On August 25, 1996, Texas rolled on the Twins, 13-2, behind five home runs and a strong Bobby Witt start. The win was the Rangers’ 12th in 16 games, extending their division lead to a season-high-matching eight games. They were on their way to the first playoff appearance in franchise history, led by league MVP Juan Gonzalez and team leader Ivan Rodriguez, who would earn his first top 10 MVP finish that year as well.
That same day, the Yankees fell to Oakland, 6-4, their 10th loss in 16 games, though they maintained a six-game lead in the AL East. Coming off its first playoff season in 14 years, New York would reach the post-season again in 1996, the second of what would be 13 straight Octobers and the first of three out of four that would begin with a spanking of the Rangers in the ALDS. That 1996 season was Derek Jeter’s rookie campaign.
Both Pudge and Jetes would put up an OPS of .882 when their clubs met in that playoff series.
The day after Texas 13, Minnesota 2 and Oakland 6, New York 4, a kid named Edward Ti’Quan Forbes was born in Mississippi. Eleven months before that, a kid named Luis Ortiz was born in Northern California.
The preceding has been more than just an awkward effort to point out that the Rangers drafted players last night who were born in 1995 and 1996, which makes me feel even older than the fact that my daughter (born the day after Texas drafted Scott Heard, Laynce Nix, Nick Masset, and Edwin Encarnacion) turns 14 today.
It’s also a setup to shoehorn in the fact that it was Pudge who stepped to the podium to announce the Forbes selection last night, and it was Jeter whom Forbes singled out as the player he models his game after.
As long as MLB (with very limited exceptions) disallows the trading of draft picks, you never want to be drafting near the top of round one (because of that which prompted it), and if you’re fortunate enough that your team is strong enough to be parked toward the back of the first, the result is that the names tend not to sizzle as much in the projections or the selections themselves.
But when you hear your General Manager say about Ortiz, taken by Texas last night with the 30th overall pick: “Our guys were pretty ecstatic — there are years when you line it up and the board dries up real quick, and there are years when other teams see things differently, and this was probably one of those years because we got a guy that we love,” it sounds a lot like what he said a year earlier when his guys were thrilled to see Oral Roberts righthander Chi Chi Gonzalez fall to number 23.
I’ve never seen Ortiz pitch. I’ve seen the same videos you might have seen since last night, but that’s it. And even if I’d seen him pitch in person a dozen times, I’m certainly not qualified to say whether he was the better pick than fellow high school righties Michael Kopech (from Mount Pleasant) or Jack Flaherty, both of whom went a few minutes later, or than righthander Sean Reid-Foley or outfielder Monte Harrison, two kids widely projected to go a full round earlier than the mid-second round slots where they were ultimately chosen. I have no opinion on the forearm issue that caused Ortiz to miss one start this spring, or whether to be encouraged by or concerned about the 40-pound weight loss a year ago and the body type that necessitated it (people raised similar red flags once upon a time about Felix Hernandez, whose game Ortiz models his own after). I leave all those things to the people making ultimate decisions for the Rangers, and the scouts and advisors and medical team providing their evaluations along the way.
But I will say this: When Jon Daniels, informed by his team of evaluators, says they expected Ortiz to go off the board in the upper half of round one, and calls his “pure stuff as good as anybody in the draft — big league-caliber stuff right now,” and also drops the “strike-thrower” and “bigtime competitor” praise on the kid, and adds that he’s a very good bet to sign right away (his slot is valued at $1.7605 million) rather than hold the team hostage with the leverage of his commitment to Fresno State, and when a guy like ESPN’s Keith Law (with his own background in scouting and player development) judged Ortiz to be the number 10 draft prospect in his final evaluation, published Wednesday, then I’ve heard all I need to hear to be pretty fired up about the pick.
And I would have said that even without having seen Law suggest: “I think the Rangers just got their best pitching prospect with the 30th pick, and he could be in the Texas rotation by late 2016,” when he’ll still be just 20 years old. If Ortiz — who says he’s never had a pitching coach, but instead developed and refined his mechanics by intently watching King Felix and others on TV — does move fellow righthanders Gonzalez and Luke Jackson down a slot in the Rangers’ pecking order, even arguably, then the decision not to sign Kendrys Morales before the draft and forfeit that draft pick looks even better, as does the strength of the pipeline flowing toward Texas.
As for Forbes, a toolsy, projectable athlete who was projected by at least five different mock-drafters to be a strong bet to go to Oakland at pick number 25 — and at one point Law’s prediction for Texas at number 30 — the fact that the Ole Miss commit fell to 59, for now, feels less like a concern than a potential windfall.
