Texas Rangers Complete 2014 Season Preview

Trey WarrenContributor IIIMarch 26, 2014

Texas Rangers Complete 2014 Season Preview

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Spring training is drawing to a close, and the Texas Rangers are just days away from their 2014 Opening Day matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The club will be looking to make a run back to the playoffs, something that evaded it last season. General manager Jon Daniels went to work shortly after the season ended in an attempt to get Texas back to playing in October.

    We have a full 2014 season preview right here. We are going to look at everything from the lineup to the bullpen to the predicted outcome of the season. We will also have the club’s keys for success, as well as potential breakout players.

    Here is how manager Ron Washington plans to take his team back to the playoffs.

     

    *All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com.

Spring Training Recap

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Rangers are on their way to another last-place finish in the Cactus League.

    Obviously, that doesn’t mean anything considering the team hasn’t finished spring training above .500 since 2009 and has managed to make the playoffs three times since then. How some of the players have performed during their time in Arizona is something to look at, though.

    The best performance of the spring has to go to Michael Choice, who is heading into his first year with Texas. In 24 games, he is hitting .367 with four homers, four doubles and 15 RBI. He has easily been the club’s most consistent hitter.

    On the flip side, Shin-Soo Choo has had the worst spring. He is hitting just .173 in 52 at-bats and has struck out 12 times. But nobody will remember that as long as he lives up the $130 million the Rangers paid to acquire him.

    Although the record isn’t important, this spring is still one the team would like to forget. Many players have sat out for a large portion of the exhibition month, and some will end up missing some of the regular season. Just this week, two of this season’s starters were informed they will miss multiple months with injuries.

    You can view a full injury report on the next slide.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The team will be without its primary catcher, Geovany Soto, for 10 to 12 weeks once he has his scheduled surgery on his left knee, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.

    Soto will go under the knife to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. He suffered the injury March 23 when his leg locked up behind the plate. Soto was absent for the first half of camp for a surgery that removed a bone in his left foot. He could be back as early as June.

    Jurickson Profar, who was off to a hot start during the spring, is also expected to miss 10-12 weeks, per Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The 21-year-old has a torn muscle in his right shoulder, but there are no updates on surgery. Profar was expected to be the starting second baseman but is most likely out until the All-Star break.

    According to assistant general manager Thad Levine, as long as Elvis Andrus progresses through his throwing program without any problems, he will start on Opening Day, per Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. The shortstop has been dealing with soreness in his elbow.

    Yu Darvish has been scratched as the Opening Day starter for the Rangers. He has been dealing with a stiff neck for the last half of spring training and will be seeing a specialist in Dallas for more tests, per Grant.

    Matt Harrison is experiencing lower back stiffness and will start the season on the disabled list. He is looking to make his first regular-season start since last April before multiple back surgeries kept him out for most of 2013. Harrison did throw 57 pitches in a minor league game on March 23.

    Reliever Joseph Ortiz fractured his left foot back in January and has been on the 60-day DL since Feb. 14. It is unclear when Ortiz will be able to make his return.

    Derek Holland was placed on the 60-day DL March 3 after having knee surgery. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on March 20 that Holland could have his first bullpen session April 2.

    Outfielder Engel Beltre suffered a fractured tibia, and Grant reports he will start the season on the DL. Beltre was considered a favorite for a bench spot on the 25-man roster.

Lineup Preview

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Here is the projected lineup with each player's statistics from last season.

     AVGHRRRBIOBP
    1. S. Choo, LF (w/CIN).2852110754.423
    2. E. Andrus, SS.27149167  .328
    3. P. Fielder, 1B (w/DET).2792582106.362
    4. A. Beltre, 3B.3153088 92 .371
    5. A. Rios, RF (w/CHW,TEX).278188381.324
    6. M. Moreland, DH.23223 60 60.299
    7. J.P. Arencibia, C (w/TOR).194214555.227
    8. J. Wilson, 2B (w/ARI).200194.262
    9. L. Martin, CF.26066 49.313

     

    The lineup will obviously be altered after the news that Soto and Profar will miss significant time.

    Shin-Soo Choo is one of the best leadoff men in baseball, posting a career .288 batting average and .389 OBP. He has hit at least 31 doubles, 20 homers and stolen at least 20 bags in four of the past five seasons.

