On January 5, 2011, Texas signed free agent Adrian Beltre, a step-out move much bigger than most anticipated the club making.
A year later, the Rangers got together with the Rockies on a move much smaller than anyone, a few years ago, would have believed.
We talked last week about the Rangers’ disappointment in Round One of the 2006 draft, when Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer were on their board but were taken with the two picks immediately before their turn came up and they selected Kasey Kiker at pick number 12. Later in the round Ian Kennedy and Daniel Bard were drafted, but the greater regret that year was that neither Lincecum (the player that Baseball America mocked going to the Rangers) nor Scherzer got to them and they were left to take Kiker, who they liked, just not as much. Kiker was released last month.
But the painful hindsight on that draft isn’t anywhere near the level that the Rockies are left with. Yesterday they unceremoniously traded their 2006 first-rounder, righthander Greg Reynolds, to Texas for 2006 third-rounder Chad Tracy, in a deal involving two 26-year-olds born a day apart and going nowhere with their original organizations.
In 2005, Colorado lost 95 games, matching its inaugural 1993 season for the worst record in franchise history. The reward was the second pick in the 2006 draft.
In Jim Callis’s final BA mock draft that year, hours before the first pick, he wrote this about the Rockies’ expected plan at Number Two overall: “Rather than make [Evan] Longoria the fourth straight infielder they would have selected with a top-10 choice, they [have become] enamored with Stanford righthander Greg Reynolds.”
Kansas City took righthander Luke Hochevar first. Colorado then took Reynolds. Longoria went third, Brandon Morrow went fifth, Clayton Kershaw went seventh, and Lincecum and Scherzer went 10th and 11th.
It was a terrible draft for the Rockies, who have eight hitless at-bats (catcher Michael McKenry) and 94 disappointing innings (Reynolds) to show for their entire 50-pick crop.
Texas got nothing out of Kiker but did manage to find Chris Davis (5th round), Craig Gentry (10th), Derek Holland (25th), and Danny Ray Herrera (45th), plus Jake Brigham (6th), who was just added to the roster in November.
Colorado finished that 2006 season with the second-best farm system in baseball according to BA. Texas was 28th.
The Rockies fell to 7th the next year, and 20th the year after that. Meanwhile, Texas moved up to 4th, and then 1st. Drafting had a lot to do with the directions both teams were headed, and find themselves now.
While Kiker never got close to Texas, Tracy put himself on the fringes of the map, even though his defensive profile was watered down over the years. Drafted as a catcher and stationed there in his first season, he was primarily a left fielder in 2007, and mostly a first baseman since, with lots of DH duties mixed in the last two seasons.
It’s been the bat that has kept him in play, with consistent .800-range OPS production and decent power from the right side. He set a Frisco franchise record with 107 RBI in 2009 and a Round Rock franchise mark with 109 RBI last year – not all that useful predictively but an indication that he’s shown a knack for getting runs home.
Still, when the Rangers were widely known to be searching for a right-handed bat off the bench for playoff roster consideration last summer, Tracy was never summoned for so much as an audition. He was left unprotected for the 2009, 2010, and 2011 Rule 5 Drafts, and not chosen. It always felt like a safe bet that he would eventually be moved to Colorado (as long as his father Jim remains the manager), if not by trade then maybe a year from now when he’ll have minor league free agency rights.
Reynolds appeared early on to be fulfilling the expectations tied to his $3.25 million signing bonus, at the time the highest ever handed out by the Rockies. Assigned after signing to High A Modesto (a couple hours east of his alma mater Stanford), he was effective (2-1, 3.33) over 11 starts in the hitter-friendly Cal League.
The big righthander (who had several offers to play quarterback at Division I-A colleges) then went 4-1, 1.42 in eight starts for AA Tulsa in 2007, limiting Texas Leaguers to a .180 batting average, but he
succumbed to surgery in August for rotator cuff inflammation. Had his season not been cut short, reports are that he would have been summoned to Colorado for the stretch drive in what was the Rockies’ lone World Series season.
Reynolds was assigned to AAA Colorado Springs out of camp in 2008, and after a run of four effective starts (1.89 ERA over 19 innings) he was a big leaguer in mid-May. But his 11 Rockies starts didn’t go so well (2-6, 6.71), and he was back in AAA before coming back to Colorado in September for three appearances (13 runs in 4.1 innings).
Shoulder and elbow problems limited Reynolds in 2009 and 2010, and in 2011 he bounced back and forth between AAA (6-7, 6.81) and Colorado (3-0, 6.19), recalled five different times during the season. The Rockies ran him through waivers in October and he went unclaimed. Colorado outrighted him to AAA (on the day that Texas eliminated the Rays in the ALDS), and three months later he was quietly shipped to Texas for Tracy.
Reynolds is a guy who came out of college with the ideal pitcher’s frame, a clean delivery, an ability to locate his sinker-curve-change mix, and big-game pedigree, all of which added up to a war room decision to pass on Longoria because the Rockies had third baseman Garrett Atkins in place and had taken infielders Ian Stewart, Chris Nelson, and Troy Tulowitzki atop the previous three drafts (and because they didn’t believe Longoria would transition well to second base, as some felt he could).
If they were committed to a college pitcher, the Rockies could have stayed in California and taken Morrow or moved up the coast to select Lincecum or into the Midwest and chosen Scherzer. They could have gone the high school route for Kershaw, or ignored their organizational depth charts and taken Longoria, who was Tulowitzki’s college teammate and the player they acknowledged was the top talent on their board.
But they took Reynolds instead, and injuries and a perpetual inability to miss bats have limited his career. Texas is taking a shot here on a player that it doesn’t need to commit a 40-man roster spot to (which, more so than the playoff run, explains why the Rangers didn’t put in a claim when he hit the waiver wire in October). All the club had to invest in this no-risk roll of the dice was the agreement to move its own stalled prospect, days after we might have seen this coming when the Rangers not only re-signed AAA first baseman Brad Nelson but also purchased AAA first baseman Brandon Snyder from the Orioles.
Longoria, Kershaw, and Lincecum are on lists as short as you want to make them of the best in baseball at their positions. Colorado chose Reynolds instead of each of them, paid him more than any of them were paid to sign, and had a 7.47 ERA over 94 big league innings, a hole at third base, and the son of their manager to show for it.
The door isn’t shut on Reynolds’s career – or Tracy’s or Kiker’s, for that matter – but yesterday’s back-page transaction illustrates how difficult scouting and player development is, how risky pitchers’ arms are, and, whether Reynolds ever does anything in Texas or not, how fortunate baseball fans are when their teams are not only relentless but also very good at finding young baseball players and turning lots of them into big league commodities, even when some portion of them inevitably fall victim to the cruel attritions of the game.