One of the youngest players in the draft (if you did the math above, you know he won’t turn 18 until late August), he’s a high school shortstop whom Assistant GM A.J. Preller believes could stay at that spot or move to third base or the outfield. Also his high school’s quarterback, the 6’3” Forbes has the bat speed and arm strength and run tool combination that causes scouts to dream, and while the predictability of his development could be as erratic as A.J. Preller’s war room sport coat, I won’t ever complain about an organization who loads up on the high risk/high reward types, because for every Jordan Akins and K.C. Herren (and Jameis Winston) there’s a Jorge Alfaro, and you don’t win in baseball by playing it safe on the talent acquisition side.
The Rangers had five first-round picks in the pivotal summer of 2007. Four of them have reached the big leagues, and the fifth (Michael Main) was traded well, bringing Bengie Molina into the fold at a time when Texas needed a frontline catcher to help push the momentum forward for a franchise that still hadn’t won a playoff series. Five other players from that Rangers draft class have gotten to the big leagues, including three who didn’t sign with Texas (Drew Pomeranz, Erik Davis, and John Gast), and there are a few others who still have a chance, like Matt West and Ryan Tatusko, not to mention Anthony Ranaudo, another draftee who didn’t sign here.
And here’s the thing about that 2007 draft class: Of the 10 eventual big leaguers and those who still could earn that opportunity, just seven years later only two are still Texas Rangers — Mitch Moreland and West, one of whom was moved from the infield to the mound in the minor leagues and the other of whom almost was.
It’s an awesome thought to imagine Luis Ortiz Bobbleheads and Ti’Quan Forbes T-Shirt Night in Arlington one day, and maybe that’s where this is headed, but there’s also the possibility that they could each get nothing more than a big league cup of coffee here, hit a wall before AA, or be moved together in two years in a deal for Andrew Cashner, and that’s assuming they both sign pro contracts in the next few weeks as expected.
There’s plenty that’s starting to make me feel old these days, including draft picks who haven’t lived a day when Derek Jeter wasn’t a Major Leaguer, but there’s also something about Draft Day that rejuvenates me annually, and while I’m pretty sure I won’t be writing regularly about baseball when some kid born tomorrow gets drafted by a big league franchise, today is not the day to ask me to bet against it.
The coach, who in his 30 years had developed Day One MLB Draft picks, and nine-year-old kids who were still all about the postgame snow cone, and all kinds in between, said to his team at the end of the game, just after the championship trophies had been handed out: “You know all that hard work you guys have put in? This right here is you reaping the benefits of all that hard work, all that practice. You prepared well for this.”
The same could be said for Rougned Odor, who wasn’t supposed to get here this fast, or Robinson Chirinos, who wasn’t even a catcher until his eighth pro season, missed all of 2012 with a concussion, and now controls the running game just about as effectively as any catcher in the big leagues.
Or Daniel Robertson, who at nearly 29 had stepped to a minor league plate more than 3,100 times in the Padres system before getting a phone call from the Texas Rangers six weeks ago.
They prepared well, whether earning a chance they never dreamed they’d get so soon, or one they probably thought would never come at all.
You might think things have always come easily to Joey Gallo, who led all of minor league baseball in home runs (40) in 2013, and who reached 21 this season before May ended.
But recognize that, despite playing a level higher than he played last year, Gallo has cut his strikeout rate significantly (1 for every 3.8 plate appearances, compared with 1 for every 2.7 last year) and — more importantly — has already drawn as many walks (50) this year as he did in 2013, in right at half the trips to the plate.
Nobody in minor league baseball has worked as many bases on balls this season.
Nobody in the big leagues has, either.
Hard work, and benefits.
There’s hard work involved, too, when you’re a diehard fan and your team is fighting staircase dogs and malevolent pillows and breakaway motorcycles and bad knee cartilage and bad elbow ligaments and bad cervical and lumbar disk integrity.
Before the end of May.
Yet you’re a game over .500, in spite of a deck missing a handful of face cards, and the whole idea of reaping rewards now seems fitting for those of us who never even think about giving up on our team.
I can’t remember where I heard it, or whether it was while the Rangers were in Detroit or Minnesota or Washington, D.C., but someone said on the radio the other day that the press in one of those towns was suggesting Ron Washington probably already has AL Manager of the Year locked up, just a third into the season.
It’s easy as a fan base to feel cheated, to wave a fist at the baseball gods, to lament the brutal injury pileup and ask what any of us did to deserve this. But in that clubhouse, whether it’s on the west end of 1000 Ballpark Way, or in the smaller rooms in Detroit or Minnesota or Washington, D.C., nobody’s feeling sorry for themselves. They’re putting in the work, and — at least in the judgment of those covering the opposition the last week and a half — they’re reaping the rewards, hanging in this race.
