Opening Day Preview: Texas Rangers

by Matthew Roberts | Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
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TRangers

TEXAS RANGERS 2015 PREVIEW

After a season in which the Texas Rangers’ faithful watched the major league roster lose a whopping 2,116 total days to the disabled list – breaking the Diamondbacks’ 2004 record by 99 days – the optimism was palpable when pitchers and catchers reported last month. The projected rotation was intact, there were no season ending injuries to any projected starting position player (Jurickson Profar was all but guaranteed to start in the minors this year after his lost 2014), and hope was that with a number of talented players and potential All-Stars, the Rangers could rebound from their worst season since 1985. Then, this happened:

And just like that, before any games are played, most Rangers fans began having PTSD flashbacks to 2014 and you could practically hear the “abandon ship!” But, as 150-plus years of baseball have taught us anything, anything can happen over the course of a long season and any number of players can rise up and surprise the league. As the cliché goes, that’s why they play the games.  So, the Rangers march on without their ace, and we march on with our preview for the Rangers 2015 season.

2014 Record: 67-95

Manager: Jeff Banister

PROJECTED BATTING ORDER:

  1. Leonys Martin – CF
  2. Elvis Andrus – SS
  3. Prince Fielder -1B
  4. Adrian Beltre3B
  5. Shin-Soo Choo – RF
  6. Mitch Moreland -DH
  7. Ryan Rua – LF
  8. Robinson Chirinos – C
  9. Rougned Odor – 2B

If there was ever a projected lineup set in sand, it’s this one. No one is sure what Jeff Banister will do to start the season, or how he will move the pieces around, especially 5-9, but this is likely an accurate representation of how the Rangers will start 2015. This lineup does not carry the same potency many have come to expect from a Rangers offense.

One thing is for certain, Banister has committed to Martin as the full time lead off hitter, despite his career .279 OBP against lefties. We’ll see how long that experiment last Choo as the leadoff man continues to make more sense as he is only a year removed from his .285/.423/.885 slash line in his final year in Cincinnati. Choo followed that up with a gangbusters April where he hit .319/.446/.946 before an ankle injury derailed his season. Yet, most project Choo will hit 5th. That leaves Andrus in his home at the second spot. Andrus is probably one of the worst two-hole hitters in baseball hitting .263/.314/.647 last year and is likely only there until a better option surfaces. Prince is really the key to this offense. If he can return to even his production for Detroit, he becomes the power bat Texas sorely missed last year. Beltre continues to hit for a very high average (.324) but had somewhat of a power-outage last year, only hitting 19 home runs, which may portend things to come for the future potential hall of famer as he turns 36 in a couple of weeks.

The second half of the projected lineup comes with a number of question marks. Moreland has had a hard time staying healthy and in his 3 seasons in which he had over 300 ABs he has never had an OPS over .789 nor a batting average over .275. At age 29, we have likely seen his ceiling as well. Rua’s spot was supposed to go to Michael Choice, the former first round pick of the Oakland A’s whom the Rangers traded for (with Chris Bostick) in exchange for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom. However, Choice got reassigned to Triple-A after starting the spring 1 for 16 and Rua is likely the next man up. As a rookie last year, Rua hit .295/.321/.740 in 105 ABs. If he can build on this Rua can provide steady, if not game-changing, production from the sixth spot. Chirinos offers some pop from the catcher spot hitting 13 homer runs in 300 ABs and when he’s not playing Carlos Corporan likely will be the platoon mate offering the same low batting average, some power combination that Chirinos does. Odor is the most intriguing of the bunch. Not projected to see the majors at all last year, thanks to the Rangers’ injury issues he ended up playing in 114 games and about 400 PAs. Only 21, Odor flashed his potential in September where he hit .296/.481/.826 after having his worst month as pro in August hitting .221/.248/.616. It’s hard to put a lot of stock in big Septembers as a lot of young players flash potential over that small sample size against some of the other 40 man call-ups. But Odor is the guy who belong at the second spot if he can raise his OBP in his second season.