    Elvis Andrus has been in the two hole for the majority of his career. His best hitting is normally seen in the second half of the season, but he still has a career .271 average in the first half.

    Prince Fielder hit from the third spot in only four games in two years with the Detroit Tigers. Those two years also consisted of some of the lowest production in his career. Luckily, he has the benefit of Adrian Beltre hitting cleanup behind him. Beltre has a career .299 average and an OPS of .871 from the fourth spot in the order.

    Alex Rios was a good late-season acquisition for Texas last season and gets his first full season with the club this year. In 47 games with the Rangers, Rios hit six homers and stole 18 bags.

    The DH spot seems destined for a platoon between Mitch Moreland and Michael Choice. Moreland had a career high in home runs (23) last season but hit just .232. Choice has been hot this spring and will be the fourth outfielder for the team.

    J.P. Arencibia should take over for Soto as the primary catcher, though Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News reports that Washington has not yet decided between him and Robinson ChirinosArencibia has caught at least 95 games in the past three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and has good pop in his bat. The 28-year-old has a dismal .212 career average but hit at least 18 homers each season in Toronto.

    Josh Wilson is another replacement in the lineup. He should take over at second base. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan claims Wilson is the best defensive player of the remaining second basemen. He also has a slightly better career batting average (.225) than Adam Rosales (.219), but both are expected to be utility men for the club.

    Rounding out the batting order is Leonys Martin, who struggled in his first full season in 2013. But Martin has one of the best outfield arms in the big leagues and is one of quickest players on the base paths. Calming down at the plate should improve his 2013 totals in stolen bases (36) and runs (66).

     

    The Bench

     AVGHRRRBIOBP
    R. Chirinos, C (Triple-A).25783540.356
    A. Rosales, UTIL (w/ OAK,TEX).19052812.259
    M. Choice, OF (Triple-A).302149089.390
    K. Kouzmanoff, 3B, 1B (Triple-A).29462042.344

    The rest of the position players will consist of Chirinos, Adam Rosales, Michael Choice and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

    Chirinos will be the backup catcher if Arencibia wins the starting job. He has had a very good spring this year, hitting .444 with a homer and six RBI in 15 games. He hit .254 and eight homers with Triple-A Round Rock in 74 games last season.

    Rosales is a career journeyman and is on the roster strictly as a utility infielder. He hit just .190 in 68 games while playing for both the Oakland A's and Rangers.

    As mentioned in the spring training slide, Michael Choice has had the best spring of any Ranger this year. He was acquired from Oakland for Craig Gentry because of his power capabilities, which he has demonstrated with four home runs so far this spring.

    Kouzmanoff is looking to get back on a big league roster after playing minor league ball the past two seasons in the Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins organizations. He has a career .255 average and hit at least 30 doubles and 16 home runs from 2007 to 2010. He has played the majority of his career at third base but has also split time at first base this spring.

Rotation Preview

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
     W-LIPERAWHIPK/9
    1. M. Perez10-6124.13.621.3356.1
    2. T. Scheppers6-276.21.881.0706.9
    3. R. Ross4-262.13.031.3168.4
    4. J. Saunders (w/ SEA)11-16183.05.261.6015.3
    5. TBD     

    The injury bug has been claiming Rangers pitchers since last April. Ron Washington had 11 different pitchers start at least two games last season, and only three pitched 20 or more.

    This year, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland will start the season on the DL. And as you learned in the injury report, Darvish will not be starting on Opening Day. He will take tests backs in Dallas to determine the issue with his neck and could end up on the 15-day DL.

    At just 22 years old, Martin Perez could be the Opening Day starter, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Perez was solid in his first extended season in the big leagues, going 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts. He will need to show improvement on his command, though, after allowing 9.3 hits per nine innings last season.

    Tanner Scheppers was great in the setup role last season for Texas but won a spot in the rotation this spring. He appeared in 76 games, earning 27 holds and a 1.88 ERA. Scheppers hasn’t started a game since 2011 when pitching at Triple-A Round Rock.

