Monday, July 25, 2011

Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark: Part 2

This is the second part of a two part series chronicling the Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark summarizing the 90 minute Q&A session with Rangers GM Jon Daniels and Asst. GM Thad Levine. The first part summarizing the Q&A with Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus can be found here.


This is not a transcript, just a summary of the comments based on my notes. The questions or topics presented are summarized in italics with responses following.

How, as an organization, do you handle the prospects of losing a top flight player, like CJ Wilson, to the highest bidder?

It's part of the game. The key is to make smart decisions on which players to spend on and to maintain a pipeline of talent. With new ownership, the Rangers feel like they can compete on the second tier of payrolls (behind the Yankees and Red Sox).

As for CJ, they talked in the off season and the first choice is to have CJ back. If they can't work it out, they will have to find a way to replace him.

Who are the key members of the clubhouse?

Michael Young is steady. No matter what happens, he acts the same the next day. Adrian Beltre is more intense. They don't have a real "call a team meeting" type of guy. Elvis Andrus is the guy who keeps the clubhouse loose. He'll turn up the music and dance in the clubhouse.

The chemistry of the team is team based and not based in one particular guy. Ron Washington gets a lot of credit for that. He doesn't care about the clubhouse politics and allows the players to have their space. The front office does talk about the risk in tinkering with that chemistry.

Did the Rangers consider drafting Josh Bell and overpaying him to skip school?

Josh Bell was certainly on the board. They talked about him and did their due diligence. In general, if a player really has his heart set on going to school, "buying" him out of that can backfire. The first years spent in the minor leagues can be really hard. It's best to have a player whose heart is really in that. Going to school can be the right decision for a player and they really respect a player who is able to make that decision.

How is Adrian Beltre's hamstring?

Beltre's hamstring is a grade 1 strain which is the most mild strain. Beltre expects and will certainly try and be back in two weeks. The team is willing to allow extra time to be sure that the injury is fully healed.

Does the team have an off-season strategy for 1B since Mitch Moreland has been struggling a bit?

While it is possible that some of the available free agent first baseman have better seasons than Moreland, they are pretty satisfied with Moreland's development. A guy that can hit 30-40 doubles with a 1/1 k/bb ratio is a good guy to have in the lineup. One of Moreland's strengths is that he is a really tough out.

Is there an information gap between the evaluation of a team's own players and the players a team targets in trade?

Yes, there is. You certainly know a guy better when he is in your own system. You can talk to his coaches, his roommate and you see him every day. You know if he has issues at home; whether he is affected by a late night (or whether he has lots of late nights); how he copes with playing hurt. The Rangers have tried to address that through merging the amateur and professional scouting departments together. They feel they can closely evaluate a player's physical ability just as well as another team, but the key is identifying the other issues. Especially when considering adding a piece at the trade deadline, you have to know how he will adjust to a lesser or different role. This is an area of focus for pro scouts, especially this time of year.

How has Scott Coolbaugh made a difference with the Rangers hitters?

Thad Bosley was a very accomplished hitting coach. He has been in that position on some very good teams. In this instance, the combination of coach and players wasn't the right fit. To be fair, Bosley had a very tough act to follow in Clint Hurdle. Hurdle was a major force in the clubhouse and a lot of guys really connected with him. One advantage Scott Coolbaugh presents is that he has a lot of experience with some of the Rangers while they were at Oklahoma City and Roundrock like Chris Davis, Elvis Andrus, etc. and he has worked with most of the guys during spring training. The players know and trust him. He is also a good listener and is able to gather lots of tips from others within the organization regarding the hitters.

What is the timetable for Leonys Martin? What drew the team to him?

The team doesn't have a timetable, though it is possible for him to see some time in the big leagues this season. Had he been able to sign earlier and get some spring training, he might have been in the mix sooner, but he was prevented from signing until he was cleared. Teams couldn't really talk to him until that point. He will certainly be in a position to compete next year. While Martin was in Cuba, he was playing a few days a week. Before signing, he hadn't played organized ball in over a year. He hasn't been exposed or involved in a strength and conditioning program or flexibility program that the Rangers have started him on. His conditioning should improve as should his quick burst speed.

