C.J. Wilson has been named the opening-day starter, Brandon Webb is being set back and Neftali Feliz is getting his crack at the rotation. In the first week of spring training, there's already been a lot of movement among the starting rotation candidates. Its time for a look at what the Rangers themselves will be looking at in regards to starting pitching options in Surprise, Arizona.
C.J. Wilson at Texas Motor Speedway
C.J. Wilson has recently been named the opening day starter for April 1against the Boston Red Sox in the Ballpark in Arlington. So this makes C.J. the de-facto ace of the Rangers going into his contract year. If he puts up similar numbers he will be in line for a very large payday through free agency from the Rangers or elsewhere. There has also been some talk of an extension so its possible that could be worked out during spring training before the season starts.
Colby Lewis was the only other possible candidate for the privilege to start opening day. He had a very dominant post-season and crossed the 30 start and 200 innings plateau, none of which the Rangers expected for him to produce at the beginning of last season. This season Colby is penciled in as the number two starter and the Rangers are expecting similar lines from last season. If C.J. and Colby can reproduce their 2010 campaigns the Rangers will be fine, and if not they have a rather large group of young talented starters who may be capable of filling their void.
Tommy Hunter has left a sour taste in Rangers fans mouth for only getting through 11.1 innings of work in three post-season starts. This is a shame because he took a step forward in the regular season posting a 3.73 ERA over 23 starts and winning in 13 of them. He struggled in the post-season because he doesn’t have an out-pitch to get hitters out with. The rest of the league may have figured Tommy Hunter out, but if he can add another pitch to his arsenal in spring training he should continue to be a solid middle of the rotation starter.
Brandon Webb was added this off-season to provide a veteran presence in the rotation and he is coming off a two-year layoff due to injuries. He may not be ready for opening day because he’s not ready to throw off a mound yet. The Rangers have been very cautiously optimistic about the potential of adding Webb to the rotation. The Rangers don’t really want to rely on him heavily because of his injury history. Webb when healthy though is one of the best starting pitchers in the game, keyword: healthy.
Rangers defeat Yankees in ALCS
Neftali Feliz, reigning AL rookie of the year, is trying to transition from top-flight closer to front-line starting pitcher. He will have to perform at a high level to receive the ball every fifth day, because he’s already very valuable to the Rangers as a closer. So he’ll have to prove he’s even more valuable for 200 innings as a starter rather than 70 inning or so as a closer. If he pitches seven innings at the same level he did the ninth inning, he might be in line for more awards.
Derek Holland, similar to Hunter has left Rangers fans with bad memories, failing to find the strike zone in the World Series. He’s shown glimmers of hope from the bullpen and rotation but has really had trouble with consistency. When he starts going well he’s ended up on the DL. So if he can stay off the DL and be consistent he’ll be able to reach his ceiling.
Michael Kirkman, the Pacific Coast League’s pitcher of the year last year for the Rangers in AAA. He dominated the hitters friendly league and earned a spot in the bullpen down the stretch last season. When the injuries and inconsistencies pile up in the bullpen and rotation this season Kirkman will get a look. He is expected to start the season in AAA once again unless he can leapfrog a few other candidates and earn a spot in the rotation in Spring Training.
Alexi Ogando is getting stretched out to be a starter this spring like Feliz is. Ogando also like Feliz starred in the back end of the bullpen last year and has been dominant at lower ranks as a starter. The Rangers are hoping one of them can translate their bullpen success into the rotation. If Feliz does make the rotation its unlikely Ogando will too as he will probably be called on to close games in 2011.
Eric Hurley was the Rangers first round draft pick in 2004 and former top pitching prospect. He has missed the past two seasons due to multiple arm injuries, however he was impressive recently in the Arizona Fall League. Many things would have to fall into place for Hurley to make the opening day rotation. He will more than likely have report to AAA Round Rock and prove his health to the Rangers front office before he gets another shot in the bigs.
Dave Bush with current Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux
Veteran insurance: Right-handers Dave Bush and Brett Tomko both have signed minor league deals and will provide veteran depth to a very inexperienced rotation. Only Brandon Webb has recorded multiple successful seasons as a starting pitcher and he has been out the past two seasons himself. So with the Rangers' 2011 rotation filled with question marks, it would not be a surprise to see either Tomko or Bush at some point in the bullpen or rotation during the 2011 season.