Monday, October 20, 2014

Minor League Monday - Felipe Castillo, 1990 ProCards Tulsa Drillers.

Felipe Castillo, shown here on ProCards Tulsa Drillers card 1150, was signed by the Rangers as a free agent at age 19 in 1986. He started his pro career the same year with the Gulf Coast Rangers in Rookie ball.

The four years between the start of Felipe's career and the issuing if this card were not easy ones for Castillo. He got his ERA below 4.25 only once: 2.78 in a 23 game stint with the Low A Gastonia Rangers in 1988. Somehow he kept climbing and ended up with Double A Tulsa for the 1990 season.

Up to 1990, Castillo had been primarily a starter. That obviously wasn't working out well so the Rangers transitioned him to a relief role in 1990. He made 20 appearances out of the bullpen for the Drillers and tossed 46 innings. Felipe posted a career low 2.35 ERA while striking out 39. His 1.457 WHIP was a reason for concern but the improvement with the move to the bullpen had been dramatic. That was good for Castillo because he needed a dramatic improvement to keep his Major League dreams alive.

The improvement was enough to earn Felipe a promotion to Triple A Oklahoma City for the remainder of the 1990 season. He came out of the bullpen 19 times and made one spot start for the 89'ers. Over 28.2 innings he compiled a 3.45 ERA and an 1.744 WHIP. Apparently that was enough for Texas, Castillo would not be back in 1991.

Following the 1990 season is where Castillo's career takes an unusual turn and the lack of minor league information becomes frustrating. It appears he was out of organized baseball for four years. I can't even find any record of him playing in Japan.

In 1995 Felipe re-surfaces at age 28 with the Tulsa Drillers, still a Rangers farm team. This is clearly a comeback attempt, not a spot appearance. He pitched 33 innings over 14 relief appearances and posted a 3.82 ERA and 1.606 WHIP. Not too shabby for a guy missing for four seasons and suddenly jumping back into Double A ball. That's it though. He's gone again after 1995.

Castillo's back again in 2001 though. Still a reliever at age 34, he appears in ten games, evenly split between the independent Fort Worth Cats and the Triple A Mexican League Cordoba Cafeteros. Felipe got hammered over 4.1 innings with the Cats to a tune of a 6.23 ERA and a 2.077 WHIP. He did a little better with the Cafeteros as he posted a 3.18 ERA and an 1.941 WHIP. That was it. He finally hung up the spikes for good after 2001.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Senators Saturday - Frank Howard, 1967.

Frank Howard appears with a bat on card 255 of the 1967 Topps set. Probably an accurate depiction of his career. At the plate is where The Capitol Punisher earned his nickname.

Howard was the Senators starting left fielder in 1967 and appeared in 149 games. 141 of those games included playing left field and three included right field. He also played first base in four games which opened the possibility of moving him to that position sometime in the future. It was the first time Hondo had played first since 1961.

Over the 1086 innings in the outfield (only 3.2 innings were in right field and he saw no action), Howard committed just three errors en route to a .986 fielding percentage. That was ten points higher than the league average and a very pleasant surprise. His range in the outfield was significantly lower than your average American League outfielder though. At first base Frank played 17 innings without a miscue. Once again, his range was limited compared to most first basemen around the league.

Hondo made 585 trips to the plate in 1967, second only to Ken McMullen in plate appearances on the team. He batted a team best .256 and got on base at a .338 clip, also a team high. Frank's .511 slugging percentage was not only a team best, it was 5th in the American League. He hit 20 doubles, two triples, and 36 home runs (team best). He came in third in the American League in home runs. His 89 RBI led the team and was 4th best in the AL. Howard might have had a higher on-base percentage if he wasn't such a free swinger. He struck out a league-leading 155 times.

The Senators got what they were looking for from Frank Howard in 1967. He was hitting for power and that's why they traded for him. If he could cut down on the whiffs it would be nice but Hondo was a free swinger when he arrived from Los Angeles. The above average fielding percentage was an added bonus, Howard was on the roster for his bat. If he could cut down on the strikeouts in 1968 and maintain his defense, he would have a successful season. Due to his size any increase in range in the outfield was not going to happen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rangers roster begins off-season change.

