If one end of the spectrum at the All-Star Break is Juan Gonzalez with 101 RBI (1998) or the Rangers sitting on a 4.5-game lead and having already pulled off the Cliff Lee trade (2010), then somewhere hanging around the other end is Texas, owners of baseball’s worst win-loss mark, setting an all-time big league record of 50 players used before the Break, a feat the club achieved yesterday when Ryan Feierabend (the Rangers’ 28th pitcher, not counting Mitch Moreland or Chris Gimenez) entered with two outs in the seventh, managing to close out one of only two innings all game that the Rangers were able to keep the Angels off the board.
Texas fell for the 22nd time in 25 games, the worst skid of that length in the franchise’s 43 seasons (matching a 25-game stretch in the club’s inaugural 1972 campaign), but even with a win on Sunday the club would have claimed baseball’s worst record heading into the Break, and until the last three weeks I would have never believed I’d be writing that — though, on the other hand, it’s impossible right now to imagine there’s another team playing less inspired or less inspiring baseball.
But while the game that counted on Sunday featured Scott Baker and Adam Rosales and Daniel Robertson and Feierabend, and Gimenez on a day when Robinson Chirinos was in the lineup too, one that didn’t count for anything 990 miles to the north featured the following 80-grade analysis, chronologically, and mostly on Twitter:
David Lennon (Newsday): “Rangers 3B prospect Joey Gallo is hitting BP homers completely out of the stadium here. Sick power.”
Jim Callis (MLB.com): “Joey Gallo just put on the best BP show I’ve ever seen at a Futures Game. Or, really, anywhere.”
Keith Law (ESPN): “Joey Gallo with a moderately impressive BP session. #holycrap”
Josh Norris (Baseball America): “One ball went so far, in fact, that it cleared the stands and shattered the window of a pick-up truck meant for the winner of the upcoming Home Run Derby.”
David Cameron (FanGraphs): “Who would be against adding Joey Gallo to the HR Derby tomorrow? No one, right?”
Jayson Stark (ESPN): “One more on Joey Gallo’s awesome BP show, from a scout: ‘If he were in that (Derby) tomorrow night, I think I’d pick him to win it.’”
Joe Hamrahi (Baseball Prospectus): “I think I may prefer to watch an afternoon of Joey Gallo BP than the actual Futures Game.”
Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus), asked which of Gallo and Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has more power: “Only [Giancarlo] Stanton comes close to Gallo.”
Parks, asked if he was really suggesting Gallo has more power than Stanton: “I think it’s very close. I’m not kidding.”
Ben Badler (Baseball America), just before the start of the game: “Joey Gallo hitting fifth. Would anyone be opposed to doing this minor league spring training style and letting him lead off every inning?”
Callis: “[Reds prospect Jesse] Winker then pointed to the video board atop third deck in RF. ‘I’d like everyone to take a moment to reflect,’ he said, ‘that Joey Gallo came two rows of seats from hitting that Jumbotron out there. Unbelievable.”
Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe): “Rangers 3b prospect put on a power show in BP and has just hit a 419-foot homer to right to give USA 3-2 lead in Futures Game in Minny.”
John Manuel (Baseball America): “Joey Gallo lives up to the hype . . . loooong home run to right and a [Korean Baseball]-worthy bat flip to punctuate it. Have a freaking day Joey Gallo.”
Jay Jaffe (Sports Illustrated): “Joey Gallo: Holy launch angle porn.”
Callis: “After electrifying the Target Field crowd — and damaging a Chevrolet pickup truck on the concourse behind the right-field stands — during batting practice, Gallo struck out in his first two Futures Game at-bats. But he made the most of his third opportunity, unleashing a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the U.S. team a 3-2 lead that held up for its fifth straight victory. The announced distance on Gallo’s home run was 419 feet, which several press-box observers thought was too conservative.
“As impressive as Gallo’s Futures Game-winning home run may have been, it paled in comparison with the show he put on in batting practice. He led all players with 15 home runs, many of the tape-measure variety. He reached the third deck in right center with his first swing and hit five more balls there. He also hit three blasts to right field that carried completely over the stands and onto the concourse, including one that smashed the windshield of a pickup truck.
“[Said Gallo, who was named Futures Game MVP, of the BP shot everyone’s talking about:] ‘I heard I broke a windshield, and I do feel bad about that.’”
Badler: “Does anyone have a cigarette?”
Our tenth annual Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark will be on Wednesday, August 13. I’ll have full details out in the next few days, but for now I can tell you that Jon Daniels, as he’s always done, has agreed to do a lengthy Q&A session with us, and Will Carroll is coming in from Indiana to be the warmup act. We will have a raffle and auction of lots of very cool stuff, and this year proceeds will benefit the Richard Durrett Family Fund, which has been established to support the family of the Rangers beat writer who, at age 38, passed away on June 17.
More details on the event — with instructions on how to reserve your spots — very soon.
I also wanted to add two points to yesterday’s report about the opportunities the Rangers will have this month as we near the conventional trade deadline, both of which I expect I’ll write about in greater depth in the coming weeks:
1. I would trade any Texas Rangers player other than Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, and Jorge Alfaro. The circumstances would have to be extraordinary for me to discuss Elvis Andrus or Rougned Odor or Joey Gallo or Martin Perez and probably even Leonys Martin, but for me they’re not untouchable.
Yu, Adrian, or Jorge are.
