A Happy New Year?

So of the three principals at Baseball America who collaborate on the publication's ranking of the game's top 100 prospects, two (editor-in-chief John Manuel and executive editor Jim Callis) have now said in the last month that they have the Rangers repeating as the number one farm system in baseball, and each has Neftali Feliz, Justin Smoak, and Martin Perez among baseball's top 25 prospects.

But let's shift to something more immediate.

Texas finished second in the West in 2009 for the second straight year, winning 87 games despite 14 losses over its final 21 games. Can 2010 be better?

Is it reasonable to expect a lot more out of Josh Hamilton? He doesn't need to repeat 2008 (.304/.371/.530), even though he hinted at a return to form over his final 32 games in 2009 (.346/.391/.512). It's the 57 games that preceded that stretch (.220/.269/.373) that Hamilton can't give this club in 2010.

Two years ago, new Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle said this:

"One of the best things I was ever told as a young player that I never understood until I was an older player: There's two kinds of people that play this game, those that are humble and those that are about to be. At the age of 18 I laughed, yeah, that's cute. Well, by the age of 38 I was wearing it."

And this:

"Early in my career, I was in a hurry. I've had to learn patience through challenging times. That's been good. It's proved to be an asset, especially in this profession."

Hamilton is Hurdle's most important project. A return to health is obviously important. So is rhythm at the plate. And confidence. Hamilton needs to have all those things come back together. If he can figure out (as he did in August) how to give his teammates a reliable plate presence once again - not necessarily MVP-level production but just a consistent threat in the middle of the order - it will make a huge difference. Imagine what this 87-team club would have done with any consistency from Hamilton last year.

Ian Kinsler's first 35 games in 2009: .318/.380/.622.

His remaining 109 games: .230/.308/.440.

We all know the 27-year-old should be a lot closer to the first guy in 2010 than the second guy. Is there any reason to believe he can't at least be the .319/.375/.517 hitter he was in 2008 again?

We can expect more production from first base in 2010. There won't be a repeat of last year's .226/.272/.411. One way or the other, there just won't.

Rangers catchers hit .234/.286/.379 in 2009. Fair to expect better?

Can Elvis Andrus avoid a sophomore setback, and settle in as the hitter he was in the second half (.280/.342/.395, after a .253/.315/.350 first half)?

Julio Borbon hit .320/.386/.467 in his first 23 big league games, .305/.367/.366 over his remaining 23. Nothing wrong with the second set of numbers. Even if he doesn't replicate either slash line, just having a full year of Borbon atop the order, batting after Andrus and allowing Kinsler to move into a run-producing slot permanently, should help the offense.

A full year of Feliz is an upgrade, no matter how he's used.

Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland went a combined 15-18, 5.19 in 40 starts. I'd bet against those numbers getting worse.

Frankie Francisco and C.J. Wilson had more great stretches in 2009 than the not-so-great runs. Aren't they about what they are? Francisco, for what it's worth, is essentially in a contract year, as he'll be a free agent next winter for the first time. Wilson is a year behind him in service time.

Is it overly optimistic to hope for repeats of the spike years that Scott Feldman (17-8, 4.08), Michael Young (.322/.374/.518), and Darren O'Day (1.94 ERA, .188/.265/.260 slash, 3.18 K/BB) had?

Losing Marlon Byrd isn't a positive. Defensively, Borbon's improvement in center field will be important. As for Byrd's bat (.283/.329/.479, including .282/.336/.538 at home), let's see what the club does about adding another right-handed run producer.

Put it this way: Moving Kevin Millwood for two bullpen candidates couldn't be counted a positive as far as 2010 is concerned.

Until Texas signed Rich Harden two days later.

Give me Darren Oliver over Eddie Guardado.

And give me an impact addition or two in July, which, as long as the team is hanging around in playoff contention, I think we can expect this season more than we could last year.

Another thing we can expect, at least on paper, is that the Angels (having lost John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Oliver, and eventually Vlad Guerrrero, and having added Hideki Matsui and Fernando Rodney) aren't going to be as strong in 2010 as their 97-win team was in 2009.

If the Rangers do repeat atop Baseball America's organizational talent rankings, they'll be just the third franchise to do so in the last 20 years (Atlanta 1994-95, Tampa Bay 2007-08). There are plenty of players in the Texas system who will contribute eventually to winning clubs.

But think about last year's 87-win Rangers club, about the Angels' winter, about having players like Feliz and Borbon and Hunter for a full season, about the odds of getting more out of Hamilton and Kinsler, and about Harden.

And about this July.

Could 2010 be The Year, after all?

To kick our 2010 off, a Newberg Report New Year's Day custom: My top 72 Rangers prospects, as laid out (with detailed commentary on each player) in the 2010 Bound Edition - which was released less than three weeks ago but has already had more copies sold than any of the previous 10 books, thanks to you all:

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP

2. Justin Smoak, 1B

3. Martin Perez, LHP

4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP

5. Wilmer Font, RHP

6. Jurickson Profar, SS

7. Michael Main, RHP

8. Danny Gutierrez, RHP

9. Robbie Ross, LHP

10. Engel Beltre, OF

11. Mitch Moreland, 1B-OF

12. Blake Beavan, RHP

13. Pedro Strop, RHP

14. Kasey Kiker, LHP

15. Michael Kirkman, LHP

16. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP

17. Max Ramirez, C

18. Joe Wieland, RHP

19. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP

20. Tomas Telis, C

21. Tommy Mendonca, 3B

22. Luis Sardinas, SS

23. Omar Poveda, RHP

24. Eric Hurley, RHP

25. Miguel Velazquez, OF

26. Carlos Pimentel, RHP

27. Leury Garcia, SS

28. Mike Bianucci, OF

29. Neil Ramirez, RHP

30. Kennil Gomez, RHP

31. Craig Gentry, OF

32. Zach Phillips, LHP

33. Corey Young, LHP

34. Jake Brigham, RHP

35. Braden Tullis, RHP

36. Richard Bleier, LHP

37. Richard Alvarez, RHP

38. Evan Reed, RHP

39. Alexi Ogando, RHP

40. Miguel De Los Santos, LHP

41. Fabio Castillo, RHP

42. Tim Murphy, LHP

43. Edwin Escobar, LHP

44. Matt Thompson, RHP

45. Marcus Lemon, 2B

46. Chad Tracy, 1B

47. Leonel De Los Santos, C

48. Robbie Erlin, LHP

49. Geuris Grullon, LHP

50. Johnny Whittleman, 3B

51. Greg Golson, OF

52. Jose Felix, C

53. David Paisano, OF

54. Shawn Blackwell, RHP

55. Cristian Santana, OF

56. Carlos Melo, RHP

57. Beau Jones, LHP

58. Tanner Roark, RHP

59. Chad Bell, LHP

60. Randol Rojas, RHP

61. Guillermo Pimentel, OF

62. Yoon-Hee Nam, LHP

63. Joseph Ortiz, LHP

64. Vin DiFazio, C

65. Clark Murphy, 1B

66. Paul Strong, LHP

67. Brennan Garr, RHP

68. David Perez, RHP

69. Jose Monegro, RHP

70. Andrew Doyle, RHP

71. Nick McBride, RHP

72. Ryan Tatusko, RHP

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to you, your family, and your baseball team.

===========================================================

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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter @newbergreport

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title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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