Sunday, March 29, 2009

3/18 Rangers/Padres Spring Training Game Breakdown

This week I will analyze the Rangers @ Padres game on 3/18 that I saw while I was at Spring Training.

Top of the 1st - Cesar Ramos pitching:
Ian Kinsler – Ian got down 0-2, then got a hard-hit double.
Frank Catalanotto – He forced a 2-0 count with a good eye, then hit an RBI single up the middle.
Score: Rangers 1, Padres 0
Josh Hamilton – Josh chased the first pitch, which was way low-and-outside, and fouled it off. He then bunted for a single, it was a perfect bunt, right down the third base line, and he ran it out, showing good speed. Josh later said that he made the decision to lay down a bunt because he saw that San Diego was playing him back.
Nelson Cruz – Nelson killed a 1-0 pitch and hit a 3-run homer to left field. He just completely crushed this one.
Score: Rangers 4, Padres 0
David Murphy – Murphy had a good eye and got ahead 3-0 before drawing a five-pitch walk.
Chris Davis – Chris flied out to center field.
Travis Metcalf – He put the ball in play on a hit-and-run, but flied out to deep center field despite getting good contact.
Taylor Teagarden – Taylor forced a 2-0 count and got a 2-0 fastball, but fouled it off. Murphy then stole second, although it wasn’t due to great speed (he was actually pretty slow); it was because the catcher’s throw was more like a lob than a throw. Taylor then flied out to left field.

Bottom of the 1st – Brandon McCarthy pitching:
Chris Burke – Brandon threw a four-pitch walk to start off the game.
David Eckstein – McCarthy got ahead 0-2, then struck him out on a really good fastball. Teagarden then threw Chris Burke out trying to steal second with a bullet to complete the strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play.
Cliff Floyd – Cliff flew out to right field.

Top of the 2nd - Cesar Ramos pitching:
Elvis Andrus – Elvis chased the first pitch and fouled it off before grounding out.
Ian Kinsler – Ian forced a 2-0 count, then got a fastball but was late, before getting a hard-hit single.
Frank Catalanotto – Frank grounded into a double play after falling behind 0-2.

Bottom of the 2nd – Brandon McCarthy pitching:
Emil Brown – Brandon got ahead 0-2, then threw two straight balls, until Brown hit a high chopper to Metcalf, who made a good play on it.
Chris Snelling – Snelling flied out to left field.
Kyle Blanks – On a 2-2 count, McCarthy had good movement on his pitch, which froze Blanks for a strikeout. McCarthy had allowed no hits through two innings.

Top of the 3rd - Cesar Ramos pitching:
Josh Hamilton – Josh pushed one to left field for a double.
Nelson Cruz – Nelson hit a sac fly.
David Murphy – David got a 3-1 count, and then hit an RBI sac fly.
Score: Rangers 5, Padres 0
Chris Davis – Chris forced a 3-2 count and then got a walk.
Travis Metcalf – Travis smoked a single up the middle.
Taylor Teagarden – Taylor got to a 3-0 count, then after two straight strikes he hit a high pop-up to second base.

Bottom of the 3rd – Brandon McCarthy pitching:
Will Venable – Brandon got ahead 0-2, threw two straight balls, then made Venable ground out to 2nd.
Nick Hundley – On a 2-1 count, McCarthy blew the fastball right by him, and then he got a pop-out to third.
Everth Cabrera – Everth grounded out to 1st. McCarthy allowed no hits through three.

Top of the 4th - Jae Kuk Ryu pitching:
Elvis Andrus – Elvis fell behind 0-2, then struck out on a great curveball.
Ian Kinsler – Ian hit a ball hard for a ground-ball double.
Frank Catalanotto – Frank swung on top of the ball and hit a chopper to 2nd, moving Kinsler over to 3rd with 2 outs.
Josh Hamilton – Josh got a hard-hit RBI double to right-center field.
Score: Rangers 6, Padres 0
Nelson Cruz – got down 0-2, then forced a 2-2 count with a good eye. A 3-2 pitch almost hit him and he got on base with a walk.
David Murphy – David hit a should-be-RBI-double, but was robbed on a diving play by the first baseman. That play made SportCenter’s top 10 plays.

Bottom of the 4th – Brandon McCarthy pitching:
Chris Burke – Brandon got ahead 0-2 and then forced a ground-out to short.
David Eckstein – David also grounded out to short.
Cliff Floyd – forced a walk after falling behind 1-2.
Emil Brown – Brandon got a three-pitch strikeout. He threw four no-hit innings and looked terrific.

Top of the 5th - Jae Kuk Ryu pitching:
Chris Davis – Got ahead 2-0, but grounded out on a good defensive play.
Travis Metcalf – After falling behind 0-2, Metcalf forced a 3-2 count before grounding out to 3rd.
Taylor Teagarden – Flied out to center field as he got under the ball.

Bottom of the 5th – Brendan Donnelly pitching:
Chris Snelling – Brendan got ahead 0-2, then threw a great change-up to strike him out. On this at-bat he looked very good.
Kyle Blanks – Brendan fell behind 3-0, then allowed a double, the Padres’ first hit of the game.
Will Venable – After getting ahead 0-2, Donnelly allowed an RBI single.
Score: Rangers 6, Padres 1
Nick Hundley – Nick lined out to Davis, who tagged Venable out for an inning-ending-double-play.

