It was a crazy-great day on Wednesday, Rangers-Rays final score notwithstanding, as we gathered mid-afternoon to talk baseball with Don Welke, Will Carroll, Scott Lucas, and Michael Tepid, and then Jon Daniels, in between which we raised $20,000 for Richard Durrett’s family — a record amount for Newberg Report Night even though we had about half the attendance we’ve had the last eight years or so (due in part to (1) the fact that it’s the first time we’ve attempted a weekday due to scheduling roadblocks and (2) a less-than-energizing Rangers season) — and heard from his wife Kelly, a moment I’m not going to forget.
Since Wednesday, the donations to the Durrett fund have kicked up to more than $22,000. You guys rock.
When JD asked one of you to please repeat the question because, apologies, he was sending a quick text, we guessed an hour later, after he’d left for an on-field commitment and the press release had landed that Yu Darvish had joined the disabled list party, that that must have been why. It was a reminder of JD’s stealth factor and of the season’s brutal injury trend, and triggered the thought that we might just see the big league unveiling that night of Alex Claudio’s Bugs Bunny change, which started the season in Myrtle Beach and migrated to Frisco in June and moved up to Round Rock a week ago and was pressed into big league service with Darvish’s deactivation.
We saw it that night, even though we’d all gotten to the stadium five hours before Claudio did — and in fact were in our seats for the first pitch while the 22-year-old Puerto Rican was still chugging up I-35 — and while for some J.P. Arencibia’s 10-pitch ninth was more entertaining than Claudio’s nine-pitch eighth, it wasn’t for me. Claudio is a blast to watch, and even though he’s now pitched three straight nights — four straight if you count his Round Rock inning against Reno on Tuesday (sitting mid-60’s doesn’t put quite the strain on the arm that Nate Adcock’s erratic mid-90’s does, for instance) — he’s going to pitch a whole lot these final six weeks, and likely make himself an odds-on candidate to see a lot of Arlington work in April, too.
Too soon to say the same for Keller’s own, righthander Jon Edwards, whose 1251 minor league plate appearances were enough for the Cardinals to end his career as an outfield prospect in 2011, but whose two innings that summer for the Alpine Cowboys of the independent Pecos League — I’m not exaggerating about (1) the team or (2) the league or (3) the two frames — were enough for Rangers area scout Bobby Crook to pound his fist on the table and get Edwards a look on the mound with Texas. He pitched at four levels in the Rangers system in 2012 (1.80 composite ERA for the Arizona League club, Spokane, Myrtle Beach, and Frisco, with 37 strikeouts in 30 innings but a horrifying 32 walks) and at two levels in 2013 (67 strikeouts and 39 walks in 55.2 Myrtle Beach and Frisco innings) and at two levels in 2014 (62 strikeouts and 32 walks in 49 Frisco and Round Rock innings), and now make that three levels, as last night he got Albert Pujols to pop out, yielded a Josh Hamilton ducksnort to left, walked Howie Kendrick, and froze Erick Aybar on a slider for a called strike three before handing the ball off to Claudio. Edwards sat 94-96 and didn’t really have command of what’s often a true swing-and-miss slider, but we’re going to see more of both here real quick and that’s one part of what makes such an ugly season tolerable down the stretch.
Edwards is the club’s 57th player to appear in 2014, a franchise record already, and two shy of an all-time MLB mark. He’s the 36th pitcher Texas has used, also a club record (true even without counting Mitch Moreland, Chris Gimenez, and Arencibia), and that’s one short of an MLB record. The Rangers are unquestionably going to bust both all-time records, as Derek Holland, Corey Knebel, and Spencer Patton are near-locks to show up before the season ends, and so might the improving Lisalverto Bonilla, the rehabbing Joseph Ortiz, and the 40-man-bound Luke Jackson. Don’t rule out Jerad Eickhoff (also headed for winter rostering) and theoretically left-handed reliever Will Lamb (same), and on the position player side, since Ryan Rua is almost surely going to be added to the 40 in November, it would be far from a surprise to see him getting a steady dose of September work in Arlington, especially the way he’s taken to his AAA promotion (.333/.437/.550 in his last 60 at-bats). Rua played virtually his first pro game in the outfield on June 19. Since then he’s played left field (for Frisco and then Round Rock) nearly half the time. That’s telling.
