OF Engel Beltre.
For the finale of my Texas Rangers 2014 projection series, I'm taking a look at the team's expected bench for this coming season.
The Rangers' bench provides the club with respectable depth, featuring guys who bring different skill sets to the table. These players won't play much, but when they are in the lineup, they'll be able to contribute.
Just like having an elite bullpen, having four capable guys on the bench is critical to a championship team. Over the grueling grind of a 162-game season plus potentially the postseason, fresh bodies are needed. Texas' horses—Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo and more—can't be lagging in the final week of the season.
Like the other Ranger projections, this one is assuming that no other additions are made to the bench. Of course, that could change in the next couple of weeks.
Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported—h/t to MLB Trade Rumors—that the Rangers are interested in bringing back utility man Jeff Baker to the bench. Fraley says that the level of interest in Baker is unknown, but I'm assuming that this is a move that wouldn't be too difficult to get done if Texas really wanted him.
Anyway, here is how I see the Rangers' bench panning out in 2014.
Catcher JP Arencibia
70 games (as starting catcher), .238, 17 HR, 32 RBI, .284 OBP, .429 SLG, .713 OPS, 15 BB
Considering that he is the team's backup catcher, Arencibia will more than live up to his $1.8 million guaranteed contract in 2014. He can earn incentives that would push the deal to $2.1 million. Overall he was a great signing in terms of his power for the price.
Rangers Ballpark seems to be one of Arencibia's favorite venues to hit in. In 43 career at-bats in Arlington, he has seven homers, a double and 10 RBI. Say what you will of the small sample size. But Arencibia has hit a home run in 16.2 percent of his career at-bats in Arlington. No other ballpark in the majors is even close to his homer percentage in Arlington.
The former Tennessee Volunteer's power will play particularly well at Rangers Ballpark due to a relatively shallow left field as well as his tendency to pull. He's a proud employee of the strikeout factory, and around one-fourth of his hits will be homers. But remember, he's a backup. This would be an issue if he was the starter.
I've got Arencibia starting 70 games this season at catcher. That may seem a little high, but he is a very durable backstop. In the last three seasons, he's averaged 123 games played as the Toronto Blue Jays' primary catcher. The Rangers should take advantage of this and give Geovany Soto plenty of rest.
Arencibia does tend to get crossed up behind the plate sometimes, and he is a weak defensive catcher by league standards. So it'll be difficult to see him catching Yu Darvish especially, who doesn't hold runners well. Soto should get all of Darvish' starts for sure, but Arencibia should be fine with the rest of the rotation whenever he's behind the dish.
He and Soto will form a surprisingly effective catcher platoon in 2014. Expectations for this duo aren't too high to start with, and I expect they'll exceed them handily.
UTL Adam Rosales
23 games, .231, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .291 OBP, .387 SLG, .678 OPS, 13 BB, 3 SB
You definitely won't be seeing him shoot off the fireworks or drive in key runs too often. But Rosales provides an extra boost of energy that can invigorate the team and the fans. He's almost like an offensive version of Koji Uehara, who gave 110 percent in literally everything imaginable and almost immediately became a fan favorite.
Rosales isn't a dynamic player, but he has utility skills—a high baseball IQ, a strong, accurate arm, decent range and a smidgen of pop—that allow him to hold down all of the infield positions, except for first base, for a few games when needed.
The single best thing about him is that he accepts and even embraces his role as this utility player. He never complains or causes drama, and he is beloved by his team and fanbase for it.
Every team needs a few blue-collar guys. Rosales is that guy for Texas.
I can't wait to see him sprint full-speed around the bases when he hits a home run this year. It really is something to see.
OF Engel Beltre.
18 games, .248, 0 HR, 4 RBI, .276 OBP, .269 SLG, .545 OPS, 2 BB, 2 SB
Beltre's speed and ability to make contact give him a decent chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day bench. If Texas didn't have such a speedy and durable outfield, Beltre might get more opportunities, particularly as a pinch runner. But it isn't really sensible to take Leonys Martin or Alex Rios out of the game to put him in. Choo should never come out of the game.
So Beltre probably won't see much time in 2014. But he is still an exciting player who can use his legs to make a spark. He did a nice job filling in mid-season last year and was especially key in the late June series against the Cincinnati Reds in Arlington.
You can never have too much speed. Beltre's problem is that there are just much better players in the lineup with his same skill set and then some.
OF Michael Choice.
I would rather not see Choice on the Rangers' Opening Day roster. I believe he could use at least a part of 2014 continuing to develop in AAA. In 132 games with the Oakland A's AAA affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, Choice hit .302 with 14 homers and 89 RBI. The Ft. Worth, Texas, native also finished the year with 29 doubles and a .390 OBP.
He could do even better this year.
One could argue that he is major league-ready for a bench role. But why rush him? Why not let him tear it up again in AAA this year while Alex Rios finishes out his contact as a Ranger? In 2015, Choice should absolutely be ready to play right field every day for Texas.
Signing Jeff Baker would not only give the Rangers another proven power utility bat on the bench, but it would also make the front office feel a bit more comfortable about the bench depth. With that signing, sending Choice down to AAA to at least start the year shouldn't be a problem.
Still, until the Rangers sign Baker or another bench player, Choice is likely the leading candidate for the final bench spot. This could change, but for now I'll assume that Texas doesn't sign Baker and has Choice on the bench all season.
21 games, .272, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .310 OBP, .327 SLG, .637 OPS, 4 BB, 1 SB
Choice just wouldn't get much playing time with an everyday outfield of Choo, Martin and Rios. If anything, his progress would probably be slowed by sitting on the bench with Texas. He needs to get as much time in the field and as many at-bats as possible while he is not ready to be a starting player for the Rangers. He'll continue to improve, and him playing in AAA opens up a spot for Baker, a proven major league player.
Being on the bench 90 percent of the time, Choice doesn't give the Rangers the best chance to compete for a World Series this season.
2015 will be Choice's year. For now, he and the rest of Ranger nation need to be patient.