The Newberg Report: Feb. 20, 2006
Weekly column to focus on Minor League players, not results
When I was a kid, grass-stained from Little League, we'd make the drive to Arlington Stadium two or three times a year. Those were the days of Sandy Alomar Sr. and Mike Bacsik Sr., this new invention called ballpark nachos, Bat Nights -- when you actually got a piece of lumber rather than a grocery store voucher -- and doubleheaders.At that age, I generally came away from a Rangers game with a pennant, a stomach ache (and on Bat Night, a mild case of tinnitus) and a game program. And this part I can't explain: in those programs there was always one page full of mug shots, featuring maybe a dozen players (usually mustached) from the organization's farm system. The images of those layouts remain as indelible for me as Al Oliver's swing or Bert Blyleven's yakker. Pat Putnam flanked by Rick Lisi, Wayne Pinkerton and Ken Pape. The reason I spent so much time studying those Minor League pictures was that, whether I was conscious of it or not, I knew that on my own path to becoming a big-league ballplayer I'd have to be one of them before I was one of Them. It's now nearly 30 years later. I've been a lawyer for 12 years, a husband for almost nine, a father for almost six and a Major League Baseball player for none. But my love for the game has only intensified, and my deep interest in Minor League baseball has persisted. I started writing about the Texas Rangers in 1998, with a great part of the focus trained on the farm system. There's always plenty being written elsewhere about the big club. Not so much on the Minor Leagues, a nearly unique aspect of this great game that allows us to see a big picture that we can't see in football or basketball, sports where our team's future stars are in college or high school, rather than in Frisco, Texas, or Clinton, Iowa, or Spokane, Wash., already the property of our team. My hobby has grown. In 2005, the Rangers asked me to do a little writing for them. Some of my work appeared on TexasRangers.com, in those ballpark programs that inspired me when I was my daughter's age, and on the Jumbotron between innings. The Rangers have asked for more from me this season. In addition to the standard Newberg Report entries that appear on this website, I'll write a weekly column. One week it might feature a top prospect from the Rangers system. The next might illustrate and attempt to explain one of baseball's intricate procedural rules or analyze the Rangers' system-wide depth at a particular position. I won't use this space to report Rangers news. You'll get everything you need in that regard on this Web site from beat reporter T.R. Sullivan. The emphasis here will be on analysis and backstory, and more often than not it will focus on the organization's Minor Leaguers. But let me make this clear: I'm not going to spend much time talking about an Oklahoma win streak, or whether the Bakersfield bullpen is getting overworked. You won't find me speculating on whether a 28-year-old signed in July to join the Frisco lineup could be the key to a RoughRider postseason run. My favorite athletes are Michael Young and Mark Teixeira, because they do it all on the field and do it all off the field, because they work hard, because they are accountable. I'll be proud if my kids decide either or both of them are worth looking up to. Will I write about them in this space? Probably not, because, again, there's not much I can say about them that you won't have already read. Chances are that I'll mention 19-year-old Johnny Whittleman, a veteran of two months as a pro, more often than Hank Blalock, a veteran of two All-Star Games. As I do at NewbergReport.com, I'll write more about the Minor League players, not only because of that relative void that I think is worth filling, but also because of what developments on the farm could mean to the big club. My excitement about John Danks and Eric Hurley doesn't mean I think they deserve to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation over the next six weeks. It means I think they have a great chance to make as much progress as Kameron Loe has. Eventually. I'd much rather see Michael Schlact give up two runs on four hits in six innings pitched in a Bakersfield loss this April, than for him to scuffle his way through 3 2/3 innings of a 10-7 win. If Clinton finishes 20 games under .500 for the season, it won't make a difference to me. It will be enough for me if Omar Poveda, Zach Phillips and Michael Kirkman can hold their own against Midwest League lineups. It's about the Texas Rangers. It's only about the Texas Rangers. The reason I think covering the farm system is worthwhile is that when Danks gets here, and if and when Whittleman and Schlact and Cristian Santana get here, you'll know that there's a difference between bringing someone like those guys up, and bringing someone like James Baldwin or B.J. Waszgis in. Or if Texas trades Wes Littleton in a deal for Jeremy Affeldt, you'll understand why that's not anything like trading Josh Hoffpauir for Scott Erickson. When I'm in camp next month and see someone like Johnny Lujan or R.J. Anderson do something impressive, the point is not that I'm pumped that they could star for Bakersfield or Spokane. It's the thought that Lujan may be this year's version of Scott Feldman, a reliever who could go from anonymous to important in short order. It's the feeling that in Anderson the Rangers might have found a prototype leadoff hitter in last summer's ninth round, a high schooler that they paid above slot to sign and whose speed could be a devastating weapon if he takes to the organization's plan to turn him into a switch-hitter. The point is also -- and here's what sometimes gets lost in what I try to convey -- that Lujan and Anderson could turn into players that Texas can trade. And that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's part of the design. The laws of attrition that punish 90 percent of all Minor League baseball players are cruel. There's not one player in the Rangers system that I would ever wish failure on, though I know most of them will ultimately fail (if not reaching the Major Leagues equates to "failure"). I want every player that Texas drafts or signs to reach the big leagues, and if it's not here I hope they play well enough for another team's scout to recommend to his general manager that one of the Rangers' young prospects can help. When Texas traded Carlos Pena to Oakland, I wasn't upset. Pena was blocked at first base by Teixeira and Texas was getting four prospects back, headed by a lefthander who was considered ready to break into the big leagues (though Mario Ramos turned out to be the least meaningful player in the deal). When the Rangers traded Travis Hafner to Cleveland, I was very upset -- but not because I was wound up that Texas moved him. Though I believed he was one to keep, I understood why the club traded him. What I didn't understand was why the Rangers couldn't have gotten that deal done by including a lesser prospect -- or walked away if that wasn't possible. As for the trade of Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego, will we look back and say Texas moved him at the right time, like Pena, or misallocated him, like Hafner? There's no bigger fan than I am of C.J. Wilson and Jason Botts and John Hudgins. If Texas has the opportunity to trade all three for Barry Zito, how would I feel? Thrilled. (Before you start proliferating a flimsy rumor, the A's are going to get a lot more from some team than Wilson, Botts and Hudgins, if and when they trade Zito.) I'd be thrilled because that trade would make Texas better. All three young players could be parts here, but Zito would add a dimension that none of those three can. I want the Rangers to win. If you know me, you probably knew that. You just may not know how much. I'm the biggest Texas Rangers fan alive. I'm not a journalist. I'm a fan, a homer, a cheerleader. I try to stay objective, and I think I do a pretty good job of it, but I don't pretend to present an unbiased point of view. So what you can expect to get from me, once a week, is a little bias. You'll never see me take a shot at someone just to stir things up or try to make myself part of a story. But you might see me get excited about a Class A lefthander, when, realistically, he won't see Arlington for another three years, if ever. We'll get down to business next week, when I'll set out to explain baseball's options rules, using the unusual case of R.A. Dickey to demonstrate how complicated they can get. When you're finished reading the column, maybe they'll seem a little less complicated. Whether or not I can accomplish that, you have my word that I'll treat this opportunity with the enthusiasm of a Texas Rangers fan who couldn't wait until Rick Lisi graduated from Asheville to Arlington.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to TexasRangers.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.