Martin's personal makeup was a real positive. While he was in limbo, the team couldn't really talk to him or go see him. One issue with an international player, especially a high profile player is the adjustment to life in America. It can be particularly difficult without a support structure. Martin has a support structure in the US in his father and girlfriend. The Rangers also had some scouts who had some knowledge of Cuban baseball. The Rangers felt they had a good feel for the player and the person, which is an advantage. Leonys also seems to understand his future role on the team. He takes pride in his defense. He understands he will be a top of the order bat. He plays within his game.

What is the story with Chris Davis's success at AAA and struggles in the big leagues?

The key for Chris Davis is making adjustments, both game to game and pitch to pitch. He's the type of player who is going to strikeout. The important factor is that he be a competitive out, even if an at bat ends in a strikeout. Plenty of major league players have been successful with high strikeout rates but they have been able to become a tough out. Davis has really worked on making adjustments while in AAA. He's improving. There could be a role for him on the Rangers even after Adrian Beltre returns.

Do the Rangers have any pet peeves when dealing with agents?

Generally, the Rangers have very good interactions with agents. The team has focused on developing relationships with agents. One situation which can be troubling is when an agent declares an early impasse to negotiations. The Rangers pride themselves on finding win-win solutions. When the agent and the team can view a negotiation as another iteration of an ongoing relationship, the whole process works more smoothly. That's why they work so hard to develop the relationships.

Are there any impact bats or impact arms available this off season?

Given the Rangers current position in the trade market, they are the ones making phone calls inquiring about players. They are working hard and doing due diligence. A lot of the names being thrown about won't be traded. When a high profile player is being discussed, some teams will simply say they aren't interested. Occasionally, a team will discuss a player they really don't want to trade by making it clear that for a deal to happen, they would have to "win" the trade. Often they will also give some key holes that they would need to fill in their organizational depth chart to make a deal worth it. Those situations really are rare.

How do the Rangers quantify their prospects when evaluating a deal?

The team doesn't quantify players in a numerical format. There are simply too many unknowns and variables to effectively boil a quantification down to a numbers game. One element they are able to quantify and account for is years of control, which is a a major factor in value. They can also take into account a players "industry" value.

Does the team prefer to use prospects or financial resources to add an impact player?

It really depends on the situation. When looking at a "rental" type trade target, the key question is whether the player really makes a difference over the next few months. If not, it might be better to wait until the player is on the market to pursue a deal.

Has Matt Harrison gained velocity?

It seemed that Harrison was working 90-92 in the Arizona Fall League before he was acquired. He's also struggled with injuries. He had a turf toe issue when he was acquired, which led to some shoulder issues. Before last season he had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. This is really the first time he's been healthy. After the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery he seemed to get up to 96-97 mph.

What did the Rangers accomplish in the open tryouts?

They had around 300 people show up. It was designed for players 25 and under. The scouts did a tremendous job organizing the tryout. They were able to identify some players with particular skills, such as a position player with a good arm who might fit better on the mound or a player with top flight speed. There were also some young players who participated for the experience.

If CJ Wilson leaves in free agency, how does the team replace him?

The first choice is to bring CJ back. If that doesn't happen, they will explore all the options. There is a lot of talent in the organization. Other pitchers could take on a new or increased role. The team as a whole has to take a step forward to replace a quality player.

[Directed to Daniels] How have you grown since taking over as GM at such a young age?

While he doesn't think any of their front office staff took their positions for granted, they have all really come to respect how difficult the job really is. They have developed a team in which each member plays their role effectively. While they all play roles, they also all contribute and weigh in on different topics. Daniels started with a real focus on rules management and economics of the game, but he has worked very hard to improve his ability in the area of evaluation. Levine was much the same. They have other members of the front office that were excellent evaluators who have worked very had to improve in understanding the big picture of organizational development. They have all learned what to pay attention to and what to ignore (especially in the media). One area that Daniels feels he has improved is in working effectively with ownership.

