repeat Top 100’ers, and Texas may necessarily drop out of the top three organizations overall given that the real strength of the system after those guys is probably two waves away, if not three. But this shouldn’t be a situation like the Indians falling from seventh in 2011 to 29th in 2012 (having graduated Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, and losing Alex White and Drew Pomeranz via trade), or the Nationals dropping from the top spot in 2012 to 16th in 2013 (due in large part to Bryce Harper graduating and four key prospects heading to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez).
Lewis Brinson could leap forward in 2013, and nobody would be shocked. Same for Jorge Alfaro. It could be a big year for Cody Buckel and Luke Jackson and Nick Tepesch, and I’d have said that about him even if he didn’t strike Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz out with his plus cutter in a scoreless first yesterday.
Justin Grimm, too, but if he advances things in 2013, he won’t be a rookie in 2014.
Luis Sardinas and Leury Garcia could take the next step, if not fellow middle infielders Rougned Odor and Hanser Alberto and Odubel Herrera.
No telling what 2013 could bring for corner bats Joey Gallo (who just missed the BA Top 100) and Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman and Jairo Beras.
And for whoever Texas drafts at number 24 and number 30 or 31 in June, two slots well ahead of where Gallo (39th pick) fell last year.
Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras was BA’s number 74 prospect last year. He’s now number three.
Marlins righthander Jose Fernandez wasn’t on the Top 100 last year at all, and sits now at number five.
Righty C.J. Edwards will not be baseball’s number five prospect next winter. I’ll be good if he rockets up to number five in the Rangers system.
This system is really, really deep.
A note about all this, but first, here’s BA’s top 30 Rangers prospects:
13. Roman Mendez, RHP
21. Drew Robinson, 3B
22. Wilmer Font, RHP
23. Neil Ramirez, RHP
24. Zach Cone, OF
25. Nick Williams, OF
26. Keone Kela, RHP
27. Nick Martinez, RHP
28. Matt West, RHP
29. Randy Henry, RHP
30. Joe Ortiz, LHP
And Baseball Prospectus’s top 10, courtesy of Jason Parks:
1. Profar (Jason’s top 101 will be revealed in a few days)
And Keith Law’s top 10 for ESPN:
1. Profar (1st overall)
2. Olt (71)
3. Buckel (90)
4. Perez (93)
And Jonathan Mayo’s MLB.com list:
1. Profar (1st overall)
2. Olt (22)
3. Sardinas (84)
4. Buckel (87)
5. Alfaro (88)
6. Perez (95)
And John Sickels’s top 20:
My own top 30 (with the full top 72 here):
20. Jose Valdespina, RHP
22. Engel Beltre, OF
25. David Perez, RHP
26. Jordan Akins, OF
27. Collin Wiles, RHP
28. Alec Asher, RHP
30. Yohander Mendez, LHP
Now, for that note.
I’m not sure if he said it yesterday, or if it was simply yesterday when MLB.com’s Richard Justice decided to recycle it, but Brewers GM Doug Melvin, whose Rangers clubs ranked 28th, 16th, and 8th in BA’s farm system rankings going into their three playoff seasons under his watch, was credited for saying, “I’d rather be on the cover of Sports Illustrated than Baseball America.”
Melvin’s comment was evidently made in the context of parting with top prospects for big league help, and that’s something we talk about here all the time, but the more general point is worth reminding ourselves of as well.
It was fun to celebrate the Rangers’ number four farm system ranking going into 2008, and its number one position going into 2009, and its number two spot going into 2010, but as much as I focus on prospect development, it’s all because of the impact it has on the real endgame, staged every October.
The BA rankings don’t always correlate with playoff success, but they do a lot of the time.
Cheers to Profar for his number one ranking, and here’s hoping that it leads to the kind of success that fellow number ones Mauer, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Profar’s countryman Andruw Jones enjoyed before him, and that he doesn’t instead go the way of Brien Taylor, Rick Ankiel, Delmon Young, or Daisuke Matsuzaka.
