Texas Rangers' Remaining Roster Spot Battles: Who's In and Who's Out?
At this late date in spring training, the majority of teams across Major League Baseball have made most of their critical personnel decisions regarding who will be coming north with them once camps break and the regular season commences.
There are however, still important decisions to be made in Rangers camp, as the days dwindle and Opening Day rapidly approaches.
With a solid core of dynamic young players either right in the middle of, or approaching their prime baseball years, Texas stands well-prepared to enter the 2011 season in an effort to defend their American League Championship that they earned last year.
Ron Washington and his coaching staff now have little over a week to decide which players have impressed enough to stay with the big league club, and who needs to head to AAA to wait further for their opportunity.
Let's see who is likely sticking with the Rangers as spring comes to a close, and who might find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Obvious Outfielders: In
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They may not line up in the outfield together very often, with the Rangers' stated desire to preserve the injury-prone Hamilton by playing him regularly in left rather than center field, but this trio of well-rounded outfielders will figure prominently in the 2011 plans.
Both Cruz and Hamilton have thus far found it difficult to avoid the dreaded injury bug that has plagued the first few years of their careers. They are both five-tool players, possessing potent offensive talents along with base-running ability, strong defense, and each owning a cannon for an arm.
Murphy, best suited as a platoon-type outfielder, considering his career OPS of .842 versus right-handed pitchers, as opposed to his .690 OPS against lefties, will still find his name in Ron Washington's lineup on a very regular basis. On a predominantly right-handed roster, Murphy offers one of the few left-handed bats capable of doing damage on this Ranger team.
He can play either corner outfield spot adeptly, allowing Washington to rest or DH either Hamilton or Cruz in an effort to keep them healthy over the long haul of the season. The need may arise for Hamilton to slot into center occasionally as well, depending upon the progression of Julio Borbon in his battle against defensive difficulties.
Julio Borbon CF: In
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Despite his well-chronicled battles with catching fly balls this spring, Julio Borbon will still likely figure into the Rangers' plans heading into 2011.
With five errors in center field over the course of spring training, Borbon has stirred much trepidation amongst the Texas decision makers, wondering if he has what it takes to man the most crucial spot in any team's outfield.
He certainly has the speed and range to cover the vast expanses of territory from gap-to-gap in the Ballpark in Arlington, but once you get to the ball, there is still the minor detail of catching it that must be accomplished to be viable center fielder.
Whether he can overcome his defensive demons is still a significant question, but his unique talents still make it highly likely that the Rangers will need him in 2011. His blazing speed offers the Rangers another option in their multi-faceted offensive attack, providing Texas with another manner in which to attack opposing pitching staffs.
Borbon displayed a dynamic, well-rounded game in 2009, posting a .790 OPS, while stealing 19 bases in limited playing time. His play suffered a drop-off in 2010, as he became impatient at the plate, and didn't find himself on base enough to utilize his base-stealing talents.
The Rangers will certainly look for a return to his 2009 form, and will continually work with Borbon to overcome his defensive lapses that have appeared far too often, especially this spring.
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Returning infield regulars Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus will welcome late-season call-up Mitch Moreland and newcomer Adrian Beltre into the fold this season.
As we all know by now, longtime Ranger Young will shift positions yet again to accommodate slugging defensive whiz Beltre at third base.
Moreland, after a solid late-season debut, was a major bright spot for the Rangers in October. He hit his way into contention for a spot with a great playoff performance, and now a brilliant spring has propelled him front and center in the Texas infield plans.
Kinsler will look to improve upon another season in which injuries detracted from his overall performance. He is primed to assume the Ranger lead-off duties with Borbon and Elvis Andrus leaving room to improve that position with their wavering on-base abilities.
Andrus emerged as an All-Star in 2010, utilizing his speed, athleticism and defensive range to become one of the more dynamic shortstops in the American League. He will likely be a fixture at short for the Rangers for the next decade if all goes according to plan for the exciting, young infielder.
Adrian Beltre enters the fray at third for Texas, bringing his potent, if not always consistent bat and wizardry with the glove to Arlington. The Rangers will be hoping he can repeat his productivity from last season in Boston in the heat of Texas. They have no doubts that his glove will be greatly appreciated by the Ranger pitching staff.
Michael Young stands to play all four infield positions occasionally, as well as serve as the team's primary designated hitter. He has since backed off his earlier trade demands and seems willing to try his new role with the only Major League team he has ever known.