Darvish’s disabling — which Ron Washington said he believes will last only the minimum 15 days — probably knocks him out of top four consideration for the Cy Young this year (not that he was bearing down on that type of finish anyway), and that’s significant. He’s under contract through 2017, but he can opt out of that final season if he wins the Cy Young before then, or if he finishes second once (which he did last year) plus finishes in the top four two other times. He finished ninth in 2012, and so in order for him to have the right to take free agency after 2016, he needs to either win the award in 2014, 2015, or 2016, or finish second, third, or fourth twice in those three seasons. It’s not going to happen this year, and so now he’ll need to be top four in both 2015 and 2016, or win the award once.
Or to sign a new deal with the Rangers before this one gets to the end of 2016, and that’s my vote.
Oh: Happy 28th Birthday, Yu.
You, too, Justin Grimm (26), which reminds me:
Grimm has been solid in middle relief for the Cubs, posting a 4.22 ERA (though 10-6-1-1-1-11 over the last three weeks). Neil Ramirez (1.21 ERA, 29.2-19-4-4-11-37) has been pretty much nails.
But Mike Olt (.139/.222/.353, with 84 strikeouts in 212 plate appearances, prompting a July option to AAA) has been a disappointment, and C.J. Edwards just returned to action three weeks ago after a three-month layoff due to shoulder discomfort, and he’s logged under 40 innings so far this season — and I believe, since he was already 19 when drafted out of high school, he needs to be rostered this winter, which means his options clock starts in the spring.
So the two players thought to be the key for the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade have had setback seasons in a way, while the two relievers have really paid off so far.
Things change, of course, and I fully expect Edwards to never need a third option, and for Olt to end up as the second or third piece in another significant trade for starting pitching once the infield cavalry on the Cubs farm starts to arrive, but you never know.
Four years after being the second or third piece in the Seattle-Texas Cliff Lee trade, the Mariners designated righthander Blake Beavan for assignment — even though they could have just optioned him instead — and not only did the Rangers, who had Ryan Feierabend and Scott Baker and Jerome Williams and Nate Adcock and Phil Irwin (in AAA) on the roster at the time, opt not to exercise its number one priority position and claim Beavan off waivers, so did the other 28 teams with a chance to put in a claim and take a look at the 25-year-old on his near-minimum-salary commitment, either in the big leagues or on the farm.
Contrast that with Rangers 2011 eighth-rounder Kyle Hendricks, who is now 4-1, 1.73 in six starts for the Cubs, two years after Texas sent him and minor league third baseman Christian Villanueva to Chicago for Ryan Dempster. (Hendricks is the latest in a lengthening line of players raving about Rangers AAA pitching coach Brad Holman and his bag of tricks.)
It’s a good thing when your prospects have value — value that frequently pans out — and now there’s another franchise we can expect to come hard after the Rangers’ prospects this winter. San Diego may be prohibited from bringing employees over from Texas for the next two years, according to most reports, but you can bet A.J. Preller and Jon Daniels are going to discuss players and whether the two teams’ windows and excesses line up in such a way that one GM’s assets make some sense to move for the other’s.
As for the current state of the Rangers system, what started out as a relatively thin year at the upper levels (though loaded further below) has turned into something very different, boosted last month by a couple trades that the Rangers have to be thrilled about.
Jason Frasor — who has never pitched in the playoffs — is dealing for the division-leading Royals (6.1 scoreless innings, one walk, eight strikeouts), but take a look at what Patton is doing at Round Rock (one run on eight hits and one unintentional walk in 10 innings, 16 strikeouts). Win-win, so far.
