Texas Rangers preview: Fielder, Choo lead the way
Out with the old, and in with the new.
During the 2014 off-season, the Texas Rangers shook things up in the AL West by trading longtime Ranger Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for slugging first basemen Prince Fielder. They also signed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who takes over left field and will bat in the leadoff spot, and his MLB fourth-best .423 OBP.
The loss of Kinsler means the Jurickson Profar era is finally here. He takes over as the everyday second basemen and will inject some youth into the team. He was regarded as one of the more highly touted prospects in recent memory and should produce immediately. With 85 games under his belt last season, he shouldn’t have many jitters as an up-and-comer. He had a bit of shoulder tendinitis during spring training, but says he’s ready to return to action. He still leads the team with 40 at-bats this spring.
Along with Choo and Fielder, the Rangers added catcher J.P Arencibia to challenge Geovany Soto for the starting catcher gig after A.J. Pierzynski left for Boston. They also acquired outfielder Michael Choice and pitcher Josh Lindblom for Craig Gentry and a minor league player, and the bats of Brent Lillibridge, Josh Wilson and Kensuke Tanaka. The Rangers are hoping Alex Rios can be the everyday starter in right field, taking over for veteran Daniel Murphy, who signed with Cleveland.
As for pitching, they added Tommy Hanson to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, as well as the services of Daniel Bard to help bolster the bullpen. They also signed Justin Germano to a minor league contract, claimed Pedro Figueroa off waivers from Oakland and signed Joe Saunders to a one-year contract. The loss of Joe Nathan at the back-end of the bullpen will cause some concern for Rangers fans this season. As the team lays the closer duties on Neftali Feliz. The Rangers look to the 2010 Rookie of the Year to assume the closing duties and regain his 2010-2011 form after returning from the disabled list.
Fielder brings his bat to the lineup every day — he has missed only one game over the past five seasons — although he looks to bounce back from a “subpar” season, to his standards at least. He hit 25 home runs, batted .279 and drove in 106. Not bad, but the home run and batting average numbers are down compared to his averages of 36.5 home runs and .293 average over his previous four seasons.
Choo has 20+ home run, 15+ stolen base, 60+ RBI and .280 average potential. He provides veteran leadership along with Adrian Beltre and Fielder. Beltre is coming off another monster season for the Rangers, where he batted .315, hit 30 home runs and drove in 92 runs. He is one of the most consistent players in MLB year-to-year, and he will look to continue his success batting in the “meat” of the order.
Elvis Andrus looks to have another solid season at shortstop. His average has fluctuated in his five MLB seasons, but his stolen base numbers doubled from 2012 to 2013 (21 to 42). His speed at the top of the order could provide a distraction to pitchers while hitters like Fielder and Beltre are at the plate.
In 47 games for the Rangers last year, right fielder Rios batted .280 with six home runs and 26 RBI. He should continue providing the Rangers with quality at-bats with the loss of Murphy. Leonys Martin will man center field and bring his speed back to the lineup. He stole 36 bases in his first full season in the majors. He will need to improve on his .260 batting average if he looks to help push the Rangers over the top. The speed combination of Andrus and Martin should cause havoc on the basepaths for opposing teams.
Mitch Moreland will be the everyday DH and backup first basemen. He doesn’t hit for average, but he does provide pop in the No. 6 spot in the lineup. He hit only .232 in 147 games last season, but hit 23 home runs and had 60 RBI. While no opposing manager will fear him in the way you would fear the other two, but you have to respect his power potential.
Yu Darvish heads the rotation once again as one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 13-9 record last season is misleading. He held opponents to a .194 batting average while striking out 277 batters to lead the majors.
Poor Derek Holland. He was slotted as the No. 2 behind Darvish but injured his knee early this year when his dog, Wrigley, ran up his stairs and tripped him. He fell and slammed his knee, injuring the left kneecap, which required microfracture surgery in early January. He probably won’t return to the rotation until midseason.
Taking Holland’s place will be either Martin Perez or Alexi Ogando. Ogando has struggled so far in the spring, posting a 1-2 record with a 8.64 ERA, while returning from injury. Venezuelan lefty Perez has not fared much better at 0-1 with a 4.52 ERA in three outings. It will be interesting to see how the Rangers decide the middle of the rotation.
Matt Harrison, who was an All-Star in 2012, missed almost all of 2013. He looks to rebound and assert himself as a solid back-of-the-rotation guy. Rounding out the rotation will be either Nick Tepesch or Hanson. Hanson seems to have been the better pitcher this spring, but it’s yet to be determined who will be the number five guy.
Feliz assumes the closer role after Nathan departed for Detroit. Joining him in the bullpen will be former closer Joakim Soria (who hasn’t allowed a run this spring), Saunders, Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor. Soria looks to be the set-up guy for Feliz, which could be a potent 1-2 at the back-end of the bullpen—if both Feliz and Soria can regain their form.
Opening day lineup
1. Shin-Soo Choo, LF
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Prince Fielder, 1B
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Alex Rios, RF
6. Mitch Moreland, DH
7. Geovany Soto, C
8. Jurickson Profar, 2B
9. Leonys Martin, CF
Jorge Alfaro, catcher. The 20-year-old Colombian with good power is regarded as the Rangers top prospect. He is currently in advanced A ball. No. 56 ranked overall prospect.
Luis Sardinas, shortstop. He is also 20 years old and has good speed for his position, stealing 32 bases in the minors last season. Don’t expect a call-up anytime soon with Andrus and Profar roaming the middle of the infield, but he could be a possible trade piece down the line. No. 71 ranked overall prospect.
Michael Choice, outfield. The Oakland Athletics first-round pick in 2010 was acquired in an offseason trade. He has great power potential, hitting 54 home runs in his last three years in the minors, but does strike out often. According to MLB.com, he’s expected to arrive at some point this season. No. 91 ranked overall prospect.
The Rangers come into 2014 as a dangerous threat to the Athletics to regain the AL West crown — especially after Monday’s news that Oakland lost No. 1 Jarrod Parker to a season-ending elbow injury. With the Robinson Cano-led Mariners improving and the Angels always in contention with the Albert Puljos/Mike Trout/Josh Hamilton combination, the AL West will be very competitive this season — possibly the best division in the American League.
With the addition of Fielder and Choo, the Rangers will regain their crown and win the AL West with a record of 98-64.