“One yard. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about that one yard for the past 17 days.”
Russell Wilson said that in a Players’ Tribune article and video just about 40 days ago.
And every one of us can relate, given what happened on a baseball diamond just about 40 months ago.
That lingering sportsache doesn’t go for every player in the Rangers clubhouse these days — in fact, it applies to fewer than a fifth of them — but based on several written accounts this morning, it was clearly a big part of the things Wilson talked about with his Texas Rangers teammates on his day in camp yesterday.
“We had a great conversation,” Wilson told reporters. “We talked about how you get back to winning and get back to that opportunity where you are there again and the focus that it takes. It comes down to fundamentals, but also team bonding and that ‘I’ve got your back kind of mentality at all costs.’ I think we have that. . . . You learn from winning, but also how to deal with a loss. I think consistency in your perspective shouldn’t change. The idea of having a championship mindset, that shouldn’t leave. . . . When everybody has that championship mindset, you never fear. You never doubt.”
Wilson apparently brought brand new Bose headphones and speakers for every one of his teammates and every member of the Rangers staff, but it’s the other thing he brought, the stuff you can’t put a retail price on, that for me goes into the stack along with Prince Fielder’s handful of opposite-field square-ups and the strikeout barrage Jon Edwards and Keone Kela fired yesterday, the first with the uniformed Wilson in the dugout hanging with young baseball players and the second just after he’d left the stadium, and now I’m tormenting myself obsessing over how much Kela’s temperament on the mound might have made a difference on October 27, 2011. One more . . . .
I’m so ready for ball.
Forget counting sleeps at this point.
One more Sunday.
The Keone Kela backstory is familiar to some and will be soon to many more, but the present tense is the story now, with last night providing the latest chapter, and an exclamation point.
Asked to pitch on back-to-back days (which he did only twice in all of 2014 and never before that in his three-year pro career) and for the third time in four days, the between-the-lines read was clear: The Rangers – who haven’t had anyone else pitch on consecutive days this spring – put yet another box in front of Kela to check, as he’s put himself in line to win a bullpen job that the club certainly didn’t plan for when extending the 21-year-old his first invite to big league camp.
Sunday’s seventh inning against the Mariners:
Groundout to third.
Groundout to second.
The righty (“built like an ox, with a sturdy and tall frame conducive for a power reliever,” according to Baseball Prospectus’s Tucker Blair) sat 95-97 – but got the punchout on a hammer curve.
Monday’s seventh against Cincinnati:
Strikeout swinging (Joey Votto on full-count, 95-mph cheese).
Groundout to short.
After which “Cold Blooded” (maybe I’ll give up on that nickname at some point) handed the ball off to Jeff Banister, with what had to be one of the greatest feelings of the Compton product’s baseball life.
Kela, who became a father at age 21 – which sounds young until you learn his own parents were 15 and 16 when he was born – recently told Star-Telegram writer Jeff Wilson for a Baseball America piece: “There’s a saying, ‘If you’ve got a jersey, you’ve got a chance.’ It’s just about being consistent and handling your business the best you can. The opportunity is there. It’s all about how you perform.”
In the last couple days, the Rangers have optioned (in the case of 40-man roster members) or reassigned (in the case of those not on the 40) several key minor leaguers to the back fields to get more reps, as the players earmarked for the Opening Day roster (or at least battling for those spots) start to get more regular work. Out are Chi Chi Gonzalez, who’s had an eye-opening camp as well, and Joey Gallo, as well as Jorge Alfaro and Tomas Telis and Jared Hoying and Hanser Alberto and Spencer Patton. They’ll all be back, most of them at some point in 2015.
But for now, they’ll work in minor league games, with a possible “just in case” assignment with the big club here and there before camp breaks.
When the Rangers and Cubs tee it up next Monday night in the Futures Game the two organizations have put together, Gallo and Alfaro may get the chance to step in against C.J. Edwards, the wiry righthander who keyed the Rangers’ deal for Matt Garza in 2013 and who will probably arrive in Chicago sometime in 2015.
It won’t happen for Edwards at the start of the season, however, as the Cubs have already optioned the 23-year-old to AAA, just as the Brewers have done with 23-year-old Corey Knebel and the Blue Jays have done with 26-year-old Matt West, both former Rangers relief prospects with late-inning upside.
Kela, instead, may be pitching that day against Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer in a big league exhibition game, with his usage pattern carefully mapped out so he’ll be ready to go in Oakland a week after that, assuming his charge towards a bullpen role continues on the path he’s carved out to date.
Last night’s ballgame provided big moments by Gonzalez and by Ryan Rua that caused me to overtweet, and I felt great about Prince Fielder’s 0-for-3 that produced four outs, because results don’t matter in Surprise and we could all see how that swing and the action off the bat looks completely different from 2014, but the moment as indelible as any may have been Kela’s, in part because of the significance of the plan but more so in the execution of it.
Kela’s still got that jersey, so he still has that chance. And it’s starting to look more and more like “chance” is not the right word to use when talking about the odds that the young man, having earned this opportunity and so far blown its doors off, starts 2015 rocking one of those jerseys that says neither “Frisco” nor “Round Rock” across the front, but instead “Texas.”
A few days ago a friend sent me a link to a BBC article on cricket and rugby, which I nearly deleted as quickly as you’re considering deleting this, but I checked it out, and both the subtitle (“Does sport make us happy?”) and part of the final paragraph struck a chord:
Who wants to go through life insulated from emotion? Sport — the winning, the losing, the hoping, the hating, the tension and the despair and the very occasional ecstatic moment — opens us up to feeling alive.