    Robbie Ross has been pretty solid so far this spring and could earn the job. Ross started all but one of his 69 games in the minors. He was 26-20 with a 2.88 ERA and struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. Right now, he will be pitching the final game against the Phillies April 2.

    Joe Saunders has never been at his best when pitching in Arlington, posting a career 1-7 record and 8.58 ERA. His only win at Globe Life Park came in a one-game Wild Card in 2012. He was signed midway through spring and has struggled so far. He has a lifetime 89-81 record and a 4.30 ERA in 221 starts.

    The final rotation spot is still up in the air because of the club’s early schedule. Sullivan points out that the No. 5 spot won’t be needed until April 8 since the team has an off day April 3. Tommy Hanson will most likely be sent to the minor leagues due to spring struggles and to save the team some money.

    As long as everything checks out find with Darvish, he could fill in after the first week of the season. 

    Darvish struck out an MLB-best 277 batters last season and finished the season 13-9. He improved his ERA from 3.90 in 2012 to 2.89 last season, finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting. Darvish will need to improve in the home run department after giving up 26 last season, the eighth-most in the American League.

    Everything is still up in the air, and decisions probably won't be made until a day or two before Opening Day.

Bullpen Preview

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    Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
      GIP  ERAWHIP  K/9
    J. Soria, CL2623.23.801.352 10.6 
    N. Cotts, LHP5857.01.110.94710.3
    A. Ogando, RHP23 104.1 3.11 1.2276.2 
     A. Poreda, LHP (w/PIT AA)316.0 2.25 1.438 6.2
    S. Tolleson, RHP (w/ LAD)10N/AN/AN/A
    J. Frasor, RHP6149.02.571.1438.8 
    M. Kirkman, LHP25 22.0 8.18 2.318 10.2 

    Joakim Soria was named the Rangers’ closer March 22, earning the job this spring by throwing eight innings and giving up just one run, five hits and no walks. Soria earned a 160 saves in 180 opportunities in five years with the Royals.

    The team is hoping Neal Cotts will have an encore performance of the one he had in 2013. He will be placed in the setup role a year after posting a WHIP of 0.947 and giving up just seven earned runs in 57 innings.

    Alexi Ogando will be back in the bullpen this year as a setup man and middle reliever. He was plagued with nagging injuries last season that forced multiple trips to the DL. Ogando has 19 holds in 101 career relief appearances.

    Jason Frasor earned another one-year deal with Texas after his performance last year. He posted a 2.57 ERA in 61 appearances and struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings.

    With Scheppers heading to the rotation and Ross possibly doing the same, the Rangers will be moving plenty of guys around. Shawn Tolleson will be back on a major league roster after lower back surgery forced him to miss much of 2013. He was 3-1 with 39 strikeouts in 37.2 innings in 2012.

    Michael Kirkman is out of options and will be given one final chance to prove his worth. He has appeared in 82 games for the Rangers since 2010 but has a career 5.17 ERA and gave up a career-high 14.7 hits per nine innings last season.

    Aaron Poreda's hot spring could earn him a spot on a major league roster for the first time since 2009. Although, it probably will only last until those on the DL become healthy.

Prospects to Watch

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    The organization, it seems, is reluctant to bring up Luke Jackson, and Jon Daniels has already said Rougned Odor will not be in the mix at second base, per Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. However, they are two players we should see in September when rosters expand to 40 players.

    Jackson’s performance in Frisco will determine whether he continues to start or become a reliever. He was dominant in High-A and Double-A last season, posting a 2.04 ERA and striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings.

    If the injuries continue to claim the arms of the club’s staff, Jackson could come up before September.

    Odor will get more action in Frisco as well but could be called upon for hitting if the club is in a playoff race. He also performed well between Myrtle Beach and Frisco last season and hit .294 in 10 games this spring. He is ranked in Keith Law’s top 100 (subscription required) prospects.

    Obviously, Michael Choice is one to watch, as he will be on the 25-man roster. He should have a role similar to the one Profar filled last season but with added reps at the plate.

Breakout Candidates

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    There are a few players who could possibly have breakout campaigns this year.

    If his success this spring is any indication, Choice will be one of them. The 24-year-old should be given plenty of opportunities as the designated hitter and in the outfield, especially since Beltre will miss time with his fractured leg.

