An equipment truck was stationed outside the Texas Rangers’ spring clubhouse Tuesday morning, and packing boxes were behind each player’s locker.
It’s an annual tell-tale sign that the regular season is looming. The end of camp, believe it or not, is near.
“I feel like it’s flown by,” right-hander Colby Lewis said.
The reason? Everyone is doing their job and having a good time doing it. It hasn’t always been that way, Lewis said, so something is going right at the Surprise Recreation Campus even if some things aren’t.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Among the items on the Rangers’ spring to-do list that appears as if it won’t get to-done is the contract extension for Adrian Beltre, the future Hall of Fame third baseman who can become a free agent after the season.
There have been talks, said general manager Jon Daniels, but nothing of substance. Beltre said, “I just work here.”
The brother-in-law told me over the weekend that he had heard some talking head suggesting that the lack of an extension could become a distraction during the season. I genuinely don’t know which sports personality said this, but I wholeheartedly disagree.
This is Beltre, the consummate pro and someone who has been a free agent three times in his career. It’s not like he’s a lifelong Rangers player who’s afraid to leave home.
When asked if it would be a distraction, Beltre said, “Not for me. I don’t want it to be a distraction for the team. It’s not something I want to be talking about in the season.”
Fair enough. He then brought up something that dogged him before he signed with the Rangers — that he saves his best performances for his walk years. At 37, that might look something like 25 homers, 90 RBIs, .290 average and solid defense.
That would produce suitors in the off-season.
The Rangers still want to extend Beltre. They have three position players headed toward free agency — Beltre, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland — and starting pitchers Lewis and potentially Derek Holland if his extension isn’t picked up.
There will be money in the off-season to get a deal done. But it might cost more money to re-sign Beltre than it would to extend him now.
2. Matt Bush is scheduled to pitch for the Rangers on Wednesday as a just-in-case player from minor league camp. Collin Wiles did it Monday, but Bush is no Wiles or any other Rangers minor leaguer.
Bush’s problems with alcohol are well-documented. He ended up in a prison cell for three-plus years after a near-fatal hit-and-run accident. The Rangers signed him less than two months after he was released.
The Rangers won’t tolerate any misbehavior from Bush, and he has been exemplary off the field since signing. He’s also been very good on the field, showing three plus power pitches, so he will be rewarded with an inning or two in an A game.
Daniels said that Bush will likely be ticketed for Double A Frisco, though that hasn’t been finalized. Bush will be close to the majors, at least geographically, but not necessarily an option for the Rangers.
He hasn’t pitched in a game since 2011, and he has never pitched above Double A. Let’s just leave it at that for now.
He’s been very, very good from a performance standpoint. He’s checked every box and exceeded expectations on and off the field.
General manager Jon Daniels
3. As is the case each spring, much is being made of the Rangers’ No. 5 starter and how they don’t have a clear-cut front-runner for the spot. That’s somewhat unusual, judging on recent history, but the situation is hardly unique to the Rangers.
Last year, though, Nick Martinez kicked butt throughout the spring. In 2014, it was Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross. Nick Tepesch won a rotation spot with a dominant spring in 2013. C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando had to win rotation spots in 2010 and 2011, and they were too good to put back in the bullpen.
Martinez and Tepesch are in the mix again this spring, with fellow right-handers Chi Chi Gonzalez, Jeremy Guthrie, Phil Klein and A.J. Griffin. Left-hander Cesar Ramos is in the mix, but it’s hard to see the Rangers going with four lefties.
But all this hand-wringing for the last spot in the rotation, with it going to someone who won’t exactly be a Cy Young candidate this year, shouldn’t take away from the other four starters. They haven’t looked like Cy Young candidates either, and the Rangers want to see more from them the final 12 days before Opening Day.
There aren’t too many concerns about Cole Hamels or Lewis. Derek Holland and Martin Perez entered camp as the pitchers who will have the greatest impact on the Rangers’ season, so they are the two starters being watched most closely.
4. Speaking of trying to make something out of nothing ... The beat writers found the lineup for Tuesday’s game particularly interesting. No. 2 hitter Shin-Soo Choo was the leadoff hitter, and leadoff hitter Delino DeShields batted ninth.
Manager Jeff Banister quickly put out the fire, saying that he was trying to get Choo and Rougned Odor, batting second, more at-bats. DeShields has plenty of at-bats this spring, and with him expected to play deep into the game, he was going to get in his ABs.
And, as Banister noted, DeShields was still batting ahead of Choo once the lineup flipped.
Choo at times has suggested that the leadoff spot isn’t his favorite, even though he has batted there more than any other spot in his career while posting a .390 on-base percentage.
He has batted second third-most, though with more than half as many plate appearances as the second-place third spot, and posted a .396 OBP. More than half of his career plate appearances in the second spot came last season, when he posted a .413 OBP as the No. 2 hitter.
Not that the beat writers did any research on the subject as they tried to stir the pot over a spring training lineup.
7 Seasons spent in the minor leagues, not including rehab assignments, by Shin-Soo Choo before he became an everyday player in the majors
5. Speaking of Choo ... The right fielder purchased lunch Tuesday for every minor league player and staff member for the third straight spring. It was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed.
We’re not talking about McDonalds here. Choo commandeered the folks who cook for the big leaguers, Cookin’ On Wood, and a large grill was set up at the edge of the players’ parking lot with steaks and barbecue.
Choo tried to down play the whole thing. He wasn’t sure how word of it found out its way to intrepid The Surprise Five.
The idea wasn’t his. He remembered as a minor leaguer with Seattle an instance when a big leaguer bought lunch for the minor league camp, and Choo told himself then that if he ever made it, he was going to pass that torch.
“Hopefully a minor leaguer now has the same thought,” said Choo, who spent seven seasons in the minors.
There’s the Rangers’ highlight of the day.