Perspective on the loss of Eric Hurley.

Righthander Robb Nen went 7-4, 2.41 for Low A Gastonia in 1989, striking out 146 batters in 138.1 innings, which catapulted him from number eight in Baseball America's ranking of the Rangers' top 10 prospects going into that season all the way to the number two spot going into 1990.

Arm troubles limited Nen to 80.1 innings in 1990, but he held the number two spot on BA's Rangers list going into 1991. More arm troubles in 1991 resulted in just 28 innings pitched that season, and he was off the list going into 1992 (when he managed only 25 innings pitched), ultimately traded in 1993 with fellow fallen prospect Kurt Miller to Florida for reluctant reliever Cris Carpenter.

Righthander Jovanny Cedeno, according to BA, was the Rangers' number nine prospect going into the 2000 season, coming off a stateside debut in which he posted a 1.12 ERA in seven starts between the Gulf Coast League and High A Charlotte, fanning 37 and walking five in 32.1 innings of work. After a dazzling 11-4, 2.42 mark for Low A Savannah in 2000 (153 strikeouts, 53 walks, and one home run allowed in 130 innings), Cedeno earned BA's number two Rangers nod going into 2001.

It was Cedeno's last suggestion of the limitless ceiling he promised, as he was limited by injury to 9.2 innings in 2001, five frames in 2002, and 32.2 innings in 2003 before fading out of professional baseball - taking with him, just as Nen had done when he couldn't stay healthy, what at the time was a sizable chunk of the organization's minor league pitching hopes.

When Nen first appeared on the Rangers' top 10 ranking, he and Kevin Brown and Darren Oliver were the only pitchers on the list. In the ensuing two years when Nen was the team's number two prospect (behind Juan Gonzalez in 1990 and Ivan Rodriguez in 1991), he was by far the system's brightest pitching prospect, joined on the top 10 list only by Brian Bohanon and Eric McCray in 1990 and by Dan Smith, McCray, and Brian Romero in 1991.

When Cedeno soared to number two, trailing only Carlos Pena, the other pitchers in the Rangers' top 10 were Joaquin Benoit (coming off arm trouble), Colby Lewis, Aaron Myette, and Andy Pratt.

Nen and Cedeno, who each landed a spot on BA's top 100 prospects list one time (Nen was number 86 in 1991, Cedeno was number 65 in 2001), were huge losses because the Rangers, in those days (which can essentially be restated as "at all times in franchise history"), had no more than two or three legitimate pitching hopefuls coming up on the farm.

Righthander Eric Hurley was BA's number 68 prospect going into 2007, judged at the time to be the top prospect in the Rangers organization. He was number 77 in 2008. Nen and Cedeno earned their status with huge performances in Class A. Hurley, on the other hand, was terrific at every level up to AA, and good enough in AAA to earn a big league look at age 22.

And yet Hurley isn't on BA's list of the Rangers' top 10 prospects this off-season, nor ESPN's. I have him at number 14 myself.

That's not to say Hurley isn't every bit the prospect that Nen and Cedeno were. It's just that in this system, not only the deepest and most highly acclaimed Texas has ever had but one that is heavier in pitching than anything else, he's not nearly as alone as Nen and Cedeno were.

Hurley's shoulder injury is brutal news, for him and for the team and for the prospects of his baseball future. Pitchers do come back from arm surgeries, but recovery from rotator cuff tears and labrum frays isn't as predictable as it is in Tommy John cases. He's certainly young enough for us to hold out hope that his shoulder will rehabilitate well and that, maybe two years from now, when he'll still just be 25, he'll turn out to be what he was on his way to becoming.

But the point of this discussion is that you can never have enough pitching prospects, because some percentage of them will always have their careers stalled due to injury like Nen, or Jason Isringhausen, if not effectively derailed like Cedeno or Ben Kozlowski, or Mark Fidrych. (But there are bouncebacks, even from shoulder surgeries - though they vary in severity: Curt Schilling, Chris Carpenter, Jimmy Key, Orlando Hernandez, and Grant Balfour, to name a few. John Smoltz is about to try and join the list.)

Whereas the removal of Nen or Cedeno from the mix due to injury probably would have prompted BA or anyone else assessing farm systems to drop Texas in the overall rankings at the time, the Hurley injury, while it conceivably impacts the 2009 rotation picture (Jon Daniels predicted a month ago that Hurley would win the number five spot coming out of camp), doesn't change the fact that BA and ESPN each rank the Rangers farm system as baseball's best at the moment ("far and away the best" according to ESPN's Keith Law).