2. I would not rule out the idea that Texas jumps into the mix on the “buyer’s” end of a July deal. I would hope, if David Price or Giancarlo Stanton is open for discussion, and you can probably throw another few names of elite impact players with club control beyond 2014 in there too, that Texas gets involved even if that’s a bit unconventional for a club not positioned to win this year.
For one thing, the Rangers are able to part with a core piece at the big league level, something that a contender would obviously be reluctant to do in July and that could appeal to the seller. Which ties back into the first point.
And Texas has plenty of depth in prospects to tack on as well.
More on that idea soon, but more on Newberg Report Night sooner.
The easy thing would be to turn our attention to LeBron or Messi-Germany or the Grapevine police blotter and keep our baseball blinders on, and I’m guessing that’s where we can find the dozen or so who have unsubscribed from these emails in the last week-plus (most of whom had signed up since October 2010), but when the manager says, “Put me in that box? I’ll fight your ass . . . at 62 . . . and you tell me you’re 20-something and you can’t fight? Don’t worry about failure” — an apparently abbreviated and sanitized taste of what he delivered to his club behind closed clubhouse doors Thursday night — it’s a reminder that this is a process, and not a linear or predictable one, and most of us lived through that in the seasons that led to 2010, some for a few years and others for a few decades.
It’s plenty demoralizing (and thankfully unfamiliar) to be talking about trading productive veterans off in July, but there’s something invigorating about it, too, and whether that’s because it can serve as a welcome distraction or instead as a key opportunity to keep close tabs on, these next three weeks should offer plenty to keep more of our focus on Rangers baseball than the minor league signings of Jerome Williams, Brodie Downs, Erik Hamren, and J.T. Wise in the last few days, or the fact that the correct Jeopardy answer to the clue “Lisalverto Bonilla, Wilmer Font, and Justin Marks” is “Who are the only pitchers of the 22 on the Rangers’ 40-man roster who haven’t yet been in the big leagues in 2014?”
The Alex Rios situation is probably worth an entire report on its own (of the multiple reasonable scenarios, I’m in favor of three that don’t have him in Texas in 2015), but we can talk about relief pitchers for now, because that’s where the local and national media have directed our attention the last couple days.
Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports report that the Blue Jays, Tigers, and Angels have expressed interest in Joakim Soria, and locally we learn that the Rangers expect a “substantial package” involving more than one legitimate prospect for their closer (with the Royals perhaps in the mix as well) and are fielding calls on Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts, too.
The Soria situation in particular sets up well. Texas owns a $7 million club option on the 30-year-old, who has fanned 40 and issued three unintentional walks in 29.1 innings this season, holding opponents to an anemic .180/.207/.279 slash line. There’s no reason not to feel good about bringing him back in 2015, when the Rangers have the right to expect a return to contention. Jon Daniels isn’t in a corner, having to deal Soria. He can tell clubs what it will take to get him — not just for one pennant race but for two — and if the offers don’t meet the demand, Soria stays.
Different situation with Frasor and Cotts, both struggling right now under heavy workloads and both free agents after the season, but I have in my head a scenario in which Texas offers to pair one of the veteran set-up men with Soria, much as the Cubs agreed to tack Jason Hammel onto Jeff Samardzija, in order to get the prospect(s) in return that Texas really wants.
You’re not going to get big league righthander Marcus Stroman or AAA righthander Aaron Sanchez or AA lefthander Daniel Norris or Class A outfielder Dalton Pompey from Toronto, or AAA lefthander Robbie Ray from Detroit or big league reliever Mike Morin or AA righthander R.J. Alvarez from Los Angeles, but what about injured Jays Class A righthander Roberto Osuna, or Tigers righthander Jonathon Crawford or shortstop Willy Adames, playing together at Low A West Michigan, or Class A shortstop Jose Rondon or some other Angels prospect or two that the Rangers believe stand out in an otherwise flimsy system?
Those teams could all use not only Soria but probably Frasor or Cotts as well (even not at their best, on a hope for a bounceback), and you can bet the A’s don’t part with Addison Russell in a deal for Samardzija — and I’m surprised they did at all — but getting a second piece like they did in Hammel, that changed the equation.
And let’s take that thought a step further: Wouldn’t Rios be a fit for Toronto, who are a game and a half back in the Wild Card race (and three games out in the AL East) and have Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind on the disabled list? Would a Soria/Rios package — with Toronto seeking its first playoff berth in more than 20 years — entice the Jays to part with Norris or Pompey? And would a package headed by one of those two prospects prompt Texas to part with its 2015 closer plus, as far as Rios is concerned, a potential trade piece in a thin December market or a possible compensatory first round pick?
Think back to 2011, when Texas added Mike Adams and Koji Uehara — neither a closer (at the time) but every bit as valuable in a pennant race context (Adams clearly had more value to the Rangers than his closer teammate Heath Bell did) — and compare what it cost to get them. Both came with an extra year of club control (Adams via arbitration and Uehara via a vesting option), just as Soria does, and, though proven relievers, were no more so than Soria is.
The ultimate price tags on the two were very different. For Adams, Texas parted with two legitimate mid-rotation prospects in AA, lefthander Robbie Erlin and righthander Joe Wieland. For Uehara, the return was two 25-year-olds poised for a change-of-scenery relocation: first baseman Chris Davis and righthander Tommy Hunter, each of whom had seen time in both AAA and the big leagues in 2008 . . . and 2009 . . . and 2010 . . . and 2011.
Two very different trades. And none of the three teams involved would want a do-over.