It’s a subject I sort of wrote about a month ago (“The curse of caring”), and I bring it back up today not because of the stupid “baseball” that was played in San Antonio on Friday and Saturday or yesterday’s hardly indistinguishable Seagering, but because I needed to remind myself that as much as we all want spring training to end — at this point it’s a headache made exponentially worse by running side by side with the impeccable sportsiness of March Madness — the buildup, as long and often excruciating as it is, is a much bigger part of what makes Opening Day such an eagerly anticipated day of awesome than a crate of red, white, and blue bunting, or a barbershop quartet stationed in the concourse.
Yes, we’re all hoping Shin-Soo Choo’s triceps soreness fits in with John Wetteland’s spring training neck strain in whatever year that was, or with Yu Darvish’s stiff neck in camp a year ago, and not with the “not expected to serious” read we all got on Darvish’s precautionary exit after triceps tightness in the first inning three Thursday’s ago. We’ll have to wait out the Choo news, and if you’re just a little nervous, too, hey, I hear ya.
I’m sure a tremendous amount of charitable good was done in San Antonio, and as fans we can all discount Justin Turner reaching out to spoil a two-strike Ross Wolf breaking ball down and away . . . and parking it in the right field seats, but look, these guys are competitors, and I doubt Wolf or Anthony Ranaudo or Anthony Bass is laughing anything off just because they gave up wiffle ball bombs in a joke of a room not even big enough to be described as a bandbox. Those guys are fighting for big league roles (if not employment in some cases), and no pitcher wants to have a new baseball tossed his way as the other guy trots 360 with a stuff-eating grin on his face.
I ran into a former pro ballplayer yesterday, a man who was issued a uniform for all of one spring training, which is one more than 99-point-something percent of us.
He said camp (then in Port Charlotte) was the longest six weeks of his life.
We all embrace the countdown to Pitchers & Catchers, and there is a modicum of greatness in these six or seven weeks, this year including what Keone Kela and Chi Chi Gonzalez have done to accelerate the conversation, what Carlos Peguero and Ross Detwiler and Nick Martinez and Ross Ohlendorf have done with an opportunity, what Alex Claudio and Phil Klein have quietly done to build on 2014, what Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson have done on different stages to generate talk of taking the next step.
And whether Rougned Odor’s .385/.407/.577 slash in a small sample is as adrenalizing as the staredown and words he had with Dodgers righthander Juan Nicasio in an even smaller sample on Saturday.
There’s also plenty of back fields greatness in the video that accompanies this Baseball Prospectus writeup on Nomar Mazara, and you should scroll down and read the Michael De Leon scouting report, too.
When BP’s Jordan Gorosh tweets from the back fields that Rangers outfield prospect “Nick Williams has gotten himself into plus counts, and has a laser-beam double (8.3 time, slowed a bit) and a walk to show for it,” the least exciting part about that sentence is the double, and you know why.
If someone offered up a ticket to the March 30 “Futures Games” pitting Rangers prospects against Cubs prospects a week from tonight Mesa, there’s no way I’d be able to set life aside and get out there, but I’d give it more thought than I would have if someone asked if I wanted to watch a big league exhibition in the Alamodome.
Speaking of night games, the Rangers’ first in Arizona this spring is tonight, with Gonzalez taking the hill against the Reds (TXA 21 and 105.3 FM), and if, as expected, we see Kela for an inning against Cincinnati hitters — and he gets through with the relative ease that he’s shown all month — don’t be surprised if he’s facing Oakland hitters in two weeks.
That’s not to suggest Gonzalez doesn’t have his own shot to head west for Opening Day, but Kela’s basically built a case that his might be a job to lose at this point, and that would probably be the case even if Shawn Tolleson weren’t dealing with minor soreness forearm right now.
There’s a night game in about 11 hours, and that’s going to be worth tuning into because of Gonzalez and Kela and a roster competitor or two in the starting lineup, but also because night baseball is a strong-to-quite-strong reminder that real baseball is getting a lot closer. (And no, I don’t count last Friday night in San Antonio, because that wasn’t even imitation baseball.)
There are storylines involving Cole Hamels and Chris Carter and Mark Trumbo and Jhoulys Chacin and Brad Hand that have a Rangers angle, at least peripherally, but the odds of much happening to move those stories forward locally before camp breaks are probably about the same as Darwin Barney squaring to bunt and putting the ball over the right field fence in the Alamodome.
Yep, the winning and the losing, the hoping and the hating, the tension and the despair and the very occasional ecstatic moment make more than just cricket and rugby fans feel alive, and there’s a lot of the less-good stuff in that list that clouds spring training once we get to late March, but there’s still hope in a whole bunch of directions, and tonight’s there’s night baseball (and 350 feet down the lines), too, and as much as none of it counts, it does still matter, and I’ve gone ahead and set an appointment on my couch.
You can expect all kinds of residual effects when you lose your number one starter before the battle is even joined, repercussions that go beyond asking your sixth starter to take the ball more than 30 times in place of your ace.
With 2014’s disaster now incidental history, and with stacks of good winter reports on the health of so many key players who were unable to finish the season — not the least of which revolved around Yu Darvish’s encouraging off-season in the Metroplex — justifying your chosen level of renewed hope, getting bludgeoned with the news before camp was even half over that Darvish would miss all of 2015 figured to be yet another overwhelming morale-crusher for those who suit up in Rangers blue, not to mention those of us who pay to watch them play.
Not the case, at least as far as the club itself is concerned, and it was the biggest surprise of my week at Rangers camp.
As you’d expect, Jon Daniels set the tone with his public comments in the immediate aftermath of last Saturday’s news, and Jeff Banister’s message was consistent with his career and his attitude — we will pick our brother up and fire off the ball as a team — but it was Darvish’s own attitude that made arguably the biggest statement.
“I’m very optimistic,” Darvish said at his Friday press conference at which it was announced he would have “Tommy John” ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery. “I have no worries whatsoever.”
“I have no negative feelings,” the 28-year-old added. “Nothing positive comes out of that.”
