Youngsters get chance, if they're ready
GM Daniels, manager Washington make philosophy work
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- General manager Jon Daniels looks to the future. Manager Ron Washington isn't ready to concede the present.Daniels talks about going with young players at every opportunity and building a foundation for future success. Washington talks about competing this year. Daniels has something in mind that looks like a three-to-five-year plan. Washington thinks of ways to beat the Mariners on Opening Day. Both approaches are talked about daily in Rangers camp, but they aren't necessarily incompatible. It's part of the two-axis attack the Rangers take as a mid-market team that can't afford to go checkbook-to-checkbook with the Yankees and Red Sox but also isn't willing to scuttle all hope for winning now. The underlying philosophy is simple. "We're going to continue to give opportunities to our young players," Daniels said. "But we want them to be ready for it. We want them to earn a job, and not have it be given to them. We're not going to go with young players before they are ready. We want them to be able to come at their own pace." That's it right there, and the way it will be as the Rangers' future unfolds. The Rangers will go with young players. But if they don't feel there is a young player who will fill a particular hole, they will look elsewhere besides the farm system. That's why the Rangers' Spring Training roster includes pitchers Jason Jennings, Sidney Ponson, Eddie Guardado and Jamey Wright, catcher Adam Melhuse, first baseman Ben Broussard and outfielders Milton Bradley and Kevin Mench. The Rangers signed each one of them to a one-year deal this offseason. Some got a Major League contract, while others had to settle for a Minor League deal, but nobody was given a multiyear deal. Every signing brought up the same question: If the Rangers are committed to young players, why is this guy being signed? The answer is simple. Daniels already has answered it. The Rangers don't want to jeopardize a young player's future before he is ready. Gone are the days when outfielder Laynce Nix and pitcher Edinson Volquez are pushed to the big leagues before their time has come. Eric Hurley is the Rangers' best young pitching prospect, and he was 7-2 with a 3.25 ERA in 15 games at Double-A Frisco last year. However, he was 4-7 with a 4.91 ERA in 13 starts at Triple-A Oklahoma, and the Rangers feel he still needs more time. That's why Jennings was signed for one year. He'll be the No. 3 starter, and Hurley can start the season at Oklahoma. Here is another case in point: Luis Mendoza, 24, is another good-looking prospect. He was 15-4 with a 3.93 ERA at Double-A last year, and he became the leading candidate to become the Rangers' fifth starter this spring when Brandon McCarthy went down with an elbow injury. However, the Rangers also reacted to McCarthy's injury by immediately signing Ponson to a Minor League contract and getting him quickly into camp. Ponson doesn't necessarily fit into a youth movement, except that he gives the Rangers a fallback option in case they feel Mendoza isn't ready. The difference here is Mendoza is showing he is ready, and it looks like he'll be the fifth starter. Again, that's how it's going to be: If the young player (Mendoza) is deemed ready, then he gets the job. If the young player (Hurley) needs more time, the Rangers will find somebody to fill the spot. "If the guys aren't ready, they don't need to be here," Washington said. "These guys are our future, but we just don't want to give them a job." First base? The Rangers have a great first-base prospect in Chris Davis. He hit .297 with 36 home runs and 118 RBIs last season and was their Minor League Player of the Year. It was Davis' first full season in professional baseball, and he played in 99 games at Class A Bakersfield and 30 at Double-A Frisco. In those 30 games, he had 109 at-bats and hit .294 with 12 homers and 25 RBIs. A small-market team might have pushed him into its Opening Day lineup. A large-market team might have signed or traded for a big-name first baseman like Mark Teixeira and forgot about Davis. The Rangers? They signed Broussard to a one-year deal. Davis will be here when the Rangers feel he is ready. Right field? John Mayberry was the Rangers' No. 1 pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, but he has yet to play above Double-A. He'll be at Oklahoma this year. Bradley will be the right fielder on a one-year contract. There is no mystery in mid-market Texas. Young players if they are ready -- the best available short-term options if they are not.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.