(Though Texas would probably like a mulligan on letting Uehara go away a year and a half later.)
Neither Soria nor Rios, even paired and even if Frasor or Cotts were tacked on, is going to bring back the type of haul Texas gave up for Matt Garza, because relievers aren’t starters and that’s just baseball economics. But the pair the Rangers sent Chicago for Ryan Dempster (Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks)? That one’s worth shooting for.
And arguably worth saying “yes” to.
However many times I write between now and the end of the month, I’m betting more than half those times will be about Joakim Soria or Alex Rios or both, and while that’s not what I would have ever expected, or hoped for, three months ago, it is what it is, and one of the great things about baseball, even when your team is having a down year, is there’s an opportunity two-thirds of the way through a season like that to make a significant impact on how things might play out down the road. That’s something those of us who have hung in there with this franchise for more than four years are plenty familiar with. It’s not always a bad thing, and in some cases, it turns out to be hugely important.
I may spend more time in the coming weeks talking about the Toronto and Detroit farm systems, and Seattle’s if that club’s rumored interest in Rios is real, than I will about Ryan Feierabend and Adam Rosales and about Geovany Soto’s latest headline, but you’ll forgive me if there’s some Matt West and Roman Mendez talk mixed in, which is not entirely unrelated given the Soria/Frasor/Cotts opportunities that Texas will need to decide this month what to do with.
We’ll know by tonight whether the Mavericks will go into the next season with both Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, which is not the same as having both Leonys Martin and Martin Perez, especially not now, not this season, which is moving into that unique stretch between All-Star Weekend and the end of the month when a small handful of teams reluctantly turn their attention to something further into the future, and in that position there’s an opportunity to make the future better, maybe in 2015 and maybe in 2017, and that’s something worth paying immediate attention to, if you asked me.
Half the Rangers’ active pitching staff should probably be in the minor leagues, and that doesn’t even count the disabled Nick Martinez.
Theoretically, at least going into the season, both catchers should be, too, though they’ve more than acquitted themselves in Arlington.
Rougned Odor should be in AA, or by now probably AAA, Luis Sardinas should have been a minor leaguer all season, and I don’t even want to get into specifics at first base.
As far as outfielders go, Jake Smolinski should be on the farm, along with Daniel Robertson.
And yet, in spite of all of the talent that has been pulled from the minor leagues to make sure the big club could field a squad, and in spite of the trades with the Cubs (in particular) the last couple years that have stripped talent from the system’s top two tiers (including righthander Kyle Hendricks, who makes his big league debut today for Chicago), the Texas farm system sits, at the moment, at 100 games over .500.
Minor league development isn’t about wins and losses, but this isn’t a situation where the Rangers have stocked their eight farm clubs with overaged players hoping to win league trophies. As Scott has chronicled over and over, Texas regularly has the youngest rosters in many of the minor leagues they field teams in. Plus, lots of those overaged journeymen minor leaguers are playing first base or pitching in long relief in Arlington anyway.
Guaranteed, 100 percent: For those friends of yours throwing themselves off the Rangers bandwagon just because of the brutal season at the top (which finds the Rangers as owners of the worst record in the game this morning), they’re making a mistake that they’re going to claim, in the next year or two, they never made.
I promise this one will be shorter than the other time I referenced Roger Federer.
Sunday morning, late in the telecast of the epic Fed-Djokovic Wimbledon final, John McEnroe said of the 32-year-old all-time great: “The one thing about Roger I envy is that he loves winning more than he hates losing. It sounds easy, but it’s difficult.”
I thought about that, a lot, and wondered if I could say the same about myself. I know that both the wins and losses are less acutely emotional in a season like this one than they have been the last four, but as for whether I love the wins more than I hate the losses, especially during the awesomely intense seasons, I’m pretty sure I’m no Roger Federer.
Is that OK? To make myself feel at least a little better about this newly planted self-awareness, I thought about all those times, after big moments and big wins in big games, that I’ve heard Adrian Beltre say: “You guys are making too big a deal out of this. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Is that the healthy way to look at this? That winning is just what you’re supposed to do — Jason Witten handing the ball to the back judge after six instead of doing a convulsive rain dance — and so, yeah, maybe it’s OK to hate losing more than we love winning?
I’m pretty sure every one of us loves winning and hates losing and if we didn’t there’s a good chance we wouldn’t put so much time and energy into sports. But I’d never thought about weighing the two until I heard one transcendent athlete bring it up in the context of another transcendent athlete, and how he wishes he were wired the way the other one is.
This isn’t really the baseball season to figure out which category I really fit in, but I’m sure I know which one it is, and I think I’m probably right there with McEnroe in admitting that my distaste for losing, though I know it’s gotten at least a little healthier on a day-to-day basis as I’ve aged, drives my competitive urges more than the other thing.
So, you know, there’s that. Congrats to Joey Gallo (13), Jorge Alfaro (25), Nick Williams (46), Chi-Chi Gonzalez (49), and Lewis Brinson (57-ish) for winning spots on the mid-season BP Top 50 Prospects list, published this morning.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Stuff.
It’s the longest break I’ve had from big league baseball — watching the game, let alone writing about it — since my honeymoon, when Tiger Woods had yet to win a major, Peyton Manning and Tim Duncan weren’t yet in the pros, and neither was a tight end/power forward named Tony Gonzalez, who was once co-Orange County High School Athlete of the Year with Woods. The Rangers hadn’t yet given a minor league contract to a former French National Baseball League righthander named Jeff Zimmerman, or drafted Carlos Pena. And newest 2014 Ranger Neftali Feliz was eight.
