Projecting the Texas Rangers Opening Day Lineup
They might not be done yet, either. Reports have the Rangers as the favorite if they decide to get in on Prince Fielder talks, a move that would surely leave this offseason as one of the most decorated in franchise history.
But Fielder might be a stretch for a team that invested $51.7 million just to negotiate with Darvish. As is, the Rangers still have one of the most formidable lineups in the AL, posing a threat at every position and having depth that most teams can not utilize on a nightly basis.
Here's a look at the way the lineup will look opening day, complete with batting order, starting rotation and how Ron Washington will use his bullpen.
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
Kinsler is coming of his first full season as the leadoff hitter for the AL champs, posting career highs in walks (89), home runs (32) and runs (121).
Kins is always going to take flak for popping out to left and not hitting the away pitch to right field, but his production as a leadoff hitter is different than a prototypical hitter.
He gets on base, works the count and drives the ball to the gaps. He also joined the 30-30 club for the second time in his career, and with a full year of taking cuts from the top of the order, he'll be primed to hit higher than .255.
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
Elvis had a pretty good season as the Rangers' two-hole hitter. His batting average (.279) was a career high, and he swiped 37 bases.
The best thing is, he is 23 years old, and has tons of room to improve, both offensively and defensively.
His power probably won't be anything to write home about, but if he can continue to get on and steal bases, he serves his purpose on this team.
And his defense will continue to rise, as he gets to a lot of balls that many shortstops don't ever get close to, occasionally getting lazy or flat-footed on throws, Ron Washington will make sure he gets out of that habit.
3. Josh Hamilton, LF
Hambone is becoming the heart and soul of the Texas Rangers. His attitude, all-out style of play and raw talent have left him a couple seasons shy of passing Michael Young as the most influential position player in the history of the club.
His injuries leave fans wondering about his long-term durability, and also what he could accomplish if he played more than 100 games per season.
Playing in left field will hopefully ease the tension of running down balls in center, and allow him to maintain the kind of effort and hot bat that make him one of the most exciting players to watch in all of baseball.
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
The $96 million man was pivotal to reaching the World Series for a second straight year. His performance in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays was one for the history books, when he belted three bombs to give the Rangers the win and a birth in the ALCS.
And it wasn't even a contract year for Beltre, who hit .296 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs while missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury.
Beltre was arguably the most complete player on the team, winning a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award while fitting in nicely to an already set clubhouse. He'll look to continue that trend next season, while he continues to be in his prime in the middle of a giant contract.
5. Michael Young, DH
Has there been a bigger team player than Michael Young? He started his career at second, moved to shortstop when Alfonso Soriano arrived, then moved to third base when Elvis Andrus was ready and finally to a "super-utility" position when Adrian Beltre was signed.
With two years left on his contract, he'll look to continue to produce the way he did in 2011, when he hit .338, good for third in the AL, and reached 200 hits for the sixth time in his storied Ranger career.
With no signs of slowing down, and showing the versatility to play every infield position and DH, Michael Young will continue to be at the center of any conversation concerning Ranger greats.
6. Mike Napoli, C
"NA-PO-LI" chants filled the stands when Mike Napoli entered the batters box for the Rangers throughout last season. The trade that netted the team the unwanted catcher was one that ranks right up there with the one that netted Elvis, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz.
The best thing about his performance last season wasn't his 30 home runs or .320 batting average, but his sparkling .414 OBP, far and away the highest of his career. It would have been good for fifth in all of baseball, but he didn't qualify since he only had 369 ABs.
But keeping his ABs low and allowing him to DH was part of the recipe for success with Nap, and having Vorvit Torrealba and Michael Young in those slots will help to platoon and keep Napoli healthy and well-rested all season and on into October.
With Torrealba's incident on the front-burner, however, the Rangers may choose to discipline him internally, and go with newly acquired Luis Martinez in the backup role for the early games.
7. Nelson Cruz, RF
Nellie's boomstick was heard loud and clear in the ALCS, when he set the series record with six home runs. It's scary to face a lineup that has 40 home run potential batting seventh, and if Cruz were on any other team, he'd be a cleanup hitter.
Cruz, like Hamilton, needs to stay healthy, but having David Murphy and Leonys Martin off the bench will give the Rangers some flexibility if they can't.
For those of you who think Nellie needs to be higher and Young and Napoli should move down, keep in mind two things: Trust in Ron Washington, and let those two guys get on base so the boomstick can make many appearances in 2012.
8. Mitch Moreland
There's a lot of talk about Prince Fielder, but I think the Rangers have all the confidence in the world in Mitch Moreland.
If they didn't, I think they would have spent Darvish's money on Prince, and let the offense carry the team until they decided to make a midseason move for another front-line pitcher.
The team is content on letting his wrist injury take the fall for his somewhat poor last two months of the season. Fully healthy, inside pitch-hitting Moreland will likely take the brunt of the playing time at first, although if he is not ready by opening day I wouldn't be surprised if Napoli starts at first and they slide Torrealba in at catcher.
9. Craig Gentry
Call me crazy, but I believe Craig Gentry is ready to claim the center field job in Texas. Julio Borbon couldn't do it. David Murphy plays out of position there, and it's likely going to take Martin another full year in the minors before they are ready to hand it over to the Cuban.
He's fast, he plays the position well, and frankly, I think he's earned his spot to be that leadoff-to-leadoff hitter at the bottom of the lineup.
Gentry will keep improving at the plate, and you can't teach speed. His. 271 batting average and 18 stolen bases in limited playing time will only continue to climb, and it's a safe move to keep him in the lineup while the farm continues to develop.
Opening Day Starter: Colby Lewis
Colby Lewis is the Rangers' most storied postseason pitcher. That's funny, since they let him go in 2004 and he spent a two year stint in Japan before coming back to town.
But his performance speaks for itself, and even though he gave up a league-leading 35 home runs last year, he still pitched 200 innings and made 32 starts.
He's the most seasoned pitcher the team has, and he'll also be counted on to show Yu Darvish the ropes, considering his longevity and time in Japan.
The rest of the rotation will likely shake out this way:
Barring another trade or signing Roy Oswalt to a one-year contract (which I would balk at), this is the way the rotation is set up for 2012, with Feldman and Ogando available to spot-start or help out if injury occurs.
Closer: Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan is set to enter the game with a lead in the ninth inning for the Rangers. Behind him, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara are set to anchor a bullpen that will likely be considered the best in baseball.
With those three, the team is going to be disappointed if they blow any more late-inning leads.
Behind them, it's set to look like this:
Eighth inning: Adams, Uehara, Ogando, Darren Oliver (FA)
Middle Relief/Long Relief: Feldman, Yoshinori Tateyama, Mark Lowe, Mark Hamburger, Michael Kirkman
Look for the Rangers to re-sign Oliver or even Michael Gonzalez to add a left-handed presence to the 'pen.
But aside from that, this is what it's going to look like, at least until the club decides they are ready to see Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez.
Aside from the departure of C.J. Wilson from the rotation, the lineup is set to look very similar to the one that walked off the field in defeat last October.
With a few key additions—Darvish, Nathan and Feliz to the rotation—the Rangers are trying to fit the final pieces of what is very close to being a championship team.
It will be very exciting to see them take the field come April, as expectations and a renewed rivalry with the Angels will be in full swing.
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