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Spring Training Preview: Texas Rangers on the Verge of AL West Dominance

Todd KaufmannSenior Writer IFebruary 19, 2010

As the sun rose this morning, a new feeling came over the city of Surprise, Ariz.

A feeling, an excitement, was in the air that hadn't been there in quite some time.

Today was the day that baseball returned to the spring training facilities all over the state of Arizona.

For the Texas Rangers that feeling was one of possibility. A feeling that they could possibly be the team to beat in the AL West after so many years of watching the Angels run away from everyone else.

In 2009, the Rangers hung in the race longer than anyone expected them to.

"Expect the Rangers to finish the season with a better than .500 record and a second place finish in the AL West but any more than 85 wins would be a surprise."—MLBCenter.com

The Rangers finished the 2009 season with 87 wins but still 10 games back of the eventual division champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In 2010, the Rangers could put it all together and give the Angels a serious run for their money. When asked about both the Rangers and Mariners being contenders in 2010, Angels' outfielder Torii Hunter didn't exactly give either team respect.

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"Since I've been with the Angels, that's what they've said every year," Hunter told Yahoo Sports . "It's no big deal. We're still wearing the crown. They've got to take it away."

Pitchers and catchers are just reporting to their respective camps and already there's bulletin board material.

What do the Rangers need in order to "take the crown away" as Torri Hunter implies? Who are the biggest factors that will make or break a successful and winning season? Who will take the leadership role of the team and run with it?

All questions that aren't going to have easy answers nor will the answers be known before the end of spring training. What is known is the abundant talent that the Rangers have stockpiled in their minor league system.

Guys like Chris Davis, Elvis Andrus, Taylor Teagarden, and Derek Holland all came from the Rangers' own minor league system. All will have a significant role in the team's success in 2010.

What's also known is the Rangers are finally free of former owner Tom Hicks. They will begin a new regime under Nolan Ryan who has spent the last few years under Hicks building this team to what is and what it can become.

While the Rangers were 10th in baseball in runs scored (784) and tied for second in home runs (224) with the Philadelphia Phillies, they were 18th in team ERA (4.38) and had the fifth lowest strikeout total (1016).

It won't be long before the Rangers will be able to show what they're made of as they will have back-to-back series in New York against the Yankees (April 16-April 18) and then in Boston after an off day to face the Red Sox (April 20-April 22).

Projected Opening Day Starters (Offense)

C - Taylor Teagarden

Note: The Rangers pulled Jarrod Saltalamacchia out of winter ball in the Dominican Republic because of soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder. For right now, Teagarden is the starter until Salty can prove he's ready to go.

1B: Chris Davis

Note: Davis' first season with the Rangers in 2008 saw the first baseman hit .285 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI through 295 at bats. That's why so many were surprised when Davis struggled mightily through the first half of 2009. Eventually having to be sent to Triple-A to work out his problems. The Rangers need Davis to have a big year if they're going to stay in the AL West race.

2B: Ian Kinsler

Note: While Kinsler's home run numbers increased from 2008 (18) to 2009 (31) so did his strikeouts (67 to 77), his batting average declined from .318 in 2008 to .253 in 2009. He is going to a big factor in this offense but he won't be the only long ball threat with new addition Vlad Guerrero coming on board. 

3B: Michael Young

Note:  Young had his best season since 2005, hitting .322 with 22 home runs and 68 runs batted in and posting his second best on base percentage (.374) of his career. He did all that while moving from short stop to third base to make room for young short stop Elvis Andrus.

SS: Elvis Andrus

Note: I got a chance to watch Elvis while he was a member of the Frisco RoughRiders. Honestly, I didn't think he was ready for the big leagues when the Rangers called him up, I have no problem admitting that. I'm happy to say that he proved me wrong.

Andrus hit .267 with six home runs and 40 runs batted in, also stealing 33 bases. Getting him on base and letting guys like Young and Kinsler do the rest will be a big factor for the Rangers in 2010.

LF: David Murphy

Note: The Rangers got good production out of Murphy, but what they're worried about was his trend from 2008 to 2009. In 2008, Murphy hit .275 with 15 home runs and 75 runs batted in while striking out 70 times in 415 at bats. In just 17 more at bats in 2009 (432) Murphy struck out 36 more times (107) than the previous season while his RBI (57) and batting average (.269) also decreased.

CF: Josh Hamilton

Note: Unfortunately for Hamilton, he spent a lot of time on the DL, playing in just 89 games in 2009. The Rangers will need him to get back to his 2008 form when he hit .304 with 32 home runs a 130 runs batted in.

DH/RF: Vlad Guerrero

Note:  Though his numbers have declined in each of the past three seasons, a new start may not be such a bad thing for the former Angel. As a DH, he won't have to worry about covering a lot of ground in the outfield unless called upon in a spot start here or there. He brings another powerful bat into an already strong lineup.

2010 Projected Starting Rotation

RHP: Scott Feldman 2009: 17-8 4.08 ERA

RHP: Tommy Hunter 2009: 9-6 4.10 ERA

RHP: Rich Harden 2009: 9-9 4.09 ERA

LHP: Derek Holland 2009: 8-13 6.12 ERA

RHP: Brandon McCarthy 2009: 7-4 4.62 ERA

Final Analysis

The Texas Rangers can be contenders in the AL West in 2010 but it will fall solely in the hands of their starting rotation. Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Vlad Guerrero can drive in runs all they want but if their starters aren't holding leads and can't be consistent every fifth day, they could watch the Mariners or the Angels run away with the division crown.

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