It started with Chi Chi and continues with Gobbles.
Just a few days ago, the Texas Rangers decided Phil Klein wasn’t the answer for the fifth spot in the Texas rotation. With the Rangers suddenly going from afterthought to Wild Card contender, they also decided Ross Detwiler wouldn’t reclaim the slot when he returns from the disabled list.
Instead they went with Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, one of the Rangers’ top prospects. The Rangers really wanted Gonzalez to stay in AAA for all of 2015, with the only possible major league service coming with September call-ups. But the Rangers started winning. And winning some more. Before anyone realized, a 7-14 April record had become a 24-24 record. The offense came alive, hitting home runs with abandon. Suddenly national writers started noticing the Rangers and proclaiming they could be contenders (some of us had a feeling they could be long before this but we’re just homers).
With the Rangers surging, the decision came down. Instead of a consistently inconsistent #5 starter like Detwiler, a pitcher with more upside was essential. Gonzalez, it was felt, might take some lumps but he’ll learn from it. And when he’s good, he’ll be better than Detwiler at his best.
Gonzalez proved that his first time out. Facing the Red Sox, all he did was spin 5 1/3 hitless innings before David Ortiz laced a double to left center. Ortiz applauded the rookie after he reached second. General Manager Jon Daniels says Gonzalez is not just a couple of starts pitcher. The rotation spot is his to lose, which will make for some interesting times when one of Matt Harrison, Derek Holland or Martin Perez is ready to go. Harrison begins a rehab assignment this week.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s breathtaking walk-off win against the Sox got tempered by the loss of Adrian Beltre for 2-3 weeks with a sprained left thumb. Pulling another surprise out of his hat, Daniels announced #1 prospect Joey “Gobbles” Gallo would replace Beltre at third. Unlike Gonzalez, Gallo will stay with the Rangers only as long as Beltre is out, then he’ll go to AAA Round Rock.
Gallo hits home runs. Lots of them. Majestic shots you won’t forget. I saw him hit one in Corpus Christi a year ago and it was a sight to behold. Gallo has 9 homers this season after hitting 40 each of the past two seasons. He also strikes out a lot and his defense will never be compared to Beltre’s. He does, however, get the chance to experience big league pitching for the next 14 to 21 days. If he hits .400 with 8 home runs in that time span, maybe he won’t go back down. If he does that, it’ll be interesting to see who the odd man out will be.
If I had my druthers, I’d put as little pressure on Gallo as possible and bat him 7th in the order, maybe even 8th. Hitting him higher gives manager Jeff Bannister a conundrum. With Beltre gone, Texas could go with 5 lefthanded hitters in a row: Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Mitch Moreland and Gallo. Despite the potential power there, it also makes it easier for opposing managers to use their bullpens against the Rangers. No situational lefties here. Get one southpaw and he could go for almost two innings. Put Gallo 7th or 8th and you can split it up just a little.
Another fresh face arrived on the scene last week in Hanser Alberto. Alberto is one of the best defensive infielders in the minors of any club but lately, he’s also been hitting a ton for Round Rock. Along with some guy named Josh Hamilton, Alberto’s impact on Texas was immediate, hitting .364 in his first three games with a triple and 3 RBI.
The new generation of Rangers is coming and there are more on the way. This team may be getting ready for another good 3-4 year run.
Two weeks into the season, the Texas Rangers stand at 5-8, in last place in the AL West, albeit just a game and a half out of first. The season is still early but it’s not too early to give a State of the Team address. Here are the takeaways from the season’s first 8% of the schedule:
Thank God For Nick Martinez
It could change rapidly but the big league sophomore has been the Rangers’ best pitcher, starter or reliever. Martinez has gone seven innings in each of his first two starts and has yet to surrender an earned run in getting off to a 2-0 start. Without Martinez, the Rangers pitching staff would be lowly indeed. Colby Lewis has been OK, Yovani Gallardo slightly below average and Ross Detwiler abysmal to the point you’d be hard-pressed to find a single Rangers fan in favor of letting him make another start ever. On top of that, no sooner had fans resigned themselves to being without Yu Darvish for the year then the new expected ace, Derek Holland went down for two months with a shoulder issue. Anthony Renaudo wasn’t the answer in one start. The chorus of fans singing for promoting Chi Chi Gonzalez is growing.
