Posts Tagged ‘Colby Lewis’

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SP5: The Feliz File: Starter, Closer, or Both?

03/18/2011

It’s the question that has dominated Surprise since pitchers and catchers reported last month: will Neftali Feliz return to the bullpen where he saved 40 games, picked up American League Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors or is he destined to become one of the five starting pitchers for the 2011 campaign? It seems no matter who you talk too, they have an opinion on where the fireballer should go. To the rotation some say, because his potential and talent only comes around once in a blue moon. Back to the bullpen, others say, because his secondary pitches are not yet refined enough to handle major league hitters two and three times a night for six innings plus. Both make valid arguments, so before we dive into whose right or wrong let’s look at how the staff would look under each scenario.

Neftali Feliz becomes a starter: In this case, you’ve got a top three rotation of CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Feliz with the last two spots to be fought over by the likes of Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Tommy Hunter, and others. You’ve also left a hole in your bullpen to fill in the ninth inning, which presumably would belong to Alexi Ogando who appears to be the in house closer candidate. Pitching coach Mike Maddux indicated earlier that Harrison and Hunter are the favorites to make it, so let’s assume those are the guys. Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman are the odd twosome out, with Holland most likely going into the pen and Kirkman taking a trip to Round Rock as one of their starters.

Neftali Feliz stays a closer: If Neftali returns to his role as the closer, you have a third starting spot open up for most likely Derek Holland to insert himself as the fourth or fifth starter. Ogando and Mark Lowe, who has been inconsistent this spring, become your right handed go to guys along with Darren O’ Day while Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver anchor the southpaw side of the bullpen. This would possibly open up for Kirkman to remain on the major league roster as the long man, and it more than likely means Eric Hurley goes back to Round Rock to further refine his stuff as he makes his comeback.

What does it mean? Well from this writer and fan’s perspective, it means that this year Feliz should go back to his spot at the back of the bullpen and work the magic he did during the 2010 campaign. No doubt Feliz has the talent, the potential, and the ceiling to become a front of the line starter someday. Note the word someday, however. His fastball is consistent, it’s not changing. But his slider or slurve(depending on whose looking at it) needs some polish, and his changeup is not reliable enough to be considered a third pitch. As a closer, he can get away with the big fastball and the occasional second pitch. Major league hitters can see it once and wonder what just flew by them. Give them two and three chances at it, and any hitter worth his salt will be able to key in on it and start hitting it. The simple fact is Feliz can start, but he isn’t ready for it yet.

But that word someday was included for a reason. Fast forward to Opening Day 2012. The crowd is large, the stadium is electric, and Chuck Morgan announces the starting pitcher as Neftali Feliz. Eight innings later, and the Rangers cling to a one run lead. The bullpen door open, and out runs…Heath Bell? Jonathan Papelbon? Next year’s free agent class is much heavier on relievers, as opposed to this year when Rafael Soriano was the big prize. Besides the two just listed other potential free agent signings include Matt Capps, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, and Jose Valverde. It’s very conceivable that should CJ Wilson leave in free agency(as this is a contract year for him as well) that the Rangers could spend the money they did not give to him on a closer with the intent to sure up the back end of the bullpen. There’s no doubt that you’d feel much better about those candidates, all of who have proven their mettle as a closer, than an Ogando or a Lowe who hasn’t been put in the cooker of the closer’s role over time. It softens the blow of Feliz leaving the bullpen, and it also allows him to gain the most valuable thing at his age: experience. Experience in the majors seeing the best hitters on the planet. Experience with throwing his second and third pitches, while learning how to throw them. Experience in how to handle his new found stardom that comes from being such a vital piece to a team on the rise. One more year in the bullpen is nothing but good for Feliz, the Rangers, and the fans who got used to saying “Hello Win Column” while Feliz celebrated after the last out. Feliz will start again tomorrow night, and if he does well it’s probable he could end up moving to the rotation. But until manager Ron Washington comes out and says one way or the other, fans and Feliz alike will continue to sing the same tune.

