Jasen Southward

Mar 082012
 

Welcome to the YuTim Howell 

 

Welcome to the Yu

On a crisp Wednesday afternoon in Peoria, Arizona, a certain right-hander made his much-anticipated spring training debut against an actual team, rather than teammates. 

As the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers locked horns in front of over 200 media members, and at least that many spectators, you could certainly feel the buzz in the air (and through the Internet.)

Naturally, I’m speaking of former Texas Rangers’ pitching prospect, Joe Wieland.

Duh.

Or as that weird corduroy-clad kid in fourth grade used to say: “No doy.”

Twenty years later and I’m still not sure what the heck that phrase means. It certainly makes spellcheck angry. 

I clearly recall offering that dude two chocolate snack packs for his dilapidated peanut butter and jelly sandwich—relishing as I reeled him in—only to scream “Psych!” at the last possible moment, nullifying the ludicrous potential transaction.

Anyways, you remember Joe Wieland.  He threw a no-hitter in his last start before being shipped to San Diego, which is Spanish for…well, you know.

Wieland—who, along with Robbie Erlin, was packaged in the deal that netted Mike Adams—worked the standard spring training load of two innings on Wednesday.

More like substandard.

His outing is best described by simply stating that, well; Jeff Suppan outpitched him.  Yep, that Jeff Suppan. The same one that languished in Triple-A for the Royals last season, never getting the call up to the bigs. Yep, those Royals.  When Bruce Chen is blocking your path to the show… So, Joe Wieland is why all the media were on hand in Peoria.  Duh.

Psych!

Wieland was barely a bad peanut butter sandwich, whereas Darvish was easily the chocolate snack pack—all that, and maybe, just maybe, a bag of chips too.

Yes sir or madam, this day was all about the Yu, as in Darvish, not the Miami Hurricanes.

To understand Darvish’s excellent outing, you really need delve no deeper than his line:

IP: 2.0 H: 2 R: 0 ER:0 BB: 0 SO: 3 ERA: 0.00

But what fun is that?

Never have 36 pitches been so scrutinized.  It’s cliché, but now, dear Rangers fans, we can all bask in the glory of knowing what it’s like to have a true “rock star” type of player in our very own blues and reds.

No kidding, the hype surrounding Darvish has been so immeasurable that when I saw 157 light up after one of his pitches, I honestly thought it was in miles per hour rather than kilometers. 

Turns out, of course, that 157 KPH translates to approximately 141 MPH.  Or something like that. 

Anyways, over the aforementioned 36 tosses—all of which suspiciously came from the stretch position—26 were strikes, and only two fell for hits, both doubles. 

The hardest hit ball of Darvish’s outing came off the bat of Padres right fielder Will Venable.  The pitch, a fastball, was struck so soundly that it seemed destined to be the world’s first two-run, solo shot.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  I mean, c’mon Venable, that’s Yu Darvish, main!

Venable’s blast hit the gigantic monolith in centerfield that members of the Japanese media were seen constructing prior to the game’s first pitch. Hey, they have retractable roofs, right? Why not retractable home run-stoppers?

Truth be told, Darvish’s outing was nothing short of spectacular.  Not only did he show off his wipeout slider and electric fastball, Darvish also made a very athletic play on a line drive up the middle in the second inning.

Using every inch of his 6’ 5” frame to snare the liner, Darvish astutely threw to catcher Yorvit Torrealba nailing what would have been the go-ahead run.

And yes, I realize this is just spring training.  And no, I’m not drinking my “Yu Darvish kool-aid.”  I am, however, contemplating dying my hair orange.

In summary, Joe Wieland is the real deal, folks.

Psych!

For Texas Rangers’ fans, it’s all about the Yu.

No doy.

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Mar 082012
 

Thursday Morning DarvishesARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!?!

