Rangers have built all-star franchise

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If the Texas Rangers end up in the World Series for a third straight time and don't have home-field advantage, they can put much of the blame on themselves.

That fact alone shows how far this organization has come in such a short time.

Kauffman Stadium should feel a little like Rangers Ballpark in Arlington North on Tuesday with the huge contingent of Rangers players and coaches scattered about the American League squad.

Ron Washington is managing the game and brought along his coaching staff, including pitching coaches Mike Maddux and Andy Hawkins to help manage all of the arms at his disposal. The skipper's lineup card has three starters from Texas: outfielder Josh Hamilton, third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Mike Napoli.

He has talented backups ready to come in and join Beltre in the infield, including the double-play tandem of Ian Kinsler at second base and Elvis Andrus at shortstop. And Washington has some quality Rangers pitchers he can insert, such as 11-game winner Matt Harrison, 10-game winner Yu Darvish and closer Joe Nathan (18 saves).

That's a club record eight players. No team has more in Kansas City for Tuesday's game.

"They are all deserving," Washington said. "We've got a good group of guys, and being in the World Series the past few years has brought some extra attention to them. I'm excited about every one of my players being in this game. My choices weren't done on favoritism. They earned it."

Sure, the Rangers have had decent-sized contingents in past All-Star Games, but most of those centered around big bats. This group isn't just large, it's diverse. There are two starting pitchers and a closer. There's an outfielder, three infielders and a catcher. It's a well-rounded group that represents the Rangers' all-around game.

"I think it speaks to the strength of the unit," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "This is not a franchise that is carried by any one individual. It's strength from top to bottom, and the chemistry has paid off."

How this current group of All-Stars was assembled demonstrates how a successful organization is built. It starts with a solid plan and then a group of personnel -- from general manager Jon Daniels to the scouts to Washington -- to execute it.

The Rangers were willing to take some calculated risks and show patience. They traded Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for a haul of mostly lower-level minor leaguers with huge upside. Three of them have gone on to become All-Stars, including two this year -- Harrison and Andrus.

Despite not having many top pitching prospects, the Rangers traded away starting pitcher Edinson Volquez to the Cincinnati Reds after the 2007 season for Hamilton. They did it because their scouts believed that Hamilton possessed MVP-type talent. He proved them right in 2010 and has become a key part of two straight World Series teams. We'll see if he's still in a Rangers uniform for the next All-Star Game.

Under new ownership, the club made a large investment in Darvish, paying a $51.7 million posting bid to his Japanese team and signing him to a six-year, $56 million deal. He has only one half of a big league season under his belt but has won 10 games and is adjusting quickly to a new league, new culture and new team.

When Cliff Lee didn't sign with Texas after the 2010 season, the club turned to Adrian Beltre, who has provided consistent offense, a Gold Glove at third base and two straight All-Star appearances in a Rangers uniform.

The Rangers jumped into the free agent relief market early last offseason, signing 37-year-old Joe Nathan -- one season removed from Tommy John surgery -- to a two-year deal. Despite his age, the Rangers believed Nathan's finish to the 2011 season showed he could once again be a dominant closer. So far, they're right.

It's those types of decisions and the club's focus on building the minor league system to not only make an impact for the Rangers at the big league level, but also to become important trade chips, that have made Texas an annual championship contender.

"It's a significant achievement that our coaching staff gets to be there because it's a result of us going to the World Series last year," Levine said. "But the fact that you have so many players that were voted by fans, peers and then the manager, it's really remarkable."

The popularity of the Rangers has exploded in recent years. Hamilton received more All-Star votes than any player in history, earning his fifth consecutive start.

"I'm excited to be playing in the game again," Hamilton said. "To have this many guys shows people like us. They enjoy watching us play. We're entertaining and have fun and you never know what you're going to see when you watch us. I'm glad a lot of guys made it, and they deserved it."

Beltre, always respected by fellow players around the league, has gotten the attention of fans too, who voted him in as a starter. Napoli, the only Ranger who doesn't have the numbers to back up his All-Star selection, has a contagious personality and has become a fan favorite in Arlington with the "NAP-O-LI" chants that started during his remarkable second half through the postseason in 2011.

Darvish has only heightened the club's popularity and international appeal. The 25-year-old Japanese pitcher is in Kansas City because fans voted him in online as the AL Final Vote winner.

Fellow players recognize how good Kinsler is at second base and chose him for the squad. That left Washington to pick two of his pitchers -- Harrison and Nathan -- and add Andrus to the team. All three are deserving selections.

"We could have had more," starting pitcher Colby Lewis said. "I think Robbie Ross deserved a spot."

The rookie left-handed reliever has an ERA under 1.00 and has been extremely reliable in a versatile bullpen role. But Washington didn't have room for him.

"Having this many guys in the game shows the front office did a good job of getting the players," Lewis said. "I think the clubhouse energy is important, too. We play in a relaxed atmosphere and we have great fans. It's awesome. When you look out there and there's 34 or so guys in the game and eight of them are on your team, that's pretty good."