Sam

sam@sportsperspective.net

twitter.com/SHSPerspective

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SP3: Ten questions to be answered on Hwy. 162(Part 3)

03/10/2011

The third and final part in our series of ten questions. Last time, the questions were answered regarding who needed to break out the most, what the rotation could look like after the first couple months of the season, and what the bullpen’s future appears to be. Four questions left to answer, including the most important to be answered at #10.

 

7.  Last year Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina were acquired before the trade deadline. What action do you see as being needed when the deadline comes around this year?

Answer: This is a question that is pretty much impossible to answer at this point. The season has not started yet, there have been no major injuries, so there are no holes to fill right now.  With any luck, Texas will not need to make any trades because they will be clicking along so well and doing so well. That’s the optimist in me, but here’s the reality: if Texas wants to move into a contending position again I think a move will have to be made. Judging by how the rotation looks to be set up, I fully expect the need to be a front of the line starting pitcher. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis both. However, neither of those are on the level of a Roy Halladay or a Cliff Lee or etc. Who it will be this year, since I doubt Cliff Lee will be traded back to Texas again, that will depend on what team is struggling or what team wants to start dumping salary. A lot of variables go into this, however I think on the Rangers end Chris Davis will be part of the package sent the other way. There’s no space for Davis at the moment, and he’s having a great spring training. I would not be surprised if he spent start of the season until the trade deadline in Round Rock where he was proven he can put up monster numbers. Jon Daniels sells a team on his upside(which is tremendous), puts a couple other prospects with the deal, and they bring in someone for the stretch run. The other end of this however, is the Rangers being bad and considering dealing their own pieces. Josh Hamilton has been brought up in that category, and I’ll be frank when I say while it would make logical since to do I’m not high on trading him. If he’s performing well, you keep him. The guy has intangibles to offer to the club in the sense of a public relations and fan base standpoint. With that said, if all goes to plan then the Rangers won’t even have to entertain the idea of trading away their superstar.

 

8. Moving away from the player side, John Rhadigan took over for the now departed Josh Lewin in the TV booth. Thoughts?

Answer: Most people don’t see this as an important question, but it really is. Josh Lewin was the TV voice of the Rangers for a long time in the television world, and now he is gone and John Rhadigan has taken his place next to Tom Grieve. I was a big fan of Josh, I think he brought a lot to the booth that made Ranger baseball on TV very enjoyable to watch. He wasn’t your average commentator, he had a lot of quirks that while quite a few fans voiced their annoyance at them. In my eyes, Josh’s quirks made the game that much better. He didn’t feel like a stiff, rigorous, straight play by play guy. He felt like a guy I’d want to sit and watch the game with, because if he talked about the game in that setting you’d probably get the same result. The difference is, he’s really good at calling a game. He is able to blend calling a game with all the little informative nuggets and humorous bits to break things up, because you’ve got three hours plus to fill and it can’t always be done with just baseball.  That said, there’s no real indication how Rhads will call the games. Not unlike players, it’s hard to tell how commentators will do during an actual game because they are having to talk about prospects they might not see for two or three years if ever during the spring training games. However, what I do know is that Rhads is a stand up guy and during his time at FSN he did really good work. I was a big fan of anything he did, so I am very optimistic that he will step into the booth and do a very solid job. I’m not expecting greatness off the bat, you’ve got to allot about a year or two for he and Grieve to get their chemistry down. But in two years,  think we will be able to talk about the Rhadigan/Grieve team as one who ranks up there out of all the teams in baseball.

 

