Moving

Due to the dissapointing results of MLBlogs software update at the beginning of the season, I have moved the blog on to greener pastures over at WordPress.com. A Lonestar in Calaifornia can now be found here:

http://lonestarincalifornia.wordpress.com/

Hope you’ll join me there as I continue to blog about the 2008 Rangers.

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A quick note…

Dustin_nippert Just wanted to make a quick note of something here before the MLBlogs network goes offline for an upgrade at 1 AM ET tonight – the Rangers have made a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring in pitcher Dustin Nippert.

Nippert has been an elite pitching prospect in Arizona’s system in the past, but hasn’t had much success on the Major League level. He had been having a miserable spring training for Arizona, and was out of options, and about to go on the waiver wire, hence the Rangers where able to accquire him for just an obscure minor league releiver, Jose Marte.

Make no mistake about it, Nippert has talent, though – he’s a hard thrower, who has posted some excellent strikeout numbers in the minors (534 K’s in 545.1 IP, against 207 BB’s). According to this scouting report brought to us by Lone Star Ball’s "Zywica" his fastball sits at 92-94, and tops out at 96, and he has an excellent "spike curve" he can throw for strikes. He also has a fairly mediocre, but developing changeup.

He’s been used as a starter by Arizona in the past, but spent last year in the bullpen – he could go back to starting at some point here in Texas, but for now, he has won the final spot in the bullpen, settling the battle between Robinson Tejeda and Wes Littleton.

Instead of either of those two making the ‘pen, Nippert will fill things out, with Tejeda being DFA’d, and Littleton heading back to AAA, making the bullpen look like this:

  • CJ Wilson (CL)
  • Joaquin Benoit (RHSU)
  • Eddie Guardado (LHSU)
  • Kaz Fukumori
  • Josh Rupe
  • Franklyn German
  • Dustin Nippert
  • Jamey Wright

So welcome aboard, Dustin – I hope you can find success here in Texas.

I’ll have more thoughts on the bullpen, and the final shakeout of the 25-man roster tomorrow, after MLBlogs is updated, and brought back online. Things should look a lot different tomorrow, from what I’m hearing – here’s to a quick and easy transition to the new platform.

Well, so much for hope…

Salty_1_1Remember what I said in my last post about there still being a shred of hope left that the Rangers might come to their senses about Jarrod Saltalamacchia vs. Gerald Laird? Forget about it. Salty has been sent to AAA, and Gerald Laird and Adam Melhuse have been tabbed as the organization’s catching tandem.

We all knew this was coming, but it’s still dissapointing. I won’t go into the whole argument of why I think this is the wrong move again – but Salty was one of the players I was most excited about coming into this year, and it’s exceedingly dissapointing that instead of watching Salty take aim at the right (or left) field fence with his sweet stroke, I get to watch what is likely going to be one of the worst, if not the worst offensive catching duo’s in the Majors.

But really, my question is this: does this mean that the Rangers have to stop running their "There are no short gym shorts in baseball" ad, which highlights Salty?

In other news, the Rangers have announced that 5th starter Luis Mendoza will start the season on the 15-day disabled list with a blister on his right middle finger, but should be ready to pitch on April 12th. By my count, he’ll come off the DL on April 11th, so this actually fits right into the Rangers plans, rather than puts a kink in them.

Josh_rupe_1_1They also optioned Kameron Loe to the minors today, and told Josh Rupe he had made the bullpen, leaving only one more spot in contention. Apparently, Rupe really impressed the Rangers on Tuesday, when he fired two scoreless innings against the Mariners – his appointment over Wes Littleton comes as a mild suprise, as Littleton has been a favorite for the bullpen seemingly all spring – but Rupe’s a guy with pretty good stuff, and seems to have taken pretty well to bullpen work this spring after two injury-riddled years as a starting prospect for the Rangers. In my opinion, he could turn out to be a pleasant suprise in his new role this season.

This leaves the final spot up to either Littleton or Robinson Tejeda – and since Tejeda has no options, I’m betting he gets the spot.