While I was away for 14 days, tucked away in the land of traffic circles, roaming cinghiale, enough shades of green to fill a Crayola 64 Count, countryside smoglessness and the type of silence that jolts the senses, and Alessandro Liddi, the Rangers managed to win two games, a nice total over a two-week span if you’re an NFL team, not so much when you’re playing a Major League Baseball schedule.
I missed some things a whole lot while I was gone, others even less than I imagined I would, and I’ve gotta say — waking up to those last three Joe Saunders box scores was only marginally less irritating than experiencing them live would have been.
Pena and Justin Marks arrived in my absence, Miles Mikolas and Adam Rosales returned, Luis Sardinas was rerouted to Round Rock (a fate that has to be imminent for Michael Choice, for a different reason), and Brad Snyder (Korea’s LG Twins) and Cory Burns (Rays) and Saunders (golf course?) checked out, but the collective impact of all those moves would pale exponentially in comparison to the ramifications if A.J. Preller, who has reportedly interviewed for San Diego’s GM vacancy, were to relocate.
This two-week free fall feels less like a slump and more like the baling wire finally busting in about a dozen places. It would be so great if we were watching Shawn Tolleson dealing in AAA and forcing conversations about his readiness for Arlington, as Nick Martinez and Rougned Odor were forcing promotions to join him in Round Rock. If Choice (.324/.375/.699 against lefties) was finding his big league way on the short end of a DH platoon, and Leonys Martin was hitting ninth. If Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross Jr. were never starters, and Saunders was never a Ranger.
But 2014 lit a match under the blueprint early, and while it’s awesome to see guys like Lewis Brinson and Jairo Beras and Ryan Rua and Hanser Alberto and Keone Kela and Alex Claudio — and even Odubel Herrera and Phil Klein and Jon Edwards — catching fire at mid-season so that the farm conversation isn’t solely about Joey Gallo and Chi Chi Gonzalez, a big part of me wishes guys like Martinez and Odor and Choice were not being asked to fill bigger roles than the original game plan called for, a discussion that involves Scheppers and Ross as well.
After 16 years of looking mostly at box scores and team stats to put the picture in the frame as far as Rangers’ prospects’ in-season development is concerned, these last two weeks I was limited to doing that as far as the big club goes, and that was probably a blessing. In a year that has had Prince Fielder and Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and Martin Perez and Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar and Jim Adduci and Engel Beltre watching helplessly from the sidelines for most of it, I was removed myself — as a fan — from baseball for longer than I had been in over 17 years, and if there were ever a season when that seemed to work out OK, this was it.
While I was taking a break from baseball, so was our nine-year-old Max, though his absence from the Dallas Pelicans’ first-ever World Series wasn’t any more by choice than Chris Davis and Scott Feldman being left off the Rangers’ playoff roster in 2010 or Darren O’Day in 2011. The Pelicans’ inaugural season ended the way it began — reaching a tournament championship, this time emerging from a 76-team field to do so — and though Max wasn’t there for it, he was his teammates’ biggest fan, from 5,500 miles away, and I suppose that could have gone in a different direction (a kid forced to watch helplessly from the sidelines, if you count looking at GameChanger results as “watching”), though the way Max embraces the concept of team I shouldn’t have ever worried about that.
I know he was frustrated not to be able to contribute, to compete, but there will be another World Series, just like there was for Feldman, even if things are less certain for Davis and O’Day, because winning is hard, a subject that Tony Gonzalez may reflect on the day that he’s enshrined in Canton.
We’re still more than a week away from seeing Gallo and Jorge Alfaro in the Futures Game and the Rangers, in this Wild Card era that naturally extends the life of a club’s visions of 162+, are already firmly in the sell-or-hold camp, a development that’s no less shocking than the 968 games that their players have spent on the disabled list to date. The next four weeks are going to be fascinating — in a way that we haven’t experienced around here in more than half a decade — and while I’m a fan of the person and would be happy for Preller if he gets the Padres job, I’ll be grumpy if it happens, especially if it’s before the trade deadline, when his voice and evaluations have historically been so pivotal here.
I’d have been a lot more baseball-grumpy the last two weeks if I’d been in my normal routine rather than in Anghiari, though an awesome end to the Dallas Pelicans’ first season would have been more than a welcome distraction, a category Tyson Chandler’s return fits into as well. In one sense I know there will never be another Pelicans season like this one for my kid and his teammates, and maybe on several levels it will never be the same.
That’s part of the bargain in the zero-sum world of competing in sports, that it doesn’t always work out, not every game and not every year, because when someone wins, someone else doesn’t. And that’s OK. The losses are easier to tolerate when they’re experienced only peripherally, I can confirm, but, yes, dropping 13 of 15 to take a .500 record to completely unfamiliar depths for a franchise that’s grown used to winning hurts more than it did when the franchise, years ago, had a run or two like that in every unfailingly disappointing season.
Still, I’d much rather have it hurt like this than be accustomed to it, like we were a decade ago. Things are broken, but not irreparably. The game plan for 2014 changes, but given the shape this organization is in, at the top and on the farm, the long-term outlook doesn’t change — and the silver lining of a brutal June means the club can focus its scouting efforts in one clear direction the next few weeks.
Hopefully at Preller’s direction.