Dating back to 1990 (which is as far back as I can get data), Texas has had pitchers land among the top 40 players on BA's annual top 100 prospects list four times. In 1992 and 1993, Miller (who been acquired from the Pirates late in the 1991 season) finished 14th and 11th. In 2000, Francisco Cordero (two months after he'd been acquired from Detroit) was number 29. In 2003, Lewis was number 32.

BA's 2009 list isn't out yet, but Law's ESPN list is, and he has three Rangers pitchers in the top 40: Neftali Feliz at number four, Derek Holland at number 21, and Martin Perez at number 37.

Four in a span of 19 years.

And three at the moment.

Law, incidentally, ranks the Rangers' top 10 prospects as follows:

  1. Feliz
  2. Justin Smoak, 1B (number 15 in baseball)
  3. Holland
  4. Perez
  5. Elvis Andrus, SS (number 39 in baseball)
  6. Michael Main, RHP (number 64 in baseball)
  7. Taylor Teagarden, C (number 70 in baseball)
  8. Max Ramirez, C (number 77 in baseball)
  9. Julio Borbon, OF (number 85 in baseball)
  10. Engel Beltre, OF

With Hurley now out of the mix, the number five man could come from a competition between Scott Feldman and Dustin Nippert, with Holland and Feliz and Luis Mendoza and Thomas Diamond candidates as well, not to mention the possibility of a non-roster addition like Jason Jennings.

All that changes, of course, if Texas signs Ben Sheets, which Peter Gammons suggested on ESPN Radio could be a probability. One league official told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports this week that Sheets's market value might end up somewhere in the range of $6-8 million for one year (possibly attaching a club option for a second season), with significant workload incentives that could push it past the $14 million level.

Meanwhile, Sheets reportedly told the Mets he wanted two years at $18 million with an option for a third year (that would surely include a sizable buyout). New York, on the other hand, is apparently hoping the 30-year-old would take a deal not unlike the one-year contract Boston gave Brad Penny, which will pay a guaranteed $5 million and could escalate to $8 million if he contributes 200 innings.

I'm into the idea of bringing Sheets in here, but my concern about the idea that he, like so many other free agents in this winter's unusual market, might be inclined to take a heavily incentivized one-year contract so he can hit the market again next off-season is that Arlington may not be a place that a starting pitcher would choose for a one-year audition in front of the league, particularly a year before contention seems more like a solid bet for this team.

Rosenthal adds that the Rangers have zero interest in Oliver Perez. He's one of my favorite pitchers to watch, but even I'll admit he'd be a bad fit here, given his inconsistency even in pitchers' parks and his flyball tendencies.

Kris Benson throws for Texas and a host of other clubs tomorrow.

Texas will unveil new home, road, and alternate uniforms at 11:30 this morning.

Omar Vizquel's non-roster deal converts to a $1 million contract (plus incentives) if he makes the team. San Francisco paid him $300,000 this winter to buy him out of a $5.2 million club option.

Such a smart move, from so many angles. Dependable glove should Andrus need a little more seasoning on the farm. Off-the-charts makeup, a surefire mentor for Andrus not only on shortstop play but preparation and mindset and big league responsibility. A teacher that allows Michael Young to concentrate on his crash course at third base rather than worrying about bringing Andrus along (which of course he'll still do to an extent). A future coach at the end of a long, illustrious, potential Hall of Fame career who is motivated to work with young players. Inexpensive, and potentially versatile; the 11-time Gold Glove shortstop has virtually no experience anywhere else (nobody has played more games at shortstop in major league history) but he's prepared to add second base and third base to his repertoire - though of course Young and Ian Kinsler almost never rest, so the ability to play second and third is essentially just an emergency need.

Stated another way, the key for this team's utility infielder at this point is to be able to play a solid shortstop. The Rangers have filled that role well.

Nolan Ryan will be featured on Fox Sports Southwest's 30-minute program "In His Own Words" at 10 p.m. Sunday night.

The Aaron Thompson whom BA recently reported that Texas signed to a minor league deal is an Australian teenaged righthander with no pro experience.

San Diego is the latest club to designate righthander Virgil Vasquez for assignment.

The Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League signed righthander Bear Bay.

I will send a separate email out later this morning detailing autograph, Q&A, and clinic times for tomorrow's FanFest festivities at Rangers Ballpark. See you tomorrow, if not tonight at the Awards Dinner.

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

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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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