Top of the 6th - Arturo Lopez pitching:
Elvis Andrus – Grounded out to 3B.
Joaquin Arias – Grounded out to 2B.
Frank Catalanotto – Chased a very low pitch and popped it up.

Bottom of the 6th – John Bannister pitching:
Everth Cabrera – John allowed a double.
Chris Burke – Bannister got ahead 0-2, then allowed a single up the middle.
Chase Headley – Chase hit into a double-play that scored a run.
Score: Rangers 6, Padres 2
Cliff Floyd – John gave up a bloop single to Floyd.
Emil Brown – Emil grounded out to 3B.

Top of the 7th - Edwin Moreno (former Ranger) pitching:
Julio Borbon – Got a hard-hit triple that would have been a double for most people.
Greg Golson – Hit an RBI sac fly.
Score: Rangers 7, Padres 2
Brandon Boggs – Got robbed of a hit by the third baseman.
Justin Smoak – Grounded out.

Bottom of the 7th – Willie Eyre pitching:
Chris Snelling – Eyre got ahead 0-2, then struck him out with a 2-2 pitch.
Kyle Blanks – Willie struck Blanks out, also, this time on a 3-2 pitch.
Matt Antonelli – Flied out to center field. Willie looked very good this inning.

Top of the 8th - Joe Thatcher pitching:
Travis Metcalf – Fell behind 0-2, then dropped his shoulder on the 0-2 pitch and struck out on three pitches.
Adam Melhuse – Hit a grounder to short, but the ball was thrown over the first baseman’s head for an error.
Omar Vizquel – Hit a single between the shortstop and third baseman.
Joaquin Arias – Hit a bloop RBI single after falling down 0-2.
Score: Rangers 8, Padres 2
German Duran – Hit an RBI sac fly to score Vizquel.
Score: Rangers 9, Padres 2
Julio Borbon – Grounded out to 2B.

Bottom of the 8th – Neftali Feliz pitching:
Jose Lobaton – Feliz threw a four-pitch walk.
Everth Cabrera – Feliz struck him out.
Dowdy – Hit into a double play.

Top of the 9th - Matt Buschmann pitching:
Greg Golson – Flew out to right field.
Brandon Boggs – Grounded out to 1B.
Justin Smoak – Flew out to LF.

Bottom of the 9th – Neftali Feliz:
Neftali allowed two runs on three hits in the ninth. This was not a very strong outing for Feliz.
Final Score: Rangers 9, Padres 4

Results of last week’s poll:
What do you think should determine home-field advantage for the World Series?
Best Record – 57%
All-Star Game – 26%
League with best interleague record – 15%
Other – 0%

Come back next week for my season predictions.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Training Trip Report

For the fourth year in a row, my dad, my granddad, and I went to see Rangers spring training in Surprise (near Phoenix) over spring break. This week, I’ll chronicle our trip, including my observations on the Rangers.

Monday March 16:

We left first thing Monday morning and got to Phoenix on time and without any delays. This was a nice change, as the last two years we have had delays that made us arrive at games in the 7th inning.

After landing and getting our car, we drove straight to Goodyear to see the Mariners at the Indians (it was an off day for the Rangers). The Indians just moved to Goodyear from Florida this year and are playing in a brand new stadium, but it was awful. The stadium was very metallic and not very modern and it was just filthy. The metal was mostly just covered in filth and then there were streaks of clear along it that made it look even worse. The jumbo-tron didn't work during the whole game and the scoreboard didn't work until the second inning. Also, the stadium was boring with no personality. We were really disappointed that they didn’t put more effort into building it. We’ve heard that the Indians’ complex, backfields, and clubhouse are great, but we couldn’t tell that from visiting the stadium.

Before the game, Bob Feller was at a booth signing autographs for ten dollars. We paid the $10 and I got his autograph. He was really, really nice and gave me pitching tips. He also told us how he pitched to Mickey Mantle. It was really amazing to find Bob Feller there and then get his autograph.

The game was very close the whole way and it was great to watch. It was 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth when Luis Pena pitched. He hit Matt LaPorta (a huge Indians prospect), got Travis Hafner to hit into a double play, and then he fell apart. He walked Carlos Santana and walked Wilson Valdez (who hit .216 for the Dodgers last year in 74 at-bats). Chris Gimenez then completely crushed one off of Pena for a 3-run walk-off homer to give the Indians the 4-1 win. The former Rangers that played in the game were Chris Shelton, who went 2-for-3 and played the whole game, and Travis Hafner who went 0-for-3 with a walk and played the whole game.

After we got to our car in the parking lot, the traffic was horrible. The parking lot only had one exit, which is just crazy, and we were near the back. After about ten minutes of not moving an inch, my granddad said that we should go to another lane, and that was a great idea as it saved us about 45 minutes (although they should have had more than one exit – I don’t know what the designer was thinking).

After the game we went to the Outback in Surprise and got burgers and fries. Their burgers are good, but not as good as Mooyah's. Then we went to our hotel (the Hampton Inn & Suites in Surprise – our 3rd year to stay there), watched some TV, and went to sleep.

