Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

February 22, 2013

Spring Training: Ryan still expects Rangers to be very competitive

Team president still has high hopes

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Nolan Ryan laughs when he hears people describe the Rangers offseason as a disaster and the worst in team history.

While the Rangers were unable to re-sign five-time All-Star slugger Josh Hamilton, failed to lure pitcher Zack Greinke to Texas and traded Michael Young, Ryan still expects the team to be very competitive this season because of how they recovered after the disappointment of the early part of free agency.

Hamilton opted to sign with the AL West-rival Los Angeles Angels only days after Greinke took a big deal from the Dodgers.

“We stepped back, assessed the situation and were able to accomplish some things that needed to be done as far as strengthening our ballclub,” Ryan said Friday after arriving in Arizona for spring training. “I think we’re a better ballclub today than we were the day Josh signed with the Angels. That’s the way I look at it.”

Ryan said he is excited about the offseason additions of A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman and what they can bring offensively to the Rangers. Asked if the Rangers were better without Hamilton, Ryan said it was a complex situation.

Before his surge with the Rangers the past five seasons, the 31-year-old slugger and former No. 1 overall pick had a history of alcohol and substance abuse that delayed the start of his big league career. He had two known relapses with alcohol during his time in Texas.

“You just don’t replace a talent like that and we all know that,” Ryan said. “But also, there’s a dimension that’s brought to the ballclub that very few players if any other player in baseball would bring. It’s so unique and unusual that you can't put other players in that category.”

Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, riled up some Rangers fans last week when in an interview with a Dallas television station said that “there are true baseball fans in Texas, but it’s not a true baseball town.”

Ryan said he figures Hamilton is making an adjustment “mentally and emotionally” to being in a new environment with a new team and with how last season ended. Hamilton struggled down the stretch while the Rangers lost a five-game division lead over the last nine games of the regular season.

The Hall of Fame pitcher is going into his sixth season as the Rangers president, and for the first time in three years they're not heading into a season as defending American League champions. They didn’t even win a game last October.

After blowing the AL West title, the Rangers lost the first one-and-one AL wild-card playoff game.

“I think emotionally we were drained as a club, physically we were drained as a club,” Ryan said. “I think with the history of our ballclub, two previous years, our expectation was they were going to get it together and play at a level we felt like they were capable of playing and it just didn’t happen.”

Ryan said he was concerned about the team in the second half of the season and kept hoping it was just temporary. He said there were telltale signs something wasn’t right, but when asked what those were said he’d have to really think about it.

“I’ve kind of blocked that out of my mind,” he said.

In a 30-minute session with reporters, Ryan also said he doesn’t have a feel who is a favorite for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. But he described Martin Perez as “a very talented kid that has three pitches.”

As for 20-year-old top prospect Jurickson Profar, Ryan believes the middle infielder should at least start the season in the minor leagues if he’s not going to be able to play consistently in the majors.

That might be difficult behind second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus, both All-Stars.

“If we can’t get him the at-bats that I think are appropriate for his development, then we’d probably be doing him a disservice to have him as a utility guy, and not getting the at-bats and opportunity to play every day,” Ryan said, putting that number at 350. “He’s on the verge of being an everyday ball player in the big leagues is the way I view him.”

Profar’s minor league stop would be Triple-A Round Rock.

“I don’t think anybody in Round Rock would be disappointed if he came there,” Ryan, whose family is part of the group that owns the team, said with a chuckle.

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