The moment that stuck out for me last night as we recorded the latest edition of Rangers Podcast in Arlington was when our guest Eric Nadel recounted something Fergie Jenkins told him in Pompano Beach in 1979, Nadel's first spring with the Rangers. It went something like this: "All this stuff you're seeing in these spring training games? Ignore it. It's spring training."
It's good advice, but when the results belong to players clearly competing for a job, they probably can't be discounted completely.
In other words, when you view the work put in so far by Matt Harrison (outstanding), Brandon McCarthy (inconsistent), and Derek Holland (sputtering), the three primary candidates for the number five spot in the rotation, it's hard not to view Harrison as the leader at this point. There's nearly a month to go, and things can change, but Harrison is off to an encouraging start.
And this isn't just about a couple innings of work. Harrison came to camp 30 pounds more fit, fully recovered from thoracic outlet syndrome, toting an extra three ticks on the radar gun (now touching 97). As Nadel points out in the Podcast, results aren't as important in a competition like this one as consistency, stuff, command, and efficiency, and right now Harrison appears to be ahead of McCarthy and Holland in all four categories.
Josh Hamilton had two singles in three trips yesterday, his first game action of camp, and made two uneventful plays in left field.
Tanner Scheppers wowed onlookers on Thursday pumping upper-90s heat in a swift, perfect seven-pitch inning against the Royals, keeping his power curve in his pocket. He unleashed the curve in a "B" game yesterday, throwing three of them, all for strikes, two of them going for strike three.
The Scheppers fastball gets lots of attention (ranked by Baseball America among the top five in minor league baseball), but BA also says that, in a system with a number of plus curves (Martin Perez, Danny Gutierrez, Jake Brigham), it's Scheppers whose bender is the best.
BA also projects Scheppers to be the Rangers closer in 2013. Don't bet against him figuring in somewhere near the top of the rotation instead.
Lots more from BA's Prospect Handbook - here's the publication's top 30 Rangers prospects:
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Justin Smoak, 1B
3. Martin Perez, LHP
4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
5. Jurickson Profar, SS
6. Kasey Kiker, LHP
7. Robbie Ross, LHP
8. Mitch Moreland, 1B-OF
9. Danny Gutierrez, RHP
10. Wilmer Font, RHP
11. Max Ramirez, C
12. Joe Wieland, RHP
13. Luis Sardinas, SS
14. Engel Beltre, OF
15. Leury Garcia, SS
16. Michael Kirkman, LHP
17. Blake Beavan, RHP
18. Tommy Mendonca, 3B
19. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
20. Omar Poveda, RHP
21. Michael Main, RHP
22. Miguel Velazquez, OF
23. Pedro Strop, RHP
24. Neil Ramirez, RHP
25. Jake Brigham, RHP
26. Tomas Telis, C
27. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
28. Craig Gentry, OF
29. Andrew Doyle, RHP
30. Richard Alvarez, RHP
BA's assessment of the organization's best tools:
Best Hitter for Average Justin Smoak
Best Power Hitter Justin Smoak
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Justin Smoak
Fastest Baserunner Leury Garcia
Best Athlete Greg Golson (published, obviously, before he was traded to the Yankees)
Best Fastball Neftali Feliz
Best Curveball Tanner Scheppers
Best Slider Robbie Ross
Best Changeup Kasey Kiker
Best Control Blake Beavan
Best Defensive Catcher Leonel De Los Santos
Best Defensive Infielder Leury Garcia
Best Infield Arm Leury Garcia
Best Defensive Outfielder Craig Gentry
Best Outfield Arm Greg Golson
It's interesting how Perez, considered by most experts to be one of the two best lefthander prospects in baseball, isn't even listed atop any of the "best pitch" categories. The depth of this standout system is unquestionably on the mound.
BA's projected 2013 lineup:
Catcher Taylor Teagarden (same as last year‘s 2012 projection)
First Base Justin Smoak (same)
Second Base Ian Kinsler (same)
Third Base Michael Young (same)
Shortstop Elvis Andrus (same)
Left Field Josh Hamilton (last year: Julio Borbon)
Center Field Julio Borbon (last year: Engel Beltre)
Right Field Nelson Cruz (last year: Hamilton)
Designated Hitter Chris Davis (same)
No. 1 Starter Neftali Feliz (same)
No. 2 Starter Martin Perez (last year: Derek Holland)
No. 3 Starter Derek Holland (last year: Perez)
No. 4 Starter Scott Feldman (last year: Michael Main)
No. 5 Starter Tommy Hunter (last year: Matt Harrison)
Closer Tanner Scheppers (last year: Blake Beavan)
After several years of multiple changes in the projected lineup, there's some stability now in terms of how the position players project three years down the road.
BA ranks 88 Rangers prospects position by position, and while I won't run all of those down (I'd encourage you to buy the book, whose Rangers chapter was written by Aaron Fitt), I'll tell you for example that, after the left-handed starters who show up in the top 30 (Perez at 3, Kiker at 6, Ross at 7, Kirkman at 16), BA ranks further southpaw starters this way: Robbie Erlin, Chad Bell, Richard Bleier, Tim Murphy, Paul Strong, and Edwin Escobar.
According to BA, righthander Matt Nevarez is the number 15 prospect and infielder Jose Vallejo is not among the top 30 in the Astros system, which is ranked last overall among the 30 organizations.
Neither catcher Manny Pina nor outfielder Tim Smith is among Kansas City's top 30 prospects. Gutierrez, obtained by Texas for those two, is the number nine Rangers prospect, though he'll start the season under a 50-game league suspension after testing positive for a prescribed ADHD medication called Adderall that he didn't obtain a therapeutic use exemption for in advance. The Royals are ranked 17th overall, while the Rangers are number two.
Outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was eligible but not ranked among the Phillies' top 30 prospects.
Righthander Thomas Diamond is not listed among the Cubs' top 86 prospects.
Righthander Graham Stoneburner, the younger brother of Rangers minor league infielder Davis Stoneburner, is the Yankees' number 21 prospect. Not sure where Golson would have fit; he was still with Texas at the time the book was printed, and not among the top 30 Rangers.
BA revealed yesterday that the 17-year-old Profar, who has yet to play a professional inning, got Top 100 Prospect votes on three of the four ballots (each of which included 150 players) though he failed to crack the overall top 100. He was number 74 on one voter's ballot. Ross was also listed on three ballots, getting a high vote of number 96. Font was number 57 on one voter's ballot - and not listed among the top 150 on the other three. Also listed on one ballot: Kiker (number 112) and Moreland (130).
Smoak got treatment for his sort left hip flexor yesterday and hopes to play today.
Hank Blalock is back in Port Charlotte, where he first made noise a decade ago as an uber-prospect on the verge of becoming a perennial contender for batting titles. The 29-year-old has signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay for $925,000, with an extra $350,000 based on plate appearance incentives. Those bonuses may be hard to come by unless Carlos Pena or Evan Longoria gets hurt, or unless Blalock is able to take at-bats away from Pat Burrell.
While it's not confirmed, there's speculation that Blalock has an out clause if he's not added to the active Rays roster at some point late in camp. Makes sense.
Click here (http://espn.go.com/espnradio/player?rd=1#/podcenter/?id=4977636&autoplay=1&callsign=ESPNRADIO) to listen to Kevin Goldstein's Monday morning segment with Ben & Skin on ESPN Radio. The 11-minute topic: Why Goldstein doesn't think Elvis Andrus was very good in 2009. There's a little Smoak talk in there as well. Good stuff.
I'll shoot you an email once Ted Price gets last night's Podcast episode uploaded.
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(c) Jamey Newberg