February 2013

Equal But Opposite Reactions

On the one hand:

Seattle     5-1

Houston 3-2

Oakland  2-3

LA             0-4  (plus 2 ties)

Texas      0-5   (plus 1 tie)

Standings like this make it easy to say: “It’s Spring Training.” And you would be right.

On the other hand:

Including the regular season and the play-in playoff game, I have not encountered a Texas Rangers win for a span of 10 games now.

Guys, I know the exhibition games are meaningless in terms of wins and losses, but do you think you could just eke one out to let us remember what a win feels like again? Thanks for your consideration!

Prospecting

Most Spring Training exhibition games are worth listening to the first four or five innings. The starters are in for a few innings, the pitchers you expect to be on the team are getting their innings in.

By the fifth inning or so, only the diehards tend to stick around, as the line-ups become more of the minor leaguers who have no chance of making the team this year. Some of them you’ve never heard of, even though you tend to glance at minor league box scores on a regular basis. So I’m sorry Johan Yan, I’m not paying much attention to you right now. Same goes for you, Juan Apodaca. I admit I didn’t even know you were a part of the Rangers organization when you came to the plate yesterday.

Today’s exhibition game with the White Sox is a little different, though. There are only two Rangers regulars in the starting offensive line-up today- Nelson Cruz and Geovany Soto. Despite that, this game has my interest and I wish I could be at the game in person to watch.

Mike Olt - Texas - 2012 Batting Practice

Mike Olt – Texas – 2012 Batting Practice (Photo credit: BaseballBacks)

Jurickson Profar - Texas - 2012 Road

Jurickson Profar – Texas – 2012 Road (Photo credit: BaseballBacks)

Why? Because the starting line-up has all four of the players who have a real shot at making the Opening Day roster. Mike Olt at third base, Leonys Martin in center field, Jurickson Profar at shortstop and Leury Garcia at second base. Of the four, Martin is the best bet at sticking and most expect him to platoon with Craig Gentry in centerfield in 2013. Garcia is the second best bet, whose versatility make him a strong possibility for a utility role. Profar and Olt are the two best offensive prospects overall, but unless a trade or an injury occurs (or Nelson Cruz is suspended), it’s becoming unlikely there’ll be enough at bats available to justify putting them on the major league roster. Instead,  they will more than likely start 2013 in Round Rock.

Still, having all four in the starting line-up today is exciting. All but Martin have reputations as good defensive players. All but Olt have speed on the basepaths. They’re all scouted to be decent to above average bats.

The best I’ll be able to do today is listen, and my work schedule may not even allow me to do that. If you happen to be able to see this game or listen to it, please do. The first few innings could be a taste of the future of the Texas Rangers franchise.

 

Don’t Panic

The good news: Exhibition play has started.

 

The bad news: The Rangers, in essence, got swept by the Royals, getting a tie on Friday and dropping games on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t think they even had a lead in any of the three games.

 

BUT I’M NOT PANICKING!!!

 

I’m sorry. I should just say I’m not panicking. All caps bolded would tend to lead to the impression I am indeed already panicking about the upcoming season.

 

Nope, not me. Yeah, Matt Harrison had a putrid one inning of work on Sunday, giving up six hits and four runs. Elvis Andrus doesn’t have a hit yet and committed an error on his first play. Mike Olt started out 0-3 with three strikeouts before finally getting a soft liner to third to end the K streak. He also mixed in an error and an almost error with one nifty play at third defensively. Also among the hitless are Mitch Moreland and Geovany Soto. On the pitching side, Alexi Ogando‘s spring debut was almost as bad as Harrison’s.

 

BUT THERE’S NO NEED TO PANIC!!!

 

English: Michael Kirkman, Texas Rangers pitcher.