9. So you’ve gone over everything, including commentary teams. What do YOU think the Rangers will do this season?

Answer: Well, to be frank I really think another playoff run is in store. I don’t really think that Seattle will be a threat for awhile(3-5 years), so that leaves Oakland and Anaheim. Oakland has been stockpiling arms with Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and others.  However even with their off season additions to the lineup, I don’t really see them pulling it all together until 2012. That leaves the dormant beast the Angels sitting in the corner. Dan Haren and Jered Weaver anchoring the rotation, and with Vernon Wells joining the lineup the Angels seem to be going for it all. Kendry Morales will be back for the 2011 season, so you have to take them seriously. However, I think this is the time for Texas and for a little while longer they will continue to be atop the division. It won’t be easy, I expect the division to be much closer than last year(when it was over in July). I fully expect Texas to win the division, a slim margin but a victory nevertheless. I’m not expecting a World Series run this year however, and other fans shouldn’t either. Last year could very easily have been lightning in a bottle, where a team who was easily good was magically elevated to great. I think playoffs are a very reasonable expectation, and to say 2011 is a “World Series or bust” year is a viewpoint that is very knee-jerk and illogical. If you don’t get to the playoffs this year, you can call this year a bit of a downturn. However, if Texas makes the playoffs and gives it a good fight you won’t hear any complaints from this fan/blogger.

 

10. OK so you’ve given the optimistic point of view. What’s the bad side of this look like, worst case scenario?

Answer: Worst case scenario is to me third place in the AL West with a record either at .500 or a little under .500. I still think if this team takes a step down we are not worse than Seattle. Seattle has very little to offer not named  Felix Hernandez, and are a good half decade away from contending or anything like it. But Oakland and Anaheim are both deep in starting pitching, and that will be a tenuous issue for the entire season with a lot of unproven arms starting games. You’ve also got injury concerns with Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre now. With all the upside of Texas, also comes the numerous question marks. That’s the biggest worry with the Rangers, they have so many question marks that you have to wonder if they can answer them all. You’ve also got to wonder if Derek Holland has figured it out, will Tommy Hunter be able to be a solid starter, and who actually will occupy the fifth spot on a regular basis?  The talent is there, the coaching staff is finally there, and the money is there with this new ownership group. Now it’s all about putting it together, and making this work for them. They did it last year, and became the Cinderellas of the league. Now, they are the hunted and they are out to defend their title. Will they handle the pressure, well that will be the ultimate question.

Sam

sam@sportsperspective.net

twitter.com/SHSPerspective

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SP2: Ten questions to be answered on Hwy. 162(Part 2)

02/24/2011

In part 1 of our series we covered the topics of Michael Young’s standoff with management, what impact(if any) Cliff Lee’s departure for Philadelphia would have on the team, and my projected Opening Day rotation. Three down, time to answer three more questions about what those red shoe Rangers will have to face as they make their way down Hwy. 162.

 

4. You’ve discussed the rotation, but what’s your take on the bullpen going into this year?

Answer: Mike Rhyner had a very solid quote when he said “The best thing you can say about a bullpen is that you have one.” Spending a good part of my existence with Ranger baseball being fairly poor, the pitching staff on the whole has been terrible and the bullpen has been no exception.  Last year however, the Rangers had a 3.38 ERA in the bullpen which was good for sixth among all the major league clubs. This will all depend on if Neftali Feliz goes to the rotation, same with Alexi Ogando. However since I listed my Opening Day rotation without those two, for the purpose of this question let’s assume they will both be in the bullpen. So you have Neftali in the ninth inning, Ogando as your eighth inning guy, Darren O’Day, Mark Lowe, Arthur Rhodes, and Darren Oliver locked into your bullpen with the long reliever spot open and up for competition. As far as my take on the bullpen, I’m more than happy with it. Darren Oliver got a lot of work last year, and now Ron Washington has two Olivers with the addition of Arthur Rhodes so you figure he can split the work load of what Oliver would have had between those two and keep each man fresh. One night Oliver can go, the next night Rhodes. Keep cycling them, keep them fresh, and you don’t have to worry about that. The thing I like the most about this bullpen is the potential options you have. Matt Harrison could be a long man, you might see Tanner Scheppers come out like a house of fire to be yet another good young bullpen arm, even Kirkman(who I’ve projected into the rotation) could make it in. There is a good solid pool to pull from, and I’m thinking this is going to be a benefit. The more depth you can have on a team, and for your bullpen in particular then that is nothing but a good thing. Keep an eye out for Yoshinori Tateyama, he’s a dark horse candidate to make an impact in the bullpen. He’s definitely a wild card, but Jon Daniels has been fairly resourceful with his signings. O’Day was a waiver wire pick up, Mark Lowe was a throw in on the Cliff Lee deal, Matt Harrison was one of the last pieces of the Mark Teixeira trade. With any luck, Tateyama will be able to write his name on that list when the 2011 season is over.

