The Texas Rangers are about to embark on their final season at Globe Life Park. The team maintained much of their core from the previous year, but many of the pitchers are new. This is a good thing considering they had the 3rd worst ERA in the league last year.
Catcher: The Rangers lost Robinson Chirinos in free agency to the Astros. They are replacing him with an experienced veteran Jeff Mathis. Mathis is known for his defensive ability and working well with pitchers. Mathis will try to teach Isiah Kiner-Falefa the finer points of handling a pitching staff. Kiner-Falefa, who many fans refer to as IKF, had a good rookie season last year. He also can play many other infield positions, which gives the Rangers flexibility. Mathis will not hit very well, but his job in this rebuilding year is to impart as much knowledge as possible to IKF.
First Base: Ronald Guzman had a solid rookie year in 2018 as well. He had budding power despite a .235 batting average. He is best known for his defense, which is top tier. His stretching and picking ability are incredible. He finished last season in 2nd place in range factor over 9 innings at first base in the AL. Guzman should start at first base every game this season. One of the most important things to consider about this season of Rangers baseball is the main goal is young player development. The Astros are incredibly powerful and the Rangers have virtually no chance of making the playoffs. Much of this article will be devoted to what will be the best case scenario player development, as that it is what is most important and interesting considering the current makeup of the team. The best case scenario for Ronald Guzman is 25 homers, .260 average, and more great defense.
Second Base: Jose Bautista’s biggest rival, Rougie Odor, continues to start daily at second. He got a huge contract a few years ago, and he is the second baseman for the foreseeable future. In the past, Rougie has been an undisciplined player. He frequently ranked bottom 5 in pitches seen per at bat, and showed virtually no plate discipline. He also led the AL in errors at second base for 3 straight years. Thankfully, halfway through last season Rougie showed a significant change in demeanor, focusing heavily on improving his defense and plate discipline. Odor showed extreme improvement, his OBP went from .252 in 2017 to .326 in 2018. He did not even rank among the top 5 error committers in the AL last year. If Odor continues to improve, he will finally become the player the Rangers expected him to be when they signed him to a massive contract that included a horse. The best case scenario for Rougie is 32 homers, .340 OBP, and continued defensive improvement. These goals are very obtainable, but there is also a chance he could regress back to 2017 form, which would hamstring the Rangers beyond repair. Rougie Odor’s 2017 season was one of the worst seasons where a player played every game of all time.
Shortstop: The only remaining player from the 2011 AL Champion squad is Elvis Andrus. Andrus had his elbow broken by a pitch last year and had his worst year by far. Elvis will return this season, and will probably hit .290 with 20 homers. His defense is solid, and his injury will probably not leave permanent lasting damage. Andrus continues to gain more power every year. Former Dodger Logan Forsythe will back up Andrus. It is worth noting perennial top prospect Jurickson Profar was traded to Oakland during the offseason. Profar was gassed up for years, and similar to Rougie, had poor plate discipline and awful defense. His last season was passable, and Rangers fans should be happy they were able to get young prospects for him.
Third Base: Former Cleveland Indian Asdrubal Cabrera will replace legendary fan favorite Adrian Beltre. Beltre’s gold tier defense, infectious charisma, and excellent hitting are nearly impossible to replace. Beltre was right to retire, he had severe trouble staying healthy. Beltre rode off into the sunset, got 3000 hits, and basically had a whole season dedicated to his chase of the record. Tragically, he never won a ring. Cabrera is a solid player with some pop and veteran experience. He will join Elvis Andrus, for the first time in Elvis’ career he will not have Adrian on his side of the infield.
Right Field: Nomar Mazara, affectionately nicknamed The Big Chill, is set for a breakout season. Mazara is entering his 4th season, he has been a solid power hitter that plays defense about as well as Nelson Cruz did in his day. He is not awful, simply below average. Mazara is one of the linchpins to the Rangers future. He has been good over the past few years, but he really needs to step his offensive game up to that of a true AL cleanup hitter. This is even more true when one considers Beltre is gone. Mazara’s ideal season would be something along the lines of an .800 OPS, with 30 homers.
Shin-Soo Choo will also be playing some in right field as well, but will be mostly used at DH. Choo was the best hitter on the Rangers last season. He is known for his patience and discipline at the plate. He hits about 20 homers a year, which is good for a player that usually leads off. The goal to Choo’s season will be staying healthy so he can earn another trip to the All-Star game, as he did for the first time ever this season. Look for Choo to be in the one or two slot of the lineup on a daily basis, and be DHing most of the time. Choo will probably be preceded or followed by Delino DeShields, whose incredible speed synergizes well with Choo’s patience approach.
Center Field: Delino DeShields will be starting the majority of games in center field. He is known for his incredible speed and defensive range. He was used some at leadoff last year, but expect him to be used more at the 9 hole to take advantage of hitting in front of Choo. The Rangers really want to start Choo at leadoff because he is so consistent and gets on base so much. Delino was incredibly hot during a portion of the season last year, but has his production undercut by an injury.
