Team Preview: Texas Rangers

By: Josh Wasserman – Chief MLB Writer.

In the coming weeks leading up to Opening Day, FSLR will be previewing the 30 MLB teams and their respective chances for the 2014 season. Starting with the AL West, the Texas Rangers round out the division…

AL West:
Day 1: Seattle Mariners
Day 2: Oakland A’s
Day 3: Los Angeles Angels
Day 4: Houston Astros
Day 5: Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers

2013 Record: 91-72 (2nd)
2014 Projected Record: 90-72 (2nd)

​I’m not going to lie, I thought the Rangers were going to take the AL West last year. But the A’s (I won’t call it magic because I don’t want to belittle their performance) talent overmatched the Rangers and Oakland clinched the division early instead of waiting until the final day like 2012. Given that the A’s have only improved since last year, I’m going to have to say that the Rangers will once again play second fiddle to Oakland. Surprisingly, Ron Washington is still in town. Not many coaches make it through two straight seasons of being one out away from a World Series title and failed playoff runs following those years. Nevertheless, the Rangers have adjusted and strengthened their roster astutely in an attempt to dethrone the A’s. The Ian Kinsler trade was fantastic for the Rangers, catching them slugger Prince Fielder to play first base where they previously had no one while opening up the second base role for young phenom Jurickson Profar. Now, instead of one great and one poor hitter on the right side of their infield, they have two great threats in the lineup. The race will be tighter for the AL crown this year, but the Rangers will once again fall just short of their desired mark.

Projected Lineup:
1) Shin Soo-Choo, LF
2) Elvis Andrus, SS
3) Prince Fielder, 1B
4) Adrian Beltre, 3B
5) Alex Rios, RF/DH
6) J.P. Arencibia, DH/C
7) Jurickson Profar, 2B
8) Geovany Soto, C/Michael Choice, RF
9) Leonys Martin, CF

​This squad defines menacing. An incredible blend of power, speed, contact, and fielding ability, this lineup could be even more potent than that of the Angels because of their top to bottom ability. Rangers fans owe many thanks to their team’s front office who, this offseason, acquired a slew of great players, all who fill major holes in the team’s offense. To begin with, though they didn’t need a leadoff man, the Rangers did need a contact-hitting outfielder with the occasional pop to make up for the losses of Nelson Cruz and David Murphy. On the free agent list, only a handful of options were better than Shin-Soo Choo. Choo tore the cover off the ball during his tenure in Cleveland, and last year for the Reds, he put up respectable numbers as well. With a strong supporting cast as he had in Cincinnati and the benefit of a terrific hitters’ park (ranked 2nd most friendly for hitters by ESPN), he should have a great year again in 2014. Elvis Andrus is a dynamic runner who can steal a bag pretty much at will (he stole 42 bases in 50 attempts last year), and is pretty good at finding a way on base. Assuming that either Choo or Andrus gets on base in an inning, the rest of the inning should be a tightrope walk for pitchers. Prince Fielder (also acquired this offseason) is one of the premier power hitters in the game and just by himself can be the catalyst for a team’s offense. His dream combination in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera is just a bit scarier than Fielder’s future 1-2 punch with third baseman Adrian Beltre. Beltre has mastered the hitting approach of using the whole field, which correlates with his high home run and doubles rates. Fielder, on the other hand, doesn’t need to use the whole field; he has the strength to take any pitch in any location and put it in the right field seats. Together, they will be more than a force to be reckoned with, but more likely a force to subject to. As he heads into the final stages of his career, Alex Rios will look to continue off of his success the past two years (in 2012 he posted career highs in home runs and RBI’s while in 2013 he racked up just a few short of those stats). Since A.J. Pierzynski bolted from Texas, the Rangers found his replacement in J.P. Arencibia. Although Arencibia had a down year by anyone’s standards last year, he still maintained his power, which should aid him with a handful of great hitters ahead of him. Jurickson Profar has plenty of room to grow following his first year of major league action. He and starting centerfielder Leonys Martin are speedy bottom of the order hitters who can get on base in a variety of fashions ranging from bunts to infield singles to down the line doubles. These two are added table-setters to help Choo and Andrus with their duties. The variability of the lineup stems from whether Michael Choice or Geovany Soto will take the final spot in the lineup. Soto is recovering from an injury currently but should return soon. The question is whether he’ll be ready by Opening Day. If he is, he’ll play behind the plate and Arencibia will play the designated hitter. If not, Arencibia will take the catcher role and Michael Choice will take over right field, shifting Alex Rios to DH. Regardless of how it plays out, the Rangers lineup is nasty. Even a few injuries couldn’t completely derail it. And the way they’re hitting this spring, the Rangers offense is raring to go for April.