STARTING ROTATION

  1. Derek Holland
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Colby Lewis
  4. Ross Detwiler
  5. Nick Tepesch

This is part where Rangers fans start crying into their 24″ Boomstick hot dogs. Yu Darvish was supposed to lead this rotation as he works in search of the first Cy Young award in in team history. Holland is not a bad consolation prize to lead the rotation, especially as he returned from injury last year to throw five very good starts in the second half of a lost season through a 1.46 ERA and 1.05 WHIP to go with a 25:5 K:BB. Gallardo is now being counted on to provide top of rotation outings, instead of the solid innings eating middle of the rotation stuff he was expected to provide. Gallardo changed his style last season from a power pitcher who averaged more than 9 K/9 to a contact pitcher who induced a well-above league average 52.4% groundball rate. When Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux changed the philosophy of pitching in Texas at the end of the last decade, the emphasis had been on pitching to contact. Gallardo fits that bill now as the Rangers still boast a good defense. But the trouble occurs when contact pitchers miss and get hit all over the park in Arlington. If Gallardo can execute on that same groundball rate, he can make the NL to AL transition more successfully than others before him.

Lewis was re-signed to a cheap one year deal to provide back of rotation depth. Now, he’s being counted on in April to provide middle of rotation stuff. Lewis was brutal for most of last year compiling a 5.18 ERA over 170 IP, but showed enough down the stretch in his 10 starts in August and September posting a sub 4.00 era and 49:14 K:BB. Detwiler was the Rangers’ other addition to the rotation this offseason. Detwiler pitched out of the bullpen for the Washington Nationals last year posting a pedestrian 4.00 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. It will be curious to see how many innings he has on his arm this year as he has only thrown ore than 100 innings once in his career, back in 2012. Tepesch, or Nick Martinez will man the fifth spot to start the season. Tepesch’s 22 starts in 2014 showed some improvement over his 17 in 2013 as he lowered his ERA a half run. However his walk rate ballooned to over 3.1 BB/9 and needs to improve his control. Add Martinez to that list of players who weren’t expected to see major league time in 2014 but ended up throwing 140 innings. Considering he was early, Martinez performed admirably, but his 1.46 WHIP and over 3.5 BB/9 reflects a player who needs some more seasoning. This is why I consider Tepesch the front-runner for the fifth spot over Martinez.

BULLPEN

Not a lot space needs to be devoted to this bullpen. It has some capable relievers in Scheppers and Tolleson. The former missed most of last year with elbow issues but was lights out in 2013 with a 1.88 ERA and appearance on the final vote list for the All-Star game. The latter was claimed off waivers from the Dodgers after the 2013 season and put together a 2.76 ERA with 1.17 WHIP in 71.2 innings last year. They are capable set up men, but certainly not threats to Feliz as closer. Feliz returned in the middle of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013 and rebuilding his arm in the minors in the first half of 2014. When he returned he didn’t have the exact same electric stuff but posted a 1.99 ERA in 30 appearances going 13 for 14 in save opportunities. A full year removed, Feliz is looking to return to form and anchor this bullpen.

PREDICTION: 78-84

If I wrote this when pitchers and catchers reported I would’ve given Texas a chance at 85 wins if fully healthy and a possible push for a wild card. But, teams do not lose their undisputed ace without some early season consequences. I would love to be wrong, but being objective, I think they will have a hard time battling the .500 line all year long. There are just enough holes in the lineup, the rotation, and the bullpen to prevent the Rangers from making a real push. Throw in first time manager Jeff Banister, and you have a recipe for a season that will show promise but will ultimately disappoint.

ALL-STAR GAME CANDIDATES

  • 3B – Adrian Beltre
  • 1B – Prince Fielder
  • SP – Derek Holland
  • CL – Neftali Feliz
  • RF – Shin-Soo Choo

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

  • 2B – Rougned Odor
  • LF – Ryan Rua
  • SP – Derek Holland

PROSPECTS WHO MAY CONTRIBUTE

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Matthew Roberts
About the Author

Matthew cut his teeth on baseball during $2 Bleacher Wednesdays at the old Arlington Stadium in the 1980's and has loved the Texas Rangers ever since. When he's not teaching his young son to throw a wicked circle change, he enjoys the six month friendly rivalry with his wife and her precious Oakland A's. Follow him on Twitter @ifithasballs.







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