Yesterday was the long-awaited first spring training start for some guy named Yu Darvish. The Rangers took on the San Diego Padres and won 6-2, here’s what you need to know:

  • Yu Darvish did nothing to calm down the anticipation and hype of Rangers fans yesterday. He pitched two scoreless innings and gave up two doubles. Some say Yu threw six or seven pitches, Ron Washington feels like that’s a little high.
  • He pitched entirely out of the stretch which was a little surprising but according to Mike Maddux, he pitched out of the stretch in a bullpen session and wanted to continue in this game. Hey, whatever works my friend.
  • Three of Darvish’s six outs were via the strikeout. The big thing I noticed where how many swinging strikes he induced. A good indication that he has the ability to get the strikeout when needed.
  • Darvish showed some real swagger on the mound during the game and after. When discussing the double off the wall in the second inning. When asked about the hit Darvish said he didn’t think it was hit very squarely. Venable didn’t seem pleased with the Darvish assessment when asked about it ”Maybe his perception of reality isn’t as right-on as … well … no comment,”
  • Yu also showed some athleticism on defense when he snagged a bouncer up the middle and covered first on a hard hit to Michael Young.

Today the Rangers will play the Chicago White Sox and there is almost as much intrigue in this game without the Yu Darvish storyline. 

  • Neftali Feliz will start his journey of converting from closer to starter today. Going to be interesting to see how he changes his approach and pace.
  • New free agent closer Joe Nathan should get into the game today for the first time this spring. Joe Nathan who is 37 years old could be an awesome veteran presence in the bullpen if he can regain the form he had before Tommy John surgery.

John Daniels was on ESPN radio yesterday and talked about the Josh Hamilton comments earlier in spring training regarding his contract status.  He wasn’t pleased with the wording of Hamilton’s comments around playing hard for the Rangers and had this to say “He says, ‘Well, I play hard, I give it what I have with the Rangers. For me, that’s in the job description. That’s the expectation. You don’t get extra credit for that.”  I would be really happy if this would just go away. Its baseball time.

 

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Mar 072012
 

Wednesday Morning Curveballs   Spring Training Edition

I woke up this morning and there was a YU DARVISH START UNDER THE TREE!!!!

Before we get to that, there was a spring training game played yesterday. Although it doesn’t matter, the Rangers pounded the Arizona Diamondbacks 16-3 giving them their first Cactus League victory. Here’s what you need to know about it:

  • Elvis continued his scorching spring so far with a 2-2 day and a sacrifice fly. Can you imagine this lineup with Elvis consistently getting on base for Josh, Nelly, Beltre, and Napoli???
  • Leonys Martin got a chance to play centerfield yesterday when he replaced Julio Borbon. He made some great defensive plays and hit a home run. Pretty good for a guy who found out yesterday that he wouldn’t get a chance at playing center field this year in the major leagues.
  • My favorite thing about yesterdays game was Matt Harrison pitching an efficient two innings. He threw only 22 pitches. If you haven’t read it yet, check out my love affair with Matt Harrison.
  • Josh Hamilton said yesterday while talking to ESPN Radio 103.3 that he would rather play center field than left field. This makes for an interesting battle over spring training and in my opinion gives David Murphy more hope for regular playing time. We’ll keep an eye on this as it plays out.

YU DARVISH STARTS TODAY!!!!!!

Game should start around 1:45 to 2:00 and will be webcast on www.TexasRangers.com

Don’t expect to see all that Yu has to offer in terms of pitches but its going to be cool to see our prized off-season acquisition in action for the first time today.

 

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Mar 062012
 

Tuesday Morning Sliders   Spring Training Edition

Things I love about spring:

1. How excited weathermen get knowing there are going to be some all-nighters soon with ridiculous Texas spring storms

2. I can open my windows and paint doesn’t melt off the walls.

3. Restaurant patios, beer on restaurant patios, food on restaurant patios…you get the idea.

4. BASEBALL TO TALK ABOUT EVERYDAY!

Speaking of baseball, the Rangers took on the Royals again yesterday in the second Cactus league game of the young Spring schedule. Here are some of the notables:

