The team has said farewell for another year to Surprise, Arizona, leaving behind 20 wins, only the third time in the franchise's 38 years that it has reached that number: the other two times were the 1995 club (which started the spring with replacement players) and the 1998 club, which turned in a 21-10 camp effort that was followed by an 18-7 opening month and the Rangers' second division title in three years.
The Rangers' penultimate home-half Cactus League inning went like this, as the big leaguers packed up one final time for the spring: Marcus Lemon flies out to left. Johnny Whittleman destroys a pitch over the right field fence (on a full count, naturally). Craig Gentry triples to center. Steve Murphy strikes out. Adam Fox, who had homered two innings earlier, draws a walk. Chad Tracy singles up the middle. Justin Smoak doubles to right. Emerson Frostad strikes out.
All the damage came off of big league veteran Roman Colon. The Royals righthander, whose 14 innings were among the most of any Kansas City reliever, hadn't allowed a home run all spring until Whittleman's blast.
There's plenty to get fired up about when you train your sights on the Rangers' future (these three new Baseball America links ought to help feed your excitement: http://tinyurl.com/djkmad and http://tinyurl.com/czzkxt and http://tinyurl.com/dflcbp), but at the moment I'd suggest setting those thoughts aside and thinking for now about the big league team's home-heavy and contender-light April schedule. And the Angels' rotation. And fewer distractions for Josh Hamilton and a healthy Ian Kinsler and David Murphy.
And a rotation without injury issues, and 10 unbroken fingers on the third baseman's hands. And the way Chris Davis ended camp. And the way the catchers and Nelson Cruz played all spring. And C.J. Wilson.
And Ken Rosenthal's pick for American League Rookie of the Year. And Derek Holland, who may be the best second-half rookie pitcher in the league.
And ribbon panels and new scoreboards and cheaper bottled water. And better defense.
And red-white-and-blue bunting, a capacity crowd, 65 degrees, and a flyover.
And those 20 wins, and what exhibition momentum has meant in the past.
Can't contain myself today. Few more things:
The great Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus shared a bunch of those golden-gold scouts' notes in today's "Future Shock" article, all coming out of Arizona. Snippets:
Another 2008 first-round pick earning glowing reports is Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit .280/.357/.600 over 25 at-bats in big-league camp. "He's just fun to watch — he certainly looks like he belongs in big-league games, and the team doesn't miss a beat with him out there," said one scout, who had even stronger words for the former South Carolina star when the subject of Smoak being blocked by Chris Davis came up. "He's going to be better than Davis," the scout concluded. "He's going to be an All-Star, no question about it."
The scout was also impressed with Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden, who has hit .300/.364/.700 this spring, re-kindling the debate over whether he or Jarrod Saltalamacchia should be the team's everyday option behind the plate. "Teagarden is just an unbelievable defender, and he really shuts the running game down," said the scout. "And I think he's going to hit," he added. "He's narrowed the gap offensively more than Salty, who has gotten better behind the plate defensively. It's a nice problem to have."
Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers: "He's been much more consistent with the glove, and the Rangers don't need much from him offensively. He'll hit .255-.260 with seven home runs and be fine."
[Neftali] Feliz: "Every bit as good as advertised — he was up to 98 mph when I saw him. If I have to find something not to like, sometimes he's a little flat through the zone and he needs to learn how to adjust to getting hit and for now, he just tries to throw harder."
[Derek] Holland: "I saw him all list year and he just looks more and more polished each time I see him. He topped out at 96 mph for me and his breaking ball was much better."
As for that Fox Sports article that I linked to in this morning's report, in which Ken Rosenthal predicts Andrus will be the AL Rookie of the Year (not Price, not Wieters, not Snider), Rosenthal also has this note in his discussion of his AL Cy Young pick, Roy Halladay: "Granted, Halladay might be traded to an NL club at midseason and become this year's CC Sabathia, a Cy Young without a country. But he also could get dealt to a prospect-rich AL contender such as the Red Sox or even the Rangers, keeping his candidacy intact."
What would it take?
Way back on August 21, I wrote this:
I discussed that idea with [Evan] Grant yesterday, and my thought was that the cost — if Toronto were truly willing to explore the idea at all — might look something like Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus, one of the Four Catchers, and someone like Beau Jones, Brandon Boggs, or Omar Poveda. (A year from now, if Halladay is still with the Blue Jays, Justin Smoak enters the equation. For now, would Mitch Moreland interest them as a fourth piece?) The Blue Jays are less in need of left-handed relief than most teams, but maybe C.J. Wilson enters talks as well, though Texas would obviously be selling low on him given his health situation.
I would never offer that package today. First, Holland and Andrus are more valuable today than they were in August, and Halladay - who will be one year older and one year closer to free agency - is less valuable. (Stated another way: Mark Teixeira was a less valuable trade piece for Atlanta last summer than he was for Texas the summer before, even though he was every bit as productive.)
The Blue Jays will insist on Holland or Neftali Feliz, and they will insist on Smoak. Count on that.
I would refuse on the pitchers.
Smoak or Davis. Michael Main or Martin Perez. And Wilson. That's my offer, and it would be a difficult one to make. But it gets you Halladay, one of the game's very few absolute aces, for the remainder of 2009 (a $14.25 million season) and for 2010 ($15.75 million). And then you'd hope to lock him up beyond that, when he'll be 33 and should still have a multi-year deal in him.
There is that 6.14 ERA in 63 Rangers Ballpark innings. And 6.35 in Angel Stadium. His two worst venues.
But he is what they look like.
OK, I've talked myself out of it. Smoak or Davis, plus Wilson, plus Wilfredo Boscan or Kennil Gomez.
But Toronto won't do it.
Enough of that, for now.
One more note for the future, and one for the present:
One of those Baseball America links I sent out this morning had BA ranking the Rangers number one in its 2009 Organizational Talent Rankings. More detail:
1. Texas Rangers
3. Oakland Athletics
24. Seattle Mariners
25. Los Angeles Angels
And this, from Ian Kinsler, courtesy of T.R. Sullivan:
"We're just as good as any other team. Somebody has to win it, why not us? We're very talented, everybody knows it. It's just a matter of us doing it on the field."
Ready for all this to count.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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