The 2011 Rangers infield stands as one of the bright spots for a franchise hoping to return to the World Series after falling just short of their intended target in 2010.
Chris Davis: Out
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Despite his monster spring and tremendous power potential, it's difficult to see where Chris Davis fits with the 2011 Texas Rangers.
Davis boasts impressive power, and a solid glove at first and third base. The issue though, is that each of those positions is already crowded with proven Major League talent.
Adrian Beltre has third locked up for the next several seasons, and the Rangers are committed to Mitch Moreland as their regular first baseman. Then there is Michael Young, last year's third baseman, vying for time at both positions, as well as backing up second and short.
Mike Napoli also figures into the mix at first, as he mashes against left-handed pitching, and may present the perfect platoon partner for Moreland if the need arises throughout the season.
While Davis has done nothing but hit this spring, hitting .410, with a team-leading 15 RBI, the Rangers are also well aware that he has struck out well over once in every four plate appearances, making him an all-or-nothing slugger that teams sometimes have trouble figuring out what to do with.
It has been reported that Davis has requested to be traded, but the Rangers aren't pressured to do so immediately, as he still has an option remaining, so they can send him to Round Rock while they take their time making a decision regarding his future with the team.
Andres Blanco: In
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No, Andres Blanco isn't going to hit a lot, but that's not what the Rangers need. They already possess a roster loaded with potent bats capable of bludgeoning opposing pitching staffs.
What Blanco offers is infield versatility, and the ability to play any infield position well.
You may say that Michael Young provides that same exact skill set, but if Young is set to serve as the team's primary designated hitter, then the Rangers will still need an extra infielder on the roster.
If Young is serving at the team's DH on any particular day, if an infield injury arises, it will not be preferable to take him out of that role to move into the infield, therefore sacrificing the designated hitter spot in the lineup.
Since Blanco can play second, short and third, he is exactly what the 2011 Rangers need in a bench player.
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Though the Rangers missed out the Cliff Lee sweepstakes once he decided to return to Philadelphia, the team still possesses a stable of capable young arms that propelled them to first place in the AL West even before Lee arrived.
C.J. Wilson, fresh from his successful transition into a top of the rotation starter, will assume the lead role in the Rangers' starting staff.
Colby Lewis, returning to Major League Baseball after a detour in Japan, greatly exceeded expectations in 2010, and was a hero for the Rangers in their bid to reach baseball's pinnacle. He will be leaned on heavily to duplicate his success from last season in a role of greater responsibility for 2011.
Tommy Hunter, though he has had an ugly spring, will likely be in the third spot in the rotation. His 13-4 record and 3.73 ERA from 2010 simply cannot be ignored. He pitches to a lot of contact, which can be dangerous in a hitter's park, but with a stellar defense behind him, Hunter could once again excel in the Texas rotation.
Many assumed that Cliff Lee was the driving force behind much of the Rangers' success last year. While that may have been true during the first two rounds of the postseason, Texas was already 4.5 games up in the West by the time Lee arrived. Much of the pitching success had to do with the guys that were already in Texas at the time, and remain in Arlington now.
Derek Holland: In
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In his bid to win a spot in the 2011 Ranger rotation, Derek Holland has thus far pitched like an ace. His four spring training starts have tantalized Texas brass, allowing them to dream big for the 24-year-old left-hander.
During his four years as a Texas minor leaguer, he has pitched brilliantly at every level, progressing steadily through the system.
Holland served as a spot starter for the 2010 Rangers, making 10 starts in 14 appearances with the big league club.
His efforts to join the big league rotation will likely be rewarded, as he displayed great poise and command over his four starts so far in the spring. Though spring stats cannot be relied upon too heavily, his ERA in the low threes and his three walks in 14 innings have certainly attracted the attention of his coaching staff.
Matt Harrison: In
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I'm not completely sold on Matt Harrison's stuff, but as of now, barring a complete restructuring of the pitching staff, I would expect him to make the back end of the rotation.
If the Rangers decide late to insert Neftali Feliz into the starting staff, then Harrison could find himself a long reliever, or a starter in AAA.
However, with no apparent replacement ready to assume the closing role, Felix appears slated for the end of games once again. Of course, that could all change, if the Rangers find a way to move for a veteran closer, they could slot Feliz into the rotation, hoping to make him into the top of the rotation ace that they envision him as.
