2006 - The Highs
Ah yes, summertime in Arlington, Texas. Where the baseballs travel out faster than a diaper-clad astronaut on her way to Florida. To steal a line from Lloyd Christmas in the movie Dumb & Dumber, the question each year of who's going to fill out the starting rotation is about as annual as women instinctively flocking like the salmon of Capistrano. But even though it was filled with its own fair share of adversity, there were moments last season were it seemed as though nothing could go wrong for the Texas Rangers.
When Adam Eaton and another possible backup plan Josh Rupe both went down for an extended period of time with injuries, the same old worries about who's going to fill out the rotation began to settle in once again. Juan Dominguez had originally been penciled in as one of the starters, but showed up to camp late and overweight and in the final weeks of spring training, he was shipped away as part of a deal that brought one-time Rule V draft pick John Koronka back to Texas. The Rangers ended up breaking camp with a rotation of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Kameron Loe, R.A. Dickey, and John Koronka.
That lasted, oh, about a couple of weeks.
Before long, Loe was also out with an injury and Dickey had pitched himself out of a job. But throughout the trials and tribulations offered up by the rotation of 2006, it's safe to say there was also a good amount of successes and surprises brought to the table by Rangers starting pitching. For example, find me one person who expected John Koronka to step in and contribute the way he did for half a season. He was joined by John Rheinecker, another product of a late-spring trade who seemingly came out of nowhere to also leave a brief but exciting exclamation point on the starting rotation. The apex of his time in the majors last season came on a Monday evening late last May where, on his 27th birthday, Rheinecker pitched a clean and crisp two hour long shutout of the Seattle Mariners for his first major league victory. And while Edinson Volquez suffered through another season of growing pains in the major leagues, he took his first step to becoming the successful pitcher the clubs hopes he can be when he also picked up his first major league win against the A's last August.
I can remember cringing upon hearing the news that two of the most highly touted prospects in the Rangers organization had been shipped away over the off-season of 2005 and in return, damaged goods were part of the package coming to town. And I'm sure that when management saw Eaton walk off the mound with a trainer holding his pitching hand, they must have suffered a massive ice-cream headache as well. Losing him proved to be a major dent in the armor of the starting rotation. When Eaton did come back after missing nearly four months the results just weren't there and neither, so it seemed, was the competitiveness the ballclub should have been capable of putting on display.
Then there is the tale of the first season Vicente Padilla spent in a Rangers uniform. At times, he showed plenty of guts and grittiness to go after opposing batters and shut the opposition down. But more than a few occasions, his determination got the best of him and he led the league in a not so notable category (17 hit batters). Both Padilla and his partner in the rotation Kevin Millwood joined the rotation and shook off any intimidation from the ballpark by throwing 200 innings, winning at least games and striking out more than an 150 batters each. But at the same time, they're both capable of putting together better seasons than we witnessed last year.
2007 Camp - Who's Invited?
Millwood will return as the #1 man and the anchor of the rotation in 2007. Had the Ranger offense had a better time last year, who knows what would have happened to that 16-12 record he ended up with? 18 wins? 20 wins? It's tough to tell. Hopefully this season he can improve on an earned run average over 5.00 at home.
The Rangers showed that they have some faith in Padilla after signing him to a contract in December. (Coincidentally, after the Gil Meche contract from the Royals, $33.75 million over three years seems pretty reasonable.) It'll be interesting to see what kind of numbers he puts up with a new deal under his belt.
McCarthy is out to silence those "He's Not Barry Zito, But I Guess He'll Do" opinions. The club loves his age, makeup, and ability, and being able to land him for only one top rated prospect in John Danks makes this look like a good deal already. All he has to do now perform like the guy who pitched the Chicago White Sox into the playoffs in 2005. Plenty of Sox fans feel like they were robbed. I'd like for him to prove them right.
In his first time around with the Rangers last season, Tejeda's earned run average was just south of the ionosphere at 9.78. Then, after being demoted to Triple-A, he was recalled last August and put together an ERA of barely over 2.00. The Rangers hope that's the Robinson Tejeda who comes ready to pitch this season.
On The Bubble
The big gray area known as the fifth spot of the rotation begins with who I believe to have the lead in the race to win it. You've got to love that Loe is a gamer and that he wants to approach every outing like it's the last game of the World Series. He's also big, intimidating, and the team loves that he's a groundball pitcher. If Loe doesn't end up with the 5th spot, there's a high chance he could end up with a place in the bullpen.
After coming back from elbow issues last season, Rupe was impressive out of the bullpen. The Rangers want to be sure he'll be able to handle the rigors and workload of being in the starting rotation and are tentative to commit to putting him there just yet. But with an impressive showing in the spring, that will surely change.
At almost the last minute, he came out of nowhere and was impressive for half of last season. Late last year, Koronka spent some time in the Arizona Fall league to develop a new technique for holding the ball to get some more sink on his pitches. If he doesn't make the club out of spring training, you can bet the Rangers will have him waiting in the wings in Triple-A should they need an extra man.
The Caribbean has not been an impressive place for Volquez to be this winter. He still remains one of the brightest beacons of hope out of all the prospects in the minors league system for the Rangers, but it's somewhat troubling to notice his increase in walk rate (17:15 K:BB ratio). he'll likely be headed to Triple-A to start this season in order to work on his control.
If I'm going to put him on the bubble, I think I'll put him on the very edge of the bubble. Although Wright is an adequate backup plan should injuries start becoming a problem, there's too much other talent ahead of him that could occupy the back spot of the rotation.
The case is much the same for Chen. But if the situation warrants another warm body, he could be in the mix for a long relief role out of the bullpen.
Although he'll still get a look as a starter, I think that at this point the Rangers view Rheinecker as more of a reliever than a starting pitcher. With a good spring, they'll either find a role for him as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen or he'll begin the season in Triple-A.
If Diamond ends up beginning this season in the minors, there's a greater than zero chance it'll be his last to do so.
He's got a little further to go than Diamond, but with an outstanding minor league season this year the same may be true for him.
If he makes the roster at all, there's probably a bigger chance of him landing a job as a middle reliever. But as is the case with lots of guys trying to get a spot on the pitching staff, there's a lot of talented guys to get past first.
Position Battles: Starting Rotation
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