  • Fairly pointless to even mention the score but in case you care, Rangers lost a heartbreaker 6-7
  • Derek Holland started this game going two innings and giving up one run. Holland made it clear that he was working on his off speed stuff to prepare for the season but there is still work to be done. Holland talked about it after the game  ”I’ve made some big adjustments and it’s softer than last year. My teammates can see it. I need to slow it down a little bit, but I’m getting it over to strikes. I had good action, just a little bit firm.”
  • Tiny Elvis was the biggest offensive bright spot for the Rangers with two singles and a triple in the game. Elvis as an offensive weapon makes this lineup EVEN MORE scary.
  • Texas will get away from those pesky Royals today and go play the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Mike Napoli should be behind the plate again today testing the ankle.
  • Next week the Rangers pitchers will get an extra day of rest since one game will be started by rookie Martin Perez. This should be an exciting game if you care to see what one of the Rangers top prospects has against major league hitters.
  • WEDNESDAY IS YU DARVISH DAY!!!!!! I’m sure the Rangers aren’t but I am certainly looking past todays game as the excitement builds for Yu’s debut against another team in real game action. This is spring training, and you won’t see the Yu that will be pitching in the regular season but its fun nonetheless.
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Mar 052012
 

Monday Morning Fastballs1. The Rangers took part in the first Cactus League game of the year yesterday. Here are some highlights/lowlights of the 6-1 Rangers loss.

  • Colby Lewis started the game and gave up a two run homer to Billy Butler on an 0-2 count. Ron Washington had some hard-hitting analysis after the game “He got his work in.”
  • Sticking with the pitchers, Scott Feldman looked like he did at the end of last year pitching the third and fourth innings. Five of his six outs came via the ground ball and one of those erased an error on a double play. Watch out for Scott Feldman this spring as he tries to force the Rangers to make tough decisions regarding his place on the team.
  • The lowlights of the pitching yesterday was young pitcher Michael Kirkman who gave up three earned runs on five hits in two innings of work.  Kirkman’s ceiling this year appears to be left-handed specialist and he will have to show more than that to have a shot of doing that for the big club in 2012.
  • The Rangers were a little sloppy on defense led by two errors by Ian Kinsler in the first five innings. Nothing out of the ordinary for this early in spring training.
  • My favorite thing to come out of this game was the 2-0 pitch that Mitch Moreland hammered into right field. Hopefully the reason for his decline last year was the wrist injury and now that he’s healthy we can expect a big year from Mitch. Gotta love knee-jerking spring training box scores!

2. The Rangers will take on the Royals again today where we will get a chance to see the Dutch Oven, Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers pitch against the Royals lineup packed with future Hall of Famers like Jeff Francoeur and Salvador Perez.

3. Ron Washington said yesterday that the Rangers have no intention of hiding Yu Darvish from the AL West during Spring Training. “When his turn falls, he’ll pitch,” Washington said. “We’re not trying to hide him.”  I love this mentality and I think it adds even more to the growing Yu Darvish lore. Can’t wait to see him pitch on Wednesday.

 

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Jan 312012
 

Interview with Former Ranger Kevin MenchIt was a cold afternoon, April 28th 2006 in Cleveland Ohio, too cold for a game meant to be played under the warm summer sun. Two days earlier Kevin Mench extended his consecutive games with a home run streak to six games with a Grand Slam against the Oakland A’s, a Texas Rangers franchise record. Ranger fans watching from the comfort of their homes knew what was at stake. No right-handed hitter had ever hit a home run in seven consecutive games. Ever. Mench stepped into the box to face Guillermo Mota down two runs in the top of the eighth inning. The rest is history and Kevin Mench is still the only right-handed hitter in the history of Major League Baseball to have a home run in seven consecutive games.

Although Mench now lives in a quiet suburb of Fort Worth, it’s clear talking to him that the memories of his playing days are still fresh in his mind. From being called up to play for the Rangers after an early season injury to Juan Gonzalez and an unlikely friendship with Alex Rodriguez, to the culture shock of playing for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, Mench has had a memorable career.