There are lots of things you want from your manager, a different set of priorities I think from the ones you’d list for a head coach in football or basketball or probably hockey. The man in charge of 25 baseball players who play games that count every day for six months, and hopefully seven, has a lot of responsibilities, but none can be as important as having those 25 — even in the years when it’s a different 25 seemingly every day — ready to play. It’s knowing how to motivate one different from another, when to floor it and when to tap the brakes, when a given player needs a day and when another needs nothing more than to be thrown back into the fire, and to me those things are more important over the long haul than bullpen management or when (not) to bunt.
There’s a reason, in this sport, that he’s called a “manager.”
And this situation, the one that has shoved Texas just about as deep into a human resources corner as you can imagine, is the one in which Ron Washington is at his best. It’s easy, at any level of baseball, to get caught up in those jolts of adversity and lose sight of the bigger picture. Those were two bad losses to the Nationals before a league-leading 11th shutout salvaged that series, but take a step back even further and you’ll see Texas flying back home after a season-long 11 on the road, having won seven and lost four.
You take that every single time.
Stretches like this should no longer come as a surprise from this team, which for years now has tended to find ways to put things back in gear when the chips are stacked against it. It’s a reflection of the manager, at least in this case, when character is shown, or revealed, or whatever, and no fluke.
Texas is on a pace to see its league-leading streak of four straight 90-win seasons snapped, but its 29-28 win-loss record is in far better shape than the team it shares that streak with, the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 23-35 mark (despite the highest payroll in its 17-year history) is the American League’s worst.
Baseball is hard.
Gallo told the Myrtle Beach Sun News a few days ago that he was eight or nine years old when he hit his first home run. He’d be the first to tell Jake Storey (now at four bombs for the year, at age nine) that there will be adversity ahead — of the thousands of hitters in the minor leagues in 2013, only five struck out more than Gallo did — but taking it on and figuring out ways to overcome it just makes you better. Yu Darvish knows better than anyone that no-hitters are incredibly rare, and for him the complete game has been just as elusive, and just because Preston Stout accomplished both Sunday morning, hours before Darvish dominated the Nationals over eight scoreless, doesn’t mean that he won’t have to put in thousands of hours of work and commitment just to maintain, and to keep reaping the benefits.
You don’t win ’em all, but there’s growth from that as well, and if there weren’t I can think of plenty of times between the mid-70s and the mid-90s when the much easier and obvious choice would have been to walk away from Rangers baseball.
Winning is hard work. Winning takes hard work.
And sometimes it takes more than that right brew — the right players and the right coach, and the right mix of both, which doesn’t always follow — because luck and health and timing all factor in, and that’s just sports.
Even when things start looking bleak, as a player or a team or its fans, sticking with it and putting in the work is really the only choice, unless the plan is to walk away.
And walking away is no fun.
On June 12, 2004, Clinton shortstop Ian Kinsler doubled, homered, and walked in five trips against Peoria, raising his average above the .400 mark for the first time in a little over three weeks. Following the game the 21-year-old was promoted to Frisco, a two-level jump.
That .402 average Kinsler posted in over 250 LumberKing plate appearances that spring will mark his media guide page forever (he would then hit exactly .300 for the RoughRiders that summer), and that’s pretty cool.
I’m not saying I thought about this after Joey Gallo hit home runs 19 and 20 last night against Carolina Mudcats victims D.J. Brown and Clayton Cook, but I sorta am, because 20 bombs is a pretty cool number — especially when it’s reached in May.
Gallo (.320/.457/.750) isn’t about to make any two-level jump, but he’s going to make a one-level, one-way trip pretty soon, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it came very close to the 10-year anniversary of Kinsler’s promotion, a 10-year span between one impact prospect arriving in our Frisco backyard and another.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Stuff.
“This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.”
— Maya Angelou
Thank you for that, Joe Saunders and Luis Sardinas.
The last pitcher on a ludicrously stretched roster. The last position player, too, unless you want to count face-fractured 28-year-old rookie Daniel Robertson. Two players that, if not for these almost impossibly extraordinary and trying circumstances, should not be here right now.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
— Maya Angelou
Let’s go, Nick Martinez.
Let’s win (another) damn series.
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
— Maya Angelou
I’m sorry that I implied yesterday that Jorge Alfaro might find himself playing baseball in Rhome, Texas this summer . . . since Frisco is actually 35 miles northeast of Arlington.