Tuesday March 17:

This was our first day in Rangers camp. We went to the Rangers workouts in the morning and I got to see Kris Benson throw in the bullpen. He seems to have a smooth stretch delivery, and in the bullpen session he did a very good job of keeping the pitches low. He had decent speed and a good change-up, and most of his pitches would have been right at the knees. I also saw Andruw Jones take batting practice and he struggled the first time through as most of them were fly balls to center field and I didn't see any go out, and the third time through was pretty much the same. But he crushed the ball the second time through,

On Tuesday at the workout, I got to see and talk to a lot of the people I know with the team:
- Josh Hamilton – Josh is a great guy. When he saw me on his way to the field, he went out of his way to come over and say hello and see how I was doing. I got to tell him that I got baptized last summer and he high-fived me.
- Ian Kinsler – I got to talk with Ian a little before he took BP. He was nice as always.
- Rich Rice – Rich is in charge of media relations for the Rangers and this was the first time I met him. He's a nice guy and I want to thank him for the help he gave me during the week.
- Ben & Skin – I got to talk with Ben & Skin from The Fan a lot during the week during the morning workouts. It was fun getting to know them better and talk Rangers with them.
- Brennan Garr – Brennan is another great guy. I got to know him last summer when he was pitching in Frisco. He stopped and talked with us for about 10 minutes on Tuesday morning on his way back from the minor league workouts.
- Thomas Diamond – it's always good seeing Thomas and we talked a few times during the week.
- Jamey, Ginger, Erica, and Max Newberg – they were at the workouts every morning, so we had lots of time to talk about the Rangers.
- Scott Lucas – Scott was also at the workouts every morning during the week and was fun to talk to.
- Kevin Kennedy – This was the first time I had ever met Kevin, so it was really neat to talk with him. It sounds like he'll be working Tampa Bay Rays' TV games this year instead of working for Fox.
- I also got to see and talk with Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, Court Berry-Tripp, Jenny Martin, Evan Grant, Kea Kometani, and Ted Price during the week. It was good seeing and catching up with all of them.

I also played catch with Jamey Newberg's son, Max, who has a cannon arm and always wants to play catch.

The workout crowds were crazy. Probably between 250-300 people were there, most of them chasing after Josh Hamilton wherever he went. In previous years, there were usually about 20-50 people at the workouts, so this was a big difference. It made it almost impossible to talk with the players or get autographs.

I also started my autograph hunt for the week that day. I always try to get the autographs of everyone in major league camp that I don’t already have. This year, there were only nine people in camp that I didn't have: Kris Benson, Andruw Jones, Greg Golson, Joe Torres, Casey Daigle, Omar Vizquel, Justin Smoak, Brendan Donnelly, and Derrick Turnbow. I thought it would be easy, since in the past I've needed way more than that and had no problem getting them. But once I saw the crowds, I knew it would be hard. Tuesday, I got Kris Benson's and Greg Golson's autographs at the workout.

After the workouts I got to see the first part of the first minor league games of Spring Training at noon before going to the Rangers game. There were two different games going on at the backfields. They were playing the Royals. After watching those games for about 45 minutes, we headed to the main stadium, where I got to meet Sean Salisbury (formerly of ESPN, currently of The Fan) and ask him some questions about the Rangers up behind the press box (where he had been doing his show). He was very nice and gave me a lot of his time. There were some minor league questions that he didn't know the answer to, and so he called his partner, Newy, and asked him to come up to answer those. Newy was also very nice and I would like to thank him and Sean for giving me so much of their time.

We got down to our seats in the middle of the second inning. In the bottom of the second Kinsler got such a good jump off of first that there wasn't even a throw to try to get him out. Then Young got a broken bat single, but made a baserunning blunder and got picked off of first by the relay throw. In the top of the third Feldman got out of a jam. The Rangers scored six runs in the bottom of the third as Nelson Cruz got a triple, Marlon Byrd hit an RBI single, Kinsler had a 2-RBI single, Young had a 2-RBI double, and Hamilton had a 2-RBI single. The Rangers had ten batters come to the plate in the inning. In the top of the fourth Feldman threw a quick inning, and the bottom of the fourth was also quick. Feldman allowed five runs in the fifth and looked strong. I think he’s ready for the season. Ian Kinsler went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI’s, Michael Young went 3-for-4 with 1 RBI, Josh Hamilton went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI’s, and Marlon Byrd went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI’s. Derrick Turnbow pitched the eighth and looked like his old self for that inning. He didn’t allow anybody on base and struck out all the batters he faced.

After the game I got autographs from Derrick Turnbow and Justin Smoak. That left me with five players that I needed: Andruw Jones, Joe Torres, Casey Daigle, Omar Vizquel, and Brendan Donnelly.

That night we went to the Phoenix Coyotes game against the San Jose Sharks. This was the second time we had seen a Coyotes game (we also went last year). The Coyotes have a nice stadium (nicer than the AAC). It was a great game, as the Coyotes scored three goals in the first period, but the Sharks came back to tie it in the 3rd period. The Coyotes then scored another goal to beat what was the 2nd best team in hockey at the time, 4-3. Shane Doan scored the game-winning goal with 27 seconds left in the game for Phoenix. We went back to the hotel to sleep after that.

