Texas Rangers Positional Breakdown at Spring Training
119 long and grueling days.
But baseball is finally back. Even if it's just spring exhibition games, there is plenty to get excited about. Most teams kicked off their spring action on Wednesday, but others, like the Texas Rangers, started on Thursday.
As the Rangers begin their spring exhibition slate, it's about time to breakdown the team at spring training by position.
I'll take a look at each position and offer my thoughts on what to expect from that spot this spring. I'll also stroll through the competing candidates at each position, and evaluate in my opinion, who out of the group will end up on the club's 25-man roster for Opening Day on March 31.
I won't be offering exact projections for each player in this breakdown. I did this back on New Year's Day and you can check that out here.
For clarity, I'll bold the names of the guys I expect to make the Rangers' 25-man roster.
All stats and contract-related information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Personnel at camp:
Yu Darvish (R), Matt Harrison (L), Derek Holland (L), Martin Perez (L), Alexi Ogando (R), Tommy Hanson (R), Colby Lewis (R) Nick Tepesch (R), Tanner Scheppers (R), Neal Cotts (L), Robbie Ross (L), Neftali Feliz (R), Jason Frasor (R), Joakim Soria (R), Cory Burns (R), Lisalverto Bonilla (R), Pedro Figueroa (L), Wilmer Font (R), Michael Kirkman (L), Roman Mendez (R), Miles Mikolas (R), Joe Ortiz (L), Ben Rowen (R), Luke Jackson (R), Alex Gonzales (R), Shawn Tolleson (R), Matt West (R), Nate Adcock (R), Daniel Bard (R), Jose Contreras (R), Ryan Feierabend (L), Justin Germano (R), Rafael Perez (L), Aaron Poreda (L), Armando Rodriguez (R).
The Rangers' pitching staff comes into camp a bit banged up. Derek Holland, the club's No. 2 starter, will be out until around midseason after sustaining a knee injury last month. Matt Harrison, the No. 3, has been having a roller-coaster offseason with his back issues.
Holland will start the year on the DL and therefore won't count as towards the 25-man roster. Harrison seems to be on track now, but was set back a couple of weeks and will likely miss his first one or two starts of the 2014 season.
At this point, the only sure thing in the Rangers rotation is ace Yu Darvish. Martin Perez will likely start the year behind him as the No. 2. Alexi Ogando looks to be the No. 3, while newly-acquired Tommy Hanson should be filling the No. 4 spot.
Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch are the expected competitors to claim the final rotation spot. Because of his experience, especially in the postseason, I'm giving the nod to Lewis. Of course, Tepesch can easily make this roster if he gets his changeup working this spring. Much is to be determined during the next month.
Both Ogando and Hanson come into camp with question marks as starters. Ogando has had trouble staying healthy, and really does seem much better suited to be a lights-out late inning reliever.
Hanson is coming off a tough 2013 campaign that saw him fall far from his days as the Atlanta Braves' promising No. 2 starter in 2010.
Not exactly that World Series-caliber rotation that many Ranger fans were expecting earlier this offseason, huh? But have no fear: Harrison should return a couple weeks into the season. Additionally, the Rangers upgraded offense should be able to carry the team while Holland and Harrison get healthy.
Right now might be a good time to sign Ervin Santana. Just saying.
Overall, this is a pretty clear-cut group at camp. I'd say of all the non-bolded names, Rafael Perez, Daniel Bard, Wilmer Font and Tepesch have the best chances to crack the 25-man roster. Both Rafael Perez and Bard have been around and have performed well in the majors.
Font has been impressive in the minors, while Tepesch excelled in his first handful of major league starts last season.
As for the rest of those guys, there's quite a bit of talent there. Michael Kirkman has always had quality stuff but has never been able to find his command. Ben Rowen is a filthy submariner righty, but he's had some elbow problems.
I really like Miles Mikolas as a power arm and Joe Ortiz as a lefty specialist with that devastating changeup.
