After four straight seasons with 90+ wins, the Texas Rangers came undone in 2014, winning just 67 games and finishing behind even the Astros in the American League West.
The team enters the new season with a new manager in former Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister and an interesting mix of once-elite veterans and promising rookies.
Banister will have to coach the youngsters to their potential – while also dealing with inevitable injuries that plagued the Rangers through all of last season.
Ultimately, however, it’s going to come down to whether the Rangers can improve their pitching after their starting staff finished dead last in quality starts while all of their pitchers combined to finish in the bottom three in just about every pitching category.
Batting Average: 8th
Fielder’s first season with the Rangers was a disaster as he lasted just 42 games and hit just three home runs before undergoing neck surgery. Still, prior to last season, Fielder had played at least 157 games in every full season he’s been in the league.
We’re not going to expect the return of the 40+ home run hitter but a healthy Fielder could certainly post a .275-.280 batting average with 25+ home runs, and 100 RBI. Look for Prince to bounce back in 2015.
After a promising 2013 saw Moreland hit 23 home runs, he managed just two dingers in 52 games last year. At this point Moreland just looks like a solid backup capable of hitting .250 with some pop, if healthy.
Rua is one of many Rangers fighting for a roster spot this spring and showed impressive 30+ home run power in the minors. The 24-year-old has a tendency to struggle with strikeouts, leading to inconsistent batting averages, but he can draw walks and crush it.
Blanks failed to reach any of his potential in San Diego before moving to Oakland and now Texas. Don’t expect much.
Odor had a solid rookie year for a second baseman, posting a .259/.297/.402 line with nine homers, 48 RBI, 39 runs, and 30 extra-base hits. He struggled with plate discipline and on the base paths but the former top-30 prospect showed potential to steal 30+ while hitting plenty of doubles in the minors. At just 21, he’s only going to get better each year.
Rosales is a career .227 hitter so he’s clearly just here for his glove and ability to play anywhere in the infield.
Profar is the big question mark. He missed all of last season and is expected to start the year in the minors. Through 341 Major League plate appearances, he’s posted a disappointing .231 BA, seven homers, 28 RBI, and 32 runs. He’s likely never going to reach is No. 1 overall prospect hype but if he can come back healthy, at just 21, Profar could be a major post-hype sleeper for the second half.
SS: Elvis Andrus
Andrus saw his RBIs fall from 67 to 41, his runs from 91 to 72, and steals from 42 to 27 last season. Still, we pretty much know what kind of player he is at this point. In a good year, we can expect a .280 batting average with 60+ RBI, 85+ runs, and 30+ steals. In a bad year we can expect, well, last season. If the lineup can get going around him, Andrus will almost surely bounce back.
3B: Adrian Beltre:
Like everyone around him, Beltre saw his numbers drop significantly. Though he still made the All-Star game and improved his batting average, his homers dropped from 30 to 19, RBI from 92 to 77, and runs from 88 to 79. Like Andrus, if the lineup can get going around him, Beltre, even at 36, is still liable to post 30+ homers and 90+ RBI, along with his consistent .315+ batting average.
Chirinos is your typical veteran catcher with a poor batting average, poor approach at the plate, a bit of pop, and a strong glove. Don’t expect to see him on any fantasy baseball rosters.
Corporan is basically a clone of Chirinos, struggling to hit for average but hitting the occasional ball out of the park and doing a solid job behind the plate.
Shin-Soo Choo struggled mightily in his first season with Texas, seeing his average plummet from .285 to .242 while his runs fell from 107 to 58, and his steals fell from 20 to three. Coming off an ankle injury, we’re not really sure what Choo we’re going to see in 2015. At 32, he should be able to bounce back to his more impressive numbers that we saw in Cincy and Cleveland, but it’s hard to expect anything better than a .280 hitter with diminished speed and mediocre pop.