I’m sorry for Monday morning’s unnecessary, uncool “Mad Men” spoiler.
And I’m sorry, Bazooka Joe Saunders.
Today, I forgive.
Let’s go, Nick Martinez.
I’d have gotten myself ejected from the game after Mike DiMuro ruled Adrian Beltre didn’t attempt a tag and that Eduardo Nunez’s parabolic path to third base was acceptable, but then again I’d probably have already been tossed out of the game half an inning earlier when my team led the frame off with Alex Rios sliding into third and ended the inning with Rios standing in that same place, though I might have felt like being thrown out six hours before that when I found out my best player caught that nasty, contagious neck stiffness strain.
But that’s one of a thousand reasons I’m not the right man to manage the Texas Rangers, who are 1.5 games back in the Wild Card race and, for a thousand reasons, probably shouldn’t be anywhere close to that.
Hey, last night in Myrtle Beach, Jorge Alfaro doubled and then Jorge Alfaro singled and then Jorge Alfaro singled and then Jorge Alfaro tripled with the bases loaded (with nobody out, and was stranded) and then Jorge Alfaro singled, and no, he’s not going to see Arlington this year (and probably not next), but if you were to suggest he could land 35 miles northwest of that sometime this summer, I won’t strain my neck pushing back on that idea, though I’m confident he’s not going to get to Frisco before his Pelicans teammates Joey Gallo or Chi-Chi Gonzalez — the post-draft Northwest League starts play in about two weeks, around which time you can expect a wave of minor league reassignments system-wide, which in this season of cover-your-eyes transaction reports will be full of baseball-y goodness for a change — but the Alfaro train keeps chugging along, at a different rate and a different path from Gallo’s, more parabolic than meteoric, and that’s OK, because not every prospect Rougned’s his way to the big leagues, not every Joakim Soria save opportunity gets converted, and sometimes, a leadoff triple gets stranded.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Stuff.
“I’m a leader. And a leader is loyal to his team.”
— Bert Cooper (d. 7-20-69)
Not just leaders.
I could dump a whole bunch of numbers this morning, lots of shiny numbers coming out of a series convincingly won in Detroit in spite of reason, but I don’t want to.
I’m not thinking about numbers.
The players matter. They matter a lot.
But not long ago, someone I know who embodies leadership on a level that would elicit a Bert Cooper “Bravo” said to me that while team is bigger than individual, you can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s those players who help make the team that you’d run through a wall for.
Maybe Texas is on its 37th and 38th and 39th players — in May — and is relying on them while a handful of others you’d count on your first couple hands watch from the dugout. “Injuries only really devastate when they pile up,” writes FanGraphs columnist Jeff Sullivan in a Fox Sports piece, “but the top of the Rangers’ pile now is well out of view.”
Yeah, maybe so, but giving up isn’t part of a loyal sports fan’s playbook any more than a leader’s, and walking up to that wall and choosing a slump-shouldered U-turn isn’t, either.
Ultimately, it’s about team.
Don’t quit on this one.
On the off-chance that something really special ends up happening, that the last four days create some form of momentum or indicate some sort of life or have some amount of stamina or whatever you might believe in, it’s going to be a lot more special for you than for those who walked away.
Don’t quit on this team.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, there are four Beltre’s who have ever played in the Major Leagues, and only four:
All four played for the Texas Rangers.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, there are four Esteban’s who have ever played in the Major Leagues, and only four:
All four played for the Texas Rangers.
Esteban Beltre and his Donruss-photoshopped baseball cap are a Texas Rangers wormhole.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Stuff.
From the very top and the very bottom of the Rangers organization, both on Friday:
Don’t feel sorry for us. We’ll be all right.
We need to make adjustments. And I think we’ll get it done.
— Jon Daniels
President, Baseball Operations & General Manager
There are two options:
A) Make progress & move forward.
B) Make excuses & get left behind.
I’m always choosing Plan A.
— Russell Wilson
Minor league second baseman, inactive
It’ll be all right, Yu.
At at least one point during his eight seasons as Texas Rangers manager, Ron Washington somewhat confusingly said this:
“My players did not show character. They revealed it.”
I’m at a loss for the right words today, too.
Sports adversity is always right around the corner, if not staring your team in the face and sometimes kicking its tail, but it’s just sports, which is not to diminish what this is for Matt Harrison and Martin Perez, for whom I can’t imagine what today feels like, as they find themselves cruelly at the bottom of the pile-on, or maybe the top, or whatever.
I don’t know what to say this morning, or even some loose idea of what I’d like to say.
It’s character-reveal time, and in some sense — I’m not sure exactly how right now — I think it’s gonna be all right.