2 Texas Rangers

The lineup and the bullpen are solid, but there are still holes to fill in the rotation
April 03, 2005

Righthander Chris Young was riding the Double A Texas League buses with the Frisco RoughRiders last season when the NBA's Sacramento Kings dangled a two-year guaranteed contract for him to give up baseball. The Kings, for whom former Princeton coach Pete Carril is an assistant, figured Young, who had been a 6'10" two-sport star for the Tigers, would be a perfect fit as a backup center in their Princeton offense.

"Around that time I was promoted to Triple A," Young says of moving up to Oklahoma in the Pacific Coast League. "And the first road trip we made was to Sacramento. I had never been there. I met with [Kings president of basketball operations] Geoff Petrie. It was very informal. Then I told myself, I'll give it five more starts in Triple A and see what happens. After the fifth start [he was 3--0 with a 1.48 ERA] I was called up to the big leagues."

The man who would be a King joined the Rangers in August and went 3--2 with a 4.71 ERA in seven starts while keeping Sacramento's offer secret. It wasn't until the final day of the season that he told Texas G.M. John Hart about it.

"I didn't think it was fair to be pitching for a team in a pennant race and concerning them with an outside issue like that," says Young, 25, who typically throws his fastball in the low 90s but was clocked as high as 95 mph last year. "I didn't tell anybody but my wife [Liz], and I think I was driving her crazy. We were engaged at the time. One day I'd think I was going to play basketball. The next day it was baseball. I like both sports, but the basketball contract was guaranteed. I'd have been foolish not to consider it."

Hart persuaded him to remain a Ranger with a king's ransom: a three-year, $1.5 million contract that Young signed in November. "Being from Dallas, I'm glad it worked out," says Young, who trained over the winter at Ameriquest Field in Arlington. "It's an exciting time for the organization."

Now Young is playing the pivot for Texas, whose season hinges on establishing at least one reliable starter in the manner of 28-year-old righthander Ryan Drese last year. Only Drese and Kenny Rogers, 40, began the spring as locks in the rotation. In camp the Rangers gave opportunities to veterans Pedro Astacio and Chan Ho Park, but Astacio has thrown only 82/3 innings (with the Red Sox) following shoulder surgery in June 2003, and Park has been one of the biggest free-agent busts in history. Three years into a five-year, $65 million contract, Park has delivered only 14 wins.

More likely, the season depends on what Texas gets from Young and Ricardo Rodriguez, a 26-year-old righthander whose successful four-start cameo last year ended when a line drive fractured his throwing elbow. Like Drese and most members of what was the league's top bullpen in 2004, Young and Rodriguez were acquired through trades by an organization that hasn't developed a bona fide starter since Rick Helling, a 1992 draft pick.

"Every deal I've made I've tried to add pitching," Hart says. "I'd love to develop or sign a Number 1 or 2 starter. In the meantime we're going to have to play it like we did last year: score runs and pack the bullpen with power arms."

The Rangers play their home games in a bandbox that last year was second only to the Rockies' Coors Field in runs scored. Texas hold 'em it is not. Baseball's preeminent slugging infield--first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Alfonso Soriano, shortstop Michael Young and third baseman Hank Blalock, all of whom are in their 20s--combined for 120 home runs in '04.

Last year Texas improved by 18 wins over 2003 and finished three games out of the playoffs despite a rotation that resembled an American Idol casting call: 17 tried out, many to awful reviews. Teams typically backslide after such breakthrough seasons. Since divisional play began in 1969 (excluding strike-shortened years), only 11 of 53 teams that improved by at least 18 games increased their win total the following season, including only one, the '87 Giants, that made the playoffs the year after falling short in its breakout season. A more stable rotation would improve those long odds for Texas. --T.V.

In Fact

Last year's Rangers infield was the second in history to have all four players hit 20 or more home runs each. The 1940 Red Sox infield was the other.

Enemy Lines

An opposing team's scout sizes up the Rangers

WITH GUYS like Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and Hank Blalock, they've got the best nucleus of young hitters in the league.... There's talk that they might play Teixeira in the outfield to give Adrian Gonzalez some starts at first base. Gonzalez has had a tremendous spring. He could be an every-day DH, but he has Gold Glove ability at first.... The big question mark for them is centerfield. Laynce Nix has really struggled. Gary Matthews Jr. is having a big spring and could emerge as the guy there.... They surprised me by not adding a top-of-the-rotation starter that they desperately needed. Kenny Rogers is solid, but he's by no means a No. 1 starter. Ricardo Rodriguez is having a great spring and could emerge as the No. 2. Everything he throws sinks, cuts, or fades away.... The bullpen was terrific last year, but I worry about all the innings they logged. Francisco Cordero looks very tender, and so do Carlos Almanzar, Frank Francisco and Doug Brocail.... If the Angels don't win the division, the Rangers will.

The Lineup

projected roster with 2004 statistics

2004 RECORD
89-73
3rd in AL West

MANAGER
Buck Showalter
third season with Texas

Batting Order

SS M. Young

3B Blalock

2B Soriano

1B Teixeira

RF Hidalgo

LF Mench

DH Gonzalez

CF Nix

C Barajas

LAYNCE NIX
B-T L
PVR 150
BA .248
HR 14
RBI 46
SB 1

KEVIN MENCH
B-T R
PVR 134
BA .279
HR 26
RBI 71
SB 0

RICHARD HIDALGO [New acquisition]
B-T R
PVR 98
BA .239
HR 25
RBI 82
SB 4

MICHAEL YOUNG
B-T R
PVR 30
BA .313
HR 22
RBI 99
SB 12

ALFONSO SORIANO
B-T R
PVR 15
BA .280
HR 28
RBI 91
SB 18

HANK BLALOCK
B-T L-R
PVR 36
BA .276
HR 32
RBI 110
SB 2

MARK TEIXEIRA
B-T S-R
PVR 19
BA .281
HR 38
RBI 112
SB 4

ROD BARAJAS
B-T R
PVR 211
BA .249
HR 15
RBI 58
SB 0

DESIGNATED HITTER
ADRIAN GONZALEZ (R)
B-T L
PVR 159
BA .238
HR 1
RBI 7
SB 0

BENCH
GARY MATTHEWS JR.
B-T S-R
PVR 277
BA .275
HR 11
RBI 36
SB 5

DAVID DELLUCCI
B-T L
PVR 255
BA .242
HR 17
RBI 61
SB 9

ROTATION

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PITCHER

PVR

W

L

S

WHIP

ERA

RH

Francisco Cordero

30

3

4

49

1.28

2.13

RH

Carlos Almanzar

136

7

3

0

1.17

3.72

RH

Frank Francisco

246

5

1

0

1.25

3.33

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

COLOR PHOTORIC FRANCIS/AP YOUNG GUN The Rangers need the hard-throwing Young, who gave up a shot at the NBA, to develop into a reliable starter. COLOR PHOTOCHRIS BERNACCHI/SPORTPICSTeixeira COLOR PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)