Between the Lines
Sometimes, it is the moves a General Manager does not make that tells us the most about him. For the Texas Rangers, Hank Blalock was not the problem. He was, and will continue to be, shopped on the open market. However, it was the other Marlin demand that prevented the Rangers from adding potential ace Josh Beckett. Simply put, new GM Jon Daniels would not tear apart the Texas trio.
For about as long as the Colorado Rockies, Texas has struggled to find good pitching to match their powerful offense. Adding arms to the mix has been the focal point of the scouting department since before Grady Fuson. After years of failing, and after years of compiling, the current crop looks to be the most dangerous yet. When push came to shove, there was just no way that Daniels could break up D(anks)-V(olquez)-D(iamond).
John Danks was the first of the three to make noise in the organization after they drafted the southpaw with the ninth overall choice in the 2003 draft. Danks had a big fastball, a left arm, and Texas ties, making him attractive (despite his status as a high school pitcher) to Fuson in his first draft. He was then selected to play in the 2004 Futures Game, after which I wrote, "Danks pitched slower than some reports had him, throwing between 89-92, and showcasing a curveball he left up quite often."
That Futures Game interrupted an up-and-down first full season for Danks. Before the midseason All-Star Game, Danks had rummaged through the Midwest League. At 19, Danks had a 2.17 ERA in 14 appearances, combining a 1.05 WHIP with a better 11.6 K/9. He had everything. Well, except the moxie to succeed in the California League. Finishing the season at high-A, Danks saw his numbers universally rise, including (most significantly) his ERA of 5.24.
This season was the same story, just within different contexts. This time around, Danks was a cut above the Cal League, while failing to turn the corner in AA. This consistency should tell us one or two things about Danks: poor endurance yields late season collapses, and/or he has trouble adjusting his game after promotions. Either way, his combined pre-promotion ERA is now 2.35, which has worsened to 5.40 after moving up.
Similar to Danks in second half breakdowns, Thomas Diamond has problems towards the end of the 2005 season. This had not been true in his first season, following Diamond's first-round selection in the 2004 draft. After signing quickly out of the University of New Orleans, Diamond torched the Northwest and Midwest Leagues. In 46 innings, Diamond made quite a few scouting directors kick themselves with his 2.15 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 13.3 K/9.
This season was more of a test for Diamond, who pitched in two tough environments in his first full year as a pro. His stuff was certainly enough for the Cal League, as his classic pitcher's body created a mid-nineties fastball and sharp, late-breaking curve. As a result, Diamond struck out 101 in 81.1 innings, and also showed his college-learned pitchability with a 1.99 ERA.
However, as often happens, things began to fall apart once Diamond reached the Double-A level. Diamond's 4.96 BB/9 was his highest since his sophomore year of college, and his 1.04 HR/9 was a career-high. Combine those two factors, and it isn't surprising that his ERA of 5.35 was his highest since pitching as a teenager. Rangers fans should hang their hats on the fact that despite this lack of success, Diamond's H/9 and K/9 peripherals were fine, coming in at 8.61 and 8.87, respectively.
One player with traditionally good peripherals, and lacking ERAs has been Edison Volquez. The first to enter the system, signing out of the Dominican in 2001, Volquez put his name on the map with a good 2005 season. The newest Ranger to draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez, Volquez' stuff is often talked about before his numbers are cited. We hear about a heavy fastball, a Pedro-esque change, and a developing slider. We also see a player that in 279.2 career minor league innings has an ERA of just 3.99.
Volquez' presence in America began in 2003, with a short stint in the Arizona Summer League. In 27 innings, the best that can be said about Edison was his 24 hits allowed, 28 strikeouts, and one home run. Of course, he walked 11, threw 4 wild pitches, and had an ERA of 4.00 as well. In 2004, Volquez had a decent season in low-A, putting up a 4.21 ERA in 87.2 innings, only striking out 74 batters. His year finished well in high-A, when he put up a 2.95 ERA, and improved his K/9 to 7.71.
This season, as mentioned, things began to improve for Volquez. Despite a 4.18 ERA in high-A, Volquez turned a lot of heads with 77 strikeouts in 66.2 innings. I saw him pitch in the Futures Game, where I came away impressed with a heavy 94-96 mph fastball, but disappointed with no emergence of a great secondary pitch. His struggled mounted after leaving Bakersfield, as all of his peripherals (except HR/9) worsened after reaching AA, if not his ERA (4.14). Volquez was the only one of the three who finished with the Rangers, pitching disastrously, allowing 20 earned runs in just 12.2 innings of work.
Trying to rank the trio is no easy task, as all look to be future mainstays in a Major League rotation. But I know the question will pop up, so I'll give it my go. First, looking elsewhere, we see that Calleaguers.com's Seam Geaney ranked them in the order of Volquez - Danks - Diamond, ranking Edison as fourth in the entire Cal League. Certainly, he saw more than I did at the Futures Game, citing Volquez' "mid to high 90s fastball while showcasing a plus plus change up and a developing breaking ball." In one Baseball America Daily Dish, they talked to two unimpressed scouts, who split their top choices between Danks and Volquez. Finally, at midseason, guru Jamey Newberg assured me that Volquez was for real, ranking him #1b.
Despite these reports, I still value performance first, with potential coming a close second. That methodology creates a pretty clear order of Danks first, and Diamond narrowly coming ahead of Volquez. If stuff was everything, even Blalock and DVD wouldn't have yielded Josh Beckett.
In the end, it is a good sign that Daniels was slow to dip into the farm system that could shape the Rangers future. It would have been one thing to trade Eric Hurley, the fourth pitcher in the system that pitched well in the Midwest League, but another to swap one of their high potential, AA hurlers. Good first non-move for Daniels, while Red Sox fans are witnessing Theo Epstein's pride and joy (a rebuilt farm system) get torn apart quickly.