“I’m going to take this time to learn a lot. . . . There is a lot I can do to make myself better. And maybe what I learn I can pass onto other players.”
Darvish offered those things Friday in full uniform, cap to kicks, which I thought got a point across as well, in line with the fact that he was on the field the morning before and morning after, participating in pitchers’ batting practice, even if only manning the pitching machine, or shagging shallow flies — with a glove on his right hand. And he was doing it all with a smile on his face as permanent as those on the faces of the kids spending their Spring Break lining the chain link fence.
Understand that I’m not trying to compare Darvish’s “thinned out” (not torn) UCL to the much more serious life adversity that Josh Hamilton apparently now faces, but when I heard Darvish and Daniels both talk about Darvish’s desire to stay in camp with his teammates until it was time yesterday to fly to Pensacola, to return to Surprise after tomorrow’s surgery to be around them and the Rangers’ medical people as he gets his rehab program underway, and to spend the 2015 season in Arlington — “to be part of the fabric of the team,” as Daniels put it — I couldn’t help but think about the statement the Angels made when they decided they wouldn’t put Hamilton’s name on a locker this spring, because, as Mike Scioscia told Fox Sports columnist Jon Morosi, Hamilton wasn’t going to be around, and “we needed the space.”
Yeah, I’d trade the Rangers’ 95 losses in 2014 for Los Angeles’s 98 wins, but both of those numbers are safely in the past now, and I’m a big believer in energy and attitude and team. Darvish won’t spend any more days on an active roster in 2015 than Hamilton will — and likely a lot fewer — but he’ll have a locker as soon as he’s back in camp Wednesday or Thursday, and you can bet he will all year long.
More than one club official will tell you the vibe in the clubhouse is dramatically better than it was a year ago, for any number of reasons. Maybe that would have been the case even if the manager were Tim Bogar, or Kevin Cash, or Ron Washington. But there’s no question that it’s a Banister strength, and aside from that there’s an obvious drive among veterans like Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to reestablish themselves, which is to say nothing of the fire that guys like Derek Holland and Rougned Odor have to build off strong finishes and take that next step in 2015 — or of the mission Elvis Andrus is on to be Good Elvis again, and even better than that.
Even if you’re not someone who believes positive energy can affect the win column or that a negative atmosphere can drag a team down — I understand the camp that minimizes those things, but I absolutely believe swagger makes a difference — you’d have to admit, I assume, that you want Joey Gallo not only around his coaches but also around Adrian Beltre. Odor around Michael Young. Jorge Alfaro around Pudge Rodriguez. Every possible chance. Less A.J. Pierzynski and Vicente Padilla.
Darvish had just been told by two of the world’s top specialists (Dr. Keith Meister and Dr. David Altchek) that his elbow needed to be operated on — he says he made up his mind to have surgery as soon as he heard it from Dr. Meister — when he took the field for pitchers’ BP, hollered along with his teammates when Lisalverto Bonilla went deep, and had a distance-throwing contest with Martin Perez (Darvish left-handed, Perez with his right).
And he was feeding a pitching machine the morning before flying out to Florida to have his season cut short, on Dr. James Andrews’s operating table, before it began.
A year from now Banister will probably say about Darvish what he’s saying now about Fielder and Choo, which is that reading a player’s body language is 80 percent of the evaluation process when it comes to a player coming back from injury.
Last Monday, in the bottom of the fifth inning of an exhibition game against Oakland, with both teams having already begun making substitutions — the stage of the game being relevant since Fielder knew he was about to come out of the game himself — he stood in with two outs and Hanser Alberto on third. Fielder shot a ground ball back toward the box and pitcher Jesse Chavez got a glove on it, slowing it down enough for Marcus Semien to field the ball and make the throw to first.
Fielder beat it out, keeping the inning from ending and allowing Alberto to score in a basically meaningless moment in an ultimately meaningless spring training game.
Banister promptly sent Josh Morgan out to pinch-run for Fielder, and the reception Fielder got from his teammates as he reentered the dugout matched what was going on in the crowd of 5,500 that had just watched the 275-pounder leg out a two-out infield grounder.
Two days later, Banister challenged his entire team, offering $100 to the first player to take an extra base on a “dirt ball,” that is, a pitch that the catcher failed to handle cleanly.
In the first inning that afternoon, after Fielder singled Leonys Martin in to start the game’s scoring, White Sox starter Carlos Rodon’s first pitch to Ryan Ludwick got away from catcher Rob Brantly, and Fielder advanced, laying claim to the Banister bounty. Two batters after that, Fielder scampered home on a wild pitch.
The next morning, Banister couldn’t have been more happy to report that he was $100 lighter. “What a groundswell that was,” the manager said, “having your veteran power hitter be the first.” He praised Fielder for the execution — heightened awareness, anticipation and recognition, zero hesitation — but it was more than that.
Banister talked about wanting the Rangers’ identity, their culture, their attitude, to be about playing a bold and aggressive style of baseball, to anticipate rather than react. Having Fielder put his stamp on it in that situation — not Odor or Martin or Jake Smolinksi (whom Banister calls a “straight bulldog”) — couldn’t have worked out better, it seems, not just because of the type of player Fielder is but also because of the lost year he’s intent on storming back from.
And in the first-to-third drills the big leaguers ran that same morning, I kid you not: The player running with the most purpose, as if he were a non-roster journeyman or a AA prospect trying to open some eyes, was Choo. It was more than the look of a healthy ankle — he was cutting the bag and digging at 11 a.m. on Back Field No. 1 as if there were a game on the line.
It was awesome.
As was Choo dropping down and carrying out a 10-push-up sentence for pulling his head out on a batting practice swing — even though he hit the ball out of the park, opposite field. You won’t ever see me compare Choo to Young, but it’s a clinic when Choo runs through his BP work.