While everyone around him struggled, Leonys Martin put up a solid season, batting .274 with 68 runs and 31 steals. He’s a speedy outfielder who’s liable to consistently steal 30+ but lacks the ability to get extra-base hits and strikes out more than you’d like from a singles hitter.
Rua figures to have a shot at the outfield, though there’s about a dozen other guys gunning for spots.
Jake Smolinski is another name that has popped up for a possible outfielder spot but his minor league numbers are far from impressive and point to a .250-.260 hitter with no pop or speed, though a great ability to get on base.
Nate Schierholtz is battling with the youngsters for an outfield job but was absolutely terrible last year after hitting 21 home runs for the Cubs in the previous season.
Michael Choice has a shot at winning an outfield job after hitting nine home runs in 86 games for the Rangers last year but he batted just .182 on the season so, there’s that.
Ryan Ludwick is a name to watch after a decent year with Cincy last season. His average will always be low but there’s still some pop there.
All in all, this is an ugly and crowded situation and the Rangers have to be hoping some of the youngsters, particularly Rua, emerge as legitimate starters.
Yu Darvish: Darvish was limited to just 22 games last season with an elbow injury but looked as good as ever, going 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 182 strikeouts. His WHIP shot up from 1.07 to 1.26 but a healthy Darvish should be as good as anyone in the AL.
Derek Holland: Holland managed to play in just six games last year but was lights out with a 1.46 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. After a promising season in 2013, the Rangers desperately need Holland to stay healthy to provide a strong one-two punch at the top of the rotation.
Yovani Gallardo: After a rough 2013, Gallardo bounced back last year with a 3.51 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Still, he’s far from the strikeout phenom we saw earlier in Milwaukee (his K/9 has dropped from 9.9 in 2009 to 9.0 in 2011-12 to just 6.8 last season). He’s a solid middle-rotation starter with a consistent knack for mid-3 ERAs and 1.30ish WHIPs but he’s not really a top fantasy caliber pitcher anymore.
Colby Lewis: After missing all of 2013, Lewis made 29 starts last season but struggled as he led the AL in losses (14) while posting a 5.18 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. He had done a great job of limiting walks in the past but, at 35, it’s hard to see Lewis bouncing back.
Nick Tepesch: Like the outfield, there’s a lot of competition for the backend of the rotation. It’s hard to see Tepesch winning a spot since he doesn’t strike anyone out and went 5-11 with a 4.36 ERA and 1.36 WHIP last year. Sinkerballer or not, he allows way too many baserunners and doesn’t strand enough of them.
Anthony Ranaudo: Ranaudo was a top prospect back in 2011 and put up strong numbers in the minors. In his first taste of Big League action, however, he posted a 4.81 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 39 innings. He’s a lot like Tepesch in that he doesn’t strike anyone out and allows too many baserunners to be successful.
Ross Detwiler: Detwiler moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen for the Nats last season and posted a disappointing 4.00 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He’ll have a shot to make the rotation since he’s basically as mediocre as everyone else here at this point in his career.
Neftali Feliz returned to the closer job and closed 13 of a possible 14 games. The talent has always been there but it’s all a matter of health as he’s played in just 42 games over the last three seasons.
The rest of the bullpen is mediocre at best.
Tanner Scheppers looked like a promising reliever in 2013 (1.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) but struggled with injuries and bad pitching when the Rangers tried to move him into the rotation last season.
Kyuji Fujikawa has played in 27 games in two seasons for the Cubs and owns a 5.04 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, so there’s that.
The rest are all young and promising but highly inexperienced.
Shawn Tolleson is a solid middle reliever from what we can tell, Spencer Patton is promising but with minimal experience, Alex Claudio also looks very promising but has just 12 innings under his belt, Roman Mendez is another promising youngster but struggles with baserunners, and Phil Klein has just 19 innings under his belt and could end up being the best of the bunch. There’s a lot to sort out here and we’ll leave that to management.
Offense: C+ to B-
Starting Pitching: C