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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Texas Rangers

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Texas Rangers
By Wild on Sports Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
It happens. Sometimes you get unlucky and miss the playoffs. This will be remember in a down year in the current Rangers Dynasty, and even then, they won 91 games and forced a 163rd game faceoff with Tampa Bay for the second wild card spot. Saying goodbye to Josh Hamilton was the right move but they still missed his presence in the lineup. Rookies were given prominent roles in both the rotation and the lineup, to various effect, although they’ll be better for it going forward.

Winter Grade: A-
Coming: Prince Fielder, Sin-Soo Choo, JP Arencibia, Michael Choice (minors), Tommy Hanson
Going: Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Joe Nathan, AJ Pierzynski, David Murphy, Matt Garza, Lance Berkman

It’s the end of an era in Arlington, sort of. Elvis Andrus is the only position player left in the lineup from the 2010 pennant winners, when they started their current run of success. But after shedding star power the past few years, this winter Texas added some big bats that makes them look a lot like the slugging Rangers of old. Ian Kinsler turned out to be holding the short straw in the crowded infield, but that trade made sense for both teams, and Jurickson Profar is ready to thrive in a regular starting role. Less certain is their pitching, especially now that Derek Holland is due to miss part of the year. Who will eat innings behind Yu Darvish? Martin Perez? The answer is probably not Tommy Hanson and his questionable elbow. Texas has had to make a significant addition to their rotation midseason in three of the past four years, and they might have to dip into their prospect pool again this year.
 
Wild Card(s):
Two pitchers who Texas sorely missed last year are set to make a comeback this spring: Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz. The former is hoping his impeccable control will make up for diminishing velocity in the rotation, while the latter is set to return to the closer’s role after Tommy John rehab knocked him out of baseball for almost two years.
 
Key Contract Years:
Maybe Colby Lewis or Joakim Soria if either one returns to form. Alex Rios has a very reasonable option for 2015…but he’s had such an up-and-down career that you can’t rule out a complete meltdown.

Rookies:
Michael Choice ought to find his way into the lineup at some point, and he’s a great fit for the Ballpark in Arlington. Choice has already had a successful season in AAA so he’s ready to contribute at the big-league level now. He will strike out a lot but the hitter’s environment should mask other deficiencies. The only question is how he squeezes into the picture with Rios, Choo and Leonys Martin already in the outfield. Perhaps one of those will move into the DH role? Mitch Moreland is not much of an obstacle.

Key Questions: 
Do they have any healthy pitchers beyond Martin Perez?
Suddenly Darvish is suffering from some back problems, and if he misses any time this season, Texas is really in trouble.
Can Colby Lewis return to form?
Will Alexi Ogando finally cross the 150-inning mark and become a reliable starter, or will he always have to settle for being a brittle swingman?
Who is the DH?
Does Mitch Moreland have enough pop to handle the role full time?
Can the coaching staff coax a .250 batting average out of JP Arencibia?
 
Farm System Overview: GREEN (above-average) 
The Rangers’ farm system is superficially light on top-tier prospects, as they graduated or traded away a lot of guys last year (Profar, Leonys Martin, CJ Edwards, and more). However, they have a lot of depth and a lot of extremely young Latin players who could break out next year. Second basemen Rougned Odor highlights their impressive record with International signings, and Texas is also deep in athletic outfielders and right-handed power arms. Some of those, however, will probably end up in the bullpen.

2014 Prognosis:
Strong Contenders This team is a powerhouse. The lineup looks like a classic Rangers juggernaut, like what we saw in the late nineties. Rusty Greer would be proud. They just need to find some pitching for the playoffs. Yu Darvish can’t pitch every game.

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