I’m not used to missing Rangers baseball for two weeks, or to the shape of the standings that I returned to, but I’m not out on the 2014 season at all. There’s plenty to be fired up about as far as the franchise’s instant future is concerned, and while this year’s play will end with the 162 scheduled, there’s development to be done this summer in Arlington and in Frisco and in Myrtle Beach and Surprise, and with scouts dispatched to minor league stadiums all over the place for the next few weeks, there are likely a handful of prospects owned for the moment by other clubs whom Texas will have the opportunity to bring aboard, further feeding the window that will reopen next year, when the big club is healthier, the karma swings back the other way, and the Rangers will once again be the Rangers, a team positioned to win and one that I surely won’t be away from for two weeks.
Thanks for your patience.
He was as prolific as any beat writer in town, and if you think I’m exaggerating about that just go check your RSS feed.
He was prolific in other ways, too, and last night when I suggested that the Happy Father’s Day text I got Sunday must have meant he sent a similar — personalized — text to at least 400 others, I was probably greatly overstating where I ranked on his list. It was probably closer to 4000.
A Richard Durrett byline always meant you were about to read something that wasn’t cynical or sarcastic or abrasive, and that’s probably what we’d all do well to draw from sports but don’t always get to. We always did with Rich.
There is some multiple of 4000 who knew Rich better than I did, but every time we crossed paths or traded messages, he treated it like we’d just talked the day before, and would again tomorrow. So many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
But I can’t talk baseball with Rich tomorrow, and that’s difficult to understand, or accept.
We all lost last night.
You won’t find a greater example of kindness and tenacity, or selflessness and optimism, and while there have been a dozen extraordinary tributes written this morning — T.R.’s is T.R. at his best, and portrays Rich at his — I thought Evan nailed it when he tweeted this morning:
I can’t add to tributes to Richard Durrett; can only try to live more like him. Kind, caring, enthusiastic, lacking ego or pettiness.
I never met Rich’s kids Owen and Alice, and I never met his wife Kelly, who I understand is expecting a third. It took me a long time to type that.
But my heart is so heavy for that family, and I feel like I know what kind of people they must be because their lives were at the center of Rich’s, and his theirs.
Just a week ago, Rich emailed me to suggest I might enjoy the feature he’d just written on Joey Gallo, who had just been promoted to Frisco. He was right to think I’d enjoy it; he was wrong to think I needed the heads-up, as I’d already read it, of course (and tweeted about it so you guys wouldn’t miss it).
He cared about you, whether you know it or not. He made things better for lots of people, by shining his light on things the way he did — even on the radio, a format in which he excelled even though the playbook so often calls for a darker tactic than he was capable of, or interested in.
And because of the profession he chose, his good work gets to live on forever, not just the work he put in faithfully with his family and his friends, but the work he put in for all of us. Not everyone gets that chance, but Rich did, and he made the most of it. Read this.
We all lost last night.
But we have gained a lot from Rich, too, a lot of which doesn’t leave us just because he has, and a big part of that is the opportunity to think about living, like Evan said, more like Rich did, and to choose more often to shine light.
It was the spring of 1986, my junior year at Hillcrest, when two BBI coaches came to my house asking me and my parents if I’d play for their team that summer. I didn’t know the coaches, I knew nobody on the team, but when one of them (named Timmons, maybe?) said, “We’d like for you to play shortstop for us, and keep hitting like Tony Gwynn,” well, short of invoking the words “Yount” or “Molitor,” there wasn’t a cooler thing they could have said.
As a 17-year-old, watching Tony Gwynn hit baseballs was watching an artist make art. I’d never seen a baseball player with that kind of ability to slow the game down, to rifle the ball all over the field with what seemed like Joe Montana precision. What I didn’t realize then was that, for at least 28 more years after that, I wouldn’t see another one like him.
Ted Williams — a San Diego native — once said the hardest thing to do in sports was to hit a baseball, but it wasn’t for him and it wasn’t for Gwynn, and there was something about Gwynn’s build, once he no longer looked like the kid who was drafted in 1981 by the Padres one day and by the Clippers the next, that made us all think we just maybe had a shot, as delusional as that might have been. He looked like the guy who does your taxes, or delivers your mail, not like the dangerous offensive machine that he was. He didn’t make the game easier for the rest of us, but in a way he made it possible.
I hate that he’s gone.
Gwynn reached the big leagues in July 1982, and put in 19 full seasons after that. In those 19 years, he never hit below .309. In those 19 years, he never struck out more times than he walked. In fact, the most he ever went down on strikes in one season was 40 times, and that came in 1988, when he won one of his eight batting titles.
The pitcher he faced more than any other in his career was Greg Maddux, and in their 107 matchups, Gwynn’s .415/.476/.521 slash line is overshadowed by the crazy fact that he struck out zero times, something he also managed to accomplish in 36 plate appearances against Pedro Martinez. And in the 20 times he stepped in against Greg’s brother, Mike.
And then there’s that other increasingly rare statistic that marks Gwynn’s career. Here’s his entire transaction line:
June 8, 1981: Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the third round of the amateur draft.
Love that. Seems as rare these days as a perfect game.
Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins was Gwynn’s teammate with AA Amarillo (1981), AAA Hawaii (1982), AAA Las Vegas (1983), and San Diego (1982-1988). They made their big league debuts two days apart, and roomed together with the Padres that summer.
I’m sure Hawk would understand that if I had an hour to talk ball with him, I’d probably squeeze in a question or two about his cursed no-hitter and about Robbie Ross before spending the rest of the time asking him what Tony Gwynn was like in AA, as a rookie, as a veteran, as a teammate. And then I’d ask him when he had another hour.