As for Kameron Loe, things just don’t look good for him – I do think we’ll see him later this year, but that’s provided he’s still even with the organization. Rumor has it that the Rangers may look to move some of their bullpen depth before the season starts, and if that’s true, Frankie Francisco and Kam could be the two prime targets. And there’s plenty of teams that would love to have either of them to fill out their ‘pens – as Joey Matschulat notes in his latest entry over at Baseball Time in Arlington, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could be one of the teams interested in Loe. There’s a repulsive thought if I’ve ever seen one – Kam in an Angels uniform. Ugh. That would be tough to see.

Rangers “Hammer” Mariners, and some 25-man roster annoucements

Hanks_swing Things are certainly shaping up in Suprise. One of them is Hank Blalock, who practically single-handedly beat the Mariners last night, going 4-4 with 3 RBI. That included a first-inning 2-run homer off Miguel Bautista, and an RBI single later in the 7th inning off lefty Eric O’Flaherty. And all this after "The Hammer" apparently put on an impressive show in batting practice earlier. Save some for opening day, will ya Hank? Other offensive highlights included Milton Bradley (making his first appreance in RF this spring) who tripled in the first inning and scored, and Ian Kinsler, who popped an RBI double in the 5th.

But in more significant news, the Rangers put the rubber stamp on some roster decisions yesterday. One at least, was no surprise, as CJ Wilson, everyone’s favorite blue-gloved lefty, has officially been annointed the Rangers closer. I’m sure it must have killed Ron Washington to make the announcement: "It’s down to the point where he’s shown me enough and that he’s healthy," Washington said. "I just didn’t want anybody taking anything for granted. He’s thrown the ball well.  He’s the obvious choice." Really Ron? Are you sure he has the "experience"?

Cj_delivers_1Another announcement that perhaps was seen in the crystal ball was the fact that Jason Botts has offically made the club. I’m glad the club has finally given Jason a certain vote of confidence here, as he gets a fairly ringing endorsement from Jon Daniels:

"He has always been a productive hitter except his limited time in the big leagues," Daniels said. "We like the way he’s gone about it this spring. He is better defensively in the outfield, solid at first base and a right-handed option at [DH]. He has played the game more aggressively and looked more comfortable."

I’m still not sure exactly how many at-bats he’s going to get though, as once again, Ron Washington doesn’t seem to enthusiastic about this decision, either: 

"That was a hard decision to make," Washington said. "Botts just did what we asked him to do. His game has improved. He worked hard on his game and showed he could improve. He’s somebody the Texas Rangers had high hopes for, so we’ll see what he can do."

Notice how Ron says "He’s somebody the Texas Rangers had high hopes for, so we’ll see what he can do." Based on that, I can only assume Ron doesn’t share the same sentiments – and unfortunately, he’s the one who’ll be doling out the playing time. Sigh.

The news was not as good for Nelson Cruz, though. It’s also noted in that article that he has been told he’s not making the club. This means he’ll have to clear waivers if he’s to be sent to AAA. Daniels isn’t nearly as charitable in his statements regarding Cruz:

"[Cruz is] just [missing] the consistency at the plate," Daniels said. "He’s a very good defender and shows the obvious physical abilities. In the role of competing for an everyday job, he just hasn’t proven himself."

He’s also 28, just a year younger than Milton Bradley, too old to be considered a "prospect" anymore. And with his lack of offensive production on the field (.231 AVG, .282 OBP, and 119 K’s to 30 BB’s in 442 career AB’s) over multiple chances the last two years, it appears Texas is ready to cut bait with Cruz. And that’s not something I’m really dissapointed about, either – the athletic potential has always been there for Nelson, but he’s just never been able to put it all together. He’ll likely be picked up by another team off waivers and given another shot, but I wouldn’t say it’s premature to file Cruz under the list of Texas experiments who have just never panned out (e.g., Laynce Nix, Marshall McDougal, Ricardo Rodriguez, John Koronka, ext).