Five hours after that, Choo rocketed a line drive that beat White Sox center fielder Emilio Bonifacio to the fence, 400 feet away, and seconds later Choo beat Bonifacio’s throw to third base, standing up.
Man, if Fielder and Choo are Fielder and Choo in 2015.
Not only productive hitters in a revitalized lineup, but also a pair of veterans that a couple waves of young players can learn from, along with Sheriff Beltre.
When you have a player like Beltre who can be the heavy when necessary, you can instead be the guy who tells the entire team that they’re prohibited from reporting the next morning to the clubhouse at 5:15 a.m., or 6:00, or 7:30, as Banister did at the end of the day on Saturday, sensing his team “ha[d] gone at it hard” and needed “a little extra recharge”: Nobody was allowed to show up Sunday morning before 8:00.
Just as nobody was allowed to sulk about Darvish. I heard basically the same thing from three different people while I was out there: The team took about 10 minutes to get their anger and frustration out over the diagnosis on their ace’s elbow.
After that: OK. Let’s go.
If you’ve been out in Surprise this month or are headed there shortly, you’ll see it too: The players (and coaches) are moving around with the same buzz and conviction as the 10-year-old Ranger-lidded kids in every direction chasing baseballs and autographs and dreams that deserve to be kept alive as long as possible.
Baseball is hard. You see outfielder Zach Cone (supplemental first round/2011, compensation for the loss of Cliff Lee) leading off third base as the AA squad goes through morning BP around the minor league Eagle’s Nest, with lefthander Kevin Matthews (also supplemental first/2011, also compensation for Lee) doing arm slot drills 50 feet away — while 300 yards to the east Ryan Rua (17th round/2011) and Keone Kela (12th round/2012) compete for big league jobs on Field 1.
You see Kyle Blanks put on a batting practice show and squint your eyes, wondering if this is the year that he stays healthy and explodes.
You hear Banister talk about Jared Hoying “digging it out of the dirt every day” and then scribble down the 30-word definition of that description.
You watch Ryan Cordell get in those shortstop reps you’ve been hearing about, and you latch onto one of those dreams that deserves to be kept alive as long as possible, maybe to be filed one day in the “Zobrist” folder.
You recognize why people are so excited about Chi Chi Gonzalez, and so unconcerned about how fast his track has been.
You understand the reason Tony Romo was in camp was partly to tap into what Banister calls the “dynamic of shared experiences,” for leaders to connect and talk about preparation, and leading, like the Pirates did with Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger and Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby — but also so Romo and Matt Harrison could talk about a shared experience of another kind, that one has come back from and another now attempts to.
You see Romo in camp but not Russell Wilson — a world-class athlete with a world-class work ethic who was a fairly ordinary Class A baseball player — and you don’t see Michael Young, who was between visits to Surprise, and you don’t see Jurickson Profar.
You don’t see Richard Durrett, and that one’s the toughest.
USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale wrote a story a few days ago that Richard would have done a great job with, centered on Fielder’s repaired marriage with Chanel and reunion with his long-estranged father Cecil. “He might look like the same guy from the exterior,” Nightengale writes, “but he can’t remember the last time he’s ever been happier, and everyone in the Rangers clubhouse sees it.”
It may be pretty good timing, along with the arrival of Banister, the health of Choo, the imminence of Gallo and Gonzalez and Alfaro and Kela, the return of Young. Darvish is not going to throw a pitch in 2015, but that was dwelled upon for about 10 minutes.
“Now,” says Nightengale, “after all he’s endured, Fielder is not about to let Darvish’s injury temper his enthusiasm or anyone else’s in the clubhouse.”
On a smaller scale, but not an unimportant one, that sentence about Prince Fielder could also be about a fan base, if we choose to look at it that way.
I took down lots of notes last week on prospects like Alfaro and Kela, on non-roster candidates like Ryan Ludwick and Ross Ohlendorf, on Rule 5 picks Delino DeShields and Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera, and even on new third base coach Tony Beasley, and I had some things I planned to say about Cole Hamels, but this year the lasting impression from camp was different, for whatever reason. There’s time to get to the player notes before the Rangers pack their things up in Arizona and break camp, but for now I came away from what I think was something like my 20th or 25th spring training thinking more about how different the team’s attitude seems, oblivious to the corner that so many in the national media have shoved it into.
I was hit with the news that the Rangers’ ace was likely lost for the year just before heading out to Surprise, but as it turns out it didn’t ruin anyone’s trip to Arizona, and it’s apparent that that includes the players who will compete this year wearing “Texas” across their chests. It’s a baseball setback and a huge one, for the team and for the pitcher, but, as the new manager likes to say, “through every obstacle there is opportunity.”
I suppose you take motivation where you can find it, and while we can’t change the reality of the injury, I’m good knowing that the Rangers will keep a locker for Yu Darvish all year long, and even more so that, given the choice, he expressed to his team the choice to be wherever that locker is as he embarks on the unfamiliar journey of putting the pieces back together.
That’s not going to pack another W or two onto the win-loss, but it’s better than the alternative as this team works on rebuilding its identity, and before you write Texas off because of its projected starting five, take a quick look at the rotation the club took into 2010 and into 2011 — and remember that Martin Perez will be back in a few months, and Matt Harrison just might be, too.
And hey, fan of awful wordplay (or occasional tolerator of same), perhaps we’ve learned this: When you see Yu Darvish throwing left-handed, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re looking at a negative.
Not gonna lie. The first thing I thought of when I heard the Yu Darvish news this morning was this:
And then I was done feeling sorry for myself, or giving license to anyone wearing my team’s uniform to do the same.
Time to continue getting prepared to compete.
And then time to compete.
You still in?
