Some good stuff happened Monday at Goodyear Ballpark, where the Texas Rangers lost 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians.
Adrian Beltre made a play on a popup that mere mortals don’t make, and Ian Desmond started to gain some traction in left field.
Then, manager Jeff Banister revealed that the Rangers might go with eight relievers, a 13-man pitching staff, and only a three-man bench to open the season.
Thoughts? Oh, yes. Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Banister and the Rangers’ front office and scouts certainly are thorough as they look to determine the best 25 players for Opening Day.
The latest concept under consideration is going with eight relievers and three bench players.
Sam Freeman and Andrew Faulkner have to like that, and so do guys like Nick Martinez, Jeremy Guthrie and Cesar Ramos.
But Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Rua, James Jones and Drew Stubbs probably want to cringe just a bit. And maybe Hanser Alberto and Pedro Ciriaco.
Potentially there are two bullpen spots up for grabs instead of one, though one will go to a pitcher who can log multiple innings. That doesn't have to be a true long man, but it would make sense.
Starters are going to have hiccups at some point, and Banister doesn't want to see his Big Six relievers trying to mop up a blow out.
An eighth spot could then go to a second left-hander, Freeman or Faulkner. Freeman is out of options. Faulkner isn't.
Of the three bench spots, one would go to the backup catcher, presumably Gimenez. But the Rangers could use Desmond as the backup shortstop instead of a true utility infielder, and allow two outfielders to make the roster.
Ruggiano and Rua would likely be competing for one spot, with playing first base a priority, and Jones and Stubbs would be competing for the other spot, with defense a priority.
It says here that Jones still has an advantage because he bats left-handed. Ruggiano could have the advantage because of what he does against left-handers and his ability to play center field, though Rua can play second and third in a pinch.
But to have Desmond as the backup at shortstop and Rua as the backup at second is sacrificing defense for the days when Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor need to rest. Advantage Alberto, though Ciriaco can also play the outfield.
If the season started today (which so many people wish was the case) with a three-man bench, mine would be Gimenez, Ruggiano and Alberto.
The eight-man bullpen/three-man bench idea has some traction now, but let's check back in 10 days or so.
It’s just a thought process with our position players, possible multi-positional guys, that give us an opportunity if we so choose to have an extra arm in the bullpen early.
Manager Jeff Banister
2. The play Beltre made on a first-inning popup was one of those that leaves people shaking their head in amazement. Yeah, even on a popup.
Carlos Santana sent a towering popup in front of third base, and Beltre immediately was fighting the sun. He was shielding his eyes with sunglasses and his glove, but didn’t find the ball and secure it until he was on his knees making a basket catch only inches off the ground.
Beltre tried to shrug it off, but starter A.J. Griffin took note of the difficulty of the play.
“He nearly gave me a heart attack,” Griffin said. “The sun’s nasty out here.”
Finally, Beltre admitted that it wasn’t easy.
“It was just trying to figure out where the sun was,” Beltre said. “The whole time I felt it wasn’t going to find my glove, but I got lucky.”
Beltre said that the only place in the majors where the sun is as difficult as it is in Arizona is during a day game at Oakland.
3. Desmond fought a first-inning sun ball, too, hit to deep left field by Mike Napoli. Desmond tracked it, shielded his eyes from the sun, and made the catch, and later made an easier play.
After little action his first four games in left field, things are starting to pick up.
“I got a couple fly pops today,” Desmond said. “I was able to use some of the things I’ve learned.”
He was most critical of himself on a ground smash down the lineup by Francisco Lindor that ended up as a double. Desmond thought he should have made a better break on it.
Banister had no complaints. He said Desmond is starting to look like he belongs in left field.
I was pretty disappointed with the jump I had on that ball. It’s still a work in progress.
Left fielder Ian Desmond
4. Minor-league games started Monday, which for the next few weeks means that Rangers pitchers will be scattered everywhere around the Surprise Recreation Campus.
Cactus League innings are getting scarce as starting pitchers begin to log four and five innings, so some starters and relievers will end up getting their work against minor-leaguers.
That was the case Monday as Chi Chi Gonzalez and Faulkner pitched in the Triple A game, and Cole Hamels and Jeremy Guthrie will start minors games Tuesday. Relievers Shawn Tolleson, Keone Kela and Tom Wilhelmsen are going to pitch, too.
For Tolleson, it will be his first outing of the spring after dealing with back spasms.
The problem pitchers often face is that minor-league hitters know there is a big-leaguer on the mound, and they want to get theirs. So, they swing early and often, ditching their approaches, and can interrupt the plan pitchers take to the mound.
Hamels embraces it, but even he acknowledges the aggressiveness of the hitters.
“I enjoy being able to go against guys that are swinging the bat,” he said last week after a start against a group of San Diego Padres minor-leaguers. “It gives you a lot better perspective of what you have to do with pitch selection.”
6 Runs allowed by Chi Chi Gonzalez in 3 2/3 innings in a minor-league game Monday
5. With minor-league games under way, it’s often interesting to see where players appear to be lining up for the regular season. There’s no guarantee that what happens on the first day will hold for Opening Day, but a few things caught my eye nonetheless:
Right-hander Matt Bush, the former first-round pick who battled alcoholism and wound up in jail for three years, was scheduled to pitch in the Triple A game. He still has enough talent for the Rangers to sign him and has stayed on a straight path so far.
Dillon Tate, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2015 at No. 4 overall, started the High A game. High Desert in the California League is one of the toughest places to pitch in the minor leagues, but the Rangers have said they won’t be afraid to send Tate or 2014 first-rounder and fellow right-hander Luis Ortiz there.
Jose Trevino was the catcher for the Double A game. The native Texan established himself as the Rangers’ top catching prospect last season, though Banister had glowing reviews of Kellin Deglan after he was optioned out of big-league camp.