RANGER MID-WINTER REPORT
The Rangers host their Winter Carnival this weekend at the Arlington Convention Center. The doors open Friday at 4:00 PM, and there will be autograph sessions at 5:00, 6:00 and 7:00 PM. Adrian Beltre, Steve Buechele, John Burkett, Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, and A. J. Pierzynski are scheduled to be available for autograph signings. Lewis and Nathan will also participate in a question and answer session with fans. The evening concludes with the Special Awards Show from 8:00 to 10:00 PM. The Rangers’ Major and Minor League award winners for the 2012 season will be honored at the show.
The Winter Carnival continues Saturday with the doors opening at 9:00 AM. There will be autograph sessions every hour on the hour starting at 10:00 AM, with the final session scheduled for 6:00 PM. Numerous players, both current and former, and coaches are scheduled to sign autographs, including Nolan Ryan, Manager Ron Washington, Ian Kinsler, Rusty Greer, Jim Sundberg, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Lance Berkman and Nelson Cruz. Cruz, Kinsler, Berkman, Washington, General Manager Jon Daniels, and Ferguson Jenkins will participate in question and answer sessions with fans. There will also be hitting, pitching and catching clinics.
The cost for adults is $40 for a two-day pass and $25 for a one-day pass. For kids 13 and under, the cost is $25 and $15.
Texas announced the signing of Lance Berkman this week. He is expected to be the primary designated hitter, though he said at his press conference that he expects to play both first base and the outfield. He is a health risk as he had two surgeries on his right knee last year that limited him to 32 games in the 2012 season. Needless to say, he passed an extensive physical examination before the signing was finalized given the financial investment involved, but the Rangers did not make a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli on the advice of the same doctors; and Napoli has not passed a physical exam required to finalize his agreed to deal in Boston. Berkman’s progress in recovering will determine his on the field playing time. His contract calls for a $10 million salary this year, with a club option at $12 million for 2014. There is a $1,000,000 buyout on the option year for a guaranteed total of $11 million.
Berkman was born in Waco, played at New Braunfels in high school and at Rice in college. He has spent most of his career with the Astros, but has also played with the Yankees and most recently, the Cardinals. Ranger fans perhaps best remember him for knocking in the game tying run against the Rangers in the 10th inning of game six of the 2011 World Series, a game the Cardinals ultimately won after Texas was twice one strike away from winning the World Series. He is a switch hitter, and like most switch hitters, swings better from the left side. He is selective at the plate such that he routinely walks as often as he strikes out. He has a career .409 on base percentage.
Texas earlier signed catcher A. J. Pierzynski. He hit 27 home runs last year, but just 17 home runs in the two previous years combined. At 36, there is a concern that his 2012 campaign was just a blip on the radar screen, but he bats left and the Rangers’ home park is kind to left handed hitters. He will be the main catcher, projected to start 90-100 games, which will still leave a healthy amount of catching starts for Geovany Soto. The combination of Pierzynski and Berkman will go a long way to replacing the pop in the batting order that left when Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels.
Daniels also announced that in all probability, the Rangers top two position player minor league prospects – middle infielder Jurickson Profar and corner infielder Mike Olt – will most likely start the season at AAA Round Rock. There had been speculation of perhaps trading Elvis Andrus or moving Kinsler to first base to make room for Profar, considered by many to be the top minor league prospect in baseball. Daniels put that talk to rest with the signing of Berkman. Mitch Moreland will be the regular first baseman, and Kinsler will stay at second base. The rest of the lineup has Pierzynski and Soto at catcher, Andrus at shortstop and Beltre at third base to complete the infield. Nelson Cruz (right) and David Murphy (left) are the corner outfielders with Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry platooning in center field.
Joakim Soria and Josh Lindbloom have been added to the bullpen. Soria is recovering from surgery and will not be available when the season begins, but should be a solid contributor later this summer. So should Neftali Feliz, who is expected to return to the pen when he gets in shape to be on the Major League roster. In the short term, the Rangers are looking for bullpen help from their farm system – players such as Wilmer Font, Tanner Scheppers, and Michael Kirkman.
The rotation has four spots allocated – Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. All but Holland have made an All-Star team. Robbie Ross, Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and Cody Buckel are the leading internal candidates for the fifth starter job. Colby Lewis is expected to return at some point in time this season, and recent reports have his recovery from surgery being ahead of schedule.
Daniels did not rule out other free agent signings or trades prior to the season’s start. There is particular interest in a veteran starting pitcher for the fifth spot in the rotation, such as unsigned free agent Kyle Lohse. Outfielder Michael Bourn is still unsigned, and Justin Upton trade rumors are still flying. The Rangers certainly don’t look like one of the top five teams in baseball, perhaps not even one of the top 10 going into the season; but they have solid starting pitching which will keep them in most games. It’s a team that could turn out far better than most