 

5. Who do you feel is the one player on the club who needs to make 2011 his break out year?

Answer: This player is also the most frustrating Rangers player on the roster for me: Julio Borbon. From the great Jason Parks, here’s a scouting report on Borbon written in 2009: “While I don’t think Borbon will ever become the prototypical top-of-the-order threat that many Rangers fans envision, I do believe that he will be able to offer league-average offensive production while providing above-average defense in center field. That, despite what the slightly disappointing tone to this report might suggest, has tremendous value.” Parks was right on the nose, however we have not seen this from Borbon yet. Example: last year Borbon had 59 strikeouts as compared to only 19 walks. On base percentage was .309, while the average for the entire league was .325. His batting average dropped, however he played in over ninety more games last year than he did the year before so you have to factor that in. Borbon is a very fast player, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him the fastest guy on the team. With that said, if he’s only using that speed to walk quickly back to the dugout after you strike out then you might as well not have it at all. Borbon needs to figure out how to get on base period, if he can do that then he quickly becomes a valuable asset to this team. If you can put Borbon on base, no matter where you put him in the line up then you can get him home because he has some great wheels. If you are expecting the second coming of Rickey Henderson, please feel free to check yourself into the nearest insane asylum because you will not get that. If Borbon gets up to his potential, lives up to his billing, then he will be getting on base more and you’ll see him cross the plate when the puck movers on this team start to hit. Or, he will be traded in a deal to acquire a starting pitcher because Engel Beltre will force himself into the picture for the starting center field job in a year or so. Either way, I fully believe Borbon can be useful to this team in some form or fashion. I would like him to turn into a Gold Glove center fielder whose an on base machine, and I hope in a year or so I can come back and say that he did just that. But I’m a realist, and right now Borbon is in a “prove it” mode to me and should be to all Rangers fans. It’s time for him to step up, or be included in a deal to bring someone that will help the team. I’m a Borbon fan, but my expectations are low.

 

6. You said in Part 1 that you had an Opening Day rotation. Does this mean you feel the rotation will change sometime within the year?

Answer: Absolutely. The starting five on April 1st I projected as CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, and Michael Kirkman. Brandon Webb was not included, but by June I fully expect him to replace either Holland or Kirkman in the roster. Not because those performed poorly, though that’s very possibly. The talk out of Rangers camp is that Webb will be handled with care, due to his aforementioned monkey shoulder and that could include a stint in AAA to start the year for two reasons. So that he can get on a regular rotation, and so there is no real pressure on him to succeed. It would allow him to build his velocity, and get used to pitching again. If Webb can get anywhere close to where he was in his prime, then he can easily unseat one of the lower guys and force his way back into the rotation. I’m convinced that if Webb ends up in Round Rock to start the year, we will see him with the major league club only when he is back up to speed. Which is fine with me, because when Brandon Webb is on his game I can’t pitch him enough. So by sometime in June, possibly July I hope we are seeing a CJ/Colby/Hunter/Holland/Webb or CJ/Colby/Hunter/Webb/Kirkman rotation. He could replace Tommy Hunter, but more logically I think  see one of the two younger lefties falling down and Webb performing well enough for Round Rock to earn his spot back with the major league club. Let me reiterate I do not think we see Webb in the majors unless the team feels he can make it work. So if he’s in the rotation on Opening Day, or if he has to wait some time while that may not set well with him it’s for the best. If it’s not Brandon Webb, then it’s very possible my original rotation holds form until the season is over. It would shock me to no end, but it’s possible. I’m not anywhere near convinced Matt Harrison is useful as a starter anymore, regardless of what articles are written about him. Scott Feldman is recovering from microfracture surgery, and nothing he did last year showed us that the 17 win year he had in 2009 was anything but a fluke. Brandon Webb would be 5A in a situation like that, and if he’s performing well then by all means give him a shot if the opportunity arises.

