A few days ago I wrote about a Rangers win that seemed like one we're accustomed to seeing Boston or Minnesota get. Yesterday's loss was the antithesis. Mental (and fundamental) mistakes, failures to execute in conceded situations, bad decisions and efforts to do too much that turned into not enough. Brutal.
Last year, if my math is right, Texas was 7-17 in games it entered with a .500 win-loss record, but 18-5 when the club was a game under .500. This year: 1-2 (if you count Opening Day) and 1-4.
On to the farm.
When I went to spring training in Port Charlotte in 1990, a bizarre, watered-down environment due to the big league work stoppage, I got the chance to watch an 18-year-old named Ivan Rodriguez, sort of a tubby kid who could have passed for a Charles Barkley Mini-Me, do his thing. In defensive drills with the likes of fellow catchers Barry Winford, Jorge DeLeon, Bubba Jackson, and Mike Mendazona, you could see how different "Pudge" was. It was like watching Cal freshman Jason Kidd - while there were limitations in some aspects of his game, his ability in other phases (irrespective of his age) was transcendent, even to the untrained eye of a 21-year-old college student.
The thing about the physically immature Pudge back then was that, as a contrast to the laser throws and lightning-quick feet and the command he exuded behind the plate, to say that his bat was suspect was kind. His throws to second had more charge in them than the balls coming off his bat in BP, and often traveled farther. Some questioned whether he'd have the bat knocked out of his hands at the upper levels of the minor leagues, let alone the big leagues. Not that that would matter much, though, considering his ability to defend.
What I'm about to say shouldn't be taken as a suggestion that the Rangers are seeing one of their prospects beginning to chart an Ivan Rodriguez path. Rodriguez is headed for Cooperstown. I have my doubts that this other player will ever be a major league starter.
Rodriguez didn't come into his own as a hitter until he got to Texas. His lifetime minor league numbers were .266/.297/.370. In the big leagues: .301/.338/.475.
Manny Pina came into this season as a .248/.306/.322 hitter on the farm. But consider how that breaks down.
In 2005 and 2006, at age 18-19, he hit .246/.338/.315 in the rookie leagues.
In 2007, he hit .228/.278.285 for Low A Clinton.
In 2008, he hit .265/.313/.359 for High A Bakersfield and .275/.330/.363 for AA Frisco. Better competition, better results.
This year, back in Frisco, he's hitting .481/.518/.731 in 52 at-bats. He's played in 13 games and has hits in all of them.
Like Pudge, Pina is showing signs of transforming from a high-contact, low-damage hitter who just might not get that bat knocked out of his hands into someone who can be a contributor at the plate.
Like his RoughRiders teammate Marcus Lemon, Pina's hot 2009 start doesn't make me think he's becoming a big league starter before our eyes. For me, Lemon projects to be a utility player and Pina a backup. But there's nothing wrong with that. Considering Pina's defensive skills, he could be an ideal number two catcher, which obviously creates an increasingly interesting situation given the Rangers' collection of young backstops in and near the big leagues.
I have my doubts that Pina will get to Arlington before Pudge's playing days are over, but it can't be ruled out. And again, I'm really not comparing the two catchers.
But what Pina is doing right now in Frisco at age 21, considering what he'd done (and been viewed as) before, reminds me a lot of the unexpected transformation that Pudge made as a hitter - interestingly, also at age 21 . . . which was his third year in Texas and second as a Major League All-Star.
Scott Lucas celebrated this cool plug from MLB.com and MiLB.com's Jonathan Mayo by contributing a great shot of Justin Smoak to the revolving prospect photograph section on the front page of NewbergReport.com.
Outstanding blog run by the Hickory Crawdads' Mark Parker and Mike Welge, with spectacular photography from John Setzler: http://hickoryball.blogspot.com/
Professor Jason Parks gets Baseball Prospectus farm guru Kevin Goldstein to answer a ton of very good questions about Rangers prospects, and you should read it.
Mark Teixeira hit .200/.367/.371 in April, whittling his career first-month numbers down to .249/.348/.432.
Milton Bradley's lifetime March/April numbers are a healthier .278/.367/.457, but they were better than that before his .118/.333/.294 April line to kick off a two- or three-year Cubs career.
Cue the (center field) lights: White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle is on the hill in Arlington tonight.
All things considered, it's been a disappointing April, but still far better than last year's 10-17 month. If this club can come close to matching 2008's May (19-10), especially considering the relative weakness of the division, we're in serious business.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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