Just 11 days from Opening Day and the Rangers line-up is starting to shape up. The first domino to fall occurred Tuesday when Mike Olt was sent back to the minor league camp. Olt was given a chance to win a job as Mitch Moreland‘s back-up at first base and Nelson Cruz‘ back-up in right field but he just didn’t run with it. Olt struggled at the plate throughout the spring and led the club with 12 strikeouts when he was sent down.
I always figured Olt as a long-shot to make the club out the gate. As the second or third best prospect in the Rangers system, it didn’t make sense to me that he would be a back-up. Olt’s struggles, combined with the way Jeff Baker has been locked in at the plate pretty much sealed his fate.
While he hasn’t been sent down yet, the fact #1 prospect Jurickson Profar decided to join the Netherlands team in the World Baseball Classic after the first round was a pretty good sign he won’t be with the Rangers on Opening Day either. Rangers brass has already said Profar won’t be in Arlington unless he could be assured of 350 or so at bats and that appears unlikely.
With the top three prospects all gone (Martin Perez is out with an injury) from consideration, it’s time to look at who is likely to get the few open positions available. Here are the players who have had outstanding springs and will probably be Rangers on March 31st when they play the Astros in Houston:
As mentioned earlier, Baker has just been outstanding with the bat all spring long. In 49 at bats, Baker is hitting .449 with a home run and 7 RBI. Best of all, Baker knows his role is as a back-up. Players who know and accept their role prepare the way they’re supposed to and shouldn’t cause problems in the clubhouse.
In the first part of the spring, anytime someone mentioned Solarte as a possible candidate for the utility infield position, those more in the know would say it wasn’t going to happen because Solarte doesn’t play shortstop. Lo and behold, in the past two weeks, Ron Washington has given Solarte four or five games at shortstop. Whether this results in a roster position remains to be seen, but Solarte, who played in AAA Round Rock in 2012, has some pop in his bat and could be a consideration.
Most folks figured Martin would be on the big league level this year. The question was would it be as part of a platoon with Craig Gentry or would he win the job outright. The competition has been on and neither player is giving an inch. As of this writing, Martin is hitting .350 with 4 extra base hits, 5 walks and 2 steals. Gentry is at .286 but with a surprising 2 HR’s and has 5 steals without being caught. Other teams have been calling about obtaining Gentry, so Martin could still be the guy fulltime but if Gentry stays, center field could be a fun position to watch on the Rangers this year.
Kirkman is anothe rplayer who figured to make the club as he is out of options. What was unexpected was how impressive he would be this spring. The southpaws in camp have been excellent and none more than Kirkman, who has now pitched 9 scoreless innings this spring, allowing only three hits with 0 walks and 8 strikeouts. With the injury to Martin Perez, Kirkman has even put himself into the mix for the #5 starter position.
I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of his signing but now I look at Lowe the same way as I see Jeff Baker. Lowe has been signed specifically for the thankless job of being the Rangers’ long reliever and spot starter. This is the pitcher who is used the least but expected to give multiple innings whenever he appears in the game. Over the past few years, that role has been filled by Dustin Nippert, Scott Feldman and Roy Oswalt. It’s a tough role but one Lowe is willing to take on and, unlike Feldman and Oswalt last year, is unlikely to grouse about the way he’s being used. Since signing, Lowe has twirled five scoreless innings this spring.
Last year, Robbie Ross opened eyes when he just threw strike after strike and earned his way onto the Rangers despite pitching only in Class A the year before. This year, the same can be said of Joe Ortiz. While he played at the AA and AAA level last year, the diminutive 5-7 Ortiz was said to not have much of a chance of getting to the majors strictly because of his lack of stature. All Ortiz has done is what Ross did last year- throw strikes and make batters swing. The lefty has now thrown 9 scoreless innings, striking out 9 and allowing a meager .167 batting average, putting him well into the bullpen mix.
Another lefty, this major league veteran last pitched in the bigs in 2010. Robertson has a career ERA in the 5’s but has been nothing short of outstanding in trying to come back from injuries. Robertson has 10 innings of 3-hit no-run ball so far.
Another minor leaguer to watch out for is Nick Tepesch, who was a combined 11-6 for Hi-A Myrtle Beach and AA Frisco in 2012. Tepesch has opened some eyes in Rangers camp and is still in the mix for the #5 starter job, though I doubt he’ll get it. He could get consideration for an early call-up in case of injury, though.
11 days to Opening Night Easter Sunday.