    Scheppers is also poised for a breakout year in the starting rotation. He has presented a strong case this spring. Although it could take him a few starts to continue building durability, he has the stuff to be an effective starter.

    Scheppers made the most appearances last season of any Rangers reliever and was arguably the most successful. Moving from the pen to the rotation has its growing pains but it doesn't seem to have slowed the young fireballer so far.

Keys to Success

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    Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

    The Rangers’ main key to success is health, which has already taken its toll on the club.

    However, all isn’t lost. Many players listed on the injury report should be able to play in as little as a month. The key now is making sure that the remaining staff and offense are able to stay on the field.

    Another key for the Rangers this season is consistency from the offense. Although the club scored the eighth-most runs last season in all of baseball, it sputtered often throughout the season. And with many unknowns in the starting rotation, the offense will be expected to score early and often.

    The rotation will force the bullpen to continue its success from last season. The Rangers were tied with the Diamondbacks for the most wins by relief pitchers, something that was a key in the club being one game away from a fourth straight playoff appearance.

    Most importantly, the team must continue to have fun. Everyone has seen Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre mess around on the diamond and Ron Washington dance in the dugout as his players round third and head for home. That sort of thing is contagious and is part of the formula for a winning team.

Previewing Opening Series vs. Phillies

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Game One: Phillies 5, Rangers 4

    The Rangers will match up against the Phillies for the first three games of the season at home. The team will face off against former Ranger Cliff Lee in the first game. Lee is 7-3 lifetime against Texas but has a 4.91 ERA in 11 starts. His ERA is even higher (5.07) in 14 starts at Globe Life Park, one of his worst at any park he has pitched at.

    Fielder is 6-for-8 against Lee in his career, but he is the only Ranger with that kind of success.

    And although Lee has struggled in Arlington, he goes seven innings and shuts down the Ranger offense in this game.

    The Rangers lose their second consecutive Opening Day. Ian Kinsler’s hopes of the team going 0-162 are still intact after Opening Day.

     

    Game Two: Rangers 7, Phillies 3

    The second game will see A.J. Burnett face off against Scheppers.

    Like Lee, Burnett sports a winning record in Arlington but has gotten knocked around. Last year, he gave up five runs on six hits in 6.1 innings but still won the decision.

    He is effective getting Texas hitters out via strikeouts, posting a strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine innings.

    With the exception of Choo, many Texas hitters have had success against Burnett. Prince Fielder has two homers and a .286 average against him in 14 at-bats, and Beltre has a .294 average with one home run and six doubles in 34 at-bats. Rios is .278 lifetime against the righty.

    Scheppers will struggle in his first big league start but keep runs to a minimum. The Rangers open up the season 1-1.

     

    Game Three: Rangers 5, Phillies 1

    The final game will feature Kyle Kendrick against Robbie Ross.

    Unlike Lee and Burnett, Kendrick has never faced the Rangers. However, Beltre, Fielder and Choo are a combined 7-for-17 off Kendrick, and two other hitters have at-bats against him. Each starting pitcher will be new to his opponent in the third game.

    Robbie Ross will have a stellar debut, striking out eight over seven full innings, and the Phillies’ strikeout struggles will carry over from spring training. The club will begin the year 2-1.

2014 Season Outlook

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    It looks like the season will start slow for the Rangers as they wait out the injuries of key players.

    Injuries can be overcome, though. Baseball fans were witness to it last year, as the Rangers found ways to win 91 games. Their main feat will be to avoid the cold spells that led to 72 defeats.

    Minus the depleted pitching staff, it is hard not to get excited about this team. Offensively, it could go toe-to-toe with any lineup in the game at any park. It is full of power, speed and run production. As previously mentioned, it is going to be the key to the Rangers' trek back to the playoffs.

    If Texas is unable to get it done at the dish, it could be a very long year. Stability in the rotation suffered last season and the bullpen held it together. Two of those relievers are now in the rotation for at least some time.

    The Rangers can win the division, but with so many players out to start the season, it will take an equally slow start by the A’s and Los Angeles Angels for Texas to stick around. But when the Rangers are healthy, they could be a threat for the division crown and the American League pennant.

     

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