Packing up and passing out awards
The Rangers prepare for the season to begin as spring training comes to a close
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One equipment truck has already pulled out for Arlington, many of the Texas Rangers have had their cars shipped back and the boxes in the clubhouse are packed. It's all ending here in the desert as the Rangers play their last game of the spring schedule Monday before heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Round Rock for exhibition games.
Before they go, let's hand out some spring training awards (some of them have comments from manager Ron Washington):
OFFENSIVE MVP: Mitch Moreland. This was a tough call. Moreland's exploits haven't received the same headlines as those of Chris Davis, but he's been just as impressive. He's hitting over .400 with four homers and 15 RBIs this spring. It's clear Moreland's postseason play has provided him with even more confidence. Can he build on it and show he's the full-time starter at first?
Honorable mention: Chris Davis. He came into spring ready to show that the work he did in winter ball paid off. He smoked the ball pretty much all spring. He hit five homers (tied for the team high and Cactus League high) and had 17 RBIs while hitting .380. Davis, who was sent to the minors after struggling in April after starting 2010 as the first baseman, wants another shot in the big leagues. The question is whether it will come with the Rangers or someone else.
Washington's picks: Moreland and Ian Kinsler: "He [Moreland] came to work and has improved his game. He's been steady. I'd put Ian Kinsler in there, too. He's got his swing flatter and has looked good."
PITCHING MVP: Neftali Feliz. Everyone wanted to know if he had the stuff to start and Feliz showed he did. He showed he could do more than just blow the 100 mph fastball by people and even started developing a cutter. At first, Feliz said he wanted to stay the closer because he was more comfortable in that role. But after the cutter started working, he changed his mind and said he wanted to start. Feliz was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA with 12 strikeouts and six walks. He started three games. His spring was a tease as to what Rangers fans have to look forward to, not only from him closing games, but when he starts (which is probably in 2012).
Washington's pick: Feliz: "He went out there in a situation where he was learning how to pitch and I think he accomplished that with flying colors."
DEFENSIVE MVP: Adrian Beltre. He hasn't played the entire spring, but when he has, he's looked very solid. Watching him has been one of the best parts of the spring. Once his calf strain healed, he was fielding grounders at third base in the mornings and drawing a crowd. It was actually a big deal when he missed one, getting mock jeers from his teammates. He has good footwork, soft hands, impressive instincts and a strong arm. Together, you've got a package that fans will really enjoy watching at third base.
Washington's pick: Beltre. "He's been the spring defensive MVP for me just by his preparation every day and what he can do over there. You see why he's good. Our guys see that."
SURPRISE IN SURPRISE: Mason Tobin came in as a Rule 5 draft pick who hadn't pitched in two years (he had Tommy John surgery in early 2009 and was dealing with that for 2010, as well). A long shot to stick with the club, Tobin is still in the mix for a bullpen job. He's been pleased with all of his pitches -- fastball, changeup, slider -- and has impressed the coaching staff. Tobin is 0-0 with a 2.35 ERA in 7⅔ innings in Cactus League games.
Washington's pick: Chris Davis. "It's good to see him happy and hitting in camp. He's worked hard over the offseason."
COMING AROUND JUST IN TIME: Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. Two of the club's main power hitters took some time to get going this spring. Cruz's average hit .143 at one point just a few weeks ago and Hamilton admitted his timing was well off for the first half of camp. But in the final seven to 10 days, both have started to hit. "Perfect time," Hamilton said. The reigning AL MVP has now hit two homers and is hitting the ball well to all fields. Cruz has lifted his average by nearly 100 points in the past week. He hit a monster grand slam last week and signaled that his timing was back with some hard-hit opposite-field doubles.
Washington's take: "They're getting things going at the right time, aren't they?"
WORST LUCK: Tommy Hunter. The guy just can't get a break to go his way late in spring training. For the third straight season, an injury has delayed the start of his season. This time, it was a Grade II right groin strain that should keep him out about six weeks. Hunter had an oblique strain in 2010 and didn't join the big club until June. A groin injury forced him to miss two months at the beginning of 2009. "I had three days to go," Hunter said. "It's frustrating."
CRITICAL PLAYER NOT GETTING ENOUGH ATTENTION: Yorvit Torrealba. He has to show he can get the pitching staff through innings and provide some offensive production at a spot that was weak at the plate last year. Torrealba was consistent at the plate all spring (hit .350 or better for most of it) and worked hard to learn the tendencies of his pitchers. He also forced them to use more of their pitches, including some that were considered weaknesses. "That's what spring training is for," Torrealba said.
READY FOR A BREAKTHROUGH?: Derek Holland. He's got the stuff to be a solid starter but hasn't found a way to be consistent and put it all together. That could change this year. Holland came to camp focused on earning a spot, and he did. Now he has to find his rhythm, utilize his pitches and keep the walks down. He did for much of spring training. He's one to watch.
Washington's pick: Matt Harrison. "He's got confidence and the right attitude. He's as in-tune with himself as I've ever seen him."
NEEDING TO MAKE BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT: Julio Borbon. He came into the spring as the starting center fielder, but hasn't exactly confidently gone about his business. Borbon has had defensive struggles and was benched by the manager during a game. He's working with outfield coach Gary Pettis to improve his skills, but he still has plenty of room for improvement. We'll see if he ends up making those changes in the minors or if he can do it with the big club.
Washington's pick: Borbon. "For him, it's just youth and inexperience. The more he plays, the better his instincts will become. He's still got to improve."
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. Young said when he came to camp that he wouldn't be a distraction and he hasn't. He's done what he's needed to do to get ready for the season and has put up some solid spring numbers, too. Kinsler came in vowing to get his swing flatter so that he could hit more to all fields and not pop up as many balls. He's done that. But he's also stepped up and helped the young guys and let his voice be known, something he's been doing more and more of in the past few years.
Washington's pick: Michael Young. "He's the guy that sets the example. It's not just what he does on the field, but everything else, too."
BEST RELIEVER THIS SPRING: Darren Oliver. It's been a rough spring for the bullpen (Feliz was a starter this spring, so he doesn't count) with Darren O'Day and Mark Lowe struggling and Arthur Rhodes dealing with a sore wrist. The guy that has just quietly done his thing is Oliver. He's 0-0 with a 2.25 ERA in Cactus League games and has put up solid numbers in minor league outings. He looks ready for the season, and the Rangers will certainly need him.
Washington's pick: Oliver. "The old man is consistent. He's been consistent this spring."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.