The Rangers have begun their off-season moves. J.P. Arencibia and Kevin Kouzmanoff already took their free agency rather than start 2015 in the minors. Alex Rios won't be with the team in 2015 either it doesn't look like.

Texas announced on Wednesday morning that they won't be picking up Rios' $14 million option for the 2015 season. Instead the team opted to buy him out for one million and send him on his way as a free agent. As I mentioned in my 2014 season review, this move really doesn't surprise me. Chalk one up for my prediction skills I guess.

Alex didn't have a bad year in 2014, he just didn't have a really good one either. The Rangers figure they can get a decent year from one of their young outfielders at a fraction of the price Rios would have cost. What will be interesting now is how much Rios, seen here on card 85 of the 2014 Topps Heritage set, will get on the free market.

Right now the plan calls for Shin-Soo Choo to move from left to right field to replace Rios. Barring a trade or free agent signing, that will leave Michael Choice, Jake Smolinski, Daniel Robertson, Ryan Rua, and Jim Adduci duking it out for the left field spot. The runner-up will likely end up as the fourth outfielder.

There are some big name free agent outfielders on the market. Melky Cabrera, Nick Markakis, Torii Hunter, Nori Aoki, and former Ranger Nelson Cruz. Since Texas is going to be looking to shore up the pitching staff I really don't look for them to make a play for any of these guys. If they do, Aoki would probably be the only one they would seriously look at.

The Rios move frees up some cash for a possible pitcher signing. I like that. It does take an experienced bat out of the lineup though so it's a bit of a gamble. It's probably the right move though. Texas has a lot of hungry young outfielders right now and can afford to bet at least one of them comes through to replace Alex.

Speaking of replacements, the Rangers announced the replacement for manager Ron Washington yesterday. Like many, I expected bench coach/interim manager Tim Bogar to get the nod. Instead the club went with Pirates bench coach Jeff Bannister. From the outside it seems that Bannister must have really wowed the front office to get the nod over Bogar. Hopefully he can wow the players and fans as well in 2015 and beyond.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Early off-season.

The off-season is trading time. All the teams engage in wheeling and dealing. I know, the off-season doesn't officially start until the World Series is over but we're close enough. I haven't had a trade in awhile and would like to remedy that. Of particular interest would be Rangers game-used and autographs I don't have. They don't have to be stars, ones like this 1996 Leaf Authentic Signatures card of Matt Whiteside would be fine. This section of my collection is a bit thin and I'd like to bulk it up a bit.

Of course, I'm also still trying to knock out the Rangers base team sets. I'm always interested in trading for any cards off my wantlist. Senators are welcome too, especially off the Washington wantlist. I'd even consider a blind team lot trade, if anyone is interested.

Other than the Rangers, I occasionally pick up cards of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Stan Musial. I'd also consider any Royals parallels or inserts. Mark the Royals fan has most of the base cards already so it doesn't do me much good to pick them up. Of course, if you have anything of Jon Matlack from the Matlack wantlist be sure and let me know.

I've been slowly revamping my tradelist so if you see anything there you might be interested in, now is the time to speak up. Some of the cards listed will be disappearing in the coming weeks. I'd like to trade base for base, vintage for vintage, inserts for inserts, etc. but if you make an offer I'll listen. I'll even look through your tradelist if you see something off mine you like. I also have some Ivan Rodriguez memorabilia not listed on the trade list that I'd like to get traded to a good home so let me know if that catches your interest.

Well, that's my attempt to kick the hot stove season off to an early start. Let me know if we can work a deal.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 in review - Bullpen and Manager.

Going into Spring Training, the relief corps was the big question mark for the Rangers 2014 season. The bullpen turned out to be almost a complete disaster. The fact that this portion of the review covers 19 pitchers is a bad sign. It's worse when you consider that the club traded or released at least four relievers throughout the season and I'm not reviewing them. Like the rest of the team, there were one or two bright spots to help mark the way to 2015. This review is in no particular order.

