The Top Five Questions Facing the Texas Rangers in 2009
With all the talk of A-Rod taking steroids his entire career in Texas, people are overlooking the fact that the Rangers have a chance to compete for the AL West division in 2009 (a feat they never accomplished with the highest paid player in baseball).
As the 2009 season begins, there are many challenges that face the Rangers. Texas has consistently had some of the worst pitchers in baseball, while having some of the best hitters. Will this change in 2009?
Texas has also had great success in producing young infielders, but their farm system has lacked outfielders and pitchers.
When they do get quality pitchers, they are usually traded away to provide success to other teams (Chris Young (SD), Edinson Volquez (CIN), and John Danks (CHW) to name a few. Can their young pitchers produce for Texas this season?
Texas has also made many quiet off-season moves. They didn't sign Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, or AJ Burnett, but they did sign Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones to minor league contracts. How will that pan out for them?
These are just a few of the questions the Rangers face in 2009.
And here are the Top 5 Questions Facing the Rangers as Spring Training arrives:
5: Will Omar Vizquel make the Rangers squad?
Omar Vizquel is one of the best defensive shortstops since Ozzie Smith graced the field.
Since joining the Giants in 2005, Omar has never hit over .300 and never had an OPS over .750.
But what are the Rangers actually looking for from the 41-year-old Vizquel? They're not looking for an All-Star shortstop.
They're looking for someone to keep the position warm as Elvis Andrus works his way up to the Show (anticipated to be sometime in 2009), and they're looking for a utility infielder.
As long as Vizquel can bat ninth and have the offensive expectations of a pitcher, he should make the team and fill in nicely until Andrus is ready for a full-time gig.
4: Will Andruw Jones make the Rangers squad?
Andruw Jones began his career in 1996 as an Atlanta Brave and knocked two home-runs in his first two World Series at-bats as a 19-year old buck.
He continued to mash the ball. hitting over 25 HR and over 80 RBI in every season from 1998-2006 (while winning a Gold Glove in CF each of those years).
In 2007, Jones hit a paltry .222 but still hit 26 HR and 94 RBI. After a very poor year in Los Angeles (.158-3-14), he was cut.
The Rangers have signed on, hoping that Andruw can turn his career around and get back to his glory days that he spent with the Braves.
Jones has never hit for high average (only once has he hit above .280 for a season), but his power numbers have always been there.
If Andruw can show Texas a good enough Spring Training, he should be able to make the squad. Hopefully, he'll have improved enough to crack the starting lineup and move Josh Hamilton to RF.
Jones would have to have an incredible Spring for the Rangers to put him in the starting lineup to start the season.
I'd love to see him begin the year as the Rangers fourth OF and eventually crack the everyday lineup.
Then hitting in Rangers Ballpark should certainly help him regain those numbers that made him such a success in Atlanta.
3: Will Hank Blalock stay healthy all season as a full-time DH?
Hank Blalock has been viewed as a disappointment since his breakout season in 2003 (.300-29-90). Although his batting average has failed to reach that high since then, his slugging percentage has remained above .500 every year except 2005 and 2006.
His past two years, however, have been plagued by injury (208 and 258 AB in 2007 and 2008).
With the move of Michael Young to third base, Hank Blalock should be able to stay healthy.
This will hopefully result in a successful 2009 where Blalock has 500+ AB and a .500+ SLG.
2: How will the Rangers farm system impact their season?
Baseball America rates the following players as Texas' top 10 prospects: (1) Neftali Feliz (SP), (2) Derek Holland (SP), (3) Justin Smoak (1B), (4) Elvis Andrus (SS), (5) Martin Perez (SP), (6) Taylor Teagarden (C), (7) Engel Beltre (OF), (8) Michael Main (SP), (9) Julio Borbon (OF), and (10) Max Ramirez (C).
Having three starting pitchers in the Rangers Top 5 is fantastic news for Texas' future; however, we need to look at today's future: the 2009 season.
Which of these top 10 prospects has a chance of impacting the Rangers season?
I've already spoken some of Elvis Andrus, and I'm sure you've heard more. He's fantastic! He's 20 years old.
He's likely to get the starting job sometime this season, and he should perform adequately in this major league stint.
And, as a 20-year old starter in the majors, he should have a very productive career for the Rangers.
Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez are the only two remaining players on the list who have made it to the Show (albeit both have had fewer than 50 AB), so they are the next two likely to see significant time this season.
The Rangers have Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Teagarden, and Ramirez as three capable young catchers at the top of their system. One of the three is bound to be traded at some point in the season.
Depending on how their season is unfolding, one of those may be traded for the key player for the Rangers 2009 playoff run.
Most of the other top 10 prospects are too young to make a serious impact in the Rangers 2009 plans.
Check back in two or three years to see if Texas is enjoying the kind of success that Tampa Bay experienced.
1: How will hiring Mike Maddux impact the pitching staff?
What was Texas' most significant off-season move? Signing Omar Vizquel? Signing Andruw Jones? Moving all-star SS Michael Young to 3B to make room for Elvis Andrus?
No, I didn't ask what was the most controversial move, I asked what will impact the season the most.
Years ago, Leo Mazzone was viewed as the best pitching coach in MLB, but I believe those reins have passed to Mike Maddux.
Nobody will ever confuse Mike's pitching career with his brother, Greg, but he has quietly become one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball.
I don't think anyone can argue that Texas needs to find a way to improve their pitching in order to field a successful team.
I believe Maddux will be able to help the young pitchers as they grow and develop pitching a very unforgiving ballpark.
With so many good pitching prospects, this is great news for Rangers fans.
The question remains for this year if Mike Maddux can turn things around quickly enough to make a difference immediately.
That is the most important factor for the Rangers this season.