A national reporter visiting Texas Rangers spring training Thursday morning asked how camp had been so far, and, surprisingly, my answer was not “cold.”
Instead, I opted for “quiet,” which for the club is a good thing.
Only two injuries, relatively minor ones though to two notable players. No contract extensions, though that appears to be changing. Even a significant signing, that of Mike Napoli, wasn’t earth-shaking because news of it broke a week before the first workout for pitchers and catchers.
News will begin to pick up beginning this weekend, when the Rangers’ Cactus League schedule opens. Injuries will happen the next four weeks, bad outings by starting pitchers and key relievers will happen, and B games and minor-league games will take attention from Surprise Stadium and to the back fields.
Game time is the time when camp starts to get a little louder. The decibels pick up beginning Saturday.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Joey Gallo, odds of making the Opening Day roster stacked against him, sure seems to be in a good place mentally.
He has been candid to anyone who asks about where he is in his career. It seems he has reached the realistic stage.
Gallo is fully aware that he is 23 years old, hardly too old to be the bust many have called him or are leaning toward calling him. He knows what he needs to do and that power hitters don’t always strike gold in their initial seasons.
Anyone who has followed the Rangers should know that there’s ample time for Gallo.
Nelson Cruz was 29 when he made his first All-Star team in his first year as a starter in 2009. In 2008, he was designated for assignment at the end of spring training and went unclaimed.
Chris Davis became an All-Star for the first time in 2013 at age 27. His arrival came two years after the Rangers traded him and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara. One way to look at it is the Rangers needed a reliever for the stretch run and Baltimore badly wanted Davis. Both true. Another way is that the Rangers gave up on him.
No player in the majors the past five seasons has hit more homers than Davis.
Gallo could join Cruz and Davis as 40-homer hitters. He isn’t going to do it this season, in all likelihood, and maybe not the next. And, it’s not inconceivable that he might not do it at all.
But he’s only 23. As he pointed out, that’s a year older than had he spent four years in college. Development comes at all kinds of speeds, and as hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said, no one knows if a player is ready until he gets to the majors and does it.
Gallo isn’t that elite kind of player. But there’s also more development to take place before he can be called a bust.
2. Josh Hamilton returned from Houston on Wednesday night and was in the clubhouse Thursday morning happy to announce that the pain in his left knee isn’t a significant setback.
The former league MVP-turned-roster hopeful hopes to be hitting by Monday and is confident that he won’t fall behind in the roster hunt as long as he can get his bat heated up. He hasn’t thought about opening the season in the minors because of the knee issue.
As far as covering this injury, it is news. It’s Hamilton, once the best player in the game and someone who is adored by a large chunk of the fan base. However, this is Hamilton, the oft-injury former superstar who isn’t even on the 40-man roster.
In that regard, it shouldn’t be the big news that it has been made to be. But it’s Hamilton, and until he rides off into retirement, his news is significant.
3. The first and only intrasquad scrimmage of spring training takes place Friday, the eve of the Cactus League lidlifter, and the Rangers will play it almost at full strength.
Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Tyson Ross are the only three active players on the injury report, and Elvis Andrus is probably not going to see the field for a while longer as he continues to recover from a Nov. 1 surgery for a sports hernia.
Now, just because the Rangers have a fairly clean medical report doesn’t mean that all the healthy regulars will play and the expected Opening Day pitching staff will pitch. Tyler Wagner, a contender for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, will pitch along with Connor Sadzeck, Allen Webster, Jose Leclerc and Jose Valdespina.
The bigger fish will be around Saturday against Kansas City. Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin, Sam Dyson and Alex Claudio will all pitch. So will Anthony Bass. Expect multiple regulars to be in the lineup.
Yu Darvish is scheduled to pitch Sunday, again against the Royals.
The big takeaway is that the Rangers are healthier than they have been in past springs, beginning with Darvish and even though Beltre is down.
4. Darvish continued his preparations for the season with 30 pitches over two simulated innings/live batting practice, pausing between sessions and when he was done to look at the video he had shot of himself.
This guy is meticulous. He’s fully invested in his craft and in trying to be the best. He’s always been that way, not just suddenly in his walk year into free agency.
Darvish is also starting to be more friendly with the media. He took a big step last spring, but he was also not a part of camp as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. He has kept up and even added to his media friendliness.
He’s no David Murphy or Derek Holland or Matt Harrison, the kings of media friendliness. Hamilton is also outrageously generous with his time and would be in competition for the fourth face on Mount Rushmore.
There have been others along the way who could fill up a notebook and were darn glad to do it. Colby Lewis, Michael Young and Joe Nathan knew the drill. Chris Gimenez and Bobby Wilson come to mind. Elvis Andrus has never been shy. A.J. Pierzynski was very underrated.
I’m sure I’ll hear about players I’m omitting and the media-savvy players before I joined the beat. There have been many great ones.
5. Darvish is one of three players who are strong candidates for contract extensions, and progress reportedly is being made on one of them.
Rougned Odor’s agent and the Rangers are talking, rekindling talks that came close to a deal last season. The Rangers wanted two option years, and Odor wanted only one.
That was before he became a 30-homer hitter, so the landscape has changed.
Jonathan Lucroy is the third candidate, though nothing is happening there. Expect that to change.
Nothing is up with Darvish, whose health is a concern for the Rangers to the point that they want to see more from the right-hander. How much more? Who knows?
The Rangers would be wise to figure that out quickly.