The Bullpen Is A Mess
Despite bright spots like Anthony Bass in long relief and Shawn Tolleson in the 7th inning, nobody else in the pen is rising to the challenge. Nowhere was that more evident than Sunday’s gut-wrenching 11-10 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Tanner Scheppers, in his second game back from the DL, couldn’t find the strike zone in the 8th, walking the bases full. Rookie Keone Kela, seen by many as the heir apparent for the closer’s role, showed he’s not ready for prime time, walking in one of the runs after relieving Scheppers. Closer Neftali Feliz was forced to try to get a 5-out save and couldn’t get the job done, giving up a 2-run single in the 8th, then two more runs in the 9th to blow the save and get the loss. The Rangers firemen have acted more like arsonists.
Thank God For Prince Fielder
The big guy doesn’t have a single home run and leads the AL in singles of all things. He’s also been the Rangers’ steadiest hitter. He’s beating the shift by going the opposite way, which is why he’s getting a lot of singles. He’ll eventually get the power stroke going but it’s going to require Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo to start hitting the way they can. Fielder won’t see better pitches until the guys hitting behind him start giving pitchers something else to think about.
New Year, Same Problems
2014 was a record-setting injury year for the Rangers and 2015 isn’t starting much better. Derek Holland is out for two months, left fielder Ryan Rua sprained his ankle, then discovered he has a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out for a while. Choo and Mitch Moreland have missed games already with minor ailments, Scheppers just returned from the DL. Texas is a slightly deeper team than they were a year ago but can still ill-afford many more injuries.
Is Elvis In The Building?
What’s happened to Elvis Andrus? Never a scary offensive presence, now his defense seems to have regressed. Elvis makes his living being a brilliant defender first, a decent running threat second. Thus far, he’s not hitting, he’s not running and he’s not fielding. As of yesterday, he was the lowest rated position player by WAR in baseball. This HAS to improve.
The season is not off to a good start. Texas is once again resembling a last place team. They will hit better. There are too many pieces with good track records who have started out slowly. Pitching is another issue altogether. The Rangers need more innings from their starters and a couple more bullpen pitchers to step up. Otherwise it’ll be another long year in Arlington.
Several stories have appeared nationally suggesting it’s time for Jon Daniels to bite the bullet and tear down the Texas Rangers in order to build them up again. Nobody is more forthright and insistent on this than MLB Network’s Jim Bowden, himself a former GM.
Overall, the mantra of these national scribes is: the Rangers are going nowhere this year, so why not get what you can for the pieces you can get a return on. This is often brought up at the same time as speculation that the Rangers are after Cole Hamels to provide them with an ace while Yu Darvish is out for the season.
Not a single game has been played in the 2015 regular season, yet already the Rangers are given up for dead.
I’m here to tell you, now is NOT the time to tear down the Texas Rangers. In fact, now is a great time for Daniels to stand pat and play the hand he’s been dealt for 2015. Here’s three reasons why.
Joey Gallo Isn’t Ready Yet
Along with his insistence that now is the time to trade Adrian Beltre, Bowden ties it together with the call for Rangers uber-prospect Joey Gallo to start his major league career as the new Rangers third baseman. Why someone who’s worked at the top of the MLB food chain would suggest this is puzzling. For all his prodigious power potential, Gallo isn’t ready for the majors yet. He’s only had about 250 at bats at the AA level and he struck out almost 120 times in those at bats. A K% like that does not spell “Big League Ready” in anybody’s book but Bowden’s. So, if the Rangers traded Beltre, who plays third base? Nobody of any consequence. And if you’re using Beltre as a chip to acquire Hamels, the Phillies aren’t going to throw in a big league third baseman as well.
The Biggest Contracts Have The Least Return
Outside of Beltre, the three biggest Rangers contracts belong to Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus. Fielder and Choo are coming off injury-plagued years and Andrus had arguably the worst season of his career in 2014. In other words, their trade value is at the lowest it could possibly be. The Rangers would get very little return in players. Maybe a little salary relief, but not much in players. Derek Holland might fetch a decent return but Texas isn’t about to part with one of their best pitchers when putting together a decent rotation is the key towards reaching the post-season.
Two Years From Today
Joey Gallo isn’t ready this year, but he probably will next year. Also ready in the next year or so will be catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez, who nearly made the club THIS year. Martin Perez is coming back from Tommy John surgery this year, Darvish will be back next year. Heck, we might even put Jurickson Profar back in the mix, who could be back next year as well. The point here is, while this year’s Rangers may not make the playoffs (and I think they’ll be better than a last place team), the 2016 Rangers could feature Gallo and Alfaro as rookies. If they become the big leaguers scouts think they will, the 2017 Rangers will have one of the most potent offenses in the AL with Gallo, Alfaro and Rougned Odor, even if Fielder has aged into a 20 HR hitting DH. Meanwhile, the starting rotation will feature Darvish, Holland, Perez and Gonzalez.