Mench was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 1999 draft with the 118th overall pick. He was coming off an incredible season with the University of Delaware Blue Hens where he led them to a NCAA Tournament birth and was selected as the Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year. While making his way through the Rangers minor league system, he had the opportunity to play for Bobby Jones and remembers hearing he had been called up to the play for the Texas Rangers as Jones yelled through the clubhouse.

“Go get that big head mother-fucker and tell him to pack his shit.” Mench remembers fondly.  “If you ever knew Bobby Jones, he could take a whole sentence and put it into one word. Best manager I ever had”

In Mench’s first year in the big leagues he found himself becoming fast friends with some of the Ranger veterans including Rafael Palmeiro, Kenny Rogers, and Rusty Greer. It was Greer that gave him the “Shrek” nickname that friends and family still use.

“It was the first or second day of spring training and Shrek had just come out when he said ’Man, you look just like Shrek’ and I told him that it would never stick.”

Mench hit 15 home runs and drove in 60 runs in his rookie season. This earned him 7th place in the AL rookie of the year voting as well as his status a fan favorite thanks to his humble approach to the game and fun-loving attitude.

In 2003 Mench suffered a broken wrist after being hit with a pitch which required him to rehab it back to playing strength. He remembers when notorious micro-manager Buck Showalter tried to call him out in front of his teammates.

“Buck walked in and says ‘Who here thinks Mench should go play winter ball?’ Alex stands up and says ’I don’t think he needs to go anywhere. I think he needs to be here playing with us.’ Buck turned around and walked out.”

That was part of a friendship that Mench has maintained with the oft criticized Alex Rodriguez. “Alex took care of me when I was just coming up. On the road we would have dinner. He would look out for me.”  Mench also talked about the professional/rigid demeanor ARod has in public, “You have to be that way when you’re in the position he’s in, but if he came in and sat down, he would have a conversation with you like anyone else.”

On July 26th 2006, Mench hit a double against the New York Yankees for the 50,000 hit in Texas Rangers franchise history. He still looks at that as his proudest moment in his career.  “With the home run streak, someone can break that one day. No one will ever have the 50,000 hit again.”

Unfortunately that proud moment was followed up by a shocking phone call from the Rangers the next day.  “I was out picking out countertops for our new house when I got the call I had been traded.”

Mench was sent to Milwaukee with Coco Cordero and Laynce Nix for Carlos Lee and minor league stud Nelson Cruz. Talking with Mench its clear that this was never just a business to him and being traded wasn’t easy on him or his family, “Nobody is truthful with you, nobody is honest.”

Mench spent two years with Milwaukee and then signed a minor league deal with the Rangers only to be traded to the Blue Jays before getting the chance to be called up. Then, after the 2008 season, Mench decided to accept an opportunity to play in Japan. He wasn’t prepared for the culture shock he would face playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, the same league that new Ranger Yu Darvish made his claim to fame.

“My wife was pregnant at the time so that was the hard part…It was completely different, you’re used to playing a certain way and then you have to change everything. It’s run like the military.”

“Their spring training runs from 9-5 everyday. They will sit there and hit for hours and hours. The final straw was when a kid got picked off second base and all of a sudden I see the bench coach slapping the kid in the face…they beat those kids down.”

The way things were run in Japan was such a change from MLB. “If I had a stolen base, I would have a case of energy drinks sitting in my locker. They just throw money at you.”

After not ever getting much of an opportunity to play in Japan, Mench returned to America.  He signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals where he was called up and after the 2010 season he decided to call it quits.

His decision to leave baseball after only eight season in the major leagues wasn’t forced on him by a catastrophic injury like so many athletes dread. Instead, he decided the decision should be one that he gets to make. “I wanted to go out on my own terms”

Now Mench spends his time in Keller where he feels totally at home. He has his group of friends and knows everyone from the mayor to the police chief. He occasionally does private hitting lessons for local kids and enjoys being able to watch his own kids grow up.  He is a huge hockey fan and calls local hockey legend Mike Modano a friend. You might even catch him calling into local sports talk radio about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles.  Life is a little slower than the grind of a Major League baseball season, and that’s just how he likes it.

