ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — When Nolan Ryan became president of the Texas Rangers, he promised an extensive evaluation of the organization that has never won a playoff series.
Only after that would he start making changes.
A year later, there still has been no drastic overhaul of the roster. Both the general manager and manager still have their jobs. And Texas had its eighth losing season in nine years.
Yet under Ryan's influence these really don't seem like the same old losing Rangers.
The Hall of Fame pitcher known for toughness and an unmatched work ethic during his 27 seasons emphasized harder offseason workouts for every pitcher, from youngsters in the low minors to veterans in the major league rotation. Then, on the first day of spring training this month in Arizona, they all threw live batting practice.
Ryan endorsed the plan the team already had in place to build from a minor league system recently tabbed by Baseball America as the best in baseball, a ranking certainly boosted by several top pitching prospects.
And Ryan helped smooth things with Michael Young, the five-time All-Star shortstop who initially demanded a trade when told of the team's plan to switch him to third base and make room for a 20-year-old prospect.
Ryan still isn't predicting when the Rangers will win again (their last playoff appearance was in 1999), but what he's seen in a year on the job has given him confidence that they will.
"I'm convinced we're going to get there," Ryan said. "I couldn't say that last year because I hadn't seen enough to make me feel that way."
Everybody knows that for the Rangers to become playoff contenders, they will have to depend on the development of pitching. Texas led the majors in scoring and batting average last season, but had the highest ERA (5.37) and most overworked bullpen.
The 62-year-old Ryan, who threw a record seven no-hitters with 5,714 career strikeouts, still looks fit enough to take the mound. But his role is much different from what it was when he ended his playing career with the Rangers (1989-93).
Now Ryan shares his knowledge and experience while providing quite an example to follow.
"If anybody's got credentials and credibility, it's Nolan," said Mike Maddux, the new Rangers pitching coach.
The Rangers had two offseason pitching camps, mostly for up-and-comers. Among those in the second one last month, with Ryan closely watching, were hard-throwing 20-year-old Neftali Feliz and four of the team's first-round picks since 2004.
"When you see the caliber of kids that are here and where they are in their development, you feel pretty good," Ryan said. "That still doesn't equate to a winner. They have to execute once they get here, but I feel good about where they are and what I'm seeing."
Those are the future arms. The Rangers expect to go into this season with a familiar rotation: led by Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, with Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy.
Texas tried to add free agent right-hander Ben Sheets, but a two-year deal with the NL starter in last year's All-Star game fell through because of a torn flexor tendon in his elbow.
"We signed the best pitcher out there, and he flunked the physical," Rangers owner Tom Hicks said. "I saw Nolan recruiting him. Nolan was a big part of why Ben Sheets wanted to come here. Hopefully that will be true when he's healthy."
The pitcher known as the Ryan Express for his 100 mph-plus fastball knew there couldn't be any quick fixes as team president.
Pitchers need time to develop, and not all of them are flame-throwers. Ryan still wants them to approach the game the same way he did.
"We are at the point now where we have some arms and we want to make sure that we develop these arms in the proper manner and teach the things that it takes to be a winner out there," manager Ron Washington said. "And that's what Nolan brings."
While easy to characterize Ryan's approach as old school, player development director Scott Servais prefers to call it a baseball mentality.
"It's about winning," Servais said. "It's about having a feeling for what goes on in a player's mind. What's happening in the dugout, the clubhouse, watching and getting a feel for the competitiveness of our players. He has very good takes on our players."
Ryan's most important offseason move may have been dealing with Young, the face of the franchise and longest-tenured player going into his ninth season.
Young was upset when general manager Jon Daniels told him before Christmas that the Rangers wanted to move him to third base so they could promote Elvis Andrus, who has never played above Double-A.
When Young's trade demand became public in January, Ryan called him and they talked several times. Within a few days, Young announced he would make the move even though he still didn't agree with it.
"My conversations with Nolan were especially productive because I think he knew were I was coming from," Young said.
Ryan agreed with Daniels' assessment that Andrus was ready to get his chance. But there was a difference in Young hearing that from Ryan, who won 324 games in the major leagues. Daniels never played and is still the youngest GM in the majors at 31, a year shy of Young.
There was admittedly a learning curve for Ryan when he became Rangers president, even though he has helped run two minor league teams, owns a bank and cattle ranches and has his own line of beef.
The timing of his hire, just before spring training last year, prevented Ryan from having much influence on the start of the 2008 season. Plus, he was initially more involved in the business side than the pitching staff, something that he changed this offseason.
Ryan showed early patience last season, not making a managerial change when Texas was 7-16. The team then won seven straight series and was six games over .500 in early August.
In the front office, however, Ryan made several key hires.
Longtime Rangers catcher and fan favorite Jim Sundberg, former baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey and former Astros and Tigers executive Rob Matwick became executive vice presidents working closely with Ryan.
"Nolan's changed our culture, which is one of the things I knew we needed," Hicks said. "We had gotten away from kind of a baseball culture for lots of reasons. … The team he's brought in, our management team, they love baseball and they understand the game. That was an important step."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.