For now though, the odds of such a deal appear slim, so Harrison probably has the inside track on the number five starting spot, even if by default.
Before his last outing, he had a stellar spring, but he ran into a rough patch last time out, getting knocked around. His .191 opponents' batting average, and 1.15 WHIP during the spring have offered glimpses of the talent the Rangers are still hoping for from Harrison.
The 25-year-old lefty has struggled throughout the first three seasons of his big league career, but the Rangers seem determined to give him further opportunities to impress.
At this moment, Neftali Feliz, lights out closing phenom, returns to shut down games at the back end of Ron Washington's bullpen.
That could all change if the Rangers decide that the temptation of placing him in their starting rotation is too great to ignore. They don't appear inclined to do so however, since they don't have a ready replacement for the role that Feliz dominated in last season.
Alexi Ogando, another potential candidate for the rotation, also appears slated for a set-up role, mostly because the Rangers don't have a replacement for him either if they opted to slot him into the rotation. Ogando, with his lanky frame and blazing fastball, appears ideally suited for a shut-down relief role.
Darren Oliver, the lefty with the loads of experience and veteran guile, will be the primary lefty in the pen, continuing the role that he has pitched extraordinarily well in over the last five seasons.
Darren O'Day, the submarining righty, is death on right-handed hitters, and will return as a situational reliever, hoping to induce ground ball after ground ball with his deceptive delivery.
The core of the Texas bullpen that was one of the toughest in the AL last year, remains in tact and will likely be at the top of the list once again this season as far as bullpens go.
Pedro Strop and Arthur Rhodes: In
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Pedro Strop has really opened many eyes with his performances this spring. Perfectly suited for a potential set-up role with his 95 MPH-plus fastball and slider combo, he has been lights out so far in spring training. Over his eight spring innings, he has posted an ERA of 2.25, striking out 10 and only walking one.
The 25-year-old right-hander could potentially evolve into a late-inning role if necessity forces either Ogando or Feliz into the bullpen.
Arthur Rhodes, the ancient left-hander, has been brought in to complement Darren Oliver in the Texas bullpen. His last three seasons have been absolutely dominant, but he is now 41, and may not have the stamina to withstand the summer heat in Arlington.
Though he has seen only limited action this spring, it hasn't been pretty, allowing two home runs in his four innings of work. With a roster full of young pitchers, Rhodes' veteran presence could prove valuable, but if he doesn't work out as a second lefty in the pen, Michael Kirkman stands poised to take his place.
Mark Lowe, Brett Tomko and Michael Kirkman: Out
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Mark Lowe has been given every opportunity to make this Rangers team in spring training. He has late game experience, and has earned moderate success a few times throughout his career, offering the Rangers hope that he might be able to overcome the serious injury problems that he endured in 2010.
He has yet to appear fully recovered from the injury however, and has had an atrocious spring, getting battered to the tune of a 14.14 ERA. Lowe has allowed twice as many hits as innings pitched, raising concerns that he might not be able to make the team out of spring. Frankly, I don't see where he fits into the bullpen as currently constructed.
Michael Kirkman may find himself on the way back to AAA due to a glut of left-handers suddenly present in the Rangers' pitching mix. He has been a rotation hopeful throughout the spring, but the team has only handed him one start, a night on which he was pounded by the Padres.
Of course, one poor outing does not tell the entire story, but considering his age, and availability of a few remaining options, Kirkman very well may be the odd man out. With C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison all involved in the rotations battles, with only Wilson assured of a spot, Kirkman may have to bide his time in AAA.
There has recently been noise about Brett Tomko potentially making the squad. He has been a serviceable spot starter and long reliever for numerous teams throughout his career, but appears to be nearing the end of the road. He hasn't done anything to distinguish himself from the crowd in spring training, nor would I expect him to. Tomko is simply a league average or less pitcher, who may be able to help with a few spots starts over the course of the year, but will likely make no greater impact than that.
Mason Tobin, a Rule Five draft pick from the Cubs, has impressed in his limited action in spring, but to keep him on the big league squad, the Rangers would have to do so all year, and I don't see the odds working in his favor. He is a promising, hard-throwing righty, but I'm not sure he's proven enough to justify keeping him in the big leagues all year, following his recovery from Tommy John surgery.