Wednesday March 18:

We went to the Rangers workouts on Wednesday morning, too. At that workout, I got Andruw Jones' autograph, leaving Brendan Donnelly, Joe Torres, Casey Daigle, and Omar Vizquel. That morning, we saw TR Sullivan, my friend from, and Anthony Andro (Rangers beat writer from the Fort Worth Star Telegram) for the first time. I also saw CJ Wilson, Tim Murphy, Michael Schlact, Scott Feldman, Terry Clark, Kevin Millwood, and Blake Beavan for the first time. All of them are great guys and I got to talk with them for a long time.

I focused on watching BP during the workouts this morning. Michael Young did well in BP and, even though he didn't hit many home runs, he hit the ball solidly every time. Chris Davis struggled.

We went to Red Robin after the workout and we got burgers before heading to the Rangers/Padres game in Peoria. Our seats for the game were awesome, the best I’ve ever had. We were in the first row right behind home plate and were sitting about five feet away from the on-deck circle (which was really neat). Before the game, I got an autograph from Brendan Donnelly, meaning I only needed Joe Torres, Casey Daigle, and Omar Vizquel.

The Rangers won the game 9-4 and Nelson Cruz hit a home run. Josh Hamilton also got a bunt single, which was great. He saw that the Padres were playing him back so decided he would take advantage of it and bunted himself on base. The next time Josh came up, a fan asked him if he was going to hit any homers and Josh joked, ‘No, I’m just bunting today’. We noticed that Josh interacted with the crowd a lot when he was in the on-deck circle and Chris Davis did some too, showing again what nice guys that are. Brandon McCarthy threw four no-hit innings for the Rangers, looking great in the process, but Neftali Feliz struggled when he came in late in the game. I’ll be giving a play-by-play description and analysis of this game next week.

After the game, we went back to the hotel for a little while before going to the evening Royals/Mariners game in Surprise. The Mariners won 9-3. Robinson Tejeda allowed three runs, all earned, in only 1.1 innings for the Royals. We went to sleep after the game.

Thursday March 19:

We went to the workouts again on Thursday morning and got to meet Ryan Tatusko, the guy who does the Backfield Diaries for Jamey Newberg's report. He was really nice and he talked with us for a while. CJ Wilson did really well while he was pitching in BP, his first work in a while due to a blister on his finger. He looked strong and ready to go.

The crowd at the workouts was really bad again, though. After the workouts we went straight to the Dodgers/Rockies game at the Dodgers new stadium, which is really nice. We decided to skip the Rangers game this day so that we could check out the Dodgers’ new stadium (they just moved to Glendale from Florida). The Dodgers’ new stadium is as nice as the Indians’ is bad. It has a cool look to it.

The Dodgers won the game 3-2 and we got to see Clayton Kershaw, a big Dodgers prospect, pitch. He threw five one-hit innings, but the most memorable thing about his performance was the fact that he hit a solo home run that put the Dodgers on top and after that they were never behind.

After the game, we went behind the stadium to check out their backfields, which are really nice. They have a lake between the Dodgers and White Sox facilities, with walking paths beside the lake, and they have really nice fields. Each team has a field replicating their major league stadium’s dimensions. They also have an orange grove like they did in Vero Beach, although we didn't get to see it. They had lots of exits from their parking lots and it was easy to get out.

We went to NYPD Pizza (New York Pizza Department) for dinner on Thursday. Their pizza is very good and it's in Surprise, too, near the Rangers’ ballpark. We hung out at the hotel after that and my dad and I watched some of the Lord of the Rings. This is my first time to watch those movies. We watched the first one last month and watched the second one on this trip. These are the extended versions of the movies so each movie is about 4 hours long.

Friday March 20:

On Friday we went to the backfields for a little bit in the morning and saw Mike Hindman for the first time. He had just gotten into town. The Rangers were playing in Tucson Friday and most of them had already left by the time we got to the complex. We watched the remaining Rangers begin their warm-ups and then left to get down to the game in Tucson.

We made the two and a half hour drive down to Tucson to see the Rangers play the Rockies, but Tucson made it as hard as possible to get there. They had all of the exits into downtown closed for some type of construction (they were all closed last year too so it must be a big project), so we had to exit north of the city and wind around the city streets. When we finally got to the stadium, all of the parking lots were full. They apparently don’t have enough parking spaces at the stadium. We circled the parking lot for about 20 minutes, along with dozens of other cars. There was not even a single employee directing traffic or helping people out by telling them that the lots were full and directing them to alternate lots. We saw some signs telling us to go to something called the El Con Mall and take a shuttle over, but we had no idea where El Con Mall was. We finally found an employee who was guarding a VIP parking lot and my dad got her to tell us what we were supposed to do. So my dad dropped my granddad and me off at the stadium so that we wouldn’t miss any of the game (it was only about 10 minutes before first pitch) and went to find parking. He had to go about a mile through gridlocked traffic to the mall. When he got there, there was only one shuttle bus driving the route between the mall and the park and there were hundreds of people waiting for it, so my dad just decided to walk the mile over to the ballpark. When he got in, it was the middle of the second inning. But the thing was, the ballpark was nowhere near full, so I don't know how the parking lot could have been so short on capacity. It doesn’t seem that they planned this stadium very well and they definitely don’t do a good job dealing with the traffic, the parking, and the shuttles.

The Rockies’ stadium wasn't even very good, as it was an independent league team's stadium and there was nothing special about it. It seems very old and doesn’t even have seating in the outfield. They make it so hard to get to the ballpark and then, once you do get there, the Rockies make it hard to park, and then, once you park, the Rockies make it hard to get to the stadium, and then, once you get to the stadium, there's nothing special about it. So my advice is - don't go to a Rockies spring training game.