Do the Rangers regret not going to seven guaranteed years for Cliff Lee?

As they went through the process with Lee, the belief was that he would be an excellent contributor early in the deal. The risk was in the long term nature of the deal. Their thought process certainly hasn't changed because they expected Cliff Lee to perform at a high level.

Are they glad they did not land Cliff Lee because that would have prevented the development of Alexi Ogando?

The team new Alexi had talent. They certainly weren't expecting that he would be an All Star as a starter this year. With all their players, the objective is to keep the options open to allow the team to maximize each player's contribution.

What is the organizations view of developing core talent in the front office?

The front office really believes in the value of an intern program. Thad Levine is very involved in their personnel development. Many of the front office leaders came out of various intern programs around the league. Daniels was a Rockies intern. Levine was a Dodgers intern. Those were both progressive organizations in developing front office talent, who were interested in developing their people. The interns may not always have a voice in the room, but they do get in the room to be exposed to the discussions and decisions that are being made. They currently have three interns, who are involved in different areas of the game. The Rangers intern program has produced a number of guys who have gone on to other jobs. Jake Krug in the Rangers front office is a former intern.


The front office staff really wants to continue learning. At some point, you are learning more than you are contributing but with experience you shift down that continuum. The team also tries to work with baseball operations staff to determine what they want to do and where they best fit. If there isn't a natural fit in the Rangers organization, they will try and help their personnel find the right fit with another organization.

Are they pleased with the production of Adrian Beltre?

Yes. Beltre is who he is. He can be a streaky hitter at times. They believe they are getting what they expected with possibly a bit more power than expected. He is a guy who truly loves to play...and hates not to play. He will fight with Wash to try and keep his name in the lineup.

Is the team thinking about trimming innings off of any of their young starters?

They've talked about the innings issue. They certainly aren't assuming that they have accomplished the goal of making the playoffs, so it is difficult to do at this point. With Alexi Ogando, their simply isn't a comparison. There has never been a similar set of circumstances to Alexi. It's just all around a different scenario. They are taking a common sense approach to the situation. They got him some extra rest around the All Star Break. The training staff also does a fantastic job of evaluating players. They use measurable evaluations to test strength and flexibility in addition to simply talking to the player about they feel and watching the player as he performs. Even if there are no signs of trouble, the team will try and stay ahead of any potential fatigue problem.

Is the trade deadline of the off season moves more exciting for the front office?

The trade deadline is probably more exciting because it has a time pressure added in. Also, at this point, the front office is trying to address specific needs. This is their opportunity to truly help the team. That's really exciting.

Are there any plans to improve the umpiring in the game?

The league hasn't communicated any plans. There has been a change in some of the leadership in the front office. The new leadership is very capable. Umpiring issues are often addressed but rarely communicated to teams for obvious reasons. Over the years a number of suggestions have been made about improving that part of the game. One interesting suggestion is to try and involve more ex-players in umpiring. The possibility of creating an advanced umpiring school for selected ex-players has been suggested.

How is Tanner Scheppers progressing?

Scheppers had a back issue early in the season which hampered his progress. He seems healthy now and is pitching about as well as he has at any point in his career. He is likely going to be in the bullpen for the rest of this season.

Are the Rangers less likely to make a trade within the AL West?

From an emotional standpoint, it is a struggle to trade a player away who you might have to face so often in divisional matchups. In reality, if a team is intent on trading a top talent away for prospects, they are going to improve their team about the same whether its the trade happens in the division or out of the division. As long as the team feels the deal is fair, it doesn't make a substantive difference.

Is their additional work that goes along with switching a Player Development Contract affiliation with a minor league club?

There are some logistical issues, but not much from a development side. The team may adjust their view of certain numbers based on league and park effects, but they don't really change any particular development strategy.

What are the risks and rewards of aggressively advancing players through the minor league ranks?

