Last Call From the Desert…Jeff Baker, Joakim Soria, Coty Woods
Texas Rangers’ Jeff Baker, right, and A.J. Pierzynski watch from first base during an intrasquad game at baseball spring training, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
“Nobody cares what Ron Washington has to say. That’s not for me.”
Jeff Baker will be the Rangers designated hitter when they play the Royals in the Cactus League opener on Friday in Surprise. He is in the lineup because Lance Berkman is sidelined with a strained right calf muscle.
Baker’s ability to step into a lineup in multiple roles will be crucial for him to win a spot on the Opening Day roster.
“I’ve done it my whole career,” Baker said. “I know how to do it. I know how to prepare to come off the bench. It’s not easy and it’s not fun but you’ve got to take the mindset that the goal is winning. Everybody wants to play every day. But if you can prove that versatility, there’s a role and a function for that in the big leagues.”
Baker has seven seasons of Major League experience with the Rockies, Cubs, Tigers and Braves. He has played 154 games at second base, 89 at first base, 89 at third base and 79 in the outfield. He is a right-handed hitter who has a career .296 average against left-handers along with a .344 on-base percentage and a .498 slugging percentage.
He and his agent Scott Boras did their homework this winter and found him the right spot. The Rangers could use a right-handed hitter to go with Mitch Moreland at first base. Moreland is being given a chance to face left-handers but Baker gives them a viable alternative. He can also play third base on a short-term basis if something were to happen to Adrian Beltre. Mike Olt would most likely be the long-term answer.
But he could also give either David Murphy or Lance Berkman a day off against left-handers as well.
“He’s a good player,” manager Ron Washington said. “I haven’t heard much about him but I just know what I’ve seen. He’s a pro. He can play certain positions and he’s not rattled by anything. That’s because of his time in the game.”
Coty Woods and Joakim Soria have lockers side-by-side in the Rangers clubhouse. They also share the distinction of both being Rule 5 Draft picks.
“He’s been teaching me how to play cards,” said Woods, who was drafted by the Rangers this winter from the Rockies organization.
Soria is one of the most successful Rule 5 Draft picks in Major League history. Johan Santana and Josh Hamilton are among others.
Soria was taken by the Royals in the 2006 draft from the Padres organization. He spent the 2006 season pitching in Mexico and the Padres left him off their 40-man roster. Then he was outstanding in the Mexican winter league and by the time the draft rolled around, it was obvious that he was going to be selected.
Padres general manager Sandy Alderson, who had just taken over the job that winter, was furious. He threatened to fire somebody the next time they failed to do their homework on one of their own players. The Royals turned him into an All-Star closer.
“The biggest thing about being a Rule 5 guy is they are going to give you a chance to pitch and show what you can do at the Major League level,” Soria said.
The Rangers are going to give Woods a chance to pitch. He has some impressive Minor League numbers for a right-hander who was drafted in the 33rd round in 2009 out of Middle Tennessee State.
He pitched in 38 games at Double A Tulsa last year and had a 0.76 ERA. In 35 innings, he struck out 34, walked eight and gave up 26 hits. The Rockies moved him to the high altitude of Triple A Colorado Springs and he had a 7.40 ERA in 33 games. But he had a 3.18 ERA and two saves in ten games in the Arizona Fall League.
He is a side-arming right-hander who reminds the Rangers of Cody Eppley, who is now with the Yankees.
“They talked to me about him,” Woods said. “I know I’m going to get a chance so I’ll see if I can make the most of it.”