Turning back to the bullpen, things are heating up in the competition for those final spots. Franklyn German and Jamey Wright have officially been told they have made the bullpen, leaving just two spots left. Frank Francisco has been sent to the minors, and is out of the picture for now, leaving Wes Littleton, Robinson Tejeda, Josh Rupe and Kam Loe as the candidates. Tejeda seems to have the inside track on one spot thanks to his lack of minor league options (although he didn’t impress the Rangers when he coughed up a triple and a walkofff single with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning agains the Cubs Monday). Wes Littleton is favored for the other spot, but Josh Rupe, who tossed two scoreless innings against the Mariners last night, is still lurking as well. Both of them have minor league options, and would likely be sent down to AAA come April 12th when the 5th starter is needed.

It should be noted, though, that the Rangers will have to do some juggling on the 40 man roster with the decisions they are making: Jamey Wright and Franklyn German are both on minor league contracts, and will need to be added to he 40-man roster. Those two spots will likely be opened by the DFA’ing of Nelson Cruz, and by putting John Rheinecker, who is out till mid-season after thoratic outlet syndrom surgery, on the 60-day DL.

But then there’s Adam Melhuse, who would be the clubs backup catcher if Jarrod Saltalamacchia is sent to AAA. He could probably be added by putting Thomas Diamond on the 60-day DL, but it’s still an interesting situation, because the Rangers haven’t made an official decision between Salty and Gerald Laird at catcher (something Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jim Reeves has recently written an excellent piece on). The general feeling is, Laird will be the starter, and Salty will be sent to AAA (the scenario Salty seems to be reluctantly bracing for). But the Rangers have all of a sudden become strangely silent and noncommital about the whole thing all over again. And Gerald Laird hasn’t started behind the plate since Saturday.

Maybe I’m reading too far into this, because I’m willing to cling to any shred of hope that I will not have to watch Gerald Laird spare up the offense for half the season, but maybe, just maybe, the Rangers are second guessing themselves on this. Will they come to their senses? We’ll have to wait and see. But if they do, it will be the best news of spring training.

Just one last order of business, and I will end this marathon post: the Kansas City Royals don’t have a lot of star players. But one of their guys, at least, has a pretty unique talent: check out Joey Gathright and his pitcher jumping! Could this be baseball’s 6th tool?

Rangers on the verge with Patterson

Rangers GM Jon Daniels loves his low risk/high reward signings. And so far, many of them have paid off – Marlon Byrd and Jamey Wright, for example.

John_patterson_1_1In an effort to bring in more pitching depth, the Daniels and the Rangers unveiled the man who is about to become their latest LR/HR signing: former Nationals hurler John Patterson.

Patterson was the Nat’s opening day starter last year, but has battled elbow problems the past two seasons, resulting in him making only a grand a total of just 15 starts in that time. He was released just three days ago by the Nationals, who where not pleased enough with Patterson’s progress in his recovery this spring, as he had given up 7 runs on 13 hits in just 3 spring outings totaling 9 innings. Reports say Patterson was hitting the low 80’s with his fastball, as opposed to the 90 mph or so the Nat’s where looking for, so Washington GM Jim Bowden chose to cut bait, saying "Obviously, we thought we could get him back to where he was three years ago, and it never happened."

Daniels, however, looked past Patterson’s dismal spring and health problems, saw perhaps his next possible diamond in the rough, and swooped into the negotiations with the right-hander, seemingly knocking the cross-state rival Houston Astros out of the front-running for his services. Patterson, who had his career year in 2005 before the problems in his arm developed, was 9-7 that year for the Nat’s, throwing 198.3 innings, and posting a stellar 3.13 ERA and 1.195 WHIP, along with a 130 ERA+ and holding opposing hitters to a .233 batting average. He also struck out 185 that year, as opposed to giving up 65 walks.

He was off to a solid start in 2006 as well, going 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his first four starts when his first arm problems struck. He went on the 15-day DL on April 28th with a "right forearm strain". He wasn’t re-activated until June 23rd, and he made just four more starts before again going on the DL July 14th, with another "right forearm strain". He underwent elbow surgery on July 20th of ’06, and was out for the season.