Another section of questions knocked out. Next time, the last four questions including the big one “Can the Rangers get back to the World Series?”

Sam

sam@sportsperspective.net

twitter.com/SHSPerspective

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SP1: Ten questions to be answered on Hwy. 162(Part 1)

02/23/2011

The  Texas Rangers won the American League last season, and made their first ever World Series appearance.

With that sentence, the book is closed on 2010. Yes, it was a great season but the entire 2011 squad has made their way to Surprise and is doing whatever it is that you do in the first week or so of spring training. Some nice long toss, stretching, jogging, all those fun Spring Training activities. Spring Training is a fun time for all baseball fans, because if you’re anything like me once the World Series ends it is a long roughly three-four month layoff. Granted, I had a nice TCU Rose Bowl detour that got me through the winter but that’s another topic for another entry. The one thing Spring Training always brings is questions, questions, questions. Will X be ready, will Y be healthy, how will Z and B leaving, and the list goes on. Ten questions have been compiled, and they will be broken up into three posts(1-3, 4-6, and 7-10). Part one, let’s rock and roll.

 

1. Will the Michael Young situation affect the season overall?

Answer: Before I give the actual answer, I’m not writing this first because I feel it is the most important question of the year. I’m writing it first because I’m sick and tired of hearing about it. This story evolved from a blip on the radar to a nuclear submarine bearing down on the Rangers news landscape. Then it devolved into a media slap fight between the “betrayed” Michael Young and Jon Daniels. It’s long, it’s complicated, it’s overplayed, and since he is in camp training with the team until we have a trade to report this issue is dead. So the answer is no, this little off-season spat will not affect the team because Jon Daniels doesn’t put on a uniform and play. The players in the clubhouse look at Michael Young as their general, their leader and they love him for that. Young returns the love, which he made abundantly clear in the press conference held when he arrived in camp. He loves the team, he’s just having a little bit of a rough time with JD. The plain fact of the matter is I don’t care if JD and Young are sharing a bed, or if they never talk to each other. If Young goes out there every day, gets his hits, and acts like the leader he has evolved into over the past five or so years everything on this front will be OK. We can put away our questions on this, because it’s over. Michael Young is under contract for three years and sixteen million a year, so that means he will play period end of story.

 

2. How much will the loss of Cliff Lee affect the pitching staff, and the club on the whole?

Answer: Most people will tell you yes without a doubt. I will tell you it’s very possible that it will, but I don’t believe so. Let’s step in our time machine, and go back to July 9th. Cliff Lee was traded to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and three names randomly picked out of a hat. At that point in the season, Texas had played 85 games(game 86 was that night, a loss to the Orioles 7-6). The team was 50-36 the day the trade was made, and ahead 4.5 games in the AL West at that time. After July 9, the lowest the Rangers lead in the West ever got was 3.5 games. So by the time Cliff Lee joined this team, they were already at the top and weren’t going anywhere. Factor in that during the regular season with Texas, Lee’s record was 4-6 and he tallied a 3.98 ERA it was not like Lee was God-like when he came over during the regular season. Yes, he was very impressive in Ranger red during the post season until the World Series when he folded like a house of cards and posted an 0-2 record in two starts with a 6.94 ERA in 11.2 innings. So if you’re asking me whether I think Cliff Lee leaving for the Phillies is going to hurt this team I have to counter with “How much did he really help them?” What did Cliff Lee really do except bring that Cliff Lee mystique on the whole? In retrospect, very little. I know the argument “Well he paid off in October.” If we are talking about the ALDS and ALCS yes. Trading for a guy to play in October is fine, but if you want to sign him to a deal because of his post season experience you’re insane.  This team has to get there first, and while I will address that question later I feel that the money and years you would have given to Cliff might not have been the best long term solution. JD and Nolan Ryan are not trying to make this team the 2001 Diamondbacks, who won the World Series and then fell off the map. This team is built for the long term, for a chance to go to the World Series every single year. By not blowing your budget on the first big shiny toy you see, you make a more wise decision that is a long term benefit. Is Cliff Lee nice, you bet. Is Cliff Lee necessary, in short no. This team will go on without him, succeed without him.