Obviously, Luke Jackson and Alex Gonzales are the young stud arms of the organization. You've heard enough about them, though.
Most of these guys don't really have a chance at making the roster, but hey, that just means more quality depth at the lower levels of the system.
Personnel at camp:
Geovany Soto, J.P. Arencibia, Robinson Chirinos, Brett Nicholas, Jose Felix, Jorge Alfaro
The catching platoon of Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia appears to be set, and it figures to be quite a productive one for the bargain price tag of $3.255 million.
However, it would be wise for the Rangers to carry a third catcher. It's reasonable to see Arencibia as a right-handed DH candidate and, in that case, it's probably a smart idea to have another catcher ready on the bench in case of injury.
The competition for that spot as the third catcher is down to Robinson Chirinos, Brett Nicholas and Jose Felix. I'd put my money on Chirinos since he has the most major league experience but keep an eye on Nicholas. He had an impressive 2013 season in Double-A Frisco.
In 506 at-bats last season with the Rough Riders, the former Missouri Tiger finished with a .289/.357/.474 slash line. He is very well-rounded hitter and knocked 21 homers while driving in 91 runs.
He is flying a bit under the radar, and if he performs well this spring he could give Chirinos a real run for his money.
Now let's be real: I am in love with Jorge Alfaro just as much as the next Ranger fan. But he is not making this 25-man roster. It's just not happening. There is no sense in rushing him to the majors.
Since both Soto and Arencibia are signed to one-year deals, it's possible they could return on similar deals next season to help bring in Alfaro, hopefully by the start of 2016.
Definitely expect Alfaro to wow some folks in Surprise, Ariz., this spring. But he is still likely at least another year away from being the Rangers' every-day backstop. Until then, continue to drool over that laser arm and smooth yet compact power swing.
It's coming soon.
Personnel at camp:
Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland
Nothing difficult here. Prince Fielder is the every-day first baseman. Mitch Moreland figures to be the DH most of the time. To add some variety, you could throw Brett Nicholas in at first and maybe even Kevin Kouzmanoff.
But clearly, the job is Fielder's to lose.
Spoiler: He won't lose it.
I have sky-high expectations for Fielder this year. In my lineup projections back in early January, I predicted Fielder would finish with a line of .306/.407/.522 while bashing 44 homers and knocking in 109 RBI.
He'll be the horse he is advertised as. It'd be shocking if he missed more than a couple of games in 2014.
Moreland, who will earn $2.65 million this year through arbitration, should provide excellent production at that price. Early last season he excelled because he was able to stand in much more confidently against southpaws.
Specifically, he didn't attack the offspeed stuff away and learned to wait for his pitch. Meanwhile, he absolutely crushed righties.
He tailed off in the second half and more than regressed to the mean. We should all set our expectations for him significantly higher than another .232 season. I believe Moreland will have a bounce-back year and will once again be a major part of this lineup with his timely power.
This is a stable pairing going into the spring and should be during the regular season as well.
Personnel at camp:
Jurickson Profar, Adam Rosales (UTL), Rougned Odor, Kensuke Tanaka, Josh Wilson
Again, no surprises. Second base is Jurickson Profar's position. That was the whole point—or one of them at least—of trading Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for Fielder, right?
Indeed, Profar now has second base to call his permanent home.
Adam Rosales should be the primary utility guy and he's capable of playing every infield position if needed. He's a pure bolt of energy wherever he plays.
Don't underestimate what Rosales' hustle can do for this club. His level of non-stop effort is absolutely contagious.
Profar could very well break out this season now that he has an every-day role. I projected him to finish the 2014 season with a line of .258/.328/.364, 14 home runs and 57 RBI. He should be somewhat active on the base paths this year, and so I gave him 15 stolen bases for 2014.
Not mind-blowing numbers at all, but this kind of production would definitely be a breakout season for Profar. Remember, he just turned 21 and will also play stellar defense at second.