More importantly, here’s hoping that the Rangers’ fifth top five billing as an overall system in the last six years leads to a lot more of what October 2010 and October 2011 gave us, and that the new BA Prospect Handbook cover boy is a big reason why – maybe even along with the second player identified on that cover, thanks in part to the next couple waves of Rangers minor league talent barreling in behind the one about to hit shore.
With that smirk of “lemme let you in on something oh yeah there’s a camera rolling well still lemme let you in on something” self-assuredness, he proclaimed that the fans in Texas who will boo him are the ones who don’t get it.
Then he booed the fans.
Don’t know which category I fit neatly into as far as he’s concerned, since I’ll be silent when he comes up to bat, and since I don’t care.
Whatever. Consider how ridiculous it is to let “Hey guys it’s me – it’s gonna be something weird” define you as a baseball fan, or judge this baseball community. All that was missing was a snappy “What am I in this for?”
He’s deciding who “gets it.”
The thing that irritates me most about the CBS 11 interview Sunday night is that I spent this much space commenting on it.
Earlier that day I was in the middle of cleaning out a bunch of old stuff at the house, and found a letter I’d received 27 years ago. It was from the person who (outside of my family) had the greatest impact on me, until then or since, and in it she said some things that I wouldn’t ever forget.
They were the last words she shared with me before she died, five weeks later.
She was one of those people who led by example, who motivated by letting go of the reins, who empowered by setting expectations unimaginably high.
The best teachers and coaches go about it all kinds of different ways, but the truly great ones, I’m convinced, have this in common: They push. We may not always like it. But they push. Push us to do more than what we believe we can do, and to take what we know we can do and do it better.
And then they let go.
There’s the X’s and O’s and The Chicago Manual of Style, and all that stuff’s important, but when we’re coached to trust the process and each other and ourselves, to not only play the game but to play it right, that’s when something really cool has a chance to surface.
Integrity doesn’t always fill the box score, but it lasts.
In my head this was going to be a feed-in to Ron Washington telling his club Saturday morning before their first full workout: “The handcuffs are off. The ankle chains are off. Let’s see what you can do.” It was evidently a baserunning edict for 2013, but I think more than that, too.
I thought about what Wash said as I was reading that 1986 letter on Sunday.
I thought less about Wash’s comment Sunday night, as I watched the Angels outfielder wink at the camera. I thought about respect. Reliability.
And how saying less is almost never a bad idea.
(Suggests the blogger who’s sure to be 0 for 2 after this one.)
Judy would have turned 82 this Saturday. She wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I’m pretty sure she still would’ve been drawn to Elvis, would’ve instantly recognized Adrian’s artistry, would’ve loved everything about Jurickson.
Thing is, she would have loved everything about the Angels newest outfielder, too, even the things she’d have cringed at a little. Her patience was as stout as her genius.
She also would have expected more from him.
She would have expected more from me, too, if she saw me roll out a snarky line about urging you to set aside your excitement about the NFL Scouting Combine – one sleep! – long enough to read Professor Parks’s tasty review of the Rangers’ top 10 prospects for Baseball Prospectus, published minutes ago.
She’d have preferred that I exercise a little more restraint. Maybe with some understated reference to Wednesday being both the start of the Combine and Profar’s 20th birthday, or a simple recommendation that you read this (now), a minimalist approach that I shun too readily, just about every time.
I look back at the Plan II thesis I wrote over 20 years ago (and dedicated to her), and the first few Bound Editions from over 10 years ago, and know that while I still have a long way to go, there’s been some small amount of progress.
I’m still learning from Judy.
There are people who move on and you never forget.
There are others who just move on, making it progressively easier every time they speak for us to do the same. All of us. Those who get it and those who don’t and those who pledge silence.
He’s who he is, and that’s very unlikely to change.
We are who we are, and our mistake would be to care what he thinks about that.
The manager addressed the players on Saturday, and challenged them. Let’s see what you can do.
He gets it.
In one direction the expectations have been ratcheted up.
In the other?
Forget it. I’ve already said too much.
I’m choosing silence, and planning this time to stick to it.