Texas Rangers preview: Post-Josh era should be a success
After a disappointing end to the 2012 season and an offseason where the club failed to land any marquee players, the Texas Rangers enter 2013 with aspirations of advancing to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Gone are Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. In are Lance Berkman, A.J. Pierzynski, Joakim Soria, Jason Frasor and Josh Lindblom. The club will try to fill the perceived massive hole in the lineup and center field vacated by Josh Hamilton with a combination of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry.
The Texas Rangers might have failed to sign front of the rotation type pitcher Zack Greinke to an exorbitant contract, been unable to re-sign Josh Hamilton to an absurd $125 million deal and failed to acquire the young basher, Justin Upton, but the team is still loaded with talent and ready to contend in 2013.
Texas Rangers position players
Catcher: The Texas Rangers front office decided not to give the one-year $13.3 million qualifying offer to Mike Napoli and instead signed former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. The decision to allow Napoli to walk appears to have been a prudent one, because the 2011 postseason hero is believed to have chronic hip issues, which forced the Boston Red Sox to reduce the three-year contract Napoli agreed to in December to a one-year deal a month later. Pierzynski yielded career highs in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and home runs in ’12, but to expect similar production in ’13 from the 36-year-old catcher is probably delusional. Pierzynski has the reputation as being one of the more difficult players in baseball to strike out, but his K% rose exponentially from 6.6% in ’11 to 15% in ’12. Pierzynski’s defense and arm strength are both mediocre at best, but he does have the propensity to work well with a pitching staff. Geovanny Soto will be the backup catcher and will start against lefties, and when Pierzynski needs the occasional rest during the sultry Texas summer. Pierzynski hit .248 against lefties in ’12 and only three of his 27 dingers were with southpaws on the mound.
First base: Mitch Moreland enters ’13 with yet another shot to lock down first base. Up to this point, Moreland has produced pedestrian totals of .264/.328/.441/.769 and an OPS+ of 101 from a position which is expected to generate potent offensive numbers. The Texas Rangers considered moving second baseman Ian Kinsler to first base to make room for super prospect Jurickson Profar, but they decided to keep Profar in the minors for at least the first six weeks of 2013 to extend his service time by one season. Moreland has mashed the baseball in spring training, clubbing three home runs and driving in 11 in only 41 at-bats. If Moreland is finally able to produce, he is a cost effective option at a position which many teams are paying colossal dollars for offensive production. Primary designated-hitter Berkman and Jeff Baker should also see some time at first when the Rangers face lefties.
Second base: After being rewarded with a lucrative extension before the beginning of ‘12, Kinsler had a very subpar season both offensively and defensively. Kinsler produced career lows in OBP, OPS, OPS+, and committed 18 errors, the same amount he committed the two previous years combined. Kinsler is still one of the better second basemen in baseball, but he must improve and perform like a $13 million per year player, which is what he is earning in ’13. As the team’s leadoff hitter, an 8.2 BB% like he yielded in ’12 is unacceptable. Another 30/30 season should not be expected, but if he plays like last year, the team could be in trouble. Profar, Baker, and even Leury Garcia also could see time at second base when manager Ron Washington wants to rest Kinsler, as the soon to be 31-year-old has averaged 156 games played the last two years.
Third base: Adrian Beltre has won the Gold Glove at third base the last two seasons and finished third in American League MVP voting in ’12. I have nothing negative to write about Beltre because he is the Texas Rangers best overall player. The man makes highlight reel type plays at the hot corner seemingly every game, and is an absolute privilege to watch play. How the man can hit 400-foot bombs on one knee is unfathomable. When paired with shortstop Elvis Andrus, the Texas Rangers possess far and away the best defensive left side of the infield in the game. If Beltre misses time, the highly touted prospect Mike Olt would see time at third. Olt had a miserable spring training, but his defensive prowess and power make him a valuable commodity.
