Rangers Farm Report — March 1 — Mike Hindman

When the Rangers minor league camp opens this week, more than 130 players will be in attendance. Odds are that fewer than 10 will have a substantial big league career. The Rangers have asked me to bring you coverage of the progress of those 130 as they sort themselves out on the long, difficult road to the big leagues as we’ve done for eight years at newbergreport.com.

In this space over the course of the season, I’m probably going to write about more than half of those 130 kids, hoping to find the five, or six or–if all goes impossibly well—ten who will someday contribute meaningfully to the Texas Rangers.

Since 1998, the Newberg Report has chronicled the news from the Rangers minor league system on a daily basis, covering literally every single game played by the club’s six farm clubs. We were on the story as Mark Teixeira shot through the system. We were covering Hank Blalock and Kevin Mench literally from the moment they were drafted in back-to-back rounds back in June of 1999 and we’ll be doing it again this year with daily reports at newbergreport.com and in-depth weekly updates at this location.

In most instances, that group of about ten kids in minor league camp who will someday go on to enjoy substantial major league careers will be like Teixeira, Blalock and Mench: early round draft choices. The current generation of “bonus babies” includes young men like John Danks, Thomas Diamond, John Mayberry, Jr., Johnny Whittleman and Taylor Teagarden. Some if not all of them will enjoy long careers in Arlington and you can track their progress in depth on a weekly basis right here. But you can probably read about kids like that in a dozen different places.

There are no sure things in life or in baseball. As often as not, those kids taken in the first few rounds never make it to the show and once a kid signs a pro contract and heads off to minor league camp, he enters into a meritocracy in which a tenth rounder or a twentieth rounder or even an undrafted kid will get his shot before the bonus baby if he outplays him. And that is where we come in. Finding those diamonds in the rough is our passion and those who have kept up with us over the years have followed some amazing stories. For example:

In the middle of the 1999 season, the Rangers traded Esteban Loaiza to Toronto for a kid who was thought to be the Blue Jays fourth or fifth best middle-infield prospect at the time. After just 43 games in the Rangers system at Double-A Tulsa, we were telling anyone who would listen that Michael Young was going to be a big key to the Rangers future. On opening day of the 2003 minor league season, the Rangers lowest-level full-season ballclub, the class-A Clinton Lumberkings of the Midwest League, kicked off the year with an eight man pitching rotation (four pairs would essentially split starting and long-relief duties every four days). The eight included Dustin Scheffel and David Mead, Nick Masset and Erik Thompson, Cesar Herrera and Nick Devenney, and finally, Rob Corrado and Kameron Loe.

At the time, none had distinguished himself and other than perhaps Masset (an eighth rounder in 2000), there wasn’t a known “prospect” in the group. Within three weeks, we wrote this:

Kameron Loe is simply too much for Midwest League hitters to handle. The Clinton starter saw his ERA fall to 1.80 as he held West Michigan to one earned run on three hits and a walk, striking out four, through the final four innings.

Loe, a lowly 20th rounder in the 2002 draft, had delivered a relatively pedestrian performance in his professional debut season of 2002, going 4-4 with a 4.47 ERA for Pulaski in the advance rookie Appalachian League and he entered the 2003 season as nothing more than just another guy with a long, long shot of someday–maybe–seeing Double-A. Within three weeks, it was obvious that he was on his way to seeing much, much more. And next month, Loe will open the season as a major league starting pitcher.

In February, 2004, we prepared capsules of 65 Rangers minor leaguers and wrote this of an anonymous shortstop selected in the 17th round of the 2003 draft:

[Ian] Kinsler sounds a lot like a Michael Young starter kit. He…who goes about 6’1", 180 lbs., is by all accounts a tremendous glove man with a strong arm and good speed. He hit relatively well at Spokane (.277 / .352 / .410) but it is his defense that continues to outpace what he does with the bat.

In late March, we went to spring training, watched Kinsler at work, and wrote this:

I’d mentioned this in the Prospect Previews, but yesterday I had it confirmed by one of his teammates: Ian Kinsler is a Michael Young starter kit. Keep your eye on him.

In early May, with about 25 games at class-A Clinton under Kinsler’s belt, we wrote this:

Shortstop Ian Kinsler once again filled up the box score with an array of numbers. He went 3-4, knocked out his 17th double (which leads all of baseball–including the major leagues), and he added his seventh stolen base, which is fourth best in the Midwest League. Aside from wielding a quality glove, Kinsler leads the Midwest League in batting average (.379), hits (36) and doubles. He is third in RBIs (18) and slugging percentage (.589), and seventh in OBP (.434).

And in mid-June, we had this to say:

Just when you think that the Ian Kinsler free-for-all has reached its apex, he goes out and does something like this: 2-3 with a walk; 11th jack; 30th double; and two RBIs, giving him 52 on the year.

The next day, Kinsler was at Double-A Frisco and today, he’s on the verge of earning a job as a major league second baseman.

Last spring, we went to Surprise and heard a loud buzz all over the minor league camp about a young pitcher from the Dominican Republic who was coming off of a season in which he’d been good but undistinguished at two levels of Class-A baseball. But the buzz was so strong, that before the season even started, we wrote this about Edison Volquez:

the mere mention of his name brings smiles–both the ‘knowing’ kind and one’s of joy–to the faces of his teammates…. I’m projecting him to skyrocket into national consciousness this summer. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is universally regarded as the top pitching prospect in the entire system at the end of the season.

Yeah. We’ve missed on a few of them as well and we’ll be the first to admit that we’ve declared a kid a genuine future star only to see him fizzle out in short order, and this year we will no doubt get too excited about someone who, ultimately, won’t make it all the way, but in the end, you can be relatively sure that if some young man’s dream is starting to come true in the Rangers farm system, we’ll talk about it right here.

This year, one or two young men will have that epiphany where everything becomes clear and relatively simple like Kam Loe had in 2003 and Ian Kinsler had in 2004. Like Edison Volquez last year, those young men will find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly emerging from obscurity to take their places alongside the Rangers more heralded prospects like Diamond and Danks. This, we hope, is the place you’ll come, week after week, to watch it happen.

We’ll be back next week with a preview of some of the young men we think have a good shot at emerging from the crowd to establish themselves as legitimate prospects in the Texas Rangers system.

Mike Hindman is a contributor to texasrangers.com.

One comment

  1. SomeBallyard

    Thanks for keeping me in touch with the Ranger farm system. I lived in Oklahoma City for a lot of years, and though I’m now a Met fan via the Norfolk Tides, I have fond memories of the Redhawks and 89’ers.

    Michael

    http://someballyard.mlblogs.com

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