SURPRISE, Ariz.–Right after Elvis Andrus showed up for instructional league at Rangers’ camp before heading to the Arizona Fall League, Texas farm director Scott Servais and director of professional and international scouting A.J. Preller took the Venezuelan teenager to dinner.
One of the major pieces the Rangers received back in the Mark Teixeira deal at the trade deadline, Servais wanted the opportunity to get to know what to expect from the 19-year-old prospect.
One of the first questions Servais asked Andrus was who his favorite shortstop was, figuring it would be any one of a litany of Venezuelan players who make their living at the premium position.
To put it bluntly, Servais was dead wrong.
“My favorite shortstop is Derek Jeter,” Andrus said. “He’s my favorite because he’s a leader and a winner, that’s what I am.”
After Andrus answered, there was a brief pause at the dinner table before Servais kicked Preller under the table, whispering quietly, “I’m in.”
Andrus’ leadership skills are evident in the AFL, as the slick-fielding Venezuelan native can be seen taking players four or sometimes five years older aside for a little chat.
“That’s just the way Elvis is,” Servais said. “He takes it upon himself to play that role. It isn’t forced–so many players look up to him for so many different reasons.”
One of those players is Andrus’ former teammate in the Braves’ system, outfielder Jordan Schafer.
Schafer and Andrus roomed together at low Class A Rome in 2006, and then again at high Class A Myrtle Beach this past season until Andrus was traded.
“I was seriously heartbroken,” Schafer said. “He’s just awesome. There are so many different words to describe him as a player, but he’s an awesome person. I really missed him after he was gone.”
Schafer and Andrus were able to catch up this fall, as the two again share a place together–with Schafer playing for Peoria and Andrus just up the road in Surprise.
“Those guys are still really tight,” Servais said. “It’s a respect for each other on the field and off.”
Before the Teixeira deal went down, the Rangers tried to get Schafer included in the deal, but Braves general manager John Schuerholz wouldn’t budge on the lefthanded-hitting center fielder.
“I really think he’s going to be special,” said one scout from a National League club about Andrus. “To me, he’s the next Hanley Ramirez. And I think there’s power in the bat, even though a lot of people doubt him. He has such limited experience, but look at the numbers in the minor leagues. Defensively, Andrus is as good or better than Hanley and he has the chance to be the full package.”
As a 19-year-old in the Florida State League, Ramirez hit .310/.364/.389 with just one home run and the power didn’t begin to emerge until he was in Double-A later that season and into the 2005 season.
Andrus batted .257/.338/.343 this year–and he turned 19 in August–with three homers and 22 doubles between Myrtle Beach and high Class A Bakersfield. The majority of those doubles (20) came in the Carolina League, leading the Rangers to really believe it’s only a matter of time before Andrus turns the corner offensively.
“He’s the youngest player on in the AFL by almost a year in a half,” Servais said. “I called (Rangers general manager) Jon Daniels after I saw him in Bakersfield after the trade and said, ‘If you could buy stock in players like you do in companies in the market, I would take every nickel I had and put it on Elvis Andrus to be an impact player in the big leagues.’ So for us, he’s the real deal.”
Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider can be counted as another member of the AFL’s youth group, playing his first full season at 19 in the low Class A Midwest League.
The 14th overall pick in 2006, Snider signed for $1.7 million and hasn’t let anyone down since.
After hitting .313/.377/.525 at Lansing, Snider reported to the AFL where he’s working deeper counts against much more advanced pitchers after whiffing 129 times in the MWL.
Yes, there is patience. Snider also walked 49 times in his first full season, and worked a 12-pitch at-bat against Phillies lefthander Josh Outman in his first plate appearance on Monday before drawing his fifth walk in his first eight games for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
“Everything was just running down and in against Outman,” Snider said. “That’s one of the biggest things for me here, facing lefthanders. At least half the at-bats I have are against lefties, so just getting that experience of facing upper level guys and seeing how they pitch me in and away has been a tremendous step in my development.”
And Snider is handling that step extremely well, hitting .300 (3-for-10) against lefthanders, and .333 (6-for-18) against righties.
“This is as polished a high school hitter as it gets and what he’s doing in this league is equally impressive as what he did during the regular season,” a veteran scout from a National League club said. “He controls the strike zone, he has the ability to drive balls on the inner half and will show you that power on pitches away from him.
“This guy can go the other way all day.”
Snider showed everyone in Scottsdale he could handle that pitch middle-in on Monday, smoking a line-drive two-run homer off Padres righthander Jonathan Ellis in the seventh inning for his first AFL blast that prompted one American League scout to quip, ‘that one just broke the sound barrier.’
“I don’t really think I came here with anything to prove as much as I came here with an open mind to enjoy the experience for what it is,” Snider said. “The experience level just on this club–from the coaching staff on down through our roster–there are a lot of guys who have gone through a lot more than I have up to this point. So far, it’s been a great learning experience. I really just feel like I’m beginning to establish myself as a player.”
And as an outfielder. Scouts aren’t sold on Snider’s athleticism defensively, though he has worked hard to maintain his body. But his thick lower half doesn’t allow him to get especially good jumps in right field. After playing left field just once as a pro, Snider is expected to get regular reps on the opposite corner as the AFL season goes on.
“I’ve been experimenting out there a little bit, and always try to hit both corners during BP just as a mental exercise. Getting better on the mental side of things in all aspects–having a consistent daily approach to what I need to do in terms of preparation. That’s huge for me right now.”
• It was a rough day for the Peoria Saguaros from the first inning on Monday. Well before they wound up on the wrong end of a lopsided 10-1 loss to Scottsdale, the Saguaros lost outfielder Cameron Maybin (Tigers) and shortstop Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers) due to injuries after the first inning. Maybin is still scuffling with left shoulder problems–the same injury that kept him out of the Futures Game in July and lingered throughout the second half. Hu left Monday’s game with soreness in his right hamstring . . . Red Sox first baseman Aaron Bates was originally on the AFL roster in Mesa, but didn’t make the trip due to a staph infection in his left foot . . . Red Sox righthander Craig Hansen, the 26th overall pick in 2005, was replaced on the Solar Sox roster by righthander Lincoln Holdzkom. Hansen went 0-1, 5.40 in just five innings in the AFL, but rolled up a lot of ground balls in his limited workload. His fastball for Mesa was in the 88-92 mph range, and showed good late life with is mid-80s slider. This is Holdzkom’s third straight Fall League stint with three different teams . . . Michael Hollimon (Tigers) left the Saguaros to report to Team USA. Scottsdale third baseman Evan Longoria will report to the national team Tuesday after hitting .318/.380/.682 with four homers in 44 at-bats for the Scorpions.