Michael Young evidently texted Fox Sports columnist Ken Rosenthal on Monday morning, saying: “Ted Williams gets to talk hitting again.”
In their own language.
I know that watching Tony Gwynn play baseball made me love the game more than I would have otherwise. As great as he was, the simplicity of his game — which lacked the brute power of Darryl Strawberry or Jose Canseco, the flair of Rickey Henderson or Kirby Puckett, the bankability of Don Mattingly or Cal Ripken Jr. — kept the dream alive for a left-handed-hitting teenager without power, foolish as the dream might have been. Maybe your team is on its fourth second baseman and fifth first baseman and pitcher number 24, but you keep battling, because this is sports and that’s what you do.
There’s benefit in chasing the goal, even when it’s realistically out of reach — or at least should be. Sometimes all you can do is put the bat on the ball, go with the pitch, put the ball in play, hit it somewhere hard, make the other guys beat you. Sometimes that’s enough.
Well, my Friday the 13th had a couple “Holy S” moments, starting with Fixi Shop in Arlington bringing my cell phone back to life after several other places wanted 10 times the fee to tell me they would try (but doubted they could save it), and ending with the Nick Tepesch Rangers 1, King Felix Mariners 0.
Five days without a phone or text lifeline was almost as bad as the coming to terms with the thought that I’d lost the hundreds of photos I’d idiotically failed to preserve since my last backup.
Texas racking up its 13th shutout — in 67 games, which is the fastest any American League team has accomplished that total in the 42-year DH era — just defies common sense for all kinds of reasons, among which is that Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Martin Perez (not to mention Tanner Scheppers, Neftali Feliz, and Alexi Ogando out of the pen) have watched most of it happen with the rest of us.
Joey Gallo’s fourth home run in five days as a RoughRider on Friday doesn’t even register as high on the “Holy S” scale, but I would point out that last night’s bomb in Corpus gave him 13 road homers for the season (in only 31 games), and he has gone deep this year on April 13, on May 13, and on June 13. Then again, really, it feels like the odds were only slightly against that, and I’m no longer going to upbraid anyone who suggests to me that Gallo could be in Arlington before September 13.
I’m not sure what the opposite of triskaidekaphobia is (triskaidekaphilia?), but I’m counting on more good things the next time Friday the 13th rolls around (it’s next February — maybe a healthier rotation and a long-term deal in place for its ace?), and I’m just going to assume yesterday’s was a sign of good things to come in the meantime, and with Joe Saunders set to go tonight, and Nick Martinez drawing Hisashi Iwakuma Sunday afternoon, I’m actually prepared to believe that Texas is about to win its first damn series of the month.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Joey Gallo’s third homer in four AA games than to highly recommend this outstanding article on Gallo by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh, to tell you that if we do have a Newberg Report Night at Globe Life Park this year (not a certainty), it will be on Sunday, July 27, and to rank the best picks the Rangers have ever made in every one of the first 40 rounds of the June draft.
When I’m without Fox Sports Southwest and MLB Network for nearly a week, and without a cell phone indefinitely, things can get a little insane.
So here goes.
Note: These don’t count players taken in the long-defunct secondary phase of the June draft (such as Tom Henke (4th round, 1980)), January draft (Roy Smalley (1st round, 1974), Dave Righetti (1st round, 1977), Jody Reed (3rd round, 1982)), or secondary phase of the January draft (Jim Sundberg (1st round, 1973)).
But it does count unsigned players in the standard June draft, sometimes necessarily.
Round 1. The Rangers have had one of the first 10 picks in the draft 16 times, but only twice came away with a player who finished in the top four in an MVP or Cy Young vote: Kevin Brown (4th overall pick, 1986) and Mark Teixeira (5th overall pick, 2001). Of the two Georgia Tech products, you’d probably have to give the nod at this point to Brown.
Round 1—Supplemental. Belongs to Colby Lewis (1999), although for the first 11 years of his pro career it looked like Mark Petkovsek (1987) would lead an otherwise undistinguished class with his fairly ordinary big league career. If you’re going strictly off Baseball Prospectus’s WAR rankings, Tommy Hunter (2007) and Tanner Scheppers (2009) have already surpassed Petkovsek, and Neil Ramirez (2007) probably will in a few days. 2010 supplemental firsts Mike Olt and Luke Jackson have their hands raised as well, and Joey Gallo (2012) is staring you down.
Round 2. Matt West (2007) and Nick Williams (2012) are salivating at the chance to claim this round, which has been shockingly unproductive over the Rangers’ four-plus decades – both in quantity (only 15 Rangers second-rounders have reached the big leagues; next three rounds: 20, 19, and 19) and in quality. The franchise’s 17th-round picks would run-rule the second-rounders, who would be led by Roger Pavlik (1986) and Robbie Ross (2008), though Kevin “the Catcher” Brown (1994) deserves a brief mention since Texas was able to flip him to Toronto for Tim Crabtree. Ti’Quan Forbes (2014) plans to ask West and Williams to scoot over a bit and make room.
Round 3. Oh, Hank Blalock (1999). You were supposed to erase memory of the previous year’s third-round dance with Barry Zito (1998). As it stands, Darren Oliver (1988) probably gets the nod over Ryan Dempster (1995), according to both WAR and recent memory.