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Jan 252012
 

BREAKING: Roy Oswalts Evil Plan to Slow Development of Rangers PitchingI know, harsh. Let me start this off by saying I really love Roy Oswalt. He is a workhorse. Always near the top of the league in innings pitched. He throws 93 mph and has one of the coolest named pitches in baseball, the “Vulcan change-up”.  He works a pitcher’s mound like a mad-man, the polar opposite of Joaquin Benoit. He’s a two-time 20 game winner with a career 3.21 ERA, a great teammate, and an all around nice guy. All that being said, I don’t want him. According to ESPN.com’s Richard Durrett the Rangers have shown some interest in signing Oswalt and he has reciprocated the interest in the Rangers.

Durrett notes: The Rangers have taken some chances on injured pitchers before, with the idea that it can be a low-risk, high-reward option.

I know the saying “You can never have enough pitching”. I was a Ranger fan during the 90′s and those days Juan Gonzalez was hitting 400 foot bombs to left field I would have killed for a Roy Oswalt on that team. These aren’t those Rangers.

This organization has built a perennial championship contender by drafting high ceiling talent and nurturing that with great coaching at all levels. They have built a stable of good young arms that are just now on the verge of making a leap into the big show. They also have three young guys that last year made up 3/5 of an AL Championship rotation. The addition of Neftali Feliz into the rotation ensures one of those guys will be moved back into a bullpen role. The addition of Roy Oswalt to this team would force another of those young, talented, and still developing starters back into the bullpen. Losing a year of development for a starter could be devastating both physically and mentally.  I know what you’re thinking. Oswalt is WAY better than Matt Harrison. Wrong.

Harrison – 30 GS 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA. 57 walks and 126 SOs.

Roy Oswalt – 23 GS 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA. 33 walks and 93 SOs.

I love Roy Oswalt. I love Matt Harrison and Derek Holland more. This isn’t the time to set those guys back in the spirit of signing a guy with a more recognizable name and more experience. This is the time to push those guys to be better than they ever have. Sorry Roy, we aren’t going to let you set back our boys.

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Jan 172012
 

The Prince Fielder and The PauperOn Friday, news broke that the biggest free agent left on the market, Prince Fielder, was having dinner and meeting with Ranger brass in a Dallas hotel. Although most saw (and still see) Prince as a pipe dream it’s becoming more apparent that there is some mutual interest between the Rangers and Fielder.

Prince Fielder is far from an unknown commodity even having spent his career in Milwaukee. He’s a mammoth 27-year-old left-handed power hitter of the highest order. A career .282 hitter that hit a career high 50 home runs in 2007.  While some have claimed that Prince will wear down with such a large frame he has been very durable. He played in every game last season and showed no signs of slowing down. The guy has some of the most incredible pull power in baseball and would be a beast in The Ballpark. Whether you are an advanced STAT person (better WAR than that Albert guy) or an “Eye test” person (2011 All-Star MVP and Silver Slugger) he is a top 3 1st baseman in MLB. While it’s still unknown what Prince will get in free agency, he should be able to get somewhere in the range of $20M a year.

That’s a huge investment for any team, especially one that is on the verge of signing a player they paid $50m just to negotiate with in hopes of signing a contract. This opportunity is one that doesn’t happen often. It’s also become even more important that the Rangers get better this year with the interdivision rival Angels signing two of the top free agents available this year.

The question that has to be asked is, is Prince Fielder that much better than Mitch Moreland when Mitch is making $500,000 a year? Mitch had a breakout 2010 postseason when he had some of the best at bats of the playoffs against great pitchers like Mariano Rivera. Hopes were high last year that Moreland would improve on a promising first year in the big leagues. Unfortunately he didn’t live up to those expectations. He managed a .259 average and struck out 92 times in 464 ABs.  Those signature Mitch ABs where he battled pitchers and got on base were farther and fewer between.