Joey Gallo is one of the most entertaining players in baseball. He features tremendous power. Gallo is one of those players who is so fun to watch you plan your concession stand trips around not missing his at bats. Gallo, similar to players like Adam Dunn, is known for producing one of the “three true outcomes.” This means when he comes up to bat he is most likely to walk, strikeout, or hit a homer. Gallo has hit 40 or more homers in each of his last two seasons, and can play many positions. He has played both corner infield spots, as well as all the spots in the outfield. Gallo is even solid in center field. He obviously has less range than DeShields, so expect Manager Chris Woodward to try to fit him in the lineup on a daily basis no matter where he has to put him on defense. If Gallo can cut down on the strikeouts and learn to poke the ball to the opposite field when extreme shifts are used on him, he can take the next step. As it stands, he is one of the players most severely affected by the shift.
Left Field: Former Astro Hunter Pence did exceptionally well in spring training. This allowed him to make the team over Willie Calhoun, a player who is quickly becoming the next Jurickson Profar. The outfield will be a solid mix of Pence, Mazara, Gallo, DeShields, and Choo.
Pitching: Mike Minor, who was the Rangers top rated WAR player last year, will be the opening day starter. Minor was solid last year. He is a leftie with average stuff. His expressed goal this year is to reach 200 IP. The Rangers should just hope for Minor to keep his ERA below 4.00 and 200 IP.
The rest of the starting rotation is comprised of recycled players coming off of severe injury.
Former Ranger Edinson Volquez had a couple good seasons in Cincinnati after he was traded for Josh Hamilton. Volquez has been ineffective over the past two seasons and is coming off of injury. Volquez was a power pitcher when he was healthy.
Former 2011 Saint Louis Cardinal Lance Lynn is probably going to be the third starter. Lynn is a solid pitcher, but is also coming off of injury.
Southpaw Drew Smyly is coming off of Tommy John surgery. The most innings he has ever pitched is 175.1, the year he blew his arm out.
Shelby Miller is the probable 5th starter, and like the others, he too is coming off of a terrible year where he was injured.
All of the starters minus Mike Minor will be high risk. The Rangers tried a similar strategy last year. Minor was converted to starter from reliever and succeeded. Doug Fister could not stay healthy and retired. The majority of the Rangers season will hinge on how starters 2-5 will perform. If they stay healthy and pitch at least average, the Rangers will be close to .500. The problem is that this is extremely unlikely. The Rangers will probably use Ariel Jurado or Yohander Mendez at starter before the season ends. Mendez is injured, and will miss the first half of the season. It is very difficult to guess the health status of four pitchers coming off of injures. Even more perplexing, if they all stay healthy through the first half of the season the Rangers might trade them for prospects, which makes the idea of the Rangers making a miracle Wild Card appearance extremely unlikely. Oddly, even if the Rangers hit on all their reclamation projects, they will probably dump them for younger arms anyway. The more likely outcome is injuries and below average performances. It is worth noting two fan favorites Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon are no longer on the team. Inaccurate failed former top prospect Martin Perez is on the Twins now. Thankfully, Matt Moore is also gone. Moore was the most insufferable Rangers pitcher since Chan Ho Park.
Relievers: Lanky rightie Chris Martin is still on the roster. Martin is an average player with average stuff.
Jesse Chavez re-signed after helping Cubs and Cole Hammels lose the division to the Brewers, Chavez is above average, but nothing special.
Shawn Kelly is a talented reliever who used to play for Washington. Kelly, like most of the Rangers starters, is coming off of severe injury. Kelly has high upside and could be a good setup man.
Plucky young lefty Jeffrey Springs is coming off of a good rookie year. Springs could come into his own and will be the best southpaw out of the pen.
Jeanmar Gomez is another unimpressive part of the bullpen. Essentially since the bullpen revolves around Jose Leclerc, who is legitimately top tier.
Jose Leclerc is the best pitcher the Rangers have by far. Two years ago he had severe control issues. He has figured those out. He features a devastating fastball and a filthy power changeup. He is the closer, and was recently extended.
Conclusion: The Rangers have a lot to work with on offense and could finish top 5 in runs. Joey Gallo, Rougie Odor, and Ronald Guzman, Nomar Mazara, and Delino DeShields are the players who will be most interesting to watch. Their development will have the largest impact on the future. Shin-Soo Choo will probably be the best hitter again. The pitching is a much less interesting proposition. Perhaps the most saddening part of the upcoming season is that even if the Rangers get incredibly lucky and all of their starters pop off, they will almost certainly dump them for younger assets. This severely limits the ceiling of the Rangers, but the absurd injury risk of most of the staff means the Rangers could have another 94+ loss season. Cole Hamels is gone, Yu Darvish is gone, so is Keona Kela, Alex Claudio, and Jake Diekman. The Rangers came up just short in 2010 and 2011, after a couple laughable years they returned to the ALDS to get embarrassed by the Blue Jays twice. The Rangers are now officially in rebuild mode. Napoli and Beltre are gone. Josh Hamilton has retired. The only thing that remains of Ian Kinsler is the years of cap hit and the Rangers gargled for one good year of Prince Fielder. The new stadium will open in 2020, and the stadium formerly known as the Ballpark in Arlington will be retired with its best moments being the 2010 and 2011 ALCS games.
As the rebuild continues in more ways than one, Rangers fans have a solid offense to look at, with basically no consistent pitching. The core of Cliff Lee, CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Derek Holland are long gone, as are any chances of a legitimate playoff run. Same old story for the Rangers, lack of pitching will do them in.
Predicted finish: Last place in the American League West, 70-92