Spring Postcard: Rangers hoping to solve eternal pitching problems
With Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Hank Blalock, they'll hit plenty
This part is new: The Rangers have some serious minor league pitching talent
Texas is blown away by shortstop Elvis Andrus' defensive abilities and speed
1) Nothing ever changes in Texas. The story stays the same. The Rangers will hit. And hit. They led the league in runs scored in 2008 -- and here is your stat of the day: The Rangers have finished top five in runs scored every single year since 2000. With Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Hank Blalock et. al, they will hit plenty in 2009. The question, as always: Will they pitch enough? They are counting, as usual, on a number of things going right, including the return of Jason Jennings from surgery, the emergence of Brandon McCarthy and lefty Matt Harrison and a rebound season from Kevin Millwood. The Rangers also signed Kris Benson, so he figures in there, too.
2) The Rangers have all kinds of young (and almost ready) pitching. This part is new: The Rangers have some serious minor league talent. The most exciting of the bunch may be 20-year-old righty Neftali Feliz, who came over in the Mark Teixeira trade and pitched brilliantly in Class AA. There's also lefty Derek Holland, whose fastball tops out at 96 mph and has already shown pitching command beyond his years. It's likely both will start in the minors, but for the first time in a long time the Rangers look ready to call up some promising starters of their own.
3) So far, so good for Andruw Jones. He's mostly made news this spring for his apology to the Dodgers for being such a disappointment last year (and also for being overweight), but Jones looks to be in shape and, so far anyway, he's hitting. Nobody expects him to become the dynamo who hit 92 home runs and played center field as well as it had been played in 2005 and 2006, but the truth is, nobody really expected him to come to camp in shape and show even the small bit of promise he's showing. The Rangers have plenty of outfield options -- too many, really, when you consider that Marlon Byrd does not even have a place -- but if Jones can resemble the center fielder who won 10 Gold Gloves, his bat might reawaken in the cozy hitting atmosphere of the Ballpark at Arlington.
New faces, new places
Relievers Brendan Donnelly and Derrick Turnbow -- both All-Stars in their prior lives -- are in Rangers camp trying to win jobs in the bullpen. That makes three former All-Stars in the Rangers spring training 'pen because Eddie Guardado, who the Rangers traded in August to Minnesota, is back again. Of the three, only Guardado seems likely to win a big league job, though Donnelly -- who has only pitched 33 innings the last two years while dealing with an elbow injury -- seems healthy. "He's throwing pretty well," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Also, 41-year-old Omar Vizquel is in camp trying to win a utility role. One of the favored bits of trivia in Rangers camp this year is that when Vizquel broke in with the Seattle Mariners on April 3, 1989, Rangers rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus was seven months and eight days old.
Prospect creating a buzz
That would make Elvis Andrus 20 years old, but the Rangers are so blown away by his defensive abilities and his speed that Michael Young, after some seriously convincing, agreed to move over to third base. Remember: Young won the Gold Glove at shortstop last year. He may not have deserved it, but he did win it. And he moved over to third base for this kid.
Andrus' bat may take a little while, but he can really run (53 stolen bases in Class AA last year) and he has scouts buzzing about his defensive potential. The Rangers will not rule out the possibility that they will send him back to the minors for a little bit of seasoning, but that looks less and less likely. "He just looks like he belongs out there," one scout says. "Some guys have that look."
Jones is trying to win a spot in centerfield, while Byrd is trying to earn his way on the 25-man roster. So is Vizquel, and the Rangers are keeping their options open at shortstop. Also, three spots in the rotation are up for grabs.
It does look like hard throwing Frank Francisco has won the closer job, and Benson has thrown well so far in his effort to make the rotation.
Well, what else? Hitting. The Rangers scored 901 runs last year, and even with the loss of Milton Bradley, they should score about that many again this year, assuming they can get a healthy season out of Kinsler and similar offense from Hamilton and Young. Not to mention several people are talking about a breakout season from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
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