5 Texas Rangers to Be Excited About in 2012
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Much of the roster is intact from the AL championship squad from last season. With the exception of starting rotation addition Yu Darvish and closer Joe Nathan, the Rangers bring back the entire starting lineup from the World Series.
Not only are the Rangers competing for the ultimate prize, they also have a bright future, boasting one of the better minor league systems in all of MLB.
Keeping 2012 in the minds of the fans while also looking forward to guys who could be superstars in the near future, here are five guys to be excited about once the season begins.
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Mike Napoli arrived in Texas in a trade for Frank Fransisco, and after a season where he hit .320, belted 30 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 113 games, he became a fan favorite in Arlington.
Chants of NAP-O-LI filled the stadium every time he came to the plate after the ALCS, reminding viewers nationally how much he meant to the team. Had the Rangers hung on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, he likely would have been named Series MVP.
Making $9.4 million this season before hitting free agency in 2013, Napoli will likely be motivated to stay healthy and continue the hot streak he started late in the 2011 season.
That, combined with the tutelage of manager Ron Washington and constant goal of winning the World Series, should make Napoli one of the guys worth watching every time he comes to the plate.
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Holland quietly had a great season in 2011. Going 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and 162 strikeouts, he established himself as a quality starter and tied new Los Angeles Angel CJ Wilson for the team lead in wins.
After leading the entire league in run support at 9.23 per game, Holland still has work to do. He now steps into the role of the left-handed ace on the staff. His stuff is filthy, evidenced by 8.1 innings of shutout baseball in Game 4 of the World Series.
He will have to step into a bigger role in 2012, but with all eyes on Yu Darvish and a great lineup to protect him, there's no reason Holland shouldn't reach the 15-18 win mark again.
It will be interesting to see the direction that his development takes, and if he improves, declines or stays roughly the same during his fourth season in the big leagues. All signs point to him being a big part of the Rangers present and future.
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The last time we saw Neftali Feliz, he was hanging his head in disappointment (photo to the left). One strike away from immortality, he gave up the game-tying hit to David Freese in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6, and the rest is history.
Closer issues behind him, Feliz will step into a full-time starting job in 2012. Returning to the role that made him a top prospect in the minors, he will leave the mental instability portion of closing behind him.
Feliz now can fine-tune his secondary pitches in preparation for seeing hitters two and three times in a game. He will also have consistency in knowing his role, when he will be taking the ball and what is expected each time on the hill.
Fans have waited three seasons to see Feliz open it up, and when he does so the ceiling is extremely high for what he can accomplish in the rotation.
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The Cuban outfielder signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract in 2011, with a $5 million signing bonus. He made his way through three minor league stops, spending time with the Arizona Rookie League, AA Frisco Roughriders and Round Rock Express.
He performed well overall, hitting .295 and stealing 19 bases over 73 games with his three minor league teams. Catching the eye of the big club, he was a September call up, where he got eight ABs in limited action before postseason play began.
While I don't think Martin makes the active roster out of spring training, I do think injury or his own strong play will force him into an expanded role before 2012 ends. He projects as a leadoff or bottom of the order guy with speed in the lineup, and the ability to roam center field for a long time.
Martin is the future center fielder in Texas. Julio Borbon was thought to be that guy, but they've had success in two postseasons without him, and likely won't give him many more chances.
Since they are so high on Martin, it wouldn't surprise me to get a taste of his ability at some point this season, and that is very exciting for the future of the club.
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Darvish is capturing the limelight with every bullpen session he throws during Spring Training. It's likely the internet will explode if he wins his first start in April, and that kind of pressure seems more like second nature each time he takes the podium in a press conference.
Honestly, the Rangers paid a guaranteed $107.1 million for his services, so they are going to expect good results. Those kind of expectations are fueled by the media and trickle on down to the fans, who will be leaning on Darvish to replace CJ Wilson and lead them to the promised land for the first time in three tries.
Since the last time the Rangers signed a foreign pitcher (Chan Ho Park) the results didn't go over very well, Darvish will have to erase that stigma, as well as that of other failed pitchers Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.
All those factors lead to an intriguing season ahead for the 25-year-old ace from Japan. Cameras from this country and his own will chronicle his every move during this honeymoon phase of his arrival, and he will likely be the Ranger with the most buzz going into 2012.
Darvish could be the final piece of the World Series title puzzle, and those kind of expectations make him an exciting player to follow.