No need to answer that. Those of you who aren’t made that clear when you cashed in by unsubscribing this morning. No sweat. So long. (If you’re done, spend a few seconds watching this before you check out on baseball for the year.)
This is exactly not the time to go trade for Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, though I understand there are both local and national writers suggesting that ought to be the plan. To me, you go after one of those guys (and commit the massive dollars and minor league assets) to top off a rotation already featuring Darvish and Derek Holland — not to repair it. That’s me.
Chi Chi Gonzalez? If he’s ready, you bet.
Honestly, I’ve read almost nothing other than Scott’s news flash and the Rangers’ and Darvish’s own statements today and don’t plan to spend any more time reading about Darvish’s UCL sprain. Tommy John surgery seems pretty inevitable, and that’s awful news for Darvish and his team — Jeff Banister talks about life serving up three bad hops every day, and this one was barreled right in the junk — but I’m not quitting on these guys and have no interest in wasting time sizing up someone else’s white towel.
If Darvish is done for 2015, he’ll most likely be on track to return midway through the 2016 season (Martin Perez’s timetable, a year later), and will be here in 2017 as well, as the ability to make that final season a player option by winning the Cy Young this year or next, or finishing second through fourth two more times, is basically out the window.
But I’m not thinking about 2017, or 2016. I’m thinking about April, and about this team competing, every single at-bat and every single day, and if that’s out the window for you, please unsubscribe.
Because I’ll be wasting your time writing a whole lot about the 2015 Rangers in the meantime.
If spring training statistics weren’t almost 100 percent meaningless, I wouldn’t feel obligated to remind you that, one year ago, Michael Choice torched Cactus League pitching at a .369/.406/.708 clip with a team-leading workload and Rougned Odor hit a punchless .238/.304/.286 in a smaller sample.
So, yeah, Colby Lewis gave up more home runs yesterday before recording an out (three, including Alex Rios’s first one in 10 months) than he yielded all last spring (two), but it simply doesn’t matter.
What does matter a little bit — that is, its meaninglessness registers at something perhaps slightly less than 100 percent — is who gets at-bats and who gets innings. What the players do with those opportunities is important (in the execution more so than the results), but the opportunities themselves, even early in March, can be fairly interesting.
Alex Claudio and Martire Garcia from the left side yesterday, for example — though with the thinness of the southpaw relief corps in camp, those two are going to get plenty of chances to impress.
The thing about this afternoon’s lineup that stands out for me is who is starting in center field.
Now, it should be noted that Ed Lucas and Elliot Johnson are today’s starting double play combination behind Yu Darvish, Ross Wolf is slated to follow Darvish on the mound, Choice is hitting fourth, and the only player to get the start today who also started yesterday is Ryan Rua — and he’s DH’ing today — but when the lineup card shows Jared Hoying as the starting center fielder, with fellow non-roster invite Antoan Richardson slated to replace him at some point, that sort of thing opens my eyes a little bit.
There aren’t many center fielders in big league camp behind Leonys Martin. Delino DeShields Jr. (who must make the Opening Day roster or be offered to the whole league on waivers and then back to the Astros if he clears) comes in as the frontrunner among them to earn a bench spot — and he has a whole month to erase memory of yesterday’s circus moments under the high Surprise skies — but behind him you’ve pretty much got Choice (who had as a rough a 2014 defensively as he did at the plate while in the bigs, and played almost exclusively on the corners even while in AAA), Richardson (a 31-year-old journeyman), and Hoying.
So from one standpoint, seeing that Hoying and Richardson will play today after Martin and DeShields got yesterday’s assignment shouldn’t register as all that big a deal.
But Hoying gets the start.
That means nothing in terms of any depth chart and reveals nothing about how the club feels at the moment about his place in that four-player hierarchy.
What it does mean is, at least for one day, the Rangers want to see Hoying facing pitchers whose numbers aren’t in the 70’s like his, playing defense between a couple big leaguers (Choice and Nate Schierholtz), running the bases against a representative Kansas City defense rather than the Royals’ own non-roster crew. Richardson will get his reps in Thursday against the guys likely headed for Omaha or Springdale.
You can draw conclusions from the fact that Hoying, a former 10th-round pick, is already 25 and has yet to reach the big leagues, but David Murphy, a player whose game Hoying’s occasionally gets compared to, was a first-round pick whose first real Major League opportunity didn’t arrive until he was nearly 26.
You might also point out that Hoying was left off the 40-man roster for a second straight winter and went undrafted again. But guys like DeShields and Odubel Herrera get drafted more often than guys like Hoying, who doesn’t tote a 70 tool that clubs can dream on — even if last year he did become just the fourth Rangers player since 2000 to have a 20/20 season, at any level, following Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Lewis Brinson. Hoying hit .271/.325/.517 for Round Rock in 2014, clubbing 26 homers and leading the Pacific Coast League in extra-base hits (66) and total bases and getting stronger as the year went on, but yeah, that was AAA and Hoying was a bit old for the league.
Still, none of that matters. The present opportunity does, and the fact that Texas wants to see Hoying at the start of a game rather than in the late innings may only be 90 percent meaningless.
And, unlike so much of what happens in the first week of exhibition play, that’s possibly something worth paying a little attention to, if not dumping almost 800 knee-jerk words about, if like me you’re the type who has a periodic tendency to see the makings of a mountain in the occasional molehill.
For all the Juan Gonzalez-ness that Joey Gallo throws down, you read stories about Gallo spending his winters training with Jason Giambi, whose on-base numbers were more formidable than his power, and the picture gathers depth.
You read about Gallo “living in Adrian Beltre’s back pocket” in camp, as Mike Daly described it in a Monday morning MLB Network Radio interview.
About Gallo hanging around fellow lefty bomber Prince Fielder (nearly as much an on-base monster as Giambi was) as eagerly around the cage as he is around Beltre in the field.
