Texas Rangers Spring Training: 7 Most Intriguing Position Battles
The organization had such a disappointing finish last season, followed by a dramatic offseason, that it must be relieving to finally grab a bat and play some baseball again.
However, keeping with their recent flair for the dramatic, the Rangers' spring training won't be short on storylines.
Here are the team's seven most intriguing position battles.
Fifth Spot in the Rotation
This spot is available until Colby Lewis comes off the DL.
The fifth spot in the rotation will be the Rangers’ most competitive position battle of spring training, and the list of candidates has produced no clear front-runner yet.
There are three players to keep under close surveillance: Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and Robbie Ross.
Perez is possibly an early favorite. The 21-year-old has long been the team’s top pitching prospect. He made a cameo in the big leagues last season, finishing 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA.
Grimm will also make his case. After dominating in Double-A Frisco, the 24-year-old was called up last season and made two starts.
Ross is the most interesting candidate. He was a surprise inclusion to the roster in 2012 and pitched very well in his role as left-handed specialist (6-0 with a 2.22 ERA). However, the Rangers’ bullpen isn't what it was a year ago, so that’s probably where Ross best serves the team. This could change if he blows away the competition during spring training.
Texas also signed Kyle McClellan and Randy Wells, who are lower-profile players, but they could still make a run for the spot.
The Rangers’ roster has undergone a good amount of turnover, and nowhere is this more apparent than the bullpen. There are many bodies, but few defined roles.
Let's begin with long relief. Scott Feldman and Roy Oswalt pitched there in 2012, and both are no longer with the team.
When Neftali Feliz comes back from injury—a common theme on the pitching staff—this is a good spot for him, especially if the team still plans to keep him in the rotation going forward.
Throw in left-hander Michael Kirkman, who has experience in long relief, as well.
Kyle McClellan is also an option if he doesn’t make the rotation. Long relief makes sense to help keep him healthy given the 28-year-old’s recent shoulder problems.
Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara did a fine job commanding the seventh inning last season. Uehara is now in Boston and Ogando has shifted to the rotation, leaving this inning open for competition.
Joakim Soria has stated that he hopes to return in June. When this happens, Josh Lindblom and Tanner Scheppers will likely slide down one inning.
Until then, there are other players to consider.
Robbie Ross (should he not make the rotation), Micahel Kirkman and Jason Frasor could also see some time there.
Former All-Star Evan Meek, prospect Wilmer Font, Cory Burns and Randy Wells are all possibilities as well.
The Rangers rarely had to worry about protecting leads after the seventh inning when they acquired Mike Adams at the 2011 deadline. The former Ranger was one of the most effective relievers in baseball in his eighth-inning role.
He’s now in Philadelphia along with that sense of assurance.
Joakim Soria figures to fill those shoes when he returns from Tommy John surgery. The ex-Kansas City Royal was lights out when healthy, but he still must prove is the same pitcher he was before that serious arm injury.
Another candidate is Josh Lindblom, whom the team acquired in the Michael Young trade. If he cuts down on the home runs, the 25-year-old has the stuff (70 strikeouts in 71 innings last year) to be an effective late inning reliever.
Don’t overlook Tanner Scheppers, either. The righty finally made his big league debut in 2012, and was up and down in 39 appearances. He has the ability to blow hitters away, but he needs to work on his opponents batting average (.343).
The center field competition doesn’t have nearly as many faces as the pitching staff.
It’s Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry’s job.
Platooning both players—Gentry against lefties and Martin against righties—looks like team's plan heading into spring training, especially given Martin’s lack of experience.
However, Ron Washington is known to ride the hot hand. Whoever tears the cover off the ball early on could find himself starting every day.
After all, Martin and Gentry are competitors, and neither should be satisfied with part-time roles.
Despite his down season last year, Michael Young was still a big asset—a veteran who could play all four infield positions on any given day. With his departure, the Rangers don't have that luxury anymore.
What they do have is Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, who are more than capable of providing solid depth on the bench. Both can play multiple positions and fill the utility role as well.
The problem is that the front office seems uncomfortable with its top two prospects wasting away on the bench instead of receiving valuable at-bats. It's hard to blame it for that, but the front office will have to find room for these players sooner or later.
If Olt and Profar begin the season in the minors, the Rangers' other options include Brandon Snyder, Leury Garcia, Jeff Baker, Geovany Soto and Craig Gentry/Leonys Martin.
Opening Day Starter
Surprisingly enough, the Rangers do have one competition this spring that isn’t shrouded in doubt or uncertainty: Who will take the hill March 31 against Houston?
It’s a two-horse race between Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison, and it's a good problem to have because both deserve the nod.
Darvish started the wild-card game and finished the season with 221 strikeouts—a team record for a rookie. The expectations for him are very high this season.
Harrison emerged as Mr. Reliable for the Rangers last year, leading the team in wins, innings and ERA. While he’s not flashy, the 27-year-old is consistent and gets the job done. Ron Washington doesn't ask for much more than that.
Of all the questions on the Rangers' plate, picking the Opening Day starter must be a welcome relief.