Round 4. Jim Clancy (1974) had a better career than you think, and it’s going to take a lot for either Joe Wieland (2008) or Alec Asher (2012) to change the conversation.
Round 5. With apologies to Steve Buechele (1982), it’s probably C.J. Wilson (2001) at this point, though Chris Davis (2006) is gaining on both of them.
Round 6. Aaron Harang (1999) (114-120, 4.24 over 13 seasons) – this generation’s Jim Clancy (140-167, 4.23 over 15 seasons)?
Round 7. Mike Lamb (1997), though one day I’m afraid this round will belong to unsigned 2011 pick Max Pentecost, a catcher who had reportedly agreed to terms with the Rangers before some sort of red flag showed up on his physical and killed the deal. Pentecost was taken 11th overall a week ago by Toronto.
Round 8. Jim Sundberg, the 172nd player taken in 1972, the Rangers’ inaugural draft. There were 27 catchers drafted before Sundberg that year – including Ron Pruitt, chosen by the Rangers in the second round. Both Pruitt (Michigan State) and Sundberg (University of Iowa) were Big Ten catchers. To be fair, Sundberg opted not to sign that summer, and the following year the Rangers used the second overall pick in the secondary phase of the January draft to take – and sign – the future Rangers legend.
Round 9. Edwin Encarnacion (2000), the throw-in that Texas gave Cincinnati one year later in the Ruben Mateo-for-Rob Bell trade.
Round 10. Sorry, Craig Gentry (2006) fans. While he probably caught Billy Sample (1976 — whom they had also drafted in 1973 — see Round 28 below), this one still belongs to Rusty Greer (1990), who held Doug “the Pitcher” Davis (1996) off.
Round 11. Not a lot to show for this round. Travis Metcalf (2004) is probably the guy for now, but unsigned Boston prospect Anthony Ranaudo (2007) is bearing down and Rangers righthander Connor Sadzeck (2011), out this year due to Tommy John surgery, could have a real shot.
Round 12. Spot reliever Tony Fossas (1979), who in 12 big league seasons racked up measurably fewer innings (415.2) than games pitched (567), or unsigned lefthander Drew Pomeranz (2007), who’s now in Oakland’s rotation, but Keone Kela (2012) is thundering this way.
Round 13. Fifteen-year big leaguer Rey Sanchez (1986).
Round 14. Nick Tepesch (2010) has a long road ahead to unseat unsigned Tulsa high schooler Charlie O’Brien (1978), the prototype backup catcher in the big leagues in the 1990s.
Round 15. Jameis Winston (2012) was the better football player, but Pete O’Brien (1979) was the more dedicated baseball player.
Round 16. The highly underrated Mike Stanley (1985), whose last name isn’t O’Brien.
Round 17. I would have liked to shoehorn Dallas Hillcrest High School product Omar Brewer (1987) in here, but he didn’t have the minor league numbers of Ryan Rua (2011), who hasn’t had the big league opportunity of Mitch Moreland (2007), who hasn’t had nearly the impact in the game that Ian Kinsler (2003) has had. Texas also took Reid Ryan in the 17th round, back in 1994.
Round 18. Fordham University second baseman Nick Martinez (2011), who will take the mound against Seattle Sunday.
Round 19. Unsigned lefthander Noah Lowry (1999), who two years later a San Francisco first-round pick.
Round 20. Kameron Loe (2002), who would also prevail in a James Hetfield Lookalike ranking.
Round 21. Righthander Erik Davis declined to sign with the Angels as their 47th-round pick in 2004. He declined to sign with the Rangers as their 21st-rounder in 2007. He signed with the Padres the following summer, was traded three years after that to the Nationals for onetime Rangers utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez, and put up a 3.12 ERA in 10 relief appearances for Washington last year. I learned something new today.
Round 22. Ed Lynch (1977) over unsigned lefthander Cory Luebke (2006) for now, but perhaps submariner Ben Rowen (2010), the newest Ranger in this season of Semi-Weekly Newest Rangers, can make this round his own.
Round 23. LOOGY Zach Phillips (2004). Or Davidson College infielder Jay Heafner (2006), who five years later would be the area scout who saw a pitcher in Fordham University second baseman Nick Martinez.
Round 24. Rich Aurilia (1992), whose name comes up every time I write about Texas having two legitimate prospects at the same position and a big decision to make.
Round 25. Another group that crushes Round 2. Mike Hargrove (1972) was so solid for the Rangers teams that were emerging from expansion in the mid-’70s. Derek Holland (2006) was the final Rangers “draft-and-follow” selection to pay off big before MLB eliminated the rule. I’d appreciate it if Tanner Roark (2008) never enters this conversation.
Round 26. While I’d like to honor Spike Lundberg (1997) – one of the people I’ll forever credit for helping to push the Newberg Report several levels further than I ever envisioned – and while Mark Brandenburg (1992) would get lots of local support, righthander Dave Schmidt (1979) was pretty solid over five years of Rangers relief before keying a deal with the White Sox to get Scott Fletcher and the sadly forgotten Edwin Correa, who was going to be freakin’ special if he hadn’t injured his shoulder at age 21.
Round 27. Texas was the third team to draft big righthander Aaron Barrett, whom they took out of the University of Mississippi in 2009, but it was the Nationals – who signed him as a discounted college senior – who got the benefit, as he’s been an absolute find in the Washington bullpen this season. While he’s basically the opposite of the power-arsenaled Barrett, Rangers Class A lefthander Alex Claudio (2010) has a chance to impact the bullpen in a similarly big way in a year or two.
