Spring Training is the beginning of what many think might be a "transitional year" for the Texas Rangers. While that theory is still debatable at this point, the roster does feature many new faces this year--especially young ones.
The regular season is less than three weeks away, so the Rangers are probably beginning to get a good feel for how their final roster will shape up.
With that in mind, here are the biggest surprises and disappointments during the spring.
Saying Nick Tepesch was a long shot to make the final roster at the start of spring training would’ve been an understatement. The 24-year-old pitcher was far down the list of candidates for the fifth starter.
With Opening Day less than three weeks away, Tepesch is not only still in the mix, but he also has to be considered at the forefront. He has a 2.25 ERA with eight strikeouts and just two walks in eight innings.
This is where it helps to have a deep farm system. Even if the Rangers don’t find a spot for him right away, there’s a good chance Tepesch will make an appearance this season if he keeps pitching this well.
This time last year, Robbie Ross was a 22 year old who never pitched above Double A and was fighting for a roster spot.
When the Rangers made him one of the last additions, he more than earned his keep the rest of the way, appearing in 58 games and finishing with a .232 OBA.
This year, Ross is trying to make another big leap—this time from the bullpen to the rotation. Despite the increased workload, he has responded well to the challenge in spring training. He leads the team in innings pitched and has a 3.86 ERA in four appearances.
Jeff Baker was signed to a minor league contract mostly to add some extra competition for the utility/pinch hitting role on the bench. He is a career .266 hitter and has played for four teams in eight seasons.
While he won’t start (barring some unforeseen injury), the 31-year-old infielder is doing everything in his power to earn a spot on the team.
Baker is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak and is batting .529 with 18 hits in 34 plate appearances this spring.
In over 400 major league at bats, Craig Gentry hit just one home run that actually cleared the fence. So far this spring, he's had two leave the yard in 27 at bats.
While this isn’t the second coming of Josh Hamilton, it’s good to see Gentry adding an extra element to his game. He is doing all the other things fans expect from him to—.333 BA and five stolen in five attempts.
It’s going to take a team effort to compensate for the power the Rangers lost in free agency. Don't expect too much of it from Gentry, but every little bit helps.
One of the reasons the Rangers are so comfortable with potentially putting Robbie Ross in the rotation is the performance of Michael Kirkman.
The 26-year-old lefty has enjoyed a terrific spring—six strikeouts, zero walks and no runs allowed.
His role is undefined right now, but for the first time since the Rangers drafted him almost eight years ago, Kirkman’s spot on the roster is secure.
Martin Perez has made frequent appearances on the Rangers’ top prospects list since he was a teenager. As a leading candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, it seemed like 2013 was finally his opportunity to break out.
This was postponed when a line drive struck his arm in early March, sidelining him for the next couple months.
The injury ended a promising start for Perez, who had retired nine of the 11 batters he faced in the spring.
Josh Lindblom was the big piece the Rangers received in the Michael Young trade with the Phillies. The 25-year-old righty was expected to play an integral role in their bullpen that lost two of its top arms.
Perhaps he’s shaking off some cobwebs, but it’s been a very slow start to the spring for Lindblom. Opponents are hitting .370 against him and he’s given up two home runs, which was a concern when he came in.
Those final outs in the later innings are tough. The Rangers need Lindblom to pick things up.
Justin Grimm’s stock rose quickly last season. He was called up from Double A and made two starts for the Rangers.
The 24-year-old came into the spring with a very real chance at making the rotation. Unfortunately, he’s never found his groove. Grimm has given up 10 runs in seven innings and opponents are hitting .389 off him.
With other candidates performing much better, the chances he earns the fifth spot are slim to none. It’s disappointing considering how high the hopes were. Maybe some extra time in the minors will help turn things around.
Ian Kinsler is an eight-year veteran who deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a sluggish start.
However, it was fair to expect a better spring considering how he finished last year and all that occurred in the offseason. So far he is batting .167 with a .270 OBP and one stolen base.
The Rangers’ longest tenured player is healthy and rested. As the leadoff hitter, Kinsler sets the table for the rest of the lineup. It’s important for him to have a strong season.
Ever since Nolan Ryan helped rescue them from bankruptcy in 2010, it seemed like the Rangers had one of the most stable organizational structures in baseball.
However, Ryan recently saw his responsibilities reduced after a power shift at the top, making that structure less clear. Apparently uncomfortable with his new role, rumors swirled (via the Ft. Worth Star Telegram) that Ryan was preparing to leave. Ranger fans collectively held their breath.
Would Ryan really leave an organization with a growing payroll, a loaded farm system and fresh off three-straight 90 plus win seasons?
Thankfully, it appears he is staying put. For now anyway. Ryan released a statement expressing optimism for the coming season. That's where the focus should be, but it's still disappointing to think the iconic figure may have one foot out the door.