Rangers' Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries
We've got another 11 days to go until Opening Day 2014. It sure seems as if each day is growing longer and longer...and longer.
Still, we're getting there slowly but surely. The Texas Rangers have already played well over half of their spring exhibition schedule. With 10 spring games remaining for the club, it's time to really get things in gear.
Several questions still need to be answered over the second half of the spring slate. But there have also been a few pleasant surprises for the Rangers so far—and some others that were not so pleasant.
Here, we'll take a look at some of the players in the Rangers camp who have emerged as surprises and busts over the last couple of weeks. News on the injury front seems to be improving, even if slowly.
Consider this a brief mid-spring evaluation of the Rangers.
**All stats courtesy of MLB.com
Brent Lillibridge, 2B/3B
I've been raving about Lillibridge all spring, and that will continue here. He's done everything that has been asked of him and then some. He's only played in 12 of the 18 games so far, but he's hitting a respectable .280 in 25 plate appearances.
The former Washington Husky has been a pesky player his entire major league career. He's a true utility player who has all the tools needed to play an effective role with the Rangers. His problem: He doesn't have as strong of an arm from short as Adam Rosales does, and he has very limited experience playing third.
Still, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News does project Lillibridge to be on the Rangers' 25-man roster.
Grant says that Lillibridge has more versatility than Rosales as a defender, as he can play the outfield as well. Lillibridge has had a solid spring, and at this point, I'd say he's earned a spot on this team.
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B
This is another guy who has done everything asked of him and absolutely deserves a roster spot. Kouzmanoff has hit very well this spring—a .385/.467/.538 line in 39 at-bats. He only has four walks, but he has just six strikeouts.
I don't know if anyone expected to him to handle the bat that well this spring. Defensively, he's holding his own as a backup at third, which would be his primary role on the 25-man if he made it, according to Grant.
With Mitch Moreland's recent injury from tightness in his left oblique muscle, Grant now has Kouzmanoff on the 25-man roster. According to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, Moreland could miss a few games in the opening week of the season. This could be Kouzmanoff's ticket to March 31.
Robinson Chirinos, C/1B
Of all the guys in play for an Opening Day roster spot, perhaps none deserve it more than Chirinos. He's hitting .455 with a homer and five RBI in 22 trips to the plate. When juxtaposed with JP Arencibia's anemic numbers—a .189/.211/.351 line—Chirinos' value skyrockets.
Grant has Chirinos off the Opening Day roster, citing a lack of depth as the main reason why. He thinks it makes more sense for Texas to have him in the minors as the first catcher to call up if needed.
Michael Choice, RF/DH
Choice has had a magical spring. He's hitting .381 with a two homers and seven RBI in 42 at-bats. But those numbers—particularly the power numbers—don't quite do justice to how well he has actually done. He's nailing the ball with authority and is making consistent contact, having struck out just eight times.
Choice is the fourth outfielder on Grant's projected Opening Day roster. He needed to have a dynamite spring to even be considered, and he has definitely done so.
Assuming he doesn't fall off the face of the Earth over the next 11 days, he should be taking the field on March 31.
As of right now, Grant expects Choice to be the team's primary right-handed DH.
Jim Adduci, LF
According to Grant, Adduci is not in the picture right now. That's a shame—he's a hard-working player who has performed well this spring on all fronts. He's hitting .389 in 36 at-bats and has only been fanned four times.
His grim reality: There are just better players than him.
With the rapid emergence of Choice and the presence of the younger and more talented Engel Beltre, Adduci is likely return to his role as an injury call-up. He may never be anything more than that in Texas. You have to feel for a guy like that.
Nick Williams, OF/Ronald Guzman, 1B
What a start for these guys. A combined four home runs and seven RBI in just 10 at-bats. Neither of them has a realistic shot at the Opening Day roster, but boy are the two something to get excited about over the next couple years.
Michael Kirkman, LHP
Plain and simple: It's time to let this guy walk.
For a while now, the issue with doing so has been that Kirkman is out of minor league options. So there was likely a belief that the team needed to hold on to him and give him one more shot rather than potentially lose him for nothing through waivers.
Well, he's had his chance...again. This spring, he has a 7.00 ERA in nine innings, allowing nine hits and seven runs. He's struck out 10 but walked eight.
He doesn't appear to be even close to making the 25-man roster, according to Grant's projections.
Joe Saunders, LHP
OK, this is a bit frightening. Grant projects Saunders to start the year in the rotation, yet he has performed arguably worse than Kirkman. He is striking guys out at a rate of more than one per inning, and isn't putting people on base.
But Saunders has get that .313 opponents' batting average down or he's going to have a rude awakening in Arlington. Remember, this is just a temporary stopgap while Holland and Harrison are out. But you would like Saunders to pitch a little better than this in the meantime.
Alexi Ogando, RHP
Yikes! Another starter here? Ogando doesn't look like a major league pitcher at all right now. He's given up 20 hits in 11.1 innings and allowed eight runs, all while hitters are pounding the ball for a .377 clip off him.
These Ranger starters must improve over the next 11 days. The good news: It can't get much worse right now. I do have faith in Ogando—we've all seen what he can do when he's healthy and on his game.
Shin-Soo Choo, LF?
So seven years and $130 million, huh? Choo is having just about the worst spring possible given the kind of dough he's being paid. His .139/.238/.278 line is one of the worst in all of Rangers camp—it's approaching Arencibia depths.
But don't worry just yet. This guy is a professional hitter who will turn it around. There is no substantial reason to believe he won't, especially playing in Arlington, where several conditions play in his favor. So call him a bust for now if you wish, but check back again once the regular season begins.
There's a reason the Rangers paid Choo as handsomely as they did.
Full Injury Update
And here is the list of bodies currently in the Rangers' M*A*S*H* unit.
Matt Harrison, LHP: Back and neck tightness, day-to-day.
Derek Holland, LHP: Recovering from left knee surgery, 60-day DL.
Joe Ortiz, LHP: Recovering from fractured foot, 60-day DL.
Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH: Tight left oblique, could possibly miss a few games during opening week.
Elvis Andrus, SS: Right elbow soreness, day-to-day.
I don't think Moreland potentially being out for the first week of the season does much to hurt this club. After all, his absence opens up a spot for a streaking Kouzmanoff, who probably deserves to be on the roster come Opening Day.
Andrus is likely just going through some spring maintenance right now with his elbow soreness, so I wouldn't worry too much about his health long term.
With Harrison and Holland, this rotation and bullpen are just going to have to hold down the fort until they return and get back into some kind of form. With the offense the Rangers are expecting to field, doing that shouldn't be an incredibly difficult task.