ULTRATALENTEDcenterfielder Josh Hamilton was driving balls so far this spring, he wasinspiring baseball insiders to invoke the phrase "A-Rod ability."Hamilton, in fact, is the most exciting player to join the Rangers since, well,A-Rod himself in 2001. Traded from Cincinnati to Texas in December, Hamiltonwas the big comeback story of last season--overcoming drug addiction and atwo-year suspension from baseball to have a big season for the Reds. NowHamilton has the potential to reenergize a flagging franchise that hasn't madethe playoffs since 1999. "If he stays healthy, he could hit 50 home runs inTexas's ballpark," says one National League scout, who compared Hamiltonwith a different slugger. "He has a Barry Bonds-like stroke, short yetpowerful."
Of course even ifHamilton fulfills expectations, the Rangers are still way too short on pitchingto contend. Their persistent effort to land prize free agent Johan Santana thisoff-season failed ("What pitcher, in his right mind, would want to pitch inthat park?" one scout says); the current staff is mostly young andunproven; and the team had to give up top pitching prospect Edinson Volquez toget Hamilton. (New team president Nolan Ryan is the best arm the Rangers have.)The most promising pitchers in the organization--Eric Hurley, Wilmer Font,Neftali Feliz, Michael Main, Matt Harrison and Fabio Castillo--aren't ready yetto make the jump to the majors.
But with thatcollection of young hurlers, some of whom came in the haul from last season'strade deadline deal that sent All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira to theBraves, Texas appears to be setting itself up nicely for the future. Two otherplayers who came in that trade--19-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus, asmooth-fielding, Edgar Renteria-type player, and 22-year-old catcher JarrodSaltalamacchia--are two more reasons for hope. (Though it appears thatSaltalamacchia will need some more seasoning before he can be a startingcatcher.) "Since I've been here I've never seen so many good youngplayers," shortstop Michael Young says. "They're everywhere, butthey're probably not ready to contribute yet."
In the meantime,the Rangers will have to keep their fingers crossed. The projected rotationcombined to win only 25 games last year, and with 6' 7" righthander BrandonMcCarthy nursing a strained forearm heading into the season, here's what'sleft: 33-year-old Kevin Millwood, who is recuperating from a hamstring pullthis spring; up-and-down veteran Vicente Padilla, 30; cost-effective free-agentpickup Jason Jennings, 29; soft-tossing lefty Kason Gabbard, 25; and24-year-old righthander Luis Mendoza, who has three career starts. Last yearthe Rangers' rotation ranked 11th in the AL with a 4.75 ERA and was the onlystaff in the league without a complete game. With such added pressure put onthe bullpen, Texas picked up the aptly named reliever "Every Day" EddieGuardado, 37, in January.
March 30, 2008
Although upbeatmanager Ron Washington speaks hopefully about his team's chances, even heconcedes, "It's certainly not going to be easy."
Anothercenterfielder, 29-year-old Milton Bradley, also signed in the off-season,giving the Rangers a solid core of outfielders. (Bradley, however, will startthe year as the DH after undergoing off-season knee surgery.) Rangers secondbaseman Ian Kinsler, who hit 20 home runs and stole 23 bases in his secondseason in the majors, is a star on the rise. And the Rangers are hoping for bigyears from 31-year-old first baseman Ben Broussard and 26-year-old outfielderDavid Murphy. Young, a perennial producer of 200 hits, remains the team'sanchor, but the great hope is that he isn't the lone star again. If Hamiltonstays clean and healthy, he can become the superstar that he was originallyenvisioned to be.
CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal . . .
Who is the mostvaluable unsigned free agent of the off-season? After Barry Bonds, it's formerBraves and Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who would be a good fit inTexas. In addition to his well-documented success for more than a decade inAtlanta, Mazzone was more effective in his two seasons in Baltimore than theclub's poor record during that time would indicate. Under Mazzone's tutelage,Erik Bedard became a Cy¬†Young candidate and Jeremy Guthrie went fromIndians castoff to baseball's best first-year starter in 2007. Mazzone'sinsistence on pitch-efficiency would be especially helpful to Vicente Padilla(left) and the rest of the Rangers' highly inefficient staff, which walked 668batters last season, second-most in the majors.
Home runs, inonly 298 at¬†bats, for Josh Hamilton in '07 with the Reds. The cozydimensions of Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark can inflate offensivenumbers, but Hamilton hit eight homers--in addition to having a .365 OBP andslugging .497--on the road. Batting second as the Rangers' everydaycenterfielder and playing in a home park every bit the bandbox that GreatAmerican is, Hamilton has the potential to double his output.
PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER RONWASHINGTON SECOND SEASON WITH TEXAS
|JOSH HAMILTON (New acquisition)||CF|
|DAVID MURPHY (R)||LF|
|BEN BROUSSARD (New acquisition)||1B|
|KEVIN MENCH (New acquisition)||¬†||OF-1B|
|RH||Jason Jennings (New acquisition)||196||2||9||6.5||1.55||6.45|
|RH||Luis Mendoza (New acquisition)||294||1||0||3.9||1.06||2.25|
|LH||Eddie Guardado (New acquisition)||198||0||0||5.3||1.46||7.24|
New acquisition(R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched
PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
APRIL 15, 1991
THERE IS the crazy thought that maybe George Bush isgoing to call this 44-year-old man into the Oval Office and ask him to take aquick trip to the Middle East. Let Saddam Hussein find an emissary to send fromIraq who represents the best qualities of Iraqi culture. Let him talk to NolanRyan, the American representative, to straighten out all this feuding andfighting. There is the crazy thought that this would not be so crazy. Who wouldbe better?
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