Not every prospect pans out but there’s every reason to believe the ones who are just a year away from Arlington are going to be special.
Break up the Rangers? Even if this season is a rough one, there’s enough on the horizon to stand pat. The window may be opening again soon.
I recently relocated from the Rio Grande Valley to the Austin area, so naturally when I had the chance, I somehow managed to bypass going to the Rangers’ Winter Caravan stop in Round Rock, just a 45 minute drive away. Instead, I chose to make the 3 hour plus drive to Arlington to attend the annual Rangers Fan Fest with my son, who lives in the area.
This was my second Fan Fest, having attended the 2011 gathering at the Arlington Convention Center just three months after the Rangers’ first ever World Series appearance. Fan Fest has gotten so big now that the Rangers have moved it to Globe Life Park, opening up the entire stadium to the fans.
Being among the first 5,000 in line (waiting over an hour in 36 degree “comfort”), we each received 5 scratch-off lottery tickets for the chance to get an autograph from the Big 5: Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Pudge Rodriguez. Unfortunately, only 750 of the 25,000 tickets distributed were winners. As you can see, I was not one of the lucky 750. My son, however, had a winner and got Prince Fielder’s autograph. His impression? “That guy has some GUNS!”
There were plenty of other autograph opportunities but they weren’t announced until just a few minutes before the session. I was originally in a line to get autographs from Rangers prospects Chi Chi Gonzalez and Spencer Patton but then saw an announcement that propelled me to leave my current location and go halfway around the ballpark (sorry Chi Chi and Spencer!). Thus I was fortunate enough to get Nick Tepesch to sign my Rangers cap and Matt Harrison to ink my 2010 AL Champions T-shirt.
Then it was on to a Q&A session with Rangers GM Jon Daniels. It was still early so I got a front row seat and even got to ask him a couple of questions. First one: How many calls and texts does it take to complete a trade such as the one that netted the Rangers Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers? Answer: Sometimes just a few, sometimes a lot. Gallardo was just a few… and Daniels says Brewers GM Doug Melvin doesn’t text much, he prefers talking directly to people. Second question: With hundreds of players in the minor league system, how do the Rangers communicate with them? Is there an employee newsletter or something? Answer: Not really. The managers, coaches and scouts grade every player in every game and share the info with each other but the players usually only know what’s really going on by following each other on social media to find out who’s moving up, getting traded, released, etc. Interesting tidbit: No matter how many people are in the room, Daniels looks the person who asked the question in the eye throughout his answer. Impressive!
It was good to get to Fan Fest early because after a couple of hours, it became clear to us there would be no other autographs to get. At 11:30 more than 200 people were in line at one location for a 2 pm autograph session and the same held true at all the autograph locations. Thus we decided to walk around and see the other sites.
The home clubhouse was open but the line was too long. There was no waiting to get to the hitting cages, though. There we saw this “Hitter’s Prayer” on the wall and a couple of cracked batting practice bats, including this custom Adrian Beltre model.
We also attended a Q&A with new Rangers skipper Jeff Bannister. He’s not the charismatic rah-rah type like Ron Washington, but he’s just as passionate about the game. He’s a little more sabermetric oriented than Wash and, unlike his predecessor, is unlikely to bunt a lot in the early innings. The cancer survivor Bannister’s mantra, which got a lot of crowd applause, was “Never Ever Quit!”
Other items of interest. As I was walking out of the Rangers Hall of Fame, I suddenly realized the newest member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel, was right behind me. Nadel stands 6-1 or 6-2 so I told him he was taller than I expected. His response: “I sound shorter on the radio.”
In the gift shop, we noticed then Rangers still have shirts for one of their minor league players who likely will never face major league pitching, or minor league pitching for that matter: current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Strangest sight of all: I’m used to seeing tarp over the infield grass and dirt during a rain delay but, due to the mid-30’s early morning weather, I don’t think I’d ever seen tarp over ALL of the grass on the field!
Now the only bad thing is there’s still over two months to go before the Season Opener. Thanks to Fan Fest, I’m ready NOW!