TEXAS RANGERS: 91-72 (Second Place in the AL West)
Projected Starting Lineup:
LF Shin Soo Choo
SS Elvis Andrus
1B Prince Fielder
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Alex Rios
DH Mitch Moreland
C Geovany Soto
CF Leonys Martin
2B Jurickson Profar
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:
SP Yu Darvish
SP Derek Holland
SP Matt Harrison
SP Martin Perez
SP Tanner Scheppers
RP Joakim Soria
RP Neftali Feliz
RP Alexi Ogando
The Texas Rangers had a disappointing year last season. They won 91 games, but didn’t make the playoffs with the A’s winning the division for a second straight year and Tampa Bay and Cleveland both winning 92 games. So they were the best team in baseball that didn’t make an appearance in October. They wanted to fix that, so made some serious changes this offseason. The made a major trade to bring in Prince Fielder to take over at first and added Shin Soo Choo in free agency. With this offense looking potent and their pitching strong again, this team looks like it will make some serious noise in baseball’s best division.
They get started right away with Shin Soo Choo leading off and playing left. He was exceptional in that role last year with the Reds. After spending the majority of his career hitting in the middle of the Cleveland order, the Reds looked at his OBP numbers and speed and decided that he’d be a great leadoff guy. They were right. He hit 285 with an NL best 423 OBP. He swiped 20 bags and scored 107 R, while still showing his power with 21 HR. I expect hit to have similar success in Texas with another 280+ season and OBP close to 400. He should score over 100 runs again sitting atop a strong lineup in Texas and 20 HR is still in reach. He will be great leading off, and moving to left field will help his defense a bit. He’s a natural right fielder so left won’t be an issue. His defense in center was not good in the Queens City last year. Elvis Andrus will bat second and play short again for Texas. His 271 AVG was a bit down for him, but pretty close to his career mark. And he still scored 91 R and swiped 41 bags as the fastest player on the team. His defense was excellent as well. I’d expect more of the same assuming full health. While I personally would put Prince Fielder in the cleanup hole, manager Ron Washington has said that he’ll bat him third. He’ll be a great addition in Texas and will finally be that first base threat they have lacked since Mark Teixeira’s departure. He hit 279 last year with 25 HR and 106 RBI. And that was one of his worst seasons. I think that a move to Texas will see that HR total climb north of 30 again, though I don’t put 40 out of reach. If he accepts that he doesn’t have to hit 300 and focuses on slugging, another season of 270+ with over 100 RBI is easily in his grasp and perhaps a return to the 40 HR territory. Beltre will be the cleanup man according to Washington, though I think he’s the better 3 option. It’s not just about Beltre being more likely to hit 300, it’s the fact that Beltre and Rios are righties and Fielder is a lefty. Why not break them up? Washington says that they are all good enough to hit both lefties and righties, which I don’t disagree with. But since they can all hit in all three spots according to Washington, why not break up the righties? And Beltre is better in the 3-hole. But this offense will still be fine. Beltre is still their best hitter, hitting 315 last year with 30 HR, 92 RBI and 88 R. He’s had a career renaissance in his later years and you worry about time catching up with him. But he’s been great since his move to Arlington, and you have to think his floor is at least All Star caliber. Alex Rios will hit 5th in this lineup after coming over from the White Sox at last year’s trade deadline. And as is often the case with guys who were overpaid at some point, people don’t realize how great he’s been the last few years. Without making any waves or being noticed, he’s put together some incredible seasons in Chicago and now Texas. Between the two teams last year, he hit 278 with 18 HR, 81 RBI, 83 R and 26 SB. Who knew? I did but I pay more attention than most people. That’s right what we expect from him as he’s a career 278 hitter with no fewer than 13 HR in a season (and in that season he only played in 145 games). Spending a full year in Texas with that great lineup in front of him, he might top 20 HR and 100 RBI. If not, another 275+ year with 15 HR, 90 RBI, 80 R and 15 SB is his floor, and we could see more across the board. That’s the heart of the Ranger lineup, and it