The Nat’s still made him their opening day starter in 2007, but he was clearly not himself, going 1-5 with a 7.47 ERA in 7 starts before going on the 15-day DL again on May 6th with elbow and biceps soreness brought on by a nerve problem. He would later be moved to the 60-day DL as the problem persisted, and eventually even took a trip up to Toronto to undergo an alternate form of treatment in an attempt to avoid another surgery. It was all for naught though, as Patterson wound up undergoing that second elbow surgery on September 13th, 2007, to decompress the radial nerve in his right elbow.

That’s the surgery he’s still recovering from this spring, and Patterson knows he’s damaged goods. "I didn’t progress as fast as they wanted me to progress" he said upon his release. "After what I’ve been through the past two years, I think it was a risk [the Nationals] where not willing to take."

The Rangers know that too, but Daniels still sees some potental here: "It’s no-risk for a guy who’s had success in the big leagues. We want to bring him in, get him healthy, and send him [to triple-A]."

I would tend to agree with JD’s assessment, too – unlike Sidney Ponson, Patterson is a pitcher with actual potential – in fact the past, he’s shown ace potential. And while I kind of doubt Patterson (who turned 30 this past January) will ever completely return to the level he was on in 2005, if he can get close, he can certianly be an asset to the Rangers rotation. And even if he doesn’t there’s no harm in letting him eat up a few innings down in AAA, especially with the way things have gone pitching-wise for the Rangers this spring. 

Even though the odds are probably not in favor of Patterson actually making an impact on the Major League level this year in Texas, this signing will bear watching – JD has had some good luck in the past with these under-the-radar signings, and you never know when lighting will strike again.

An update on the bench and the bullpen: Botts, Tejeda secure spots?

Good game for the Rangers today against the Mariners in Peoria. The offense, which looked catatonic in last nights 4-1 loss to the Angels, woke up and hammered out 18 hits for an 8-5 victory over Seattle.

Michael Young and Ian Kinsler each went 3-3, and Hank Blalock, Jason Botts and Kevin Mench all registered 2 hits, Botts also driving in three runs. In fact, every starter in the lineup had a hit except for – guess who – everyone’s favorite offensive catcher, Gerald Laird, who was 0-4. Get used to seeing that from Gerry – now that he’s sewn up the catchers job, it’s about time for him to return to his old chop-bunting self.

Now that my obligatory jab at Laird is out of the way, back to the good stuff.

Jason_botts_2_1 Jason Botts apparently turned some heads with those three RBI’s today – he impressed Dallas Morning News witer Evan Grant, at the very least. In his latest blog entry, Grant says "Trust me on this: Jason Botts made the club saturday". He says that the Rangers saw what they have "been waiting to see all spring", and that’s Botts driving in runs.

Not that this is official, of course, but that’s good news, both for Jason and the organization. I still think Botts has the potential to hit, I’m just not sure how much of a real chance the Rangers will give him, however. Remember, even though he seems to have made the team, he still has to compete with Frank Catalanotto, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd and Milton Bradley for playing time – and based on what Ron Washington’s preferences are, I’d say Jason is likely going to end up on the bottom of that totem pole.

Wash thinks Ben Broussard can play full-time at first base without the need of a platoon partner, so Botts probably won’t see much time there, and Milton Bradley is likely to be the DH for the first week or two. That’ll leave Botts scrapping with Murphy and Catalanotto for playing time in left field – and since his OF defense is, shall we say, less than special, it’s likely he won’t get a whole lot of time there, either. Not to crush all the optimisim of Botts making the team – I’m just as excited as anyone – but that’s only going to be half the battle for him.

This is one of those times I can’t help but think if the 33 year-old Frank Catalanotto (who hit a career-low .260 last year, and is hitting a ******** .207 this spring) wasn’t on the roster, things would be much less complicated – not to mention the fact that we would have a much more athletic and versatile bench without him. Robbie_tejeda_delivers_1

Moving on to a few notes about the bullpen now, it seems that the Rangers do indeed want to keep Robinson Tejeda, despite my supposition yesterday that his less-than-impressive performance versus the Angels may have swayed the Ranger management against him. According to TR Sullivan, the Rangers still really like his arm, and don’t want to lose him to waivers. I wasn’t partucularly impressed yesterday by the fact that he still obviously has problems with his control, but I agree, you don’t want to lose a guy who throws consistently mid-90’s if there is any possibility at all he can be an asset.

