Home-growing pains: Why putting the 'Texas' in Texas Rangers has been a struggle in recent years
The way the story is written, God smote the ground one day in South Texas and up sprang Nolan Ryan, firing 100 mph fastballs. Ryan begat Roger Clemens. And Clemens begat Kerry Wood.
And so on and so on.
The tale of Texas power pitchers has become one of almost biblical proportions. And the Rangers in this story, they seem to play the Israelites, wandering for more than 40 years to find their own, homegrown pitching savior.
Think the scouting life is hard? Try scouting Texas for the Texas Rangers.
“It adds that extra layer of self-imposed pressure,” said Flower Mound-raised Bobby Crook, who scouted the North Texas area for the Rangers for four years before moving into a special assignment crosschecking role this season. “When you are working in Texas for the Texas Rangers and you played high school and college baseball here, you want to be part of that pipeline. You don’t want to be the guy that gets beat in his backyard.
“But you also have to take a step back,” he added. “We want the best player, regardless of where they are from. Sometimes, you have to take a step back.”
To understand the particular pressures, you have to understand a little bit of the history. Of course, there is the Ryan-Clemens-Wood holy trinity of Texas pitchers. Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw have followed in their wake. Where the Rangers are concerned, though, the history is even deeper.
In 1973, the only time the Rangers have had the first overall pick in the draft, a cash-starved club made Houston’s David Clyde the pick, rushed him to the majors in two weeks and perhaps wrecked a promising career in the process. Over the next six years, the Rangers used their first pick on a Texas bred pitcher three times: the forgettable trio of Tommy Boggs (1974), Jim Gideon (1975) and Jerry Don Gleaton (1979).
In all, the Rangers have used their first-rounder on a Texas pitcher, eight times. And even Ryan couldn’t right the curse.
In 2009, Ryan personally scouted a pair of Texas high-school pitchers when the Rangers held the 14th pick in the draft. The club went for Matt Purke of Houston, partly because Ryan had a good relationship with the family and thought he could quickly strike a deal. Five picks later, St. Louis instead took Shelby Miller of Brownwood. In financial straits imposed by MLB, Texas couldn’t up the deal enough to sign Purke. He went to TCU, got hurt and has really never been the same. Miller has almost 700 innings in the majors. The Rangers haven’t drafted a Texas player in the first round since.
In fact, the Rangers haven’t had a Texas-bred player that they drafted make his major league debut with them since Matt West, a second-round pick in 2007, made three appearances in 2014.
Randy Taylor, whom Crook calls the “Godfather,” was the scout who oversaw the pursuit of West. He’s scouted South Texas and Louisiana for 32 years. With long-time instructor/minor league manager Bobby Jones moving into more of a consultant’s role, Taylor is the longest tenured full-time member of the baseball operations staff.
He scouted Josh Beckett, whom he calls the best high school pitcher he’s ever seen. He recommended the Rangers select Longview’s Chris Davis, perhaps the best player from the state the Rangers have drafted and developed in the last 40 years.
Taylor doesn’t view the Texas connection as an added pressure, but he does acknowledge the challenges of scouting Texas. At one point in the late 1990s, the Rangers had three scouts in Florida and California and only Taylor in Texas.
“I remember driving from Houston to Andrews, Texas and telling [then scouting director] Chuck McMichael that I could be well into the panhandle of Florida by then,” Taylor said. “It was a pain. We have more high schools playing baseball in Texas than any other state.”
The scouting process in Texas has evolved. The Rangers have added a second scout and have some part-timers. With scouting director Kip Fagg also based in Texas, there are more eyes available. It’s needed, too, because of Texas’ unique scheduling system during the regular season. High school games are played only on Tuesday and Friday. The Friday game conflicts with the big college game of the week. It forces clubs to shift manpower.
But the state is also going through something of a downturn. There is a reason the Rangers haven’t drafted a first-rounder from Texas in a while: The upper-level talent in the state has waned. Consider that in the last three years, a total of eight first-round picks have come from Texas. Florida and California each have had 17; Georgia 10.
This season, with a first-round that will go 35 picks, Baseball America lists two Texas-bred players among its top 35 prospects. Florida has 10; Georgia and California three each.
“It’s one of the more productive states, but it’s been down for the last couple of years,” Taylor said. “Where you hit here, is after the fifth or 10th round. That’s where we’ve had more success, digging a little deeper. The college talent seems down a little, though people will argue with me.”
Among MLB Pipeline’s current top 30 Rangers prospects, only one, catcher Jose Trevino, who went to high school in Corpus Christi but was drafted out of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, is from Texas.
Taylor tries to grow the Rangers presence in Texas by running the Texas-Louisiana entry in the Area Code Games, a showcase for high school talent. There are eight area code teams around the country managed by different MLB clubs. The Rangers have managed the Texas team for 20 years.
There is little in the way of financial investment, but Taylor, Crook and North Texas scout Josh Simpson run three weekends of tryouts for more than 400 players across the state. They also manage the team during the five-day long tournament. It gives them a little more glimpse into the players.
“The advantage to us is getting to know those premium players, not just their ability to play baseball, but to get to know their makeup, a little,” Taylor said. “Anyone can go out and see tools, but you are trying to figure out what is inside. Do they love the game? We want to find out anything we can.”
Because somewhere out there lurks the next Nolan Ryan. Or Chris Davis.
And the Rangers don’t want him to leave the state.
This Topic is Missing Your Voice.