About Gallo engaged in regular conversations with Michael Young about absolutely whatever Young wants to get across to the 21-year-old.
You read all those things, and you gain confidence that we’re fortunate not only that Texas engineered the first 10 rounds of its 2012 draft to go far over slot on Gallo with the compensatory pick it gained for the loss of C.J. Wilson, but also to have Gallo in a system where he’s gotten the coaching he has, and now has Beltre and Fielder and Young, along with Giambi, lining his path.
For all the patience that we need to summon up as far as Gallo’s arrival is concerned, there’s comfort in recognizing how much a kid like that can grow during finishing school, just by being around Beltre in the field and Fielder by the cage and Young anywhere at all, not to mention Giambi in the off-season, and I won’t even stretch to point out he took Greg Maddux’s daughter to his senior prom.
I believe part of what made Josh Hamilton so dominant in Texas was, yes, being embraced by an organization willing to take every step it could take to set him up for success, but also the fact that he got the chance to play for Ron Washington, and for all the sadness that clouds their careers today, nobody can deny their good fortune to have crossed paths. That was a fit.
I heard a talk radio discussion last week about how Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea, for instance, have seen their games blossom — or even re-blossom — under Rick Carlisle. We all know what Johnny Narron did for Mike Napoli’s career. What playing with Young meant to Ian Kinsler. Beltre for Elvis Andrus.
If the Rangers’ Fall Instructs experiment with Ryan Cordell at shortstop is really something the organization takes into 2015 — an opportunity created in part with Jurickson Profar down and Luis Sardinas and Odubel Herrera and Chris Bostick gone — you can imagine how important it is that Cordell, in camp well before minor leaguers are expected to report, is getting to watch a rededicated Andrus get his work in.
There have already been reports that Young (“the work really gets fun for me when I get a chance to work with a young kid and help him out with his day and help him out with his career”) has stopped down with Rougned Odor and Michael De Leon in the last few days, and he’s spent time with Cordell as well. That’s awesome.
We’ll never be able to quantify how much any of these guys will have meant to Gallo’s development, or Cordell’s, or what Chi Chi Gonzalez can add to his polish by watching Yu Darvish work, and we don’t yet know whose career Jeff Banister will be indispensable to, but you see Young say, “I’m shocked [Banister] never got an opportunity before . . . he’s very hungry, very passionate . . . brings a lot of things to the table,” and then Phil Klein adds, “He says, ‘Why not us?,’ like people can doubt us, but it doesn’t matter . . . what it comes down to it is you’re there to win the day and get your work in, and let people say what they want to say . . . Oh, my God, I loved it . . . it gives you goose bumps” — well, me, too.
Leonys Martin has exceptional defensive and baserunning tools. Jayce Tingler, whose work with him started months ago, will help them play at an even higher level.
Banister is going to be great for Andrus. I think we all feel that.
Something, according to a whole bunch of local reports, has gotten into Darvish, and it’s all good. Banister has apparently looked his ace in the eye and said he wants him pitching inside more, and wants his starting pitchers as a group to lead this club in communicating better, and Darvish is telling reporters — in English, which is pretty cool — that he’s all in on both counts.
Darvish played for two managers in Japan (Trey Hillman and Masataka Nashida) and now two in the Major Leagues. You can say about dozens of Rangers players that they have the opportunity to take all the positives they learned from Ron Washington and blend in the things that Banister brings to the table — but for Darvish, who had no minor league seasoning stateside and thus has basically learned the MLB game from Wash and Mike Maddux, the idea of integrating Banister’s perspective and expectations into his approach makes you wonder whether it could help the 28-year-old take his elite game to a new level in 2015, as a pitcher and as a leader, the latter of which would give me more confidence that he’ll want to continue paving this path in Texas, in the form of his next contract.
The Rangers, set to face the Royals in the exhibition opener tomorrow, got an intrasquad game in on Sunday, and in it Darvish struck out two in a scoreless inning of work, while Anthony Ranaudo fanned three in his scoreless frame. It was a game that featured the three Ross’s getting work on the mound — Detwiler, Ohlendorf, and Wolf — though not Robbie Jr., who was traded five weeks ago for Ranaudo. Maybe the Rangers do for Ranaudo and the Red Sox do for Ross what Narron did for Napoli and Carlisle has done for Barea.
Actually, look back to Edinson Volquez for Hamilton and what altered paths did for those two in 2008. That’s not to suggest Ranaudo is going to go 17-6, 3.21 in the big leagues this season or that Ross will be that dominant in a bullpen role, but this isn’t Strat-O-Matic or FanDuel, and sometimes new coaches and new roles and new expectations do make a difference.
Ranaudo takes Ross’s number 46, which I mention only because I tend to spotlight a very specific uniform number this day every year, and 46 has a pretty light Rangers history, but today I’m 46, which gives me license to shoehorn, not that it would be unfair for you to suggest every day is Shoehorn Day in this space.
I’m not sure I’d say I feel older this morning, but I have felt older lately, for any number of reasons, and when Minnie Minoso passed away on Sunday, another piece of my youth was lost.
Pretty much all baseball cards were magic to me as a child, but few were magical as this one:
The back of the card described a “lined single to left field” by the man whose flawlessly classic baseball name, even to a wide-eyed eight-year-old, and the tremendously cool, tricked-up White Sox uniform he rocked were only the second- and third-coolest things about that card. Minnie Minoso was 53 years old when he rifled that single to left that I had perfectly imagined in my second-grade mind.
Minoso, who got into three September games in that 1976 season (one of which Bobby Jones appeared in for the Angels), had famously played big league baseball in the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s, and the ’70s, and that was so cool.
When Minoso (who started playing in the Negro Leagues in ’46) turned age 46, he was seven years post-retirement — but five years pre-unretirement.
