Teixeira wants to add polish to first-half gem

Md. native, Rangers star: `I ... think I can do better'

Baseball

July 25, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young didn't need a second look.

He remembers seeing Mark Teixeira taking batting practice in February 2002, the super prospect's first spring training with the Rangers. Watching the ball spring off Teixeira's bat, Young instantly believed the hype.

"The first time I saw him, it was that obvious," Young said. "He really showed what kind of gifted player he is. To watch him on an everyday basis has been pretty amazing."

Four years ago, Teixeira, a Maryland native and Mount St. Joseph graduate, was just leaving Georgia Tech for professional baseball.

Now, he is one of the sport's brightest young stars -- a muscular, hard-hitting first baseman who recently started his first All-Star Game. For the next four days, starting tonight, Teixeira and his Rangers will be at Camden Yards, the place where he watched baseball as a kid.

It has been a whirlwind ride for Teixeira, one that could cloud the heads of even the most grounded individuals.

"He handles it well because in his mind this isn't success, this is just what he does," Young said. "I know for a fact he wants to improve on what he is doing. He is looking to become a better player than he is now, so I wouldn't worry about Tex in that regard at all."

Ask Teixeira, 25, about the first half of 2005, in which he led the American League in home runs (25) and was among the leaders in RBIs and slugging percentage while keeping his upstart team in the pennant race, and he shrugs.

"It's been up and down," he said. "I think there are always peaks and valleys in a baseball season, whether it be individual or team. I think our team can do better, and I definitely think I can do better."

Stick around Teixeira for a few minutes and you'll hear him talk about the need to get better.

"I expect a lot out of myself. So every year I try to get better. I think with the hard work and preparation, the success becomes part of what you do," he said. "I am never satisfied with what I have accomplished."

What he has accomplished is impressive: Last season, he became the only Rangers first baseman to win a Silver Slugger Award, which is given to the best offensive player at each position.

He has collected his 200th career RBI and is closing in on his 100th homer. And, if you believe Young, the best is yet to come in 2005.

"He has already had a huge first half, and he is definitely a second-half player," Young said. "He usually turns it up in the second half, so that's pretty scary."

Teixeira, listed at 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, isn't just a one-dimensional slugger. Through his first two seasons, he has nearly as many doubles (63) as home runs (64). And he added seven triples for good measure.

Plus, he is a rapidly improving first baseman.

"He should be right in the middle of the Gold Glove running at first base," Young said. "From a shortstop's perspective, I get to see him every day focus on defense and bear down and pick up the rest of the infielders on tough plays. ... He might be having a better year defensively than offensively."

Teixeira is not arbitration-eligible until after this season and can't be a free agent until 2008. But the club wants to lock him up long term as soon as possible.

"Tex, hopefully, will be a franchise player with the Rangers," team owner Tom Hicks told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently.

It's a depressing thought for Orioles fans, who had to salivate in the fifth inning of this year's All-Star Game when Teixeira was joined in the infield by three Orioles: second baseman Brian Roberts, shortstop Miguel Tejada and third baseman Melvin Mora.

It was a sign of what might have been. The Orioles had the seventh pick in the 2001 amateur draft and wanted Teixeira desperately. But the Rangers took him with the fifth pick, and the Orioles subsequently reached for left-handed pitcher Chris Smith, who has since been released by the organization.

Teixeira is a Ranger for now.

If he doesn't sign a long-term deal, Teixeira would be eligible for free agency after the 2008 season, when he'll be 28 and likely entering his prime. And, with super-agent Scott Boras on his side, it's difficult to quantify how much he could be worth on the open market.

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