The amateur draft starts in two days, and before we even get to Day Three on Wednesday, there will be grades out there, as there are in every sport, from reliable judges of talent who write about these things for a living. But evaluating a draft takes years to do, no more evident in the Rangers' case than by taking a look back at 2007.
In Jon Daniels's first season on the job in 2006, he traded for Carlos Lee and got huge breakthrough free agent years out of Gary Matthews Jr. and Mark DeRosa, setting things up for an impact draft in 2007, which coincided with the internal decision that spring to tear things down by trading Mark Teixeira (and Eric Gagne, Kenny Lofton, and Ron Mahay) and to step things up internationally, as the club would spend enough that July to sign Martin Perez and others, after its 2006 crop had included Wilmer Font, Geuris Grullon, Wilfredo Boscan, Carlos Pimentel, Kennil Gomez, and Leonel De Los Santos.
The Rangers were compensated with extra 2007 draft picks for the winter loss to free agency of Lee, Matthews, and DeRosa, picks that were used on Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, and Tommy Hunter.
Beavan and Main would later be traded in July 2010 deals for the two players who hugged it out between the mound and the plate in Tampa Bay on October 12 - Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina - as Texas won its first playoff series in franchise history.
Fellow 2007 picks Josh Lueke, Evan Reed, Matt Lawson, and Ryan Tatusko were moved in the Lee trade and deals for Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman. Mitch Moreland, chosen in the 17th round in 2007, was part of the reason Texas relented in parting with Justin Smoak in the Lee deal, and Hunter and Borbon contributed to the Rangers' pennant-winning club as well. Seventh-rounder Tim Smith was traded to Kansas City in a deal for righthander Danny Gutierrez, a higher-risk, higher-reward prospect that didn't pan out.
It was a phenomenal draft crop, and that's without five or six key players who were selected but didn't sign, including two now thought to be among the top pitching prospects in the game, lefthander Drew Pomeranz (Cleveland) and righthander Anthony Ranaudo (Boston).
The thing is, I could have written all of that last year (in fact, I did), and now there are two more reasons to polish the 2007 draft list up and put it in a frame.
The fourth of the club's five first-rounders, Ramirez, is in the midst of a huge breakout season for AAA Round Rock (despite starting the year with High A Myrtle Beach) and is now probably a top five prospect in the system, a lock to be added to the 40-man roster this November - that is, if he doesn't reach the big leagues first.
And second-rounder Matt West, a third baseman on the verge of washing out as a pro because he never hit, was converted to the mound in the off-season and is suddenly a legitimate prospect, dialing up fastball readings in the upper-90s at extended spring training.
I'm not among the camp who believes that the Rangers' decision to activate and option Borbon yesterday is a declaration that the organization has given up on him. Endy Chavez is 13 for 25 with two doubles, a triple, two homers, one walk, one sacrifice bunt, six RBI, and seven runs since he last struck out, has played solid defense in center field, and can't be removed from the active roster without being exposed to waivers. This torrid run he's on can't last, but you simply can't dump him right now while he's this locked in.
Craig Gentry, like Borbon, can be optioned (in fact, both will have an option next year as well, Borbon because the five-year rule will give him a fourth option [and next year's would only be his third if he stays on the farm for fewer than 20 days this year]). But Gentry hits right-handed, making him a better fit in terms of ensuring that Chavez isn't asked to play seven days a week (both a concession to his surgically repaired knee and an effort to make sure he doesn't get overexposed). And Gentry is a better defender and at least as much of a weapon on the bases as Borbon, both of which make him a solid role player even if he hasn't shown as much with the bat as Borbon has. Plus, Texas wouldn't want Borbon to come up just to be a bench asset. He needs to play.
Borbon was playing his best baseball in two seasons when he injured his hamstring last month. The Chavez development is the sole reason he's on option right now. A Chavez-Gentry tandem makes for a more versatile bench than Chavez-Borbon would, and going with Borbon and Gentry would mean the end of Chavez's time with this organization, which wouldn't have made any sense right now, not the way he's helped ignite this offense and the way the team is playing with him in the mix.
It's not really the same, but shares a little with the argument against the Mavericks trying to bring Caron Butler back for the Finals. Sometimes you just don't want to mess with what's working, no matter where track records and long-term evaluations might point.
If and when Chavez cools off (he's hitting .541/.575/.865 in 41 plate appearances since an 0 for 9 start, with as many walks [three] as Borbon has in 98 plate appearances), and that will happen at some point, Borbon could be right back here (he'll need to stay on the farm for at least 10 days unless he's summoned to replace an injured player).
Or he could be traded to boost a playoff run, just as so many of his fellow 2007 draftees were last summer. If the loss of Borbon weakens the Rangers' center field situation for 2011 (and there's certainly an argument that it wouldn't, at least at the moment) but helps Texas strengthen a bigger trouble spot (likely the bullpen), it might be akin - on a much, much different scale - to being comfortable moving Smoak for Lee because Moreland was getting close. Leonys Martin is going to be a center field factor in 2012, if not late this year, and theoretically that should make Borbon more expendable than he was a few months ago.
That's the result that makes the most sense to me, assuming of course that the right deal is out there. You're not getting Mike Adams or Tyler Clippard for Julio Borbon. But if Borbon interests a team selling relievers enough that he can be a key part of that sort of trade, it wouldn't be an indictment on his value as a young player any more than trading Smoak was.
Borbon can still be a legitimate part of a winning club here in Texas (there's nothing in Chavez's game that Borbon isn't capable of providing, if it all comes together), or maybe a part of a trade that makes the Rangers better in another manner. Either way, it will boost the impact of the 2007 draft even further.
And something similar could happen with the 2008 crop, which so far has sent a first-rounder (Smoak) and a 43rd-rounder (Cody Eppley) to Arlington and has four pitchers at Myrtle Beach (Joe Wieland, Robbie Ross, Matt Thompson, and Trevor Hurley) whose early work this season could conceivably facilitate mid-season trades just as Beavan and Lueke and Main and others did last summer.
Or they could keep marching toward Texas.
And another thing: While Lee is gone and Smoak is coming into his own with the Mariners, nobody in Texas would ever undo that trade (Beavan has struggled in AAA, Lueke has been optioned after starting the season in Seattle, and Lawson was traded to Cleveland for lefty reliever Aaron Laffey), a deal that unquestionably helped make a playoff club a World Series team, plus the Rangers have the 33rd pick and 37th pick in Monday's draft as compensation for Lee's departure. I'm not suggesting you'd trade Smoak, Lueke, Beavan, and Lawson for those two draft picks, but you got four historically important months out of Lee, and you never know what those two picks in the 30's, in what's being advertised as a very deep first round, could turn out to be.
That's an assessment that will begin to be made Monday night, but will probably take several years to fully and fairly evaluate.