The Chicago Cubs came Wednesday to visit the Texas Rangers, a trip that produced the best crowd of the spring at Surprise Stadium. Even the Dallas Stars were in attendance, though not because of the Cubs.
They were treated to the best outing of the spring by Derek Holland, a loyal Stars supporter. Maybe the Stars need to come to all of Holland’s starts.
Ian Desmond, a center fielder for all of two games, also showed off for the big crowd. He’s athleticism and arm strength were on display in the second and fourth innings, helping Holland post five zeroes in the best performance by a Rangers starter this spring.
And then there was Matt Bush.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. After watching two innings of Bush, it’s easy to see why the Rangers signed him six weeks out of prison and why he got so many second chances. The guy is a talented.
The slowest fastball he threw was 95 mph. His breaking ball was filthy. He retired six of the seven batters he faced, with the exception a two-out walk to Munenori Kawasaki in his second inning.
But before trying to find a spot for him in the Rangers’ bullpen, everyone needs to take a step back. Bush needs to continue to find the spot that best helps him remain sober. The people around him well help, and so will time at the ballpark, but rising to the major leagues is all on him.
It was as good of stuff as we’ve seen in camp. On both sides.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister on Matt Bush
The one-day-at-a-time mantra is no joke. Once he figures out how to survive each day with baseball in his life again, this time without alcohol, then he can begin his road to the Rangers. It is expected that he will open the season at Double A Frisco.
That said, based on Wednesday he could very well be pitching in the majors this season.
2. The Surprise Five would like to officially declare that all questions about Desmond’s progress in left field are no longer necessary. He’s got it, and he might be making a push to be the Rangers’ best defensive center fielder, too.
That’s a stretch, though the arm is the best in the outfield. He showed that twice Wednesday, most impressively with a throw from the center-field wall that one-hopped first base to finish off a double play after a running basket catch.
The second throw was as if he was a shortstop again, as he charged hard on a chopper to center and fired home for an easy 8-2 putout.
“That one was pretty much teed up for me,” he said.
Desmond’s athletic ability stands out, but the stuff he is doing behind the scenes is what’s making his transition to the outfield seem seamless. It’s not, he insists, but the shagging he is doing during batting practice, both big league BP and minor league BP, in addition to one-on-one work with coaches Jayce Tingler and Gold Glover Dwayne Murphy, are paying dividends.
3. I’m not sure who needed the outing Holland — five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts — turned in against the Cubs more, Holland or the Rangers.
Holland hasn’t seemed the least bit concerned about his spring progress, and he hadn’t been terrible entering Wednesday. But he was very good, albeit with the help from Desmond, as some with the club had grown frustrated with the left-hander.
The Rangers’ rotation had been struggling of late before Holland helped pitch them to a 5-0 win. Maybe his start was the first of the starters beginning to hone in on the form they want to have by Opening Day.
Banister announced that Cole Hamels would be the Opening Day starter April 4 against Seattle at Globe Life Park, but declined to say how the rest of the rotation would line up. However, Hamels pitched Sunday, Martin Perez on Monday, Colby Lewis on Tuesday, Holland on Wednesday and two candidates for the No. 5 spot are pitching Thursday.
Looks like they are in order to me.
4. Wednesday was a big day for those interested in the farm system, and things started well before the Futures Game against the Cubs following the A game.
Two teams from Mexico squared off against Rangers minor leaguers, and one game was filled with the top Rangers minor leaugers who didn’t play in the futures game. Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo were on the field, and 2014 first-round pick Luis Ortiz tossed two no-hit innings.
Ortiz is an interesting kid. He’s got three pitches with plus-potential in the big leagues. He’s big-bodied, but he’s able to work with the weight and just can’t let it get out of control. He worked in the off-season toward that goal with none other than Matt Garza, whom Ortiz refers to as “my brother.”
Say what you will about Garza based on two months with the Rangers in 2013, but that guy gets after it in the gym and would be someone for a young prospect to emulate.
Hopefully Ortiz doesn’t take any fielding tips from him.
5. The Futures Game turned early as the Cubs scored five times in the third against Jose Leclerc, but the best player on the field was Lewis Brinson.
As the Rangers explore what to do with center field in case of injury or a lack of performance or whatever, Brinson has to be in their thought process even though he has barely played at Double A and played even less at Triple A.
But say DeShields goes on the disabled list for six weeks. Would the Rangers be better served with a platoon of Drew Stubbs and James Jones, where defense won’t be an issue; six weeks of Desmond, who appears to be capable of anything, in center and a Ryan Rua/Josh Hamilton platoon in left; or would six weeks of Brinson every day be better?
Brinson, of course, would have to be performing wherever he would be at the time of a potential significant injury. If he is, that means a player who has the potential to hit for average and power while also covering ample ground in center field with a strong arm.
There would be pitfalls, of course. Just ask Joey Gallo. But if Brinson is the future center fielder, though DeShields will have something to say about that with his performance, he should merit serious consideration in an injury situation.