Injuries and struggles marred Alexi Ogando's season. Alexi, shown here on card 69 of the 2012 Bowman set, was looking for a bounce back year. Instead he ended the year with a horrendous 6.84 ERA and an equally ugly 1.920 WHIP. After 25 innings in 27 appearances Ogando ended the season on the 60-day Disabled List.

Shawn Tolleson made 64 appearances for the Rangers in 2014, all out of the bullpen. He tossed 71.2 innings and ended the season with a 2.71 ERA, and an 1.172 WHIP. Shawn struck out 69 batters while walking 28. He's no closer but provided a little stability for the club in the middle innings.

Neal Cotts was the Rangers bullpen utility man. He served as a long man, lefty specialist, steup man, and spot closer. Neal tossed 66.2 innings in the 73 trips (team high for pitchers) he made out of the bullpen. He wasn't terribly consistent and ended the season with a 4.32 ERA, an 1.335 WHIP, and two saves.

Roman Mendez was a mid-season call-up and logged 33 innings on the mound over 30 relief appearances. He was able to provide some bullpen stability with his 2.18 ERA and 1.121 WHIP. Roman was a nice surprise for the Rangers.

Scott Baker served as long relief and a spot starter when needed. His ability to eat up 80.2 innings aver his 25 appearances (including eight starts) helped off-set his 5.47 ERA and 1.190 WHIP. Not enough to make Scott look like a keeper but enough to make his versatility appreciated.

2014 was a season of frustration for Robbie Ross Jr. He spent time on the disabled list and in the minors as he tried to recover his form and effectiveness. He appeared in 27 games for the Rangers and pitched a total of 80.2 innings. 12 of those 27 appearances were starts. As you can tell by the low number of innings pitched, his 6.20 ERA, and 1.698 WHIP; Ross never was able to get a handle on the season.

Neftali Feliz fought injuries and made a trip to the minors in the course of the season but managed to turn in an impressive campaign. He pitched 31.2 innings over 30 appearances and racked up 13 saves after he moved into the closer role following the departure of Joakim Soria. Nefi put together a 1.99 ERA and an 0.979 WHIP. Seems he was able to find his Rookie of The Year form again.

Aaron Poreda got another shot at the Majors for the first time since 2009. He threw 21.1 innings over 26 games. His 5.91 ERA and 1.734 WHIP were not calculated to amaze.

Phil Klein made his first appearance in the Majors on August 1st. Between then and the end of the season he tossed 19 innings in 17 appearances. Phil put together a workable 2.84 ERA. His 1.105 WHIP was also serviceable.

Alex Claudio turned in mixed success over 12.1 innings in 15 appearances. His 2.92 ERA and 1.459 both need some improvement but show some promise.

Nathan Adcock struggled through ten innings in seven appearances while turning in a 4.50 ERA and an 1.600 WHIP.

After Adcock, the list of relievers gets into the less than ten innings pitched territory. The list includes Spencer Patton (0.96 ERA in 9.1 innings), Ben Rowen (4.15 ERA in 8.2 innings), Jon Edwards (4.32 ERA in 8.1 innings), Ryan Feierabend (6.14 ERA in 7.1 innings), Michael Kirkman (1.59 ERA in 5.2 innings), Matt West (6.75 ERA in 4 innings), and Seth Rosin (6.75 ERA in 4 innings). Pedro Figueroa (4.00 ERA in 9 innings) is also included on the list. He ended the season on the 60-day DL after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The 2015 bullpen is going to be a roll of the dice. Neftali Felix is positioned to resume his old role as closer, if he can carry over his 2014 performance. Roman Mendez also likely has a spot and Michael Kirkman drew some attention at the end of 2014. Figueroa won't be in the mix since he'll still be in recovery. The rest of the spots will probably be decided in Spring Training with roster and non-roster players duking it out. There could also be considerable turnover during the season, even if the team finds itself in a bounce-back year.