Michael Kirkman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Really. Harrison, Ogando, Andrus and Moreland have shown enough over the past 2-3 seasons, worrying about them three games into a 38 game exhibition schedule is like worrying about a new CD from Elton John on which the first cut sucks and you decide his career is over. That’s not to say there’s nothing to pay attention to in exhibition games. For players like Julio Borbon and Michael Kirkman, these are extremely important games. Both are out of options, so not making the Rangers out of spring training no longer means going back down to the minors, it means looking for a new employer. For Kirkman, the first appearance couldn’t have gone better, twirling two shutout innings with three strikeouts. For Borbon, the results are more a mixed bag. Defensively, he’s been OK and made an outstanding play in left field in the first game. Offensively is another question. The .250 average is OK, but he’s also fouled off a couple of bunt attempts and Sunday hit into two double plays. For a speed guy on the bubble, these are the things Ron Washington pays close attention to. Julio’s got to step it up.

 

I also like hearing about the players turning heads in camp. A.J. Pierzynski has been impressed with Robbie Ross so far. Yangervis Solarte, who also had a decent spring training a year ago before playing for AAA Round Rock, has impressed with his bat again. He’s still a long shot to make the team as a utility infielder, as he doesn’t play much shortstop. Rangers radio broadcaster Eric Nadel had high praise for the change-up of Cory Burns. And Wash has liked what he’s seen from corner utility candidate Jeff Baker.

 

In other words, right now I’m just excited to listen to some actual games, regardless of the final score. As the spring progresses, there will be days I turn the game off around the sixth inning when the scrubs I know have no chance of making the club come in. But for now, I’m a happy camper, even with an 0-2-1 start.

 

The First Signs of Spring

Here’s what it’s like being a baseball fan. I find myself sitting in the office, checking in on Twitter so I know what’s happening in the first intrasquad game of the year.

baseball 2The funny thing is, I don’t think of it as sinking so low. While I have never made the spring visit to Surprise, it is definitely in my plans to do so in the next couple of years. Until that time occurs, I hang on the news that Yu Darvish didn’t give up a hit in his inning of work (but he did allow an unearned run); that Nelson Cruz blasted his first bomb of the spring off Jake Brigham; and, on the negative side, A.J. Pierzynski allowed three stolen bases and Elvis Andrus booted his first ground ball of the spring.

None of this means anything in the grand scheme of things, of course. For the faithful diehards, though, it’s like seeing the first robin, the sign that Spring is indeed on its way. It gives us a chance to stop worrying about whatever fool thing that former Rangers player said about true baseball towns and true baseball fans. Instead, it’s time to start zeroing in on how the young kids look, whether the injured have nursed themselves back to health and to start debating who among the bubble players will get those last roster spots up for grabs.

We know #1 prospect Jurickson Profar has decided he wants to make the team badly enough he is willing to forgo his guaranteed spot for the Netherlands in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, that Adrian Beltre will miss the first round of said WBC because of a mild calf problem that wouldn’t keep him out of the regular season line-up and that the iffy-ness of Nelson Cruz‘ status has the Rangers’ rookie Mike Olt shagging more fly balls in right field than were originally planned for him.

The biggest news to me, though, hasn’t even been discussed much in the media. People chuckled when Lance Berkman admitted he’d left his glove at home. Ron Washington said there was no problem, since Berkman’s primary job is as the club’s DH. Wash also said Olt’s main duties this spring were going to be in right field and his natural position of third base. Why is any of this significant? Because it has always been assumed there would be a first base platoon in 2012 consisting of Mitch Moreland against righties and either Olt or Berkman against southpaws. No Olt

Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre

Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

and no Berkman working out at first base seems to point to Wash giving Moreland a shot at being the fulltime first baseman.

This is a good thing and a bad thing. This is a critical year for Moreland. Like Chris Davis before him, I’m pretty sure this is Moreland’s last chance to prove himself as an everyday player. Both have been offensively inconsistent in their time with Texas, showing flashes of greatness followed by bouts of great mediocrity. Davis was never able to get into an offensive groove with the Rangers despite lots of chances. For Moreland, injuries have led to offensive inconsistency. If he doesn’t produce this year, whether injured or not, he will probably be headed for other pastures like Davis before him.