 

3. So if not Cliff Lee, who will be in the starting rotation on April 1st?

Answer: Well let’s start with what we know as fact, CJ Wilson is your Opening Day starter and Colby Lewis is behind him. Past that, it’s open season.  There are three spots up for grabs on this thing, and unlike years past there are actually good candidates to fill them. Tommy “Big Game” Hunter posted a 13-4 record in the regular season, then followed it up by looking totally lost in the playoffs. Derek “Dutch Oven” Holland is also a strong candidate, as the 23 year old tries to regain the spot everyone and their mother thought he would have already ascended to by now. Brandon Webb is now with the team after having a monkey shoulder installed to replaced the old shoulder he had that was shredded by his awesomeness in Arizona. You’ve also got the reigning Rookie of the Year, he of 40 saves and a very awesome fastball Neftali Feliz going to get a look in camp to see if he can find another pitch or three and make this work as a starter. Past that, pencil in the long shots of Matt Harrison, Michael Kirkman, Tanner Scheppers, the extremely long shot of Brett Tomko, and that’s your field pretty much. You’e got essentially eight guys for three spots, and from a fan who remembers the days of the “TBA” being written down as the starting pitcher for the Rangers so often you figured the guy had to have some stellar endurance  this is a stellar problem to have. My projected rotation as of Opening Day(remember that): CJ, Colby, Hunter, Holland, Kirkman. Hunter is a Mark Buerhle type pitcher to me, he doesn’t have a really strong fastball but he knows how to use the pitches at his disposal. He’s durable, not afraid to throw what he wants when he wants, and has a mentality that has to be popular with both pitching coach Mike Maddux and Nolan Ryan. Another young gun at 24, Hunter will start the year in the rotation and probably as the number three which is probably his top out.

Holland is my four, and I’ve got a couple reasons for that. The big one is he is one year older, and that is significant. When this kid was being touted as the next big thing, he was a young man. His first major league experience came at the age of 22, and for any major league player especially a pitcher that is rough. He’s 24 now, and the big news on Dutch is that he has gotten a hold on his maturity problems. He has learned how to handle himself better, and that is only a positive. Plus, even though his performance of 13 straight balls in the World Series was horrendous there is a silver lining to that could. At 23 he hit the biggest baseball stage, and he struggled. Which was to be expected, but it’s positive because now he has something to measure against. A regular season game seems much more calm, much less of a hassle now because he’s had the big time experience. In theory it should be a lot easier for him to mentally get his head around pitching now that he’s had a taste of the big time. Couple that with all the articles you read about him, and the quotes about how he feels this will be his breakout year. Rangers fans, you better hope so because if this kid can ever put all the pieces together I really believe you will not be missing Cliff Lee one single bit.

Which brings me to Michael Kirkman, who I’ve got as my number five to open the year in what most people will see as a head scratcher. Not if you look at his 2010 Oklahoma City numbers: 22 starts, a 13-3 record, 3.09 ERA, 130 strikeouts to only 68 walks with a 8.9 SO/9 ratio and 0.5 HR/9 ratio. Cliff Lee started 28 games total in the regular season, posting a 12-9 record, 3.18 ERA, a very scary 185 strikeout to 18 walks with is good for a 10.28 SO/BB ratio, along with 7.8 SO/9 and 0.7 HR/9. Am I trying to say that Kirkman is the second coming of Cliff Lee? Not at all, because Lee is a one of a kind player who has outstanding control that very few pitchers have and ever will. But Kirkman down in AAA showed some similarities to what Lee put up, and he’s only 24 as well. What I’m saying is, Kirkman has shown in a starter’s role at the highest minor league level that he deserves a shot at the rotation. In a field that once you get past Hunter and Holland the question marks start to really rack up, Kirkman could emerge as a surprise player for this thing.

Check back in soon as I will bring you questions 4-6 in Part Two of our “Ten Questions” series.

Sam

sam@sportsperspective.net

twitter.com/SHSPerspective