I know the Rangers history with player development hasn't been the best in baseball since their move from D.C. in 1972. David Clyde was just the beginning for this franchise that has never tasted victory in a postseason series. Thank goodness for John Burkett or they would be 0-9 in postseason games.
So, you might wonder why I have faith in Jon Daniels and the Rangers' future. There is no question that the 2008 Rangers squad will not scare many teams because on paper they are simply not impressive. Holes in the lineup and the annual rotation issues point to another year without a champagne shower in the locker room. However, did anyone notice that the Rangers' farm system climbed from one of the worst in baseball to a top five system in one year?
That is why I have renewed faith, not in Tom Hicks, but in Jon Daniels. Yes, the "kid gm" made mistakes his first year. Bringing in strikeout machine Brad Wilkerson for Soriano and the infamous Chris Young deal made even the most optimistic Rangers fan shake their head in disgust. Unlike his predecessor, Daniels learned from those mistakes without growing gun-shy of making any move.
Just look at the year Daniels had last season. After Mark Teixeira turned down the most lucrative contract for a Ranger since A-Rod, Daniels was forced to trade the star first baseman. Many executives were very vocal about their displeasure with Daniels for sticking to his guns and demanding a king's ransom in return for Teixeira, which is exactly what you want from your GM. He refused to give in to his older and "wiser" counterparts and waited for the right deal. A few calls with the Braves and the Rangers had their deal.
The top 5 prospects the Braves had are now in the Rangers farm system, including Elvis Andrus who will most likely be at AA Frisco this season. Daniels also shipped Eric Gagne to the Red Sox netting the Rangers Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and a very talented outfielder in Engel Beltre. The off-season trade for Josh Hamilton was another risky move that could provide immense benefits, provided he stays healthy. He has the potential to put up huge numbers mashing bombs into the home run porch. Did I also mention he plays an outstanding center field? The best part about that deal is Hamilton's contract situation. He's under the Rangers control for the next five seasons.
Daniels and his team have also drafted very well the past couple of seasons. Landing Blake Beavan and Michael Main in the first round of the 07 draft as well as CF Julio Borbon with a compensation pick. Eric Hurley, who dominated all the way up to AAA last season, will probably be a September call-up this year. Relatively unknown Luis Mendoza posted numbers similar to Hurley at AA in 2007 with an ERA of 3.93 with 48 walks and 93 strikeouts. Kasey Kiker was 7-4 with class A Clinton, posting an ERA of 2.90 with an impressive 112 strikeouts. Kiker could not fit more perfectly in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a hard throwing lefty that throws strikes.
While the pitching has made huge strides over the past year, the Rangers hitters are also making some noise. Taylor Teagarden and Chris Davis will make the Rangers decision making in March very difficult if they continue their improvement at this pace. The numbers for both at AA and AAA were very similar. Teagarden hit .315 at AA with 20 bombs, 25 doubles and 67 RBI. After being promoted to AAA, his average dipped slightly to .294, but his power numbers remained consistent. Davis hit .298 at AA with 24 home runs, 28 doubles, 3 triples and 93 RBI. After his promotion to AAA, he hit .294 with another 12 home runs, clearly a possible force in the middle of the lineup around 2009.
Elvis Andrus hit .300 after coming over from the Braves with 10 walks and 19 strikeouts. What's impressive about Andrus is his defense is already major league caliber at the age of 19. He hasn't shown much power, but he steals bases and takes walks. German Duran hit .300 at AA Frisco last season with 22 home runs and 5 triples. Duran could make the team with a strong spring, but he will more than likely start at AAA this season.
One thing is certain, Daniels has changed the mindset of this organization. The days of quick fixes that cost the team draft picks are over. They may not show it on the field this season, but the Rangers have the pieces in place to be a consistent contender in the very near future.
Now comes the hard part, being patient and letting the kids grow at the right pace. The last thing this organization needs is to have another David Clyde. Will it all lead to a world championship? Maybe in 2010.
But the seeds were planted over the past season, and Jon Daniels is the reason why.