That wraps up the players but there was one more area of upheaval for the club, manager. On September 5th Ron Washington suddenly announced his resignation as manager. After almost eight years at the helm, he was gone over night. Some fools suggested he had been forced out by GM Jon Daniels. A press conference on September 17th revealed that Wash resigned of his own volition due to marital infidelity. Bench coach Tim Bogar was named as interim manager and led the team to a hot finish as they went 14-8 to complete the season.

Bogar is definitely a candidate for the manager's job on a permanent basis. The club has also interviewed pitching coach Mike Maddux and Triple-A manager Steve Buechele along with five candidates from outside the organization. General Manager Jon Daniels hopes to have a manager named by the end of October. Whoever it turns out to be will have some big shoes to fill.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

1978 Topps - Tom Grieve.

Taking a short break from the 2014 season in review series today. I'll finish it up tomorrow. Going to have another installment in the 1978 team today.

Looking at card number 337 of the 1978 Topps set brings back some memories. Just over Tom Grieve's left shoulder is a sign for Brut cologne. Anybody else remember that brand? I haven't seen it since I was a kid.

Anyway, on to Tom Grieve. After failing to impress in 1976, Grieve was once again relegated to a backup role in 1977. His bat was missing in action and he was out of chances in Texas.

In December of 1977 Tom was included in a huge 4-team trade. As part of the trade, the Rangers sent Grieve to the New York Mets along with a player to be named later. Ken Henderson filled that role in March of 1978.

After the trade, Grieve spent one season in New York before being traded to the Cardinals. A partial season in St. Louis and a May 9, 1979 release ended his Major League career. The Rangers re-signed their former number one draft pick as a free agent on May 21, 1979 but Tom never again appeared in a MLB game. His playing days over, it was time for the next step in TAG's career - the front office.

Monday, October 13, 2014

2014 in review - Starting Rotation.

If I reviewed all 40 pitchers who took the hill for the Rangers in 2014, this series would easily reach into the 2015 season. Three of the 40 were position players J.P. Arencibia, Mitch Moreland, and Chris Gimenez. I'm going to skip their short outings. 

Needless to say, the pitching staff was a mess and the turnover was unreal. Injuries were the main culprit but the team did move a few arms in other ways. Jason Frasor, Joakim Soria, and Justin Germano were traded. Hector Noesi and Jerome Williams moved on to other teams via waivers. Daniel McCutchen, Joe Saunders, and Phil Irwin were outright released.

I'm not going to review those guys no longer with the club. By my count that takes us down to 29 pitchers who appeared in 2014 and are still with the team in some form or other. I'm going to break the pitching staff up between starters and relievers but be warned, there was a lot of crossover.

The Rangers had ten pitchers who started games in the majority of their appearances in 2014. I'm going to cover those ten under the category of starters. A few other guys made spot starts but spent most of their time coming out of the bullpen. They'll be covered under relievers.

Yu Darvish was the ace of the rotation for 2014 even before the 2013 season ended. He came into the 2014 season in the same role in spite of missing his Opening Day start due to neck stiffness. Darvish made 22 starts for the club and posted a 10-7 record, the only winning pitcher to make a significant number of starts. It wasn't the most starts on the team though and was a drop from the previous two seasons. That drop was attributable to two trips to the DL during the course of the season including one that ended the year. Yu's innings pitched dropped as well to 144.1. His ERA tallied to 3.06 and his WHIP to 1.261. He was selected to the All-Star game but didn't play due to injury.

Derek Holland was supposed to be the number two punch behind Darvish in 2014. He fell on some stairs while playing with his dog during the off-season. The resulting knee injury required surgery and Dutch spent the majority of the year on the Disabled List and in rehab assignments. He did return late in the season and made five starts and one relief appearance (on the last day of the season). His 1.46 ERA and 1.054 WHIP over the 37 innings he pitched were a glimpse of what was lost by his injury.