Both the risks and rewards certainly exist. The risk are that young players are competing against much more developed players, which could cause them to struggle. Trade value could be damaged because the player is facing more physically developed competition. The effect on service time for a player that advances early is also a risk. The benefits are that talent is challenged and can develop accordingly. It also benefits the scouts and development personnel. Specifically, the minor league coaches are energized from being able to work with and assist in the development of top talent.

Do the Rangers face an impending logjam on the 40 man roster?

Yes and no. They don't worry too much about it in the front office. While they certainly have a lot of talent coming up, it's a situation that seems to take care of itself. It's also very difficult to take someone in the Rule 5 draft and keep them all year. They haven't had a player taken in quite a while. At some point, they may lose a power bullpen type arm or a lefty specialist. To some degree, that's got to be a risk you are willing to live with.

How do the Rangers view trading for a closer?

The team hasn't traditionally focused resources on relievers, either in the free agent market or the trade market. They are confident that over the course of a season they can sort out a bullpen. Free agent relievers present a unique risk. That's not to say some don't turn out to be excellent signs, it's just a risk.

What is the club's view of international signees Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman?

Both players are big. Both are around 6'5". Guzman is the more polished of the two. He uses the whole field in batting practice. He has power, but doesn't spend an entire BP session showing it off, which is much like a veteran hitter. Mazara is very raw, but he has huge power. Ronald Guzman's representative put on some organized games in the Dominican Republic. That allowed him to show his skills. Guzman also worked out in Florida for major league teams and in Surprise at the Rangers facility. Both guys add a corner position power bat element to the minor league system.

What is the profile for Roman Mendez?

He's a projectable arm. He can spin a curve and is a strike thrower.

Does the team identify in any superstar scouts they want to add to the organization?

They are always looking for top talent. They recently added Clarence Johns. He is a great scouting talent. He identified Russell Martin while with the Dodgers and convinced the Rockies to take Dexter Fowler.

Do free agent pitchers still resist coming to Texas to pitch?

Pitching in the heat is a real factor, as was shown by Roy Halladay. The park isn't a major factor. One key advantage to Texas for a free agent pitcher is the quality of the defense. They have only have had one pitcher openly question that issue. In the end, it was probably better that they didn't sign him.

Who are some off the radar guys in the minors that we should pay attention to?

Cody Buckel, Justin Grimm and David Perez are some arms to watch. Mike Olt was having a great year before his injury. Luke Jackson is another good arm. Rougned Odor is playing great against older competition. There may be some guys that are affected by the 40 man roster issues like Johan Yan and Joseph Ortiz. If you are on the Newberg Report email list, there probably aren't many guys that are really off the radar.

Is there anything to the rumored realignment?

Some changes are possible, but minor tweaks are far more likely than a major shift.

How does the team apportion the additional resources afforded by new management?

The big league payroll is up this year. The payroll is in the mid-90s after several years of being in the mid-60s. They may not be as active in the big ticket free agent market as they were this year. This year they also made some very significant international signings. The focus on amateur talent acquisition will probably be a year in year out occurrence. The team believes that a pipeline of talent from the scouting and development side is critical. The team also made some major capital improvements to the stadium with the new scoreboards.

Does the team have a defined system for addressing pitching control in the minors?

Yes, all pitchers are on a defined pitching program to develop their areas of weakness. A player like Cody Buckel really pounds the strike zone, so he has a chance to move through the system quicker. A player like Luke Jackson could really take off if he develops control, especially since he's currently throwing 97-98.

What is the Rangers view of modern baseball bullpen management?

They are theoretically on board with the idea of using the best bullpen arm in the highest leverage situation even if its not the ninth inning. Practically, that system is much harder to employ. Humans are a creature of routine. Some guys can handle the lack of routine but others will struggle to adjust. In the minors, they try and utilize pitchers in multiple routines. In the big leagues, it can be a more difficult because players do utilize the routine as part of their preparation. Elements of that system could be utilized in a particular matchup or series but applying across the course of a season would be difficult.



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