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Texas Rangers Players Under the Most Pressure to Perform in the 2014 MLB Season

Jeffrey KahnCorrespondent IIJanuary 6, 2014

Texas Rangers Players Under the Most Pressure to Perform in the 2014 MLB Season

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With a new year underway and many new faces set to join prospective big league clubhouses, what Texas Rangers players will be under the most pressure to perform in the 2014 MLB season?

    Last year the Rangers felt an added pressure with the losses of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli. Former Rangers left fielder and current Cleveland Indians outfielder David Murphy spoke about the pressure, per the Associated Press in a November 2013 article in The Dallas Morning News:

    I saw that we lost Josh, that we lost Michael Young, that we lost Mike Napoli. I put a little bit more pressure on myself to step into a bigger role and play a bigger part in the offense. I tried to re-create my own identity instead of being the same guy I’d always been in the past.

    Going forward, general manager Jon Daniels appears to be eliminating the pressure created by the loss of star players by adding other stars in Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Murphy is with a new team now, but others who played with Hamilton, Young and Napoli will be featured with the Rangers in 2014.

    That includes Adrian Beltre. The Rangers' third baseman has played with and without the trio and saw his numbers drop just a little in 2013. Beltre's RBI from 2012 to 2013 went from 102 to 92, but many other statistics were near the same despite a nagging hamstring injury. It's safe to say that Beltre doesn't feel pressure.

    However, the man who could potentially hit in front of Beltre, Fielder, might be feeling some heat if he doesn't perform under the Texas sun. He was a huge acquisition for the team, per B/R's Zachary Krueger, and Fielder is potentially the bat that the Rangers lacked before missing the playoffs in 2013.

    Let's take a look at the list of Rangers who will be under the most pressure to perform in the 2014 MLB season.

Jurickson Profar

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    The former No. 1 prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com is now looking at getting full playing time as a second baseman. Jurickson Profar made it easier for the the club to part with long-time Rangers infielder Ian Kinsler, per Cliff Corcoran of SI.com in his November 2013 article:

    It was Profar’s presence as the heir apparent in the Rangers’ infield that made Kinsler expendable, and it is Profar’s potential, as much as Fielder’s, that convinced Texas to increase its financial commitments by $76 million in making the trade.

    Profar's going to be 21 years of age entering his third major league season. That's incredible. However, when looking around the league, a couple other players are that young, but performing at a higher level.

    Bryce Harper hit for a .274 average in his second season with the Washington Nationals as a 20-year-old. Mike Trout hit for a .326 batting average in his second year with the Los Angeles Angels, playing the majority of the season as a 20-year-old. 

    Profar is just a career .231 hitter, but he hasn't had as much playing time as the other mentioned phenoms have had. Profar has only played in 94 games, while Harper and Trout played in 139 games each in their rookie campaigns. Surely making the Opening Day lineup as the starting second baseman will give Profar the confidence to perform to the caliber displayed by both Harper and Trout.

    The added pressure will be there for Profar in terms of replacing Ian Kinsler, but he won't be featured in the the lineup. Choo, Elvis Andrus, Fielder, Beltre and Alex Rios should all be carrying the load for the offense while Profar will just need to hit above his career average and continue to grow as the athletic, natural infielder that he is.

Neftali Feliz

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    With closer Joe Nathan signed away by the Detroit Tigers, Neftali Feliz is poised to take over his former position in the bullpen.

    Per T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com in a December 2013 article, Feliz says the closer role is very important to him. "I have been a closer already. Nobody will take it away from me. I want to go back to a World Series and win it. I think this is our year to do it."

    Feliz made the switch from closer to starting pitcher for eight games in 2012 before suffering an elbow injury that knocked him out the remainder of the season. He made a return in 2013 with six September appearances. In 2014, Feliz should fight off mild competition for the closer position in which he was selected as an All-Star in 2010. Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News notes Feliz's competition in a January article:

    With Joe Nathan gone and the closer’s role up for grabs, Feliz seems as good a candidate as any to reclaim the job from a crowded field that includes Joakim Soria, Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers. Soria is also slowly recovering from past Tommy John surgery and Ogando and Scheppers are better suited for outings of more than one inning than is Feliz.

    Feliz's pressure comes from whether or not he can regain form and make Rangers fans forget all about All-Star closer Nathan. Nathan saved 80 games in two years with the Rangers, blowing only six saves and setting the franchise record for consecutive saves in 2012, per Grant. Feliz is very capable of what Nathan did as he recorded 72 saves himself in two years as the primary closer.

    But, Feliz will have to start all over again.

Prince Fielder

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    Prince Fielder has established himself as one of the premier hitters in MLB. He's been to five All-Star games, won three Silver Slugger awards, was the 2007 National League home run leader and has won the Home Run Derby twice.

    But Fielder is coming off a 2013 season in which he hit his fewest amount of home runs with 25. Detroit's Comerica Ballpark is deep, but he did hit 30 home runs in 2012. What's more troublesome for the highly acclaimed first baseman is that he didn't a single home run for the Tigers in the 2013 MLB postseason while posting a .225 batting average through 11 playoff games.

    Last year wasn't even his worst postseason in the American League. In 2012, Fielder hit for a .173 batting average with one home run. He also had no doubles and three RBI in 52 playoff at-bats. This isn't something the Rangers want to see out of their star acquisition.

    Fielder isn't that strong of a defensive first baseman, either, and Mitch Moreland might give him a run for his money. Offensively, Fielder is projected to hit third and in front of Beltre via RotoChamp, a type of fantasy baseball draft management software. This would relieve the pressure for Fielder since he'll be protected by Beltre. 

    However, Fielder is a career .252 batter out of the No. 3 spot. In 2013 he did go 4-for-11, but that's a small fraction compared to his overall 148-for-587 out of the No. 3 slot. 

    Manager Ron Washington could move Fielder to the cleanup spot if he doesn't perform. Regardless, Fielder is the missing bat that might have helped the Rangers make the playoffs in 2013. Most of the pressure will be on him as a blockbuster trade piece to help push the team into the playoffs in 2014.

     

    *All stats courtesy of MLB.com

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