looks good. Unlike most super teams, this offense drops off a bit after the number 5 man in the order. But the rest of the lineup is still good with potential to be more than that. And Texas is a super team because their top 5 are SO good and they have pitching to back them up. But let’s look at the rest of the lineup. Mitch Moreland will be the primary DH after being unable to lock down the first base job last year. However he can play first, so in addition to DHing, he can let Fielder DH and fill in for him at first, let Rios DH and move to left (with Choo moving back to his natural right to fill in for Rios). And obviously his move to left can also spell a day at DH for Choo. So while he isn’t the most frightening DH to behold, his ability to play the field and give others a day off is part of what makes him attractive. And he’s not a bad hitter with 23 HR last year. But that came with a 232 AVG and only 60 RBI. So he is limited offensively. Catcher Geovany Soto will follow hitting 7th. In 54 games last year he showed he’s still got something in the tank with a 245 AVG and 9 HR. It wasn’t a ton, but he’s good defensively and can do a little something with the bat as well. He’ll start behind the plate. His back up will be J.P Arencibia from Toronto. The Rangers signed him to back up Soto and be a right handed hitting DH option so Moreland doesn’t have to face left handed pitching. We all know his limitations with the 194 AVG. But he’s got a ton of power with 21 HR last year. In Texas that could swell to 25 HR. Not bad at all for a backup catcher. Leonys Martin will hit 8th, but could end up as a better hitter than that. He hit 260 last year with 36 SB. He’s a menace on the base paths, but hitting so low in the lineup limited him to only 66 R. It’s great for a number 8 man though, and he will be a great option to get on base for the top of the order, which includes a leadoff man with 20+ HR power. I’m putting Jurickson Profar 9th to let him take it easy. He’s got great potential but struggled last year moving around the diamond. They hope playing a full year at second and not being counted on for much offensively will allow him to turn his potential into big league success. This may not be the best offense in baseball, but it’s certainly one of the better ones.
Defensively this team seems to be in pretty good shape. Fiedler isn’t great at first, but he’s not as bad as most people believe. Up the middle the Rangers are in fantastic shape with the potential to win Gold Gloves with both Profar at second and Andrus at short. Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in the game and the outfield is phenomenal. Choo is a natural right fielder with center field experience. He’s in left. Martin plays Gold Glove caliber defense in center and Rios is great in right. Soto is solid behind the plate, and Mitch Moreland plays left field just fine and first base better than Fielder. So defense won’t be an issue in Arlington this year.
Starting pitching has started to steal the spotlight from the Rangers’ offense. Yu Darvish was an absolute ace last year and he leads a host of talented young arms. Darvish led all MLB with 277 Ks to go with a 13-9 record and 2.83 ERA. As far as the pitching Triple Crown, Darvish won 2/3 of it with a better ERA and more Ks than Max Scherzer. He threw 209 IP with a 1.07 WHIP and 194 BAA. All the numbers were great. He was one of the best pitchers in the game last year, and he could be a 20 game winner with 200+ IP, 250+ Ks and an ERA around 3. This guy really is the epitome of an ace. He started the year injured, but has come back already and is looking great. After him, they have some young guys to fill in because Derek Holland hurt his knee badly and is on the 60 day DL. He’ll be eligible to come off in late May, but who knows when he’ll be ready to pitch. So the new number 2 man is probably Matt Harrison, who only made 2 starts due to injuries last year. Those starts were pretty bad with 11 ER in 10.2 IP, but he blames a lot of that on the injury. He did have 12 Ks in those 10.2 IP. In 2012, he went 18-11 in 213 IP with a 3.29 ERA. If he’s healthy, he’ll be their number 2 man and that’s what they want to see from him. But he’s not healthy. He hasn’t pitched yet this year, and likely won’t be back until mid-May. The next most seasoned option for the Rangers has to be youngster Martin Perez, especially after his strong season last year. He made 20 starts last year going 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA. He puts runners on with a 1.34 WHIP and 