And nine years pre-unretirement, too. Minoso got into two games for Chicago in 1980.
And then one for the tremendously cool, tricked-up independent St. Paul Saints club in 1993.
And one for the Saints in 2003.
Seven decades of ball. C’mon. Does it get any cooler?
Minnie Minoso is gone, taking with him that little 2.5” x 3.5” piece of my youth, which probably makes me no different from baseball fans from any of three or four generations.
So yeah, feeling a bit older.
But just about every time I sit down to write, I end up feeling a bit younger by time I finish and click “Send.” I think the word “inspiration” means breathing life into something, and I don’t take for granted that you guys give me the chance to write things I want about baseball. I appreciate that a lot.
I appreciate the opportunity to stay close to this great game, any way I can.
I started doing this when Juan Gonzalez was having his career year and Michael Young was playing his first full season of minor league baseball, and I’m still doing it as Young’s post-playing path brings him back to the Texas Rangers, where he’s already impacting the paths Joey Gallo and Michael De Leon find themselves on.
And as the Rangers make preparations for an international J2 class that will be full of kids born after I first started emailing these reports out.
So, yeah, clicking “Send” doesn’t always make me feel younger.
Does the new manager’s tone-setting “Why not us?” message at his first team meeting, talking about the taste of blood from getting punched in 2014’s mouth, slamming the door, and moving forward, promise a few extra in the W column this year?
Will Jeff Banister’s belief in shorter, more efficient spring training workouts, getting focused work in, eliminating the mundane, and getting the players off their feet and back into the clubhouse to team-build, help Matt Harrison and Martin Perez get back on the mound sooner?
Does the fact (OK, the likelihood) that Joey Gallo will be wearing some really cool, weathered combination of Scorched Red, Slate Blue, Texas Navy, and Cream on April 9, in front of a hi-def video board five times larger than its predecessor, mean Gallo’s incubation in Frisco will be even shorter and his debut in Arlington will come sooner? Same answer if you throw in a State Fair-inspired area down the third base line at Dr Pepper Ballpark that will include a revolving series of local food trucks?
Does Michael Young’s presence in Surprise boost the odds on that re-breakout year from Elvis Andrus?
When Young’s day in camp lasts five and a half hours longer than his former teammates’ day and just might have involved some time around Ryan Cordell, the possible significance of which I’ll write about another time, are you feeling better about baseball?
Do the players’ #Nevereverquit T-shirts mean Prince Fielder will refind that backspin that no defensive overshift can do anything about?
Which moved the Bovada needle more: Baseball Prospectus’s evaluation that Chi Chi Gonzalez’s “realistic ceiling” is “James Shields with slightly fewer innings” and his “realistic floor” is “[t]he good version of Mike Leake,” or the impression Juan Carlos Oviedo made on Rangers coaches before the full squad had reported?
Does the apparent fact that one of Gallo’s backfield BP bombs reaching the parking lot across North Bullard led Bobby Jones to use the word “freakin’” for the first and last time in his storied baseball life mean 2015 is going to be very different?
When Adrian Beltre agrees essentially to flip his 2015 and 2016 salaries, giving Texas an added $2 million of payroll relief this season, does it increase the chances of 162+ by making it more feasible to add a veteran lefthander to the bullpen now or to work with more ammunition in July?
Is Banister’s lengthy talk with Nick Williams something his predecessor would have fit in, and if not are you feeling better about April 6-9 in Oakland?
The answers to each of the above are probably somewhere between “not necessarily,” “uh, no,” and “how do I unsubscribe?” But I’ve spent the last few minutes watching the national news roll out stories on llamas, the color of some dress, and Vanilla Ice, and I’m probably a little disoriented as a result. I need baseball.
I know this: Every single thing above is awesome. Even Bobby Jones cleaning up his vocabulary.
I also know this: Sometimes progress can be measured in wins. Sometimes in days spent on the field rather than DL. Sometimes in better uniforms and LED boards.
And sometimes progress is nothing more than inching one day closer to ball.
I read words about Joey Gallo a couple days ago, describing the sound every six seconds of ball-off-bat under the rolling batting cage. I saw no video. I heard no audio. I just read words.
It got me off my feet.
I’ve seen Gallo BP’s before, both on the back fields in Surprise and in Dr Pepper Stadium in Frisco, not to mention on TV from last summer’s Futures Game. It’s not as if the accounts this week of what Gallo does to baseballs in his wheelhouse are any sort of revelation. But, like Josh Hamilton BP’s back in the day, and Travis Hafner BP’s, and Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock and Shawn Gallagher and Jason Botts, that sound — that sound — never gets old.
Just as we understand the meaning of sounds like that one, most of us probably have just as clear an understanding why it wouldn’t move the needle for those around us who don’t care so much about sports.
The call on Dez’s catch still hurts, and its memory will gnaw and stab will for a lot longer than Justin Abdelkader’s cross-check on Kari Lehtonen, but last night’s Stars finish was a crusher — though maybe if James Harden were in goal for Dallas, wincing and shrieking and flinging his arms into the air the night before the Academy Awards, overtime might not have been necessary.
And maybe it would be a lot easier if I didn’t care.
Maybe the rifle-report reverberating off Joey’s bat at regular six-second intervals shouldn’t continue reverberating, happily, in my head, especially when it’s just words about a sound, a clockwork sound on a chainlink-aproned practice field with a scoreboard that’s almost never turned on, a sound that has no special meaning other than the time on the calendar when it first finds us each year.
Maybe (unquestionably) if I hadn’t experienced Josh Hamilton’s spectacular rise in Texas from everything that preceded it, the equally spectacular fall since then wouldn’t reverberate so loudly and violently against the same sports nerve. And maybe if I weren’t a Rangers or Angels or baseball fan, Josh Hamilton wouldn’t be anywhere near my radar, and all this would be simpler.