Matt Harrison was slated to be number two in the rotation once Holland injured his knee. Matt lost most of the 2013 season due to back surgery and hopes were high that he would return to his pre-surgery form. He made just four starts and tossed only 17.1 innings before experiencing more back pain. That's probably what caused his 4.15 ERA and 1.846 WHIP. Harry underwent a second back surgery (spinal fusion) and missed most of the season for the second year in a row.

Martin Perez was looking for a breakout season in 2014. Instead he made eight starts and pitched 51.1 innings while compiling a 4.38 ERA and an 1.344 WHIP. His season ended with Tommy John surgery. He is expected to start throwing again in November.

Colby Lewis, shown above on card 163 of the 2002 Absolute Memorabila set (576/1000), was a question mark headed into Spring Training. He was recovering from hip replacement and flexor tendon surgery. His chances of a full return were not good. Partially due to Holland's injury, Lewis made the team. To much amazement, Colby pitched the whole season without any time lost to the DL. He made a team high 29 starts and his 170.1 innings pitched were also a team high. Lewis' 5.18 ERA and 1.521 were high and accounted for his 10-14 record. At least he was there and pitching though. That's much more than a lot of other guys covered in this review.

Nick Martinez was supposed to get a look in Spring Training and maybe a few spot starts to ease him into things. Instead he made 24 starts in 29 appearances and pitched a total of 140.1 innings. Early struggles led to his 4.55 ERA and 1.461 WHIP but he showed much improvement in the latter part of the season.

Nick Tepesch got some starts in 2013 with mixed success. He was viewed as a possible fifth starter or maybe a swing man. The decimated pitching staff dictated otherwise and Tepesch made 22 starts in 23 appearances with 126 innings pitched. He was a bit up and down as shown by his 4.36 ERA and 1.365 WHIP. Like Martinez, Nick showed improvement late in the season and ended the year on an upswing.

Miles Mikolas was a mid-season arrival and made ten starts for the Rangers. He threw 57.1 innings in the process. While Miles had a few bright moments, he struggled overall while getting tagged with a 6.44 ERA and an 1.430 WHIP.

Lisalverto Bonilla came up in September and made two appearances out of the bullpen before making three starts to finish out the season. He created excitement in the 20.2 innings he pitched by winning his first three starts – the first time in Rangers history that's happened. On his way to that record Bonilla put together a respectable 3.05 ERA and an 1.210 WHIP.

Tanner Scheppers was supposed to make the move from the bullpen to the rotation in 2014. Things looked good in Spring Training. Tanner even made the Opening Day start when Yu Darvish wasn't ready due to a sore neck. The transition didn't work out well and Scheppers ended the season on the 60-day DL after making four starts in eight appearances. He got hammered to the tune of a 9.00 ERA and an 1.783 WHIP and lasted just 23 innings before his season ended.

As you can see, the starting rotation was a real mess in 2014. Nothing seemed to work out the way it was supposed to. Barring a major problem, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland will be back at the top of the rotation in 2015. If Darvish can stay on track and Dutch continues his late-season record, they will be a formidable 1-2 punch. Things could get a little sketchy after that. Martin Perez is not expected back until at least June of 2015 and Matt Harrison may never pitch again. Colby Lewis is wanting to return to the Rangers and approached General Manager Jon Daniels about a contract before the 2014 season even ended. That's a good sign but Colby is probably a steady number four at this point in his career. If Texas can re-sign him reasonably they should do so. It's likely that Nick Martinez, Nick Tepesch, and Lisalverto Bonilla will duke it out for the remaining spots in the rotation. Miles Mikolas might make a case but he's got some catching up to do to get back in the mix. Scheppers is probably headed back to the bullpen or the minors in 2015. There's always the possibility that somebody might make the move from the bullpen to starting rotation or another young gun might come out of the minors. Based on the word from the front office, a big name free agent signing is unlikely so the Texas will likely be riding with what they got. How the rotation works out for 2015 will be key to the Rangers chances for a bounce-back season.