Round 28. It’s sort of unbelievable and very sad that a Google search of “Billy Sample” “Gerry Oher” comes up completely empty. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, never mind. (But if you do, Fan of 1981 Channel 8 Sportscasts, I just put a smile on your face.)
Round 29. Mike Venafro’s (1995) best season in the big leagues was his first, and it came in the Rangers’ 1999 playoff campaign, when he and fellow rookie Jeff Zimmerman each contributed in a big way to a 95-win club.
Round 30. Texas failed to sign lefthander Al Holland (1974), who went on to have an outstanding 10-year career in relief that included not only one All-Star appearance but also, shockingly, a top 10 MVP finish. Credit also goes to Gene Nelson (1978), who a year after Texas drafted and signed him was traded in a large package for the great Mickey Rivers. Among other Rangers 30th-rounders, at this point I’d probably put Scott Feldman (2003) ahead of Jeff Frye (1988), but man, I was a big Frye fan.
Round 31. Travis Hafner (1996) was a sensational draft pick at a time when Cowley County Community College seemed like the Rangers’ seventh stateside farm club. Hafner was also traded really, really badly.
Round 32. But not as badly as Robb Nen (1987).
Round 33. Or Walt Terrell (1980).
Round 34. Ray Fontenot (1979) was also part of that Rivers trade, enough for him to stand out among Rangers’ 34th-rounders. Maybe this year’s pick in that round, righthander Storm Rynard (2014), can restore the Texas/Cowley County magic and make more of an ultimate impact than Fontenot did. Rynard was scouted by Dustin Smith, a former Rangers draftee out of CCCC himself.
Round 35. The biggest big league headline that TCU righthander Sam Demel made as Oakland’s third-round pick in 2007 was that he was flipped three years later for mid-season pickup Conor Jackson, making the Rangers’ inability to sign Demel as their 35th-rounder in 2004 less painful. As long as we’re focusing on unsigned picks, Texas used its 35th-round pick in 1997 on Mansfield HS catcher Kelley Gulledge, who didn’t sign, went to the Twins three years later in the 10th round, landed in the Rangers system after all in 2003, and went on to put up video game numbers from 2009 through 2011 for the Fort Worth Cats, but the part that will stand out most for you is that he’s the son of Rangers PA Man Chuck Morgan.
Round 36. I’m going to cheat a bit here since you’re probably nearly alone among those who have read this far, but the 36th round is pretty thin, so here goes: Washington Senators 36th-rounder Bobby Jones (1967) is the pick here, as the dude is now in his 44th season with the Senators/Rangers franchise as a player or coach, 38 of those coming since the Senators moved to Arlington. I’m going to go ahead and count the 1970 season among those 44, even though that entire year was part of the 14 months Jones spent serving our country in Vietnam.
Round 37. Texas was the first of two teams to unsuccessfully draft infielder Brian Dallimore (1992) before Houston landed him in the 9th round in 1996. He’d finally get his cup of coffee with the Giants in 2004 and a refill in 2005.
Round 38. The aforementioned Dustin Smith (2000), after a six-year career as a catcher in the Rangers system, has been responsible as a scout for the drafting of Brett Nicholas and Collin Wiles, among others, including three of the club’s first eight choices in this year’s draft. Smith’s brother Dan “the Righthander” Smith was a former Rangers pitcher as well.
Round 39. Unsigned Dallas Baptist righthander Les Lancaster (1983) had some good years in the big leagues. Unsigned Florida high school shortstop Brad Miller (2008) will have more. Then there’s Tim Hulett, unsigned in 1978, a year and a half after which he was the third overall pick (White Sox) in the January secondary phase, embarking on a 16-year pro career that ended with a couple months with AAA Oklahoma City in the Texas system. He’s about to kick off his eighth season as manager of the Rangers’ Short Season A affiliate in Spokane. But none of them approach perhaps the greatest draft success in Rangers franchise history, lefthander Kenny Rogers, a winner of 219 big league games who wasn’t even a pitcher when Texas used the 816th pick in the 1982 draft on him – but instead was an outfielder playing his first year of organized baseball as a high school senior.
Round 40. Dave Martinez was a January third-rounder of the Cubs seven months after he declined to sign with the Rangers (1982). He later had a swim through Texas toward the end of a lengthy, productive career, and now serves as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa. The weird thing about the Rangers’ 1982 draft is only three of the club’s 40 picks made it to the big leagues: fifth-rounder Steve Buechele . . . and Rogers and Martinez, taken in the 39th and 40th.
The Rangers have historically participated in as many as 63 rounds, but since the draft now ends after 40 rounds, and because I’ve got a lot to do today, I’m going to stop here, though I will offer tips of the cap to a few more names: Mike Cather (41st round, 1993); Jesse Chavez (42, 2002); Jermaine Dye (43, 1992); Danny Ray Herrera (45, 2006) & Brandon Finnegan (45, 2011); Jason Botts (46, 1999); Danny Patterson (47, 1989); C.J. Edwards (48, 2011); Todd Walker (51, 1991); Raul Ibanez (54, 1991); and Pat Flury (63, 1991), who I suppose qualifies as the Rangers’ “Mr. Irrelevant,” though he did carve out a 13-year pro career, including one season with Nippon Ham in 2002, when among his teammates was Yoshinori Tateyama, who would eventually be teammates with Yu Darvish on two different continents.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Pretty Much Irrelevant Stuff.