Joakim Soria, on the other hand, had a 10.38 Detroit ERA (six runs [five earned] on 10 hits and one unintentional walk in 4.1 innings — and the first two home runs he’s allowed all year) before landing on the disabled list a week ago, and the free-falling Tigers can now see Jake Thompson (2-0, 22.9, 19.2-13-5-5-8-26) crushing it with Frisco and Knebel (15 strikeouts in 10 Express frames) fine-tuning some things before following Claudio and Edwards up to 1000 Ballpark Way. Not so much a win-win, at least for now.
The idea of Patton and Knebel, and Roman Mendez and Shawn Tolleson and (thankfully) Tanner Scheppers, and Claudio and Edwards and Ortiz and Aaron Poreda, and maybe Bonilla and Miles Mikolas and Phil Klein and Ben Rowen and Matt West and Wilmer Font, giving the Rangers all kinds of bullpen possibilities in the spring — most with options remaining — to go with Neftali Feliz and what will surely be another veteran or two (Neal Cotts returning? Alexi Ogando if right? Moreland? Tap the brakes on that one . . . ), is pretty encouraging. All kinds of different looks.
And oh man, Keone Kela.
We can talk about him a little later. He’s not going to be in Arlington in September — but only because he doesn’t need to be on the 40-man roster this winter and that’s going to be a big issue in November, as there are more draft-eligible minor leaguers than there will be available roster spots. Putting Kela (or Joey Gallo, for instance) on the roster now would expose one more other prospect to the Rule 5 Draft than necessary, so don’t expect to see those guys up here this season.
But it won’t be long for either of them.
You might see Jorge Alfaro, but maybe just in the dugout and clubhouse and not as an active member of the roster. He’ll be added to the 40 in November, but if he’s brought up in September it may just to see how Robinson Chirinos (whose slugging percentage is higher than Josh Hamilton’s) and Geovany Soto put in their work and to be around his future big league teammates and to sit in on Mike Maddux game plan sessions and so forth, as Alfaro Finishing School marches on.
Alfaro has reached Frisco at age 20, which is his teammate Gallo’s age as well, and they’re joined by Nomar Mazara (Baseball Prospectus’s Chris Mellen: “Mazara oozes talent. . . . Things are going to be big”), who is just 19 and in fact is second in all of minor league baseball in home runs by a teenager this year, with 20.
The player he trails is former Hickory teammate Travis Demeritte, who has gone deep 24 times this year and leads the South Atlantic League in that category.
I haven’t even mentioned Chi Chi Gonzalez or Lewis Brinson or Luis Sardinas or Nick Williams, who has been promoted to Frisco himself, also at age 20, or the poor man’s Ryan Rua, new Myrtle Beach promotion Ryan Cordell, who was playing all three outfield spots and first base when he wasn’t hitting Low A pitching to the tune of .321/.388/.504.
All this minor league talk isn’t what mid-August is supposed to be about, but here we are. I suppose I could write a whole report on Colorado — possessing the same 47-75 record as Texas at the moment with sights on the 1/1 pick in June’s draft — shutting both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez down for season-ending surgery (could the Rangers give Shin-Soo Choo’s ankle some seemingly needed rest, just as they’ve done with Darvish’s elbow?), but what more is there to say about that? Or I could comment on Oakland’s slide (on offense and in final scores) since moving Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, but I’m more interested in the 2015 A’s at this point than about what that club is doing now.
If the season had gone differently, we wouldn’t be seeing Claudio and Edwards and Mendez and Nick Martinez and Jake Smolinski and maybe not even Rougned Odor. Don’t get me wrong — this is not how I wanted 2014 to go — but one of the great things about this Great Game is that it always offers something, even if at the moment it’s occasional glimpses into what might make this team as formidable in 2015 and 2016 as it was the four years leading up to this one. And I’m good with that.