TR also mentions that while Franklyn German has the inside track for the second bullpen spot, although Sidney Ponson and Elizardo Ramirez have been sent to the minors. Based on the indication TR is giving us, it looks like a two horse race between German and Littleton for that second bullpen spot, which likely leaves Kam Loe, Frank Francisco and Josh Rupe on the outside looking in.

Each one has their advantages, as German was recently praised by pitching coach Mark Connor as being the hardest thrower and having the best split-finger in camp. But he is not on the 40 man roster, and Littleton is, so once again, the roster situation could turn out to be the deciding factor here.

Final note for the night: I really don’t like the way the Rangers official website was recently redesigned. The new look is messy, crowded, and just plain ugly – and unfortunately, it’s the template for all 30 major league teams now, not just the Rangers. So to whomever came up with this new design, I implore you to at least reorganize the page to make it a little cleaner, and easier to read. Otherwise I garuntee you I will be spending much less time there.

The 25-man takes shape

TR Sullivan reports today that the Rangers "met as a team" to discuss how the 25-man roster would look at the end of the spring. Some of the results:

– Ramon Vazquez wins the UT infield spot. No suprise there, the Rangers resigned him in the offseason to be the UT guy, and his only real competition this spring was Ryan Roberts.

– The Rangers are waffling between Kason Gabbard and Luis Mendoza for the #4 spot in the rotation now. Both are considered locked into the starting 5 (especially since Sidney Ponson sprained his ankle tonight against the Angels) but the one that is made the #5 starter will be sent down to AAA until April 12th, when a 5th starter is needed. This is probably because of Gabbards horrible spring line – however, Gabbard did throw in an intrasquad game Wensday, and according to Mark Connor looked much better, so we’ll see what the Rangers do. It’s not like Mendoza has been lights out this spring either, after all.

– The Rangers still haven’t decided whether or not to send Jarrod Saltalamacchia to AAA. They still want Laird to be the starter, but they apparently also want to keep Salty’s bat in the Majors, as well – but you can’t always have your cake and eat it too. Milton Bradley and Frank Catalanotto kind of have the DH role filled right now, and Jarrod should not be sitting on the bench backing up Laird – he really needs to be catching everyday, bottom line, so if the Rangers don’t make him the starting catcher, they do need to send him to AAA. I’m for keeping his bat in the majors, but he needs consistent playing time – they can’t keep sporadically jerking him around, like they did last year.

– The bullpen is shaping up, too: CJ Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit, Kaz Fukumori and Jamey Wright all have garunteed spots. That leaves two spots left, three if the the Rangers carry an extra releiver till April 12th. It should also be noted, though, that Eddie Guardado is now possibly in doubt for opening day thanks to a flu bug, so that could mean up to 4 spots could in fact be open.

With the cuts of Scott Feldman and Jason Davis, the candidates have recently been narrowed down to:

  • Wes Littleton
  • Frank Francisco
  • Franklyn German
  • Josh Rupe
  • Kameron Loe
  • Robinson Tejeda
  • Elizardo Ramirez

Let me know if I’m forgetting anyone. My money would be on Franklyn German and Wes Littleton getting those two locked in spots. Earlier today, I would have said Robinson Tejeda, but I watched him tonight against the Angels, and he was all over the place with his command (which has historically been his problem) – he was throwing mid-nineties, but the command was horrible. He still might have a chance though, because of his lack of options – provided the Rangers carry 8 releivers to start the season (which seems like the plan) he’ll make the cut. I would say the two biggest longshots are Kam Loe and Elizardo Ramirez – Loe has pitched absoultely horribly this spring (including giving up a home run tonight), and hasn’t done much to deserve a spot, and Ramirez isn’t on the 40-man roster.

I can’t think of much else to report right now – I thought I had something, but it’s currently slipped my mind, so I’ll leave you with this – check out the caption of the picture: "Josh Hamilton could move to third in the batting order after his strong spring."

Will somebody please cue Bart Simpson: "Um, Duh!"