The game was good, though. The Rangers won 11-5 and Nelson Cruz and Frank Catalanotto each hit home runs. Derrick Turnbow pitched again but really struggled this time. His command was erratic and he took forever between pitches. Cruz ended up 2-for-2 with 2 RBI’s, and Frank Catalanotto got three RBI’s, while Royce Huffman from minor league camp went 2-for-5.

I never was able to get the last three autographs I wanted. I couldn’t find Casey Daigle or Joe Torres all week. I asked Omar Vizquel for his autograph a bunch of times but he never signed.

After the game ended we drove back to Phoenix to check into Embassy Suites near the airport to get ready to leave on Saturday morning. It was nice to have two rooms instead of just one and, when we got to our room, I watched the NCAA Tournament and then my dad and I watched more Lord of the Rings.

We flew home first thing Saturday morning. It was a great trip and has me excited about the Rangers’ season.

I asked 15 players a poll question this week. The following players participated: Josh Hamilton, CJ Wilson, Kevin Millwood, Ian Kinsler, Doug Mathis, Chris Davis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Scott Feldman, Kris Benson, Thomas Diamond, Justin Smoak, Derek Holland, Jason Jennings, Blake Beavan, and Ryan Tatusko.
Question: What do you think should determine home-field advantage for the World Series?
53% - Best overall record of the two teams playing
40% - The team from whatever league won that year’s All-Star game
7% - The team from whatever league had the best interleague record

I would like to thank all the players who answered my poll this year.

I have now been to every Cactus League stadium, so I am giving each one a letter grade.
Camelback Ranch (Dodgers and White Sox) – A
Goodyear Ballpark (Indians) – D-
Hi Corbett Field (Rockies) – F----
HoHoKam Park (Cubs) – B+
Maryvale Baseball Park (Brewers) – C-
Peoria Stadium (Padres and Mariners) – A-
Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Athletics) – C
Scottsdale Stadium (Giants) – B+
Surprise Stadium (Rangers and Royals) – A+
Tempe Diablo Stadium (Angels) - B
Tucson Electric Park (Diamondbacks) – B

Results of last week’s poll:
Who do you think will be the Rangers starting catcher coming out of Spring Training?
Jarrod Saltalamacchia – 74%
Taylor Teagarden – 18%
Max Ramirez – 8%
Other – 0%

Come back next week for a play-by-play analysis of the Rangers’ March 18th game against the Padres.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring Training Catchers Analysis

This past week 105.3 The Fan put my blog on their website at The Fan is the great new sports radio station in town and their website ( has a lot of good content. You should check it out. I think they plan to keep posting my blogs on their site and I’d like to thank Devin Pike and Gavin Spittle from The Fan for putting me on their site.

This week I completed my analysis of the players in Rangers camp with an analysis of the seven catchers in big league camp, with my percentages of them making the Opening Day roster this year.

Adam Melhuse: Last year Melhuse hit .167 in only thirty at-bats. He hit .200 with 0 HR’s and 1 RBI in 20 AB’s for the Rangers and .100 with 0 HR’s and 1 RBI in 10 AB’s for the Rockies. This was the worst average of his career when he had 25 or more at-bats. In 2007, Melhuse hit .231 with 0 HR’s and 2 RBI’s in 26 at-bats for Oakland and hit .206 with 1 HR and 7 RBI’s in 68 AB’s for the Rangers (a .213 batting average between the two teams). His best year was in 2004 with Oakland when he hit .257 with 11 HR’s and 31 RBI’s in 214 at-bats (the most home runs, RBI’s, and at-bats of any season in his career). But with the Rangers having Teagarden, Ramirez, and Saltalamacchia and with Melhuse being a non-roster invite, he probably will not make the team out of Spring Training, but if an injury occurs he might be called up on short-term basis.
Percentage chance of making the team out of Spring Training: 11.4%

Manuel Pina: Last year (his 4th in the Rangers system) Pina hit .265 with 3 HR’s and 24 RBI’s in 223 at-bats with the Blaze before being called up to Frisco where he hit .275 with 0 HR’s and 9 RBI’s in 80 at-bats. He threw out 32% of the California League base-stealers and 40% of the Texas League base-stealers. Pina has almost no chance of making the team out of Spring Training with the Rangers’ catching depth and him being a non-roster invite. Pina is an excellent defensive catcher with good plate discipline but is in big league camp this year mostly to get some experience.
Percentage: 2.9%

Max Ramirez: Ramirez made his major league debut last year and struggled in 46 AB’s, hitting only .217 with 2 HR’s and 9 RBI’s. In his 243 at-bats with Frisco in 2008 he hit .354 with 17 HR’s and 50 RBI’s. His on-base percentage was .450. In 2007 after he was traded to the Rangers for Kenny Lofton, Ramirez hit .307 with 4 HR’s and 20 RBI’s in 114 at-bats for Bakersfield. Max has great offensive potential and may ultimately be part of the team as something other than a catcher (he may be better suited as a 1B/DH). He’s currently not in camp, as he’s playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, where he’s gone 0-for-5. He definitely has a good chance of making the team, but I think that he will start off the year in Oklahoma City.
Percentage: 45.1%