(And if I ever doubted, even momentarily, whether the end to Hamilton’s Texas career would end up overshadowing for me what came before it, I don’t today. For all the mess his career finds itself in now — at the moment the husband of the newest Real Housewife of Orange County is baseball’s highest-paid position player in 2015 . . . and will be in 2016 . . . and will be in 2017 . . . with a full no-trade clause — I find myself today feeling a little sympathy for the guy. I’m shocked at the Angels’ decision not to issue a locker this spring to Hamilton, who is expected to be sidelined through camp as he rehabs from early-February shoulder surgery. That’s a brutal, embarrassing message for the franchise that offered that contract to that player to send to everyone else it pays, and to everyone who pays to watch them play baseball.)
Joey Gallo is never going to be associated with Red Bull overload or smokeless tobacco withdrawals or ocular keratitis or blue-eyedness (Gallo’s eyes are brown). He’s never going to say, “It’s gonna be something weird.” He’s never going to drop a pop-up in center field unless it’s in Fall Instructs. I’m never going to have to write about him: “He made $28.2 million in five years here. He’ll make $125 million in five years there. I’m not going to say those numbers will end up looking backwards in terms of the production he provides, but I’m sorta confident about which team will have gotten the better deal.”
And the Texas Rangers will never passive-aggressively open camp without putting a locker up for Gallo, or for any of its players, no matter the reason.
Hamilton wasn’t included on the list of baseball’s 30 best position players according to MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden and Casey Stern, but one thing he has in common with 10 of them is that he was traded while still a prospect, and Robinson Cano should have made that total 11. Maybe Gallo will be traded before he’s an established big leaguer.
But I seriously doubt it, because the Dodgers aren’t trading Clayton Kershaw.
(Which reminds me, for the portion of you who didn’t email me this week complaining that Texas didn’t trade Jurickson Profar for Giancarlo Stanton back when Profar was healthy and when Giancarlo was “Mike”: The answer is that the Marlins never offered to do that.)
That special sound of ball-off-left-handed-bat notwithstanding, Joey Gallo is not Josh Hamilton. He’s no more 2008-2012 Josh Hamilton than he is 1999-2007 Josh Hamilton or today’s version. Though none of would be surprised to see Gallo own a big league Home Run Derby one day or grace the cover of Sports Illustrated (assuming SI still puts photos on its covers), I give no more thought to whether Gallo could one day reach Hamilton peaks or Hamilton valleys than to whether Jamie Benn or Lindy Ruff could get fined as much for their (well taken) postgame comments as James Harden did for his flop against Blake Griffin in 2013.
And I give no moment’s concern to where Gallo might fit in Texas, given the outstanding speculation today that the Rangers, unsurprisingly, are determined to have Adrian Beltre finish his career as a Ranger and could go ahead and pick up his 2016 option for $16 million now, rather than wait to see if he racks up the 586 plate appearances this season needed to lock that club option in. Gallo is an athlete, and will fit just fine at any of the four corners, and where he starts his career defensively won’t necessarily be where he spends most of it. When the bat is ready, Gallo will be given a locker in Arlington.
No, Gallo isn’t going to head to Oakland the first weekend in April, but I’ve got no hesitation believing that the next Rangers team to win at the level at which the Hamilton Rangers won will feature both Beltre and Gallo in key roles.
Hey, I’ll haul off and drop a thousand meaningless words on you with no more motivation than a sentence or two about how batting practice sounds. Maybe it’s because it’s in the 30’s and threatening sleet here, and in the 60’s and threatening monotony there. Maybe it’s the cautiously optimistic news on Matt Harrison and on Kyle Blanks, or Mike Maddux telling reporters, about Keone Kela: “He throws freakin’ gas. The ball comes out hot, real hot.” Maybe it’s because I needed to create a distraction after last night’s hockey game.
If I didn’t care at all about Blanks’s chances to help or Kela’s future at the back of this team’s bullpen, if I hadn’t been holding out flagging hope that this Stars team could battle its way into the eighth spot as the cavalry comes back off Injured Reserved, if none of this mattered all that much to me, it would make me no different from most of the people I know.
But that’s not a me I want to be, because I’d rather care too much. Sign me up for the brutal calls and the injury angst and the not-so-great expectations, and the chance to care about a team that battles and claws and competes to overcome all those things, and I’m right in my wheelhouse, waiting on another cookie out and over the plate, once every six seconds.
The Rangers have suited both Sandy Alomar Sr. and Sandy Alomar Jr. up.
Same with Mike Bacsik Sr. and Mike Bacsik Jr.
And Ruben Sierra Sr. and Ruben Sierra Jr., though the latter only on the farm.
There were Kevin Brown and the Kevin “The Catcher” Brown.
And Doug Davis and Doug “The Catcher” Davis, the latter of whom played one game as a Texas Ranger, singling to the shortstop hole in his lone plate appearance, which sounds vaguely reminiscent of an event that happened for another catcher nine months earlier, to the day.
Dan Smith, lefty, and Dan Smith, righty.
The Rangers are bringing righthander David Martinez to camp this week, and were one of four clubs to get big league at-bats from Dave Martinez in 2000.
One Luis Ortiz came over in the Jose Canseco trade to Boston (and got his burgeoning coaching career started here), the other is one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects today.
Maybe one day there will be a second Mike Stanton in Texas. My petition is in.
Once upon a time there were two Rangers righthanders named Julio Santana. Probably.
But the Rangers have created a new category by signing, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, the 17-year-old brother of second baseman Rougned Odor to a minor league contract.
The younger brother’s name:
Though a great many are already in Surprise getting work in, Rangers pitchers and catchers officially report tomorrow.
Eventually, it appears, so will the infielding Rougned Odor’s.
And that’s this afternoon’s installment of Today in Awesome.