Here it is, pitchers and catchers have not yet reported to spring training; it's still January; today in Oklahoma there's a dusting of ice, snow, and sleet all over everything, and it's a frigid 21 degrees outside. All this, and I'm getting revved up for baseball season to begin. Why? Because for Texas Ranger fans, there's a heap of promise on the horizon. Some writers are comparing the Rangers of 2009 to the Rays of 2008, a team which went from last in its division to pennant winner in a year--with mediocre hitting but solid pitching.
Baseball America, a respected journal that pays attention to the minors and prospects in general, has ranked the Rangers' farm system tops in MLB. The Rangers are strong at every position. Keith Law, a knowledgeable observer at ESPN, concurs: "The Rangers have far and away the best farm system in the game right now, with impact prospects, lots of depth (particularly in very young pitching) and plenty of prospects close enough to the majors to help the big league club in 2009 and 2010."
This is music to the ears of any Rangers fan, mainly because we've never heard any such thing about our minor league system, ever. And it's important that people outside of the starved Ranger fan community are saying such things. Hope springs eternal for us Ranger fans, and we tend to get giddy in the spring, or even before, when the slate is still clean, and we're not yet confronting another losing season. The last time the Rangers were in the playoffs was 1999. (Where they managed to score 1 run in 27 innings against the hated Yankees.) Since then, the franchise has had one, that's right, one winning season. And that team won 89 games and still finished next-to-last in the division.
So news that there's lots of talent, especially pitching talent, in the pipeline . . . well, that's like having the genie in the bottle grant the first wish on the way to the World Series.
The Rangers have never had to worry about scoring runs. They've always been able to do that. Last season, for example, they led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, slugging, OPS, and runs per game, both at home and on the road.They were second in OBP and third in home runs and walks. They are going to field another potent lineup this year.
Only one thing mars an otherwise very rosy picture for 2009: the uniform change that will force the hitters to wear baseball history's most repulsive batting helmet ever. There's a picture of the hideous thing above. The new red jerseys are fine. Unfortunately, the helmet is going to used with both red and blue uniforms, so the team can be mocked anywhere they go. Decked out in this thing, the Rangers really do need a winning season to maintain respectability.