Kevin Richardson: In 2008, Kevin spent the whole year in Oklahoma City and hit .251 with 6 HR’s and 22 RBI’s in 187 at-bats. In 2007, with Frisco he hit .222 with 14 HR’s and 45 RBI’s in 320 at-bats. Kevin works really well with pitchers and is someone who probably has a future as a coach, even if he doesn’t play in the majors. Kevin has no chance of making the team out of spring training since he had knee surgery that will keep him out for a while.
Percentage: 0%

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Salty only had 198 at-bats last year and struggled. He hit .253 with only 3 HR’s and 26 RBI’s, but even though he had 110 less at-bats than 2007, he still walked 12 more times in 2008 than in 2007, showing that he’s learning to be more disciplined at the plate. He had nine errors last year and only a .976 fielding percentage and struggles throwing out base-stealers. In 2007, he hit .266 with 11 HR’s and 33 RBI’s in 308 AB’s between Atlanta and Texas. Salty has looked great during the off-season (.364, 9 HR and 21 RBI in 66 at-bats in the winter league) and during camp so far. Salty will almost surely make the team out of Spring Training and most likely will be the starter.
Percentage: 93.4%

Taylor Teagarden: Teagarden played very well in his short stint with the Rangers last year and hit .319 with 6 home runs and 17 RBI’s in 47 at-bats. His OBP was .396 and his slugging percentage was .809. He hit only .225 with 7 HR’s and 16 RBI’s in 187 at-bats with Oklahoma City in 2008 and hit only .169 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s in his 59 at-bats with Frisco in ’08. He is great defensively and works well with pitchers and, if he can keep up anything close to the offensive numbers he put up with the Rangers last year, will be the complete package at catcher. He will probably make the team, but not as an outright starter, most likely splitting the games with Saltalamacchia.
Percentage: 72.9%

I’m not sure that Emerson Frostad is in major league camp, but I think that he was brought over to replace the injured Kevin Richardson:
Emerson Frostad: Emerson hit .256 with 6 home runs and 38 RBI’s with Frisco in ’08. He played in 92 games and had 332 at-bats, an average of 3.61 at-bats per game played. He walked 35 times, but struck out 78 times. He had 85 total hits and was 4-for-6 in stolen base attempts. He can play third, catcher, and first, but doesn’t run very well. He has almost no chance of making the team this year.
Percentage: 1.2%

Here is my predicted catching roster on Opening Day:
Starting Catcher vs. Lefties: Taylor Teagarden
Starting Catcher vs. Righties: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Next in line:
Max Ramirez

Here are my predictions for the Rangers’ roster on Opening Day:
Starter #1: Kevin Millwood
Starter #2: Vicente Padilla
Starter #3: Matt Harrison
Starter #4: Scott Feldman
Starter #5: Brandon McCarthy
Long Reliever: Dustin Nippert
Long Reliever/Middle Reliever: Doug Mathis
Long Reliever/Middle Reliever: Josh Rupe
Middle Reliever: CJ Wilson
Middle Reliever: Warner Madrigal
Set-up Man: Eddie Guardado
Closer: Frankie Francisco
Starting Catcher vs. Lefties: Taylor Teagarden
Starting Catcher vs. Righties: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Ian Kinsler
3B: Michael Young
SS: Elvis Andrus
DH: Hank Blalock
Utility: Omar Vizquel
Center Field: Josh Hamilton
Right Field: Nelson Cruz
Left Field vs. Righties: David Murphy
Left Field vs. Lefties: Marlon Byrd
Back-up Outfielder: Frank Catalanotto

Come back next week for a summary of my trip to Rangers camp at Spring Training.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Jeff Zimmerman Interview Part 1

Evan Grant got a job as the Rangers beat writer for D Magazine. He started his new blog (which he’ll be doing with Mike Hindman) at It’s really good and you should go check it out. It’s now linked to my blog (on the left).

This week I am posting Part 1 of my interview with former Rangers pitcher Jeff Zimmerman and you’ll see that he gave the greatest answers. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known and I would like to thank him for spending so much time on this interview. These two questions are only part one. The interview will continue sometime soon.

Question 1: Can you describe the experience of playing for the Canadian National Baseball Team? What is the toughest thing about playing baseball in Canada and why? What is the best thing about playing baseball in Canada and why?

Answer: At the time, playing for the Canadian National Baseball team was the pinnacle of my baseball career. I never wanted to “make” a team as badly in my entire life. It is difficult to describe the enormous pride you feel when representing your country. Hearing your national anthem played while wearing your country’s uniform gives you chills up and down your spine. It is the same sensation that you feel on opening day in Texas when the fighter jet flies over the Ballpark after the Star Spangled Banner.

Playing for your country is more emotional than anything I experienced collegiately or professionally. The games take on more gravity as you are not just playing for your team but your entire country. Each inning and even each at bat seem to have more of a sense of urgency. As all the games mean something, the atmosphere is similar to playoff baseball.

The most difficult thing about playing in Canada is the weather. Growing up I was lucky to play 40 games a year. This translated into a lack of exposure to quality instruction, coaching and scouts (pro and college). As a result many Canadian players aren’t as seasoned as the players who come out of the United States and Latin America. However, things have vastly improved in all areas over the last 15 years to the point that there are almost 1000 Canadians playing college ball in the USA and well over 100 playing professionally.