267 BAA. But the walks aren’t too bad and he did earn 84 Ks in 124 IP. If he keeps putting people on base, then that ERA will swell to over 4, but he’s a young guy who could potentially get better. They love his stuff, he’s working on a cutter and he had some success last year. This guy will be a big part of the Rangers rotation going forward, and they hope he makes a big leap forward this year. Derek Holland (10-9, 3.42, 189 Ks in 213 IP) will be back at some point. He’s not an ace, but eats innings and keeps runs off the board, if not runners off the bases. Tanner Scheppers had a strong spring and won a spot on the rotation, and actually the Opening Game start for Texas with all their pitching injrues. Scheppers didn’t make any starts last year, but was great in relief with a 1.07 WHIP and 214 BAA. Robbie Ross wasn’t as good out of the pen, but still strong with a 4-2 record and 3.03 ERA in 62 IP. The Rangers wanted Tommy Hanson to win a spot in the rotation but struggled so badly in the Spring after a bad year with LA that he was cut. So the starting rotation is quite thin. I though Alexi Ogando would move from the bullpen to the starting rotation, but they like him better in relief. So the Rangers signed Joe Saunders to fill in for the injured Harrison and Holland. The veteran was 11-16 in 32 starts with the Mariners last year. But even in pitching friendly Seattle he had an ERA over 5, a WHIP of 1.60 and a BAA over 300. All of those numbers are really bad. But he can eat innings and has proven to be a reliable starter in the majors, so he’s starting in Texas. Or he was. But he just went to the 15 day DL after being hit in the ankle with a comebacker on Friday. So the hits just keep on coming. That’s Harrison and Holland who haven’t made a start, Saunders who just went down and Darvish who missed a week to start the season. Bad news for the Rangers thus far when it comes to starting pitching. Robbie Ross was fighting with Tanner Scheppers for a spot in the rotation, but is now back as the 5th starter. He appeared in 65 games for Texas last year, but all in relief. He turned in a 3.03 ERA with 58 Ks in 62 IP in that time, but put on way too many runners, both via the hit and the walk. He’s got to keep that under control. He had a nice spring and has looked good in his 2 starts this year, so that’s a positive. But right now Texas is just treading water until their starters get healthy. And they will rely a lot on the bullpen. Luckily it looks good. Alexi Ogando is a former starter and All Star reliever, and he’s back where he’s really great, in relief. He’s got a fireball and some good movement. Facing the lineup once, he’s nearly unhittablel. Jason Frasor is another talented arm in the pen. But the focus this year is on the closer. Joe Nathan is gone. Neftali Feliz is healthy and probably done trying to start. Joakim Soria is healthy and ready to compete. The fight was between the two of them to close, and Soria won it. And he’s a good choice. Since 2007, here are his Save/ERA splits:
17/2.48 (also 9 Holds as that was his rookie year with Kansas City)
That takes us through 2012, with that last season in 2012 being his worst. He then played with the Rangers last year in a setup capacity. He had 6 Holds in 26 games with a 3.80 ERA. Feliz was bad this spring, and sent to the minors to work, but he’s waiting in the wings. This bullpen may need him eventually as they will throw a lot of innings early on. But hopefully Texas’ starters will get healthy fast and this team will be back to their winning ways. But if Texas struggles this season, it will be due to their injured pitching staff.
The Rangers look to be one of the best teams in baseball. They also have a great mix of strong veterans and young potential. Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar are young talents in the field. Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross are young starters. That bodes well for the future. In addition, right now they have stars at first, third, short and in the corner outfield spots, not to mention an absolute ace atop their rotation. Their pitching was strong last year. Their hitters struggled a bit, but got upgraded with Fielder and Choo. And they still have Rios, Beltre and Andrus. I like those offensive upgrades. But they have to muddle through their early pitching injuries. If they do, I think they are the best team in this division. If they struggle, Oakland will win again. But I think once they get healthy, this team will make a run and win the division, and possibly 98 games.