Julio Borbon

Julio Borbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This spring also will be critical for Julio Borbon. It wasn’t so long ago Borbon was part of the first Rangers team to make it to the World Series and considered a vital part of the team’s fortunes. This year he enters spring training as the forgotten man, out of options and supplanted on the depth chart by Leonys Martin. His only shot appears as the Rangers’ fifth outfielder. This goes to show the Rangers depth in the minor league system. Borbon didn’t see a day of time in the majors in 2012, yet I think he has the talent to be on any team in the majors. Borbon’s problem is his defense. It hasn’t been good enough to make up for his lack of power. If the D isn’t there this spring, Borbon will be looking for a new organization to play for come April.

Almost 700 word, just to say Spring has sprung, the grass has ris and where I’d like to be is not where I is. Just a few days to the first exhibition game. I have a hankering for a hot dog and some nachos.

Am I Weird?

My favorite vacation spot usually has a beach associated with it, yet today, I would rather be spending time in the desert of Arizona.

These are the smells I usually love the most: bacon, crab, lobster, coffee and steak on the grill. Today, though, I feel like making a trip to Academy just to smell a new baseball glove and the oil to loosen up the leather.

On a daily basis, my favorite wood is the one from which my front door is made, welcoming me home after a hard day at work. Yet today, it is ash and weighs a mere 34 ounces.

As is my custom, I came home today after spending eight hours at a clean, comfortable office. Yet what I really wanted to do today was rub some red dirt on my hands.

Tonight I’ll throw a blue rubber ball and my dog will fetch it and chew on it for awhile. But tonight I’d rather the ball be horsehide with red stitches on it.

Tonight the president gives his State of the Union message, but I’d rather hear Ron Washington talk tonight than Barack Obama. And instead of being in front of the TV, I’d much rather be sitting a few feet behind the first base dugout, enjoying the cool desert air and smelling the newly mowed grass.

Does all of this make me weird?

If it does, then so be it. I am weird. And I am a fan. And Spring Training is here. And all is right with the world.

baseball-bat-and-ball-on-grass-overhead-view

English: Rolin Custom Baseball Glove

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Minority Manager Update

Ron Washington and Art Howe in the dugout.

Ron Washington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year ago, I engaged in an exercise to determine where Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington stood on the all-time wins chart compared to other African-American managers in major league baseball.

At the time, I was both intrigued and mortified to find that since the color barrier was broken in the managerial ranks in 1975, only 15 different African-Americans over a 27 year span were hired as a manager in Major League Baseball. Of those 15, only five: Dusty Baker, Frank Robinson, Cito Gaston, Hal McRae and Jerry Manuel were blessed to manage again after their first job (although Gaston’s second job was with the same team, the Toronto Blue Jays).

Meanwhile, between the start of the 1975 season and the start of the 2012 season, there were 338 changes in managers. Of those, only 23 jobs went to African-Americans, less than 7 percent. An additional 27 jobs went to Hispanic managers, just under 8 percent.

Updating for entering the 2013 campaign, there were two in-season managerial changes in 2o12 and six changes to start the 2013 season. I’m pleased to note another African-American has broken into the managerial ranks with the hiring of Bo Porter as the Houston Astros skipper.

Bo Porter

Bo Porter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As to where Ron Washington ranks, he remains the sixth winningest African-American manager with 520 wins entering 2013. He will likely stay there at the end of 2013, as he stands 107 wins behind Don Baylor for 5th place on the list. Dusty Baker is number one with 1581 wins and counting.

I still think in this day and age that Major League baseball has not done a very good job in helping to increase minority hires among the managerial ranks. Only five of this year’s 30 managers are from minority groups. What’s even sadder is how African-American representation in the player ranks continues to fall and how the Texas Rangers, managed by Ron Washington, are a prime example of that.

The 2012 Rangers did not have a single African-American player on the roster for the entire 2012 season. This was the first time since the 1960 Kansas City Athletics that an MLB team failed to have a single African-American ballplayer on their roster for a season.

Baseball as a whole is as popular as ever. People love going to the games. Yet baseball has a problem in getting African-American youth interested in the game, which is a shame. Baseball was the first major sport to break the color barrier. I’d hate to see it become the first sport to lose that representation altogether.

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