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Projected Rotation:
1) Yu Darvish, RHP
2) Derek Holland, LHP
3) Colby Lewis, RHP/Alexei Ogando, RHP/Tanner Scheppers, RHP
4) Martin Perez, LHP
5) Matt Harrison, RHP

​If only the Rangers’ rotation could stay healthy at the same time, they’d be up there with the best in the league. Luckily, the pitchers on the DL right now are on their way back to full form, with star ace of 2013 Derek Holland returning from surgery in a week’s time and Matt Harrison almost up to throwing in a Spring Training game. The injury timetables are crucial to the shape of the team’s rotation. Assuming all of their pitchers fully recovered, the Rangers have a bevy of options to choose from. It’s hard to tell who will go where, but whatever the case, Yu Darvish is undoubtedly the number one pitcher. Arguably the most devastating pitcher in baseball, Darvish has over from Japan and fooled hitters every time he took the mound. Finishing with an absurd 277 K’s last year, he is looking to build off his 2013 Cy Young-winning campaign. Derek Holland also had a terrific year and he should be back to his normal self by Opening Day, so he’ll take the second slot in the rotation without much competition. Colby Lewis doesn’t have the stuff he had a few years ago, but he can offer consistently decent starts through the year. Martin Perez, the 22-year old Venezuelan with two fastballs and two changeups, enjoyed a great year last year in his first season seeing extended time. The issue, which is an issue many teams would kill to have, is who will be inserted if one of the starters hits a rough patch? Lewis is the most at-risk pitcher in the starting rotation and can be substituted for any number of starters converted to long relievers, such as Alexei Ogando, an integral part of Texas’ bullpen in their World Series runs, Tanner Scheppers, who pitched well when he was granted spot starts in 2013, and Robbie Ross, a sharp, shrewd left-handed youngster. Not to mention they’ve added former Braves star Tommy Hanson to the staff. Just as I said with the lineup, however the rotation shakes up, it is stocked with both left-handers and right-handers, flamethrowers and precisionists.

Projected Bullpen:
MR: Alexei Ogando, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Tommy Hanson
SU: Joakim Soria
CL: Neftali Feliz

​All the middle relievers above, I mentioned in the rotation section. They’re all capable of taking over in doubleheaders, rain-delayed games, and starts on short notice. And the people who are demoted from the rotation, who could include Colby Lewis, Martin Perez, or Matt Harrison, will see extensive time in the pen. I think that it would be wise for the Rangers to end their experiment with Neftali Feliz as a possible starter. They don’t need more starters and they have few enough pitchers the 8th and 9th innings as is, not to mention he lost a big portion of the year last year to injury. He was dominant as a closer before and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to return to his remarkable form again. Joakim Soria struggled in his final year in Kansas City but was a two-time All-Star before then. He missed all of 2012 rehabilitating a Tommy John surgery and did decently in 2013. I have a feeling that this will be a sort of resurrection year for Soria’s career. Though not as strong as the rest of their squad, the bullpen in comparison with the rest of the league is pretty good and will fare well especially with the leads they’ll be given from their rotation’s shutdown pitching and their lineup’s rampaging offense.

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