The most interesting thing I heard Jon Daniels and Ron Washington say at yesterday's season-ending press conference may not have been the most important, or the most provocative, but it was the kind of remark that I thought was worth talking about, not only because of what was stated but also because of what it reveals.
Washington, regarding his young players: "Entitlements are over. We expect everybody to be major league ballplayers and do what it takes to be successful as major league players."
Daniels: "They're going to have to produce and get rolling."
First, and most obvious, is the connotation that while 2007 was the first year for a first-time big league manager and a lot of first-year ballplayers, not to mention an arguably new way of playing baseball, 2008 will no longer be about acclimation. It will be about capitalizing on opportunity, or losing it.
Second, implicitly, it's a statement that this organization has not only put in place a greater commitment to finding pieces that fit a model of long-term stability (as opposed to an effort to catch bottled lightning), but that it also has the makings of the kind of system depth, for the first time in many years, to enable that sort of commitment and allow it to pay off. Gone, it sounds like, are the days that a fringe prospect will be going head to head in camp with a Greg Colbrunn or Dan Miceli, a Doug Glanville or Steve Woodard, to fill a position that everyone knows will belong to someone else a year later, if not sooner.
Even the prospects that this club has developed into big leaguers or targeted in trades are not going to be handed anything any longer. There are more like them, some nearly ready and others a year away or two. And the front office is going to continue to be aggressive looking for more. The added prospect depth also means a better chance to make trades for veterans who can be long-term fits, and while Daniels says that the Rangers are going to get away from signing mediocre free agents who will block the club's better prospects, and that he's committed to solving roster deficiencies internally, he won't shy away from aggressively pursuing young, established players who can be brought in to add to the core going forward.
Daniels did add that that he won't rule out bringing in a veteran on an opportunistic one-year deal if it's a player the club feels can come in and not only contribute but also help our younger players grow. (Last year's example: Eric Gagné.)
The current roster will not look like the one that Texas takes to Surprise in February, particularly the position players. But the message I got yesterday was that the young players among the 25 who break camp in March may not automatically get a month or two to prove themselves.
We all want this team to be competitive, year in and year out. A good way to get on that path is to make sure the internal battle for roster spots is more competitive than it has been, and it feels like that's what we're going to get from this point forward, because of the organizational gauntlet being thrown down and because of the healthiest this system has been, in terms of depth of young talent on the way, in a long time.
Jason Botts hit .280 in September and reached base at a .372 clip. Not surprising, if you know his history of struggling in his first month or so at a new level before settling in. But he also slugged only .373 in the final month, and that's going to need to be better if he's going to claim the club's DH spot in 2008 (when he'll be out of options). His selectivity is something the lineup could use more of, but there's a fine line between effectively working pitch counts and regularly digging yourself into two-strike counts.
I have faith in Botts taking that next step.
David Murphy finished with 105 Rangers at-bats, giving him 127 career at-bats in parts of two big league seasons. Another three at-bats and he would have exhausted his rookie eligibility, but instead he goes into the 2008 eligible to figure in as far as the Rookie of the Year race is concerned.
Kevin Millwood's 172.2 innings mean he'll need to average 180 innings over the next two seasons or pitch 180 innings in 2009 in order for his $12 million salary in 2010 to become guaranteed.
Marlon Byrd drove in 102 runs this year between Oklahoma and Texas.
Center field is getting all the attention as the big story of the winter, and there's no doubt that it's a big one. But I'm nearly as interested in what Daniels does with Gerald Laird.
Akinori Otsuka will begin a throwing program in Arizona at the end of this month.
Chris Davis was ranked by California League managers and club scouts as the number nine prospect in that league, according to a Baseball America survey. Taylor Teagarden was ranked 13th. Elvis Andrus wasn't considered because he joined the league too late in the season but would have ranked somewhere between ninth and 15th.
Shortstop Joaquin Arias, still not healthy, won't go to the Arizona Fall League after all.
Carlos Pena (.282/.411/.627, 46 home runs, 121 RBI) is the American League Comeback Player of the Year.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell (.281/.363/.533 with 27 home runs between Low A and High A, plus a September look with the Nationals) was named Washington's minor league player of the year.
Gagné made Boston's division series roster. Gary Matthews Jr. and Adam Eaton were left off of the Angels' and Phillies' rosters.
Texas will make the 11th pick in next June's amateur draft.
Another thing that Ron Washington said yesterday is that the club will make sure that its minor league players are being taught at every level to play the game the same way that they will be expected to play it in Arlington -- and that means moving runners, bunting, running the bases well -- so that they don't need to be taught those things, on the job, once they reach the big leagues.
That of course goes back to the remarks at yesterday's press conference that the "entitlements are over," and that young players are "going to have to produce and get rolling." The indoctrination of the entire system on the new way of playing Rangers baseball began in 2007 and will continue in full force in 2008.
I'm about to get a chance to see some of that first-hand. My next report will come to you from Surprise, Arizona, where I'm going to see a lot of the Rangers' youngest prospects in person for the first time. Most of them will be two years away, if not more, from being in the picture to help the big club, but some of them will help sooner than that.
Stated another way, in this year's fall instructional league group there will probably also be a Travis Hafner or Aaron Harang or Edwin Encarnacion who will eventually star for someone else. But there will likely also be a couple Corey Lee's, Justin Echols's, Julian Cordero's, Juan Dominguez's, players who could be used to make trades that help the big league club immediately (or soon) and whose loss won't be met with any long-term regret.
That part is on Jon Daniels. What he and his manager made clear yesterday is that the club's young players are about to be charged with more accountability themselves than they were in 2007.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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