Shortstop: Andrus was the subject of trade rumors during the offseason. Andrus has two seasons left on his contract and is believed to desire testing free agency in hopes of landing a massive contract. Andrus is represented by the baseball antichrist, Scott Boras, and the majority of Boras’ clients do test the free-agent waters. However, there have been a few recent exceptions of Boras’ clients accepting team-friendly extensions in Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez and Jered Weaver. Andrus has been average at the plate, but his defense is exceptional as he saves several runs with his phenomenal range at shortstop. Many pundits see Andrus as expendable because the club has Jurickson Profar, rated the #1 prospect in baseball, waiting in the wings. The Texas Rangers claim they are not interested in moving Andrus anytime soon, but one wonders what would occur if the club is struggling at the July 31 trade deadline. The club is rumored to be offering Andrus an extension the next offseason, and if he declined, the club would trade him. While Andrus is with the Rangers, the team has one of the premier shortstops in baseball, and the fact Andrus is still only 24 years old, he has plenty of time to develop power. Andrus’ Z-Contact percentage of 93.4% is already well above average. Profar and Leury Garcia should also see some time at short stop in ’12. The Andrus situation is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Outfield: In his first full season as the primary left fielder, David Murphy generated a very productive offensive season. Murphy’s 4.0 fWAR was only slightly below Josh Hamilton’s fWAR of 4.4. The Bashing Baptist generated career highs in batting average, OBP, OPS, and BB%. However, one should expect a slight regression in Murphy’s production in ’13 as his overall numbers in ’12 were aided by an absurd .433 BABIP against lefties, which Murphy has usually hit poorly in the past. Even with an offensive regression, Murphy is still one of the finer defensive left fielders in baseball. Martin and Gentry are currently competing for the starting center field job. Both players are having great spring trainings, in particular Martin, who is displaying patience at the plate and is hitting .350 with a .413 OBP. Gentry has uncharacteristically hit two home runs, and is slugging .500 in the small sample of 46 plate appearances. Martin is younger, has a higher ceiling, is being paid more, and has destroyed minor league pitching. Gentry is better defensively, and mashes left-handed pitchers as his .343/.425/.434/.859 line against southpaws in ’12 suggests. I expect a platoon in center field with Martin seeing the majority of the playing time. With Gentry’s ability to hit LHP, and Martin’s overall game, I believe Texas has actually upgraded in center field. Hamilton put up huge power numbers in ‘12, but his Z-Contact percentage dropped to 77.5% last year, and according to FanGraphs, Hamilton’s speed and arm strength both declined sharply. Nelson Cruz will play the majority of the time in right field. While Cruz has lost a step, and has the propensity to take circuitous routes to fly balls, he still possesses a cannon for a throwing arm. Cruz’s ability to also produce decent offensive numbers gives Texas an above average right fielder. If the Texas Rangers have injury problems in the outfield, Baker, Olt and even Engel Beltre could see some time in the outfield.
Designated-hitter: Former Ranger Young produced one of the worst offensive seasons from a primary designated hitter in baseball history last year. The fact general manager Jon Daniels was not only able to trade Young despite his massive contract, but also able to acquire pitcher Lindblom for Young from the Phillies, was quite remarkable. Lindblom is far from spectacular, but if one had to watch Young last season, one would not have thought there was a chance he could be dealt. Texas signed Berkman to replace Young with the hope he can return to his 2011 form when he produced an fWAR of 4.9 with St. Louis. Berkman appeared in only 32 games last season, but if he can remain healthy, yielding a more productive season than Young’s ’12 is not difficult.
Bench: Washington has had one of the weaker benches in baseball the last few years. In 2013, his bench will consist of Soto, Gentry or Martin, Baker, and unless the club finds a utility infielder who can play shortstop, Garcia. Baker’s .449 batting average in spring training is sixth in all of baseball, and his 1.073 OPS is well, mind boggling for a player who once missed time for burning his rear end after lighting his flatulence on fire. At some point, Baker will turn back into Baker. However, he has the ability to hit lefties well and play a number of different positions. Garcia has the ability to play outfield, but the fact he can play shortstop as well, will probably earn him a spot on the opening day roster.
Texas Rangers pitching
In his first major league season after dominating Japan for several years, Yu Darvish displayed outstanding stuff at times and looked erratic at other times. Darvish finished the year 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 10.40 K/9 and an fWAR of 5.1, all very solid numbers. However, Darvish must learn to exhibit better control to lower his 4.19 BB/9. If Darvish is able to control his stuff, he has the ability to win a Cy Young award.
Matt Harrison has pitched well in back-to-back seasons, and the Texas Rangers rewarded him with a nice contract extension in the offseason. Harrison’s ERA the last two years has been 3.29 and his combined fWAR of 8.2 in ’11 and ’12 is very respectable. It appears Harrison will start opening night in Houston, and deservedly so, as he has become one of the more reliable left-handed starters in baseball. However, Harrison has benefitted from having one of the best defensive infields in the game.
Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando will be the third and fourth starters in ’13. After having a great ’11, Holland regressed in ’12 as his 4.75 FIP proves. Holland has the stuff to be a front of the rotation pitcher, but his inconsistency is exasperating.
Ogando is one of the better first-half pitchers in baseball, and he has proven in the past he can be an effective starter when he earned a trip to the 2011 All-Star Game as the Rangers fifth starter. However, Ogando has the propensity to lose his control in the second half as his BB/9 increase displays. Ogando’s ERA and WHIP in spring training are disconcerting, but he is working on developing a change-up to add to his repertoire. If Ogando and Holland are able to have solid ‘13’s, Texas has a formidable starting rotation.
The fifth starter in the rotation is precarious at the moment. Twenty-one-year-old prospect Martin Perez had the edge early in the spring, but he broke his left forearm on March 3 and is sidelined until at least early May. Currently, the competition is between Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman, non-roster invitee Nick Tepesch, and recently signed 39-year-old veteran Derek Lowe. Ultimately, any of the four pitchers will just be a temporary fix until Colby Lewis is able to return from elbow surgery in May or June.
The Texas Rangers also have been rumored to be interested in free agent Kyle Lohse and Detroit Tigers starter Rick Porcello. I would not bet on either one wearing a Texas Rangers uniform as the fifth starter is scheduled to only start eight or nine games until Lewis returns.
The bullpen is one of the bigger question marks at the moment. We know for sure Joe Nathan will be the closer, and the free agent addition Jason Frasor will be the eighth-inning guy until Soria returns from Tommy John surgery in June.
Lindblom, acquired in the Young trade, has an electric fast ball, but he was one of the worst relief pitchers in baseball in ’12, and he has struggled in the spring. Tanner Scheppers appeared in 39 games in ’12, gaining valuable experience, but he has also struggled in spring training with a 7.20 ERA. Coty Woods has pitched well so far as he has struck out 10 in 9.1 innings of work. Submarine pitcher Ben Rowen has not allowed a run in 4.0 innings of work, and despite the fact Cory Burns has struggled, he could pitch out of the pen as well.
Due to the trouble the right-handers have had during the spring, special assistant Don Welke was in Florida last week reportedly scouting Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain. Some wild trade rumor of Mike Olt for Joba Chamberlain was out there, but I would be highly dubious as the Texas Rangers hold Olt in higher regard.
The left-handers in the Texas Rangers bullpen will be either Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman, veteran Nate Robertson or Joe Ortiz. In 9.0 innings of work, Ortiz has been exceptional as his ERA currently sits at 0.00. If Lowe fails to win the fifth starter’s spot, he very well could be the long man in the pen. Nick Tepesch is also an option. Former closer Neftali Feliz is recovering from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to pitch in August, and if Feliz can return to his former self, he really bolsters the pen late in the season.
Texas Rangers prospects watch
Texas has one of the best farm systems in baseball and is loaded with talent. I have already mentioned Profar, Olt, Perez and Martin. Some other players to keep your eye on are pitchers Cody Buckel and Luke Jackson, outfielder Lewis Brinson, catcher Jorge Alfaro, third baseman Joey Gallo, shortstop Luis Sardinas, and outfielders Engel Beltre and Nomar Mazara.
Brinson is a physical specimen with excellent athleticism and has plus power. He has been compared to Adam Jones. He could be in Texas in two to three years. Alfaro has been working with former Ranger great Pudge Rodriguez in the spring, and Pudge is apparently smitten with Alfaro’s ability. Buckel struggled in his spring training appearances, but he has great stuff and many feel he could be in Arlington next season.
Gallo was the compensatory pick in the first round of the 2012 draft and he set an Arizona League record last year by hitting 18 home runs. Gallo possesses an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he displayed the highest rating one can have when he crushed a pitch which has not yet landed this past Sunday in Las Vegas. Long term, Gallo projects to be a first baseman or right fielder as his technique is questionable at third base, but he is already exciting Texas Rangers fans with his ability to hit baseballs a very long way. His expected arrival is three to four years.
The Texas Rangers are not as deep as they were in ‘12. However, they still have enough talent to be competitive in the American League. I am concerned about the bullpen and the ability of the club to stay healthy, but I feel the Rangers will still win 87-90 games and be one of the two wild card teams.
I think the Angels are slightly better, and will win the AL West, but once one makes the playoffs, anything can happen. Also, I feel the Texas Rangers are set up for more success in the long run than the Angels as Los Angeles has the worst-rated farm system in baseball and has a ton of money committed to only a few players.
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