3 TEXAS RANGERS

April 05, 2009

The Long HotSummer
They'll light up a scoreboard, and so too will opponents, but young arms arecoming

FOR YEARS now theX factor for the Texas Rangers has not been on the 25-man roster. No, the keyingredient has been the Ballpark in Arlington. The cozy hitters' park—alongwith the heat and humidity of Texas summer nights—has helped make the Rangersone of the best hitting clubs in baseball year after year. The Rangers havefinished in the top five in the American League in runs scored every year since2001. Last year they led the league. They could again in 2009.

Unfortunately,when you play at the Ballpark, there is a top half of an inning in addition toa bottom half. And the Rangers, as usual, were not especially adept at gettingthrough the top half of innings. They finished with a league-worst 5.37 ERA.One especially telling statistic: Texas scored almost six runs per game at homeand still had a losing record there.

"We're goingto hit," Rangers starter Kevin Millwood says. "There's no doubt aboutthat. I think we're going to catch the ball better than we did last year. Thequestion is, How well are we going to pitch?"

That's thequestion in Texas every year, but the answer this year could be slightlydifferent. The Rangers, for the first time in forever, have some hot young armswho could make a huge impact on the team by the time the summer rollsaround.

In the earlymonths the Rangers will rely on their usual confusing jumble of average youngstarting pitchers and high-priced veterans, starting with the 34-year-oldMillwood. The Rangers signed Millwood to a five-year, $60 million deal backbefore the '06 season, and so far he has given Texas 200-plus innings just oncein three years. Last season was especially rough, as two DL stints with astrained right groin limited him to 168 2/3 innings, with a 5.07 ERA. "Ipretty much sucked," says Millwood, who led the AL in ERA as recently as'05, with Cleveland. "I kept trying different things and nothing wasworking."

Sounds like thesame old story. But now the Rangers have some of the best minor league pitchingtalent in baseball. And unlike in past years it looks as if they plan to useit. This is a team that traded away Edinson Volquez and John Danks, whocombined for 29 wins and a 3.27 ERA last season with the Reds and the WhiteSox, respectively. The Rangers insist they plan to hold on to two of the bestpitching prospects in the game—power righty Neftali Feliz, 20, and power leftyDerek Holland, 22. One, or maybe even both, could force his way into therotation as early as June.

As for theoffense, it will continue to score lots of runs, even with the loss of MiltonBradley, who led the American League with a .999 OPS last season before signingwith the Cubs in the off-season. In the heart of the lineup is comeback kidJosh Hamilton, who had 32 homers and 130 RBIs, but there are plenty of otherhitters surrounding him. Second baseman Ian Kinsler (.319 average, 41 doubles,.517 slugging percentage) had some injury problems, but he emerged as anoffensive force in the mold of the Phillies' Chase Utley. Five-time All-StarMichael Young initially balked at moving to third base to make room atshortstop for young sensation Elvis Andrus—Young won the Gold Glove there lastyear—but he has settled into a mentoring role for the rookie. A career .300hitter with an average of 94 RBIs the last five seasons, Young has the bat tobe a corner infielder.

Because of allthat offensive firepower, the Rangers have decided that they can sacrifice alittle hitting in order to get better defensively and help support thatpitching staff. Andrus may struggle offensively in the early going, but theRangers say they can handle that. He's fast and has scouts and baseballexecutives happily babbling about his outstanding range. He'll learn a thing ortwo as well from his backup, 11-time Gold Glover Omar Vizquel.

The Rangers arereally set up to make their move in 2010, when those gifted young pitchers willbe ready and Andrus will be established at shortstop, but it has been 10 yearsor so since Texas has contended, and nobody wants to wait any longer.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The Rangers'off-season decision to move Gold Glove incumbent Michael Young from shortstopto third base had merit. Hardware aside, Young has never had good defensivestatistics, though his performance improved a bit last season. Texas intends tomake room for 20-year-old Elvis Andrus, who held his own as the youngest playerin the Double A Texas League last season. Andrus is athletic but raw: As adefender he's prone to mistakes, while at the plate he lacks power and has aso-so contact rate. With the Rangers focused on 2010 and beyond, they would bebetter off opening the year at short with 41-year-old Omar Vizquel (left), whodespite his age remains an above-average gloveman. That would allow Andrus tocontinue his development in Triple A with an eye toward a midseasoncall-up.

THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE
3

Top catchingprospects under the age of 26 on the Rangers' 40-man roster. Young backstopsare arguably the most valuable currency in the majors, and Texas's trio ofJarrod Saltalamacchia, 23, Taylor Teagarden, 25, and Max Ramirez, 24, can rake,though Teagarden is the only finished product defensively. Long term, thereisn't room for all three on the big league roster, but any of them would bringgood value in a trade for a club on the rise.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager RonWashington
THIRD SEASON WITH RANGERS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

IAN KINSLER 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 36 .319 18 71 26
MICHAEL YOUNG 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 111 .284 12 82 10
JOSH HAMILTON CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 7 .304 32 130 9
NELSON CRUZ RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 116 .330 7 26 3
HANK BLALOCK DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 146 .287 12 38 1
DAVID MURPHY LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 138 .275 15 74 7
CHRIS DAVIS 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 61 .285 17 55 1
JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 184 .253 3 26 0
ELVIS ANDRUS (R)* SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 254 .295 4 65 54
BENCH
TAYLOR TEAGARDEN (R) C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 231 .319 6 17 0
MARLON BYRD OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 233 .298 10 53 7

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Kevin Millwood 150 9 10 6.7 1.60 5.07
RH Vicente Padilla 98 14 8 6.7 1.46 4.74
LH Matt Harrison 158 9 3 4.5 1.57 5.49
RH Scott Feldman 206 6 8 4.4 1.43 5.29
RH Brandon McCarthy 180 1 1 4.1 1.27 4.09
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Frank Francisco 61 3 5 11.8 1.15 3.13
LH C.J. Wilson 220 2 24 8.0 1.64 6.02
LH Eddie Guardado 227 4 4 5.3 1.22 4.15

B-T: Bats-throws(R) Rookie
*Double A stats
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
June 2, 1975

Billy Martin can remember walking down the street withhis mother when he was about 11 years old and flushing with anger when menturned to look her over or whistle. "Now you got to understand," hesays, "my mother's only four-eleven, but she's the toughest little thingthat ever walked. Oh, you'd like her. She's something. She's good and chestyand had one of those round little dago heinies, and all that whistling wasreally embarrassing me. This is my mother. I wanted to fight these guys. Shesensed that, and suddenly she turned to me and said, 'Listen, Billy, don't youever forget that I got the best-looking fanny in town.'"
—FRANK DEFORD

For free access to all Rangers stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOGAIL BURTON/APCATCHING ON The pitching is still thin, but Millwood will get better defensive support—and help is on the way. PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (VIZQUEL) 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)