Although Mitch had a setback in 2011, does that mean its time to give up and invest big money in Prince Fielder? Well it’s not that simple. Signing Prince Fielder almost certainly means that you will have to lose Josh Hamilton in free agency as well. Josh is arbitration eligible this year and has a huge contract waiting for him after next year. Texas has several players they need to lock up and Prince and Hamilton contracts wouldn’t allow the team to keep the majority of the core together. In my opinion, a choice between a long-term Hamilton and a long-term Fielder is a no brainer. I love Josh Hamilton but the stress his body has been through and the durability issues he has experienced make it a much bigger risk to lock him up long-term.

The next month is going to be very telling about where the Rangers see the future of this team. It’s a great time to be a Ranger fan. Now, let’s go ahead and get that Yu thing done and let the chips fall where they may.

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Dec 222011
 

Ian vs Robinson vs Dustin : Death Match *not reallyAsk most American League baseball fans who the best 2nd baseman in the AL is and you will most likely hear one of three answers – Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano, or Dustin Pedroia. While there can be a case made for a Ben Zobrist for our purposes, he sucks.  Join me as we compare and contrast.  You might be surprised what you find out.

  • Hitting for average : Dustin Pedroia leads the pack with a .307 average but not by much. Cano has a .302 average with Ian hitting a very modest .255. In a very straight forward category, ADVANTAGE : DUSTIN PEDROIA
  • Hitting for power : In the sexiest of all the statistical categories Ian Kinsler leads the group with 32 home runs, 11 more than Dustin Pedroia and 4 more than Robinson Cano.  When you add Robinson Cano’s 1st place SLG% for 2nd basemen at .533 and Ian a distant .477 = slight ADVANTAGE : ROBINSON CANO
  • Getting on base : That scrappy Dustin Pedroia once again comes out on top in this category. He led the three with a .387 OBP with Ian at .355 and Robby (I can call him that, we are friends) at .349 ADVANTAGE : DUSTIN PEDROIA
  • Defense : Defense has historically been a tough thing to quantify. However with the emergence of advance statistics and sabermetrics those people much smarter than me have figured it out. There is a stat called Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) which measures several things including range, arm strength, double play frequency, and errors compared to other players at the same position. The higher this number is, the better the defensive player.  This category came down to Ian vs Dustin as Robinson Cano was a terrible fielder and didn’t get into the conversation. Pedroia was at 19.4 and Ian 16.2.  ADVANTAGE : DUSTIN PEDROIA

Ian vs Robinson vs Dustin : Death Match *not really

I started this experiment with a firm belief that Ian Kinsler was the best overall 2nd baseman in the AL and was surprised to see the stats say otherwise. Dustin Pedroia is a former MVP and its easy to forget about him because he doesn’t have the flashyness that your typical superstar has but he deserves his due.

With that being said, I believe that Ian is just entering his prime and has so much more in him. I expect to see the gap close next year and eventually Ian taking his place at the top of the list of best 2nd baseman in baseball.

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Dec 192011
 

The Calm Before The Storm

 

It’s been very quiet in Rangers country this last week. The entire baseball world is waiting with bated breath to find out who’s won the right to negotiate with Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish. While initial reports are that the Blue Jays of Toronto have made a “massive” $40m plus bid, those “in the know” feel like this is down to either your Texas Rangers or Toronto.

In the meantime the biggest free agent left on the market both literally and figuratively is Prince Fielder. Several teams are said to still be in the mix for the enormous first baseman and well-known shrimp cocktail lover. While many feel like the Rangers would also be in the mix for Fielder, their official response when asked has been tepid to say the least.

The most likely scenario for the Rangers would have them trading for another starter before the season starts. Several names have been thrown out there including John Danks, Gio Gonzalez and possibly Matt Garza.  The Rangers are in a great position to trade for a big name starter thanks to a talent rich farm system built by John Daniels and the Rangers scouting department.

Its quiet…too quiet.  Once the Yu decision comes down, expect the floodgates to open.

 

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