The best thing about playing baseball in Canada is that it is still played for fun. The focus is more on teamwork than individually honing your skills to get to the next level. I was reminded of this a few years back when I attended a camp for a traveling team in the Metroplex. Kids ranging from age 9 to 17 were going through a variety of workouts to make a team in this “organization”. Coaches had the 9 and 10 year olds throwing in front of radar guns and one of the coaches told me that if a kid isn’t throwing XX mph by the time he’s 10, he can’t pitch on the team. I found this pretty astounding (and absolutely ridiculous) considering I never even knew what a radar gun looked like until I was 16.

Question 2: Can you describe how you made the journey from the independent leagues to the major leagues? How did you end up signing with the Rangers? How did you find out that you had been called up to the majors and what was your first MLB game experience like?

Answer: Ironically, my journey from the independent leagues to the major leagues went so much smoother than I expected. I began playing independent ball in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1997 never having faced a wood bat before. It was there I gained supreme confidence in my slider as the weight distribution in the wood bat made it much more difficult for hitters to check their swings as opposed to the metal bats.

My manager in Winnipeg was Hal Lanier who played and managed in the big leagues and led the Astros to the playoffs in ’86. He was the first ever professional baseball person to show any confidence in me, let alone interest. This was the turning point in my career. Here was someone who managed Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott telling me that I had what it took to play professional baseball. It’s hard to describe, but this vote of confidence confirmed my belief that it was possible and then opened up pitching abilities that I never knew I had. I rode this momentum all through the season and ended up one of the top pitchers in the league.

At the end of the season many of my teammates told me to wait by the phone as typically the top 5-10 players from the Northern League get picked up by organizations. The phone call never came. I tried to find an agent but at age 25 I was too old and too Canadian (US work Visas were limited to 30 per organization then). So I became my own agent and put together a “baseball resume” and faxed to all 30 clubs. When Reid Nichols, the Rangers’ farm director, called the next day I was so blown away that I thought it was my brother playing a joke on me. Up to that point in my life nothing had ever come easily for me and surely the man in charge of the entire Ranger minor league system had better things to do than wake me up with a phone call early in the morning.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a dream, and I was given an invite to the Rangers’ minor league spring training in Port Charlotte, FL. Upon arrival I took one look at the army of pitchers who were younger, bigger and threw harder and felt my heart sink. To further the insecurity, I was the only player of almost 200 who had black spikes. Actually there were a couple others who had the wrong shoes and we were all told that we had 3 days to find red spikes or find our own way home. My roommate let me use his as he had just learned he needed knee surgery. They were a size too big but nothing that 2 pairs of socks couldn’t cure in the Florida heat.

After the shoe drama had passed I got to pitch in some of the A ball games. It was a huge relief to find that the momentum that I had built up the previous season in Winnipeg returned and I threw well enough to make the high A club in Port Charlotte in the Florida State League.

Six weeks into the season we were playing in Daytona Beach and my roommate and I heard a knock on our hotel room door at 11pm. Figuring it was a curfew check we opened the door to see our pitching coach Lee Tunnel. He pointed to each of us and said, “I need to talk to you and I need to talk to you”. Coincidentally, my roommate, Rodney Pedraza (a good ol’ Texan from Cuero) had just signed with the Rangers from Winnipeg where we played together last season. Upon getting the “point” from Lee we both looked at each other thinking the same thing – “great, back to Winnipeg we go”. Lee did have a plane ticket, but it was to Tulsa! I was going up to AA.

Tulsa was an amazing experience. We had a great club with an awesome manager (Bobby Jones) and pitching coach (Brad Arnsberg). Everyone on the team got along great. I thought that once you reached AA (within sniffing distance of the big leagues) things would have been more cut throat and players more selfishly motivated. I couldn’t have been more wrong. You couldn’t tell the prospects and bonus babies from the journeymen and roster fillers. We all were just having a blast playing the game we loved. Nobody was immune from being poked fun at. With this chemistry we won the AA championship. It was the first ever championship team I had been a part of and wow was it fun.

Things didn’t stop there. Shortly before the end of the Tulsa season I was chosen by the organization to play in the Arizona Fall League. It was at this point that I finally realized that I might actually have a shot at playing in the big leagues as the AFL rosters are comprised of 6 of the top prospects from each organization. What was equally as cool was that our pitching coach in the AFL was Lee Tunnel. To top that, my younger brother Jordan, a Seattle LHP prospect, was on the team. So this time when I arrived for the AFL I wasn’t intimidated by all the big name prospects that I had followed in Baseball America. I actually felt like I belonged. The adrenaline and buzz from the Tulsa experience carried on through the AFL. I was quite sad when it ended. It had been such an amazing, whirlwind season that I thought if it ended I would wake up from the best dream ever to find myself back throwing in a parking garage in Vancouver.

Luckily, the dream didn’t end. Upon returning home to Vancouver the Rangers had even more great news to make me really think that it was even too good to be a dream:

I had been named the “Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year”. An award for me named after and presented by my child, teenage, and adulthood hero.

I was one of 3 Ranger prospects selected to attend the MLB Rookie Career Development Program in Washington DC. Yet another awesome experience, I got to meet George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr. and President Clinton.

I didn’t think it was possible, but it got even better as I was invited to attend the Rangers’ MAJOR LEAGUE spring training as a non-roster invitee.