There will be a learning curve for Profar. Don't expect to see Kinsler numbers churning out overnight. Just like Kinsler, Profar will make both some spectacular plays and some bonehead mistakes.
Let's just enjoy the process of watching this kid develop before our eyes.
Personnel at camp:
Elvis Andrus, Adam Rosales (UTL), Luis Sardinas, Kensuke Tanaka, Josh Wilson
You could argue that this is Elvis Andrus' team now. So, don't expect any real competition, no matter how well any of the other guys play in the spring.
I'd guess Luis Sardinas would get the first shot in case of injury. Both Kensuke Tanaka and Josh Wilson are on the wrong side of 30, and it's pretty difficult to see them wearing a Rangers uniform anytime soon.
As far as Andrus' 2014 outlook, expect him to swipe close to 40 bags once again. One thing he needs to improve on this season is his OBP. In 2013, it was a career low at .328. With Shin-Soo Choo expected to be on base quite a bit, Andrus needs to start finding his way to first a little more often as well.
One thing that can really hurt this offense is Andrus falling into a habit of bunting Choo over to second. The potential of the Texas lineup can be maximized if Andrus is committed to a full swing hitting behind Choo.
Sure, the double-play possibility exists, but I'd take my chances with trying to set up a first and third situation with Fielder on deck.
You can't afford to give outs away with the big boys the Rangers have batting No. 3 through No. 6.
Personnel at camp:
Adrian Beltre, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Brent Lillibridge
Adrian Beltre is clearly the man at third. The Rangers know what they'll get from him. Don't be shocked if he is a front-runner for the AL MVP in the first half of the season, maybe for longer.
He's got to be licking his chops at the thought of hitting behind two on-base machines in Choo and Fielder. Also, Alex Rios is a potent enough bat for Beltre to see quality pitches.
But it will be interesting to see if Brent Lillibridge or Kevin Kouzmanoff can win a spot on the 25-man roster. Each of them have attributes that can really add finishing touches to this club.
Kouzmanoff has a bat with some punch and a winning, veteran attitude. Lillibridge would bring even more speed to the table and has a capable glove in the infield.
Right now, the Rangers appear to only have one true utility player in Rosales. It'd be nice to have two. That's where Kouzmanoff or Lillibridge could find a spot.
Personnel at camp:
Shin-Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Alex Rios, Engel Beltre, Michael Choice, Jim Adduci, Alex Castellanos, Brian Petersen, Brad Snyder
Choo, Leonys Martin and Rios are the starters. Engel Beltre is out of options and so he makes more sense on the 25-man roster than Michael Choice does. I can't see Texas just letting Engel Beltre go.
If it were up to me, I would send Choice down to Triple-A Round Rock to start the year. This makes the most sense. Why not let him play every day and continue to develop his plate discipline specifically, while Rios plays out the final year on his deal? It simply doesn't do Choice much good sitting on a major league bench waiting to get into a game.
He has too much talent to not be getting every opportunity and, right now, there is far more of that in Triple-A. A midseason call-up is completely feasible, but Texas shouldn't rush this kid. He's just 24.
Otherwise, the Rangers figure to have one of the game's premier outfields on all fronts. Martin has one of the top two or three arms in baseball, while Choo and Rios are also extremely well-rounded players. The outfield should really be a flashing beacon of durability and strength for the 2014 Rangers.
In terms of an underdog, watch out for Alex Castellanos. I see him as a dark horse right-handed DH candidate.
Because he is a little older and there is far less risk in stunting his development by playing him, compared to Choice.
Castellanos showed a capable bat in Triple-A and, if he has a hot spring, he should definitely be considered for the 25-man roster.
My Projected 25-Man Roster
For the sake of consolidation, here is the 25-man roster I'm taking into 2014 if I'm Jon Daniels.
Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hanson, Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross, Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Jason Frasor
Geovany Soto, J.P. Arencibia, Robinson Chirinos
Prince Fielder, Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Adam Rosales, Mitch Moreland
Shin-Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Alex Rios, Engel Beltre
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