More from Arizona – Texas Rangers
I spent an entire day of my recent trip to Arizona in Surprise, home of the Texas Rangers. Yes, this is still primarily a Seattle Mariners blog, but with the Rangers having been our affiliate in Clinton for the last six seasons, it’s hard to ignore the vast amount of former LumberKings starting to knock on the big-league door with our now AL West rival.
The Surprise complex is huge – it holds eight fields for both the Rangers and Kansas City Royals in addition to the main stadium. On the day I attended (March 6), the Rangers and Royals just happened to be playing each other.
After a lengthy search around the entire complex for my media pass, I had the chance to roam the back fields. They let the general public do much of the same (minus my field access), and needless to say most folks were there to watch Ian Kinsler (’04), Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia take swings.
Ian Kinsler (left) and Marlon Byrd hanging out on Diamond 1.
While it would have been cool to stick around and ask Kinsler about his upcoming LumberKings bobblehead giveaway this July, I had a short amount of time and a lot of friends to see. Here’s who I found:
The busiest man in camp, Rangers Minor League Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark (red and blue jacket). After handling arguably the best young arms in baseball last year with the LumberKings, “DC” got the big job. If you haven’t heard his name before, you’re about to.
Right-handers Ryan Tatusko (’08) and Blake Beavan (’08). Tatusko is doing some writing of his own on Rangers camp, you can find it occasionally on the Newberg Report. As for Beavan, I got the chance to watch him throw a bullpen session alongside the likes of Tatusko, Michael Main (’08), Chris Dennis (’07-’08), Josh Giles (’06), John Slusarz (’07) and several others.
Main (glove over the head) and Slusarz (delivering). Main’s reaction to seeing me? “You’re in the wrong camp”. I think he was joking…or he’s that much of a competitor.
Catcher Carlos Dominguez (’06, ’08), a good friend of mine. He resides in Arizona, so the Surprise complex is just a short drive for him. That means he’s usually on call to catch bullpen sessions on short notice.
Last year’s home run leader Jonathan Greene (’08) getting ready to take some cuts in an early workout. Davis Stoneburner (’08) and Matt Lawson (’08) were both there as well, but this was about the time that they were closing down the back fields so I didn’t get to take more photos. I think the security staff thought I was strange for being so interested in BP on Diamond 7. Nonetheless, it was fun to watch Greene take swings for a while.
After a good two hours spent on the back diamonds, it was time for the 1 PM matchup between the Rangers and Royals. The initial starting lineup featured two former LumberKings at the corner outfield spots: Ben Harrison (’05) in left and Brandon Boggs (’05) in right.
Boggs patrolling the outfield.
Boggs stole the show offensively, ripping a solo home run to the right-field picnic tent off Julio Pimentel. He drove in another run with a single in the fifth inning and gave the Rangers a short-lived 5-4 lead with an RBI double in the eighth inning.
After the third time through the order, all of a sudden the game became a who’s who of former LumberKings. Jose Vallejo (’06-’07) started warming up down the left-field line near where I was sitting (no surprise there). However, his throwing partner caught me by surprise…it was Engel Beltre (’08). Beltre lead the league in total hits and runs scored last year, but he’s still just 19 years old, so the invite to play in a Major League game shows you what Jon Daniels and company think of him.
John Whittleman (’06-07) entered the game at third base, Casey Benjamin (’05) took over at short, Vallejo went to second and Justin Smoak (’08) came in to play first, giving the Rangers an all-former-LumberKings infield. Craig Gentry (’07) ended up in left field and Boggs played the entire game in right, and in the seventh inning Neftali Feliz (’08) was summoned from the bullpen. Not only this, but Beltre was inserted as the DH. That’s right…a LumberKing at every position except for catcher (Adam Melhuse) and center field (Andruw Jones, who coincidentally played an entire B game and got an additional four at-bats in the big league game).
While Beltre narrowly missed a solo home run by hooking a ball about five feet outside the right-field foul pole in his first at-bat, it was Whittleman who provided some apparent insurance (and an nice flashback for me) in the eighth inning. In his very first spring at-bat, he took Yasuhiko Yabuta deep to the picnic tent in right, calling to mind his 2007 All-Star Futures Game blast and countless other Lumber Lounge homers from 2006-2007.
The phenom Feliz had already showed impressive stuff with a pair of strikeouts in a scoreless seventh inning, but the Royals tagged him for three runs (two earned) in the eighth to tie the game back up at 7-7. Upon his exit, another former King came in…right-hander Andrew Laughter (’07). Laughter served up the walk-off single to former Burlington Bee Mario Lisson to end the game in the ninth.
Sometimes at the low-A level you can forget that the players you watch everyday have a shot to play Major League Baseball. Watching this game in Surprise brought to mind a quote I had heard somewhere along the line last season:
“Some of these guys don’t realize how close they are to the Majors. Some of these guys don’t realize how far away they are.”
As it looked that day, there’s many a former LumberKing that are close. The talent in the system is off the charts, and I am definitely looking forward to watching old friends start to make impacts this year with the Rangers.
Here’s some more pictures from the game:
Vallejo and Beltre warming up. Look closely in the midst of the players heading off the field, you’ll see left-hander Derek Holland (’08), who was not scheduled to throw that day.
A better shot of Beltre.
Feliz warming up, then coming on from the pen.
Whittleman, just after connecting on the two-run home run in his first at-bat of the spring.
Whittleman and Vallejo, half of the LumberKings infield from 2006 to 2007.
Myself and Justin Smoak (’08).
Well, if you’ve had your fill with Rangers camp, I don’t blame you. More Mariners coming up in the next edition of the LumberBlog. I’ll show you just how close I got to Ken Griffey Jr. prior to his first spring action of the year on March 8.