Big league camp was as intimidating as minor league camp at first but at least I had the right color shoes. Walking into the clubhouse on the first day and seeing Juan, Pudge, and Raffy was quite a surreal experience. But seeing John Wetteland in his roller blades wearing a hockey helmet and gloves shooting pucks into his locker made the Canadian kid in me feel somewhat at home. The atmosphere was super laid back. Doubly so for me since I knew there was no way I would be making the club as a non-roster guy who hadn’t even sniffed AAA. With this in mind I relaxed and soaked up the experience.

Then the games began and I was astounded that Johnny Oates kept putting me into them…and early too…while the big league starters were still playing. I was looking forward to watching some games, maybe get an inning or two when the big leaguers left after the 5th inning and hopefully hoarding another week’s worth of meal money before being sent back to minor league camp. Instead, I’m getting to face Knoblauch, Jeter, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill in front of 7,000 fans in Tampa as Roger Clemens makes his first start for the Yankees. I stayed with the club all the way through to their final exhibition game at the Ballpark in Arlington before I was sent to AAA in Oklahoma City.

My bags were already packed (I couldn’t believe they actually have people who do that for you) when I saw a note on my suitcase. It was from Mike Morgan, the ultimate veteran who played the game with the enthusiasm of a ten year old.

“Zimdog, Great camp. It was fun watching you pitch. One pitch at a time, one batter at a time, one day at a time. Keep doing this and you’ll look back on this moment with 20 years in the bigs under your belt. See you soon.
Mo Man”

I wish the “Mo Man” was right about the 20 year part, but he did see me soon as I was called up to the Rangers after only a week in Oklahoma City. We were in Albuquerque and before the game the manager, Greg Biagini, told me that there was a chance that I would be called up to the Rangers after the game tonight. I wasn’t going to pitch in the game, so just relax and try to enjoy it, but don’t tell anyone what we had just talked about. That was probably the most un-relaxed I had ever been on a baseball field. I couldn’t pitch, I couldn’t say anything about my potential call-up – I thought my head was going to explode. Needless to say that 2 and half hour game was the longest game in the history of baseball to me. I could not sit still, I could not shut my brain off. Thoughts popped in and out of my head like a ping pong game.

When the game finally ended, the torture continued in the clubhouse. I was too wound up to eat the post game spread, my stomach was in knots. I tried to be nonchalant but couldn’t keep from staring at the manager’s office like a stalker. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and forced myself to get something to eat from the spread. Of course, as soon as I took a huge bite out of my oozing barbeque beef sandwich, the manager motioned me into his office. When I got into the office he nodded his head and on cue I spit my mouthful of sandwich all over my uniform. I wanted to hug him, but settled for a handshake due to the bbq sauce mess on my jersey.

I arrived in Seattle the next morning after getting a grand total of zero hours of sleep. After pinching myself before walking into the clubhouse I had a flashback to my first minor league spring training and how I wondered if I had made the right decision or should be getting on with my life in the real world. Except this time everyone knew who I was and welcomed me as if I was one of them. I was baptized by fire into the bullpen core. John Wetteland had devised a very unique set of “rules” and code of etiquette for the relievers to follow in order to keep from going stir crazy during the early innings of the game. Unfortunately, I had to learn them through trial and error (mainly error) much to the delight of the veterans. I was fined (given head slaps) for being late for the season. When I poured myself a cup of water from the jug in the pen without asking if anyone else wanted a cup I was quickly reminded of my greenness as everyone in the pen got to throw water in my face.

In the meantime, Pudge was in the process of going 3 for the 3 with a grand slam, 3 run homer and 2 run double as we were up 15-0 after 5 innings. The next thing you know the phone in the pen rings and I’m motioned to get up. My heart jumps into my throat and my entire body starts to shake. My jaw starts to chatter like it’s 20 below zero in the Kingdome. I can’t feel my arm or the ball in my hand as my first warm-up throw sails 5 feet over the catcher’s head and all the way down behind home plate in the game.

I can’t recall anything else until I’m on the mound in the game and Raul Ibanez steps into the batters box. Finally, I stop shaking and get the sign. All of a sudden everything gets really quiet. The crowd noise stops almost as if I’m a tennis player getting ready to serve. The only thing I can hear is my heart beating. Thank goodness my body decides to take over because if it was left up to my brain I’d still be standing there right now wondering how in the world did this all just happen. Automatically, my leg kicks up and the ball jumps out of my hand as if I’m watching it on a video game. I don’t remember if my first pitch was a strike or not, but as soon as it left my hand the game turned back into what it always was…a game that I had played with love since I was 8 years old.

I threw 1 2/3 innings and all I really remember is the last pitch that I threw, a high and away fastball to Edgar Martinez that he swung through for the final out of the inning. After the game, Rusty Greer came up to me and said, “Do you know what you just did? You just made Edgar Martinez, the best right-handed hitter in the league look silly on a pitch that he normally drives into the right field bleachers. Welcome to the big leagues.” Maybe these guys are human after all.

Results from last week’s poll:
Who do you think will be the utility infielder for the Rangers this year?
Omar Vizquel – 50%
Joaquin Arias – 25%
German Duran – 12%
Jose Vallejo – 6%
Other – 6%

Come back next week for an analysis of the catchers in Rangers Spring Training.