Tagged: Prince Fielder

The Next Generation Arrives (A Year Early)

It started with Chi Chi and continues with Gobbles.

Just a few days ago, the Texas Rangers decided Phil Klein wasn’t the answer for the fifth spot in the Texas rotation. With the Rangers suddenly going from afterthought to Wild Card contender, they also decided Ross Detwiler wouldn’t reclaim the slot when he returns from the disabled list.

Texas Rangers pitcher Alex Gonzalez pitches in the eighth inning during a Major League Baseball spring training game against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona Wednesday March 4, 2015. The Royals beat the Rangers 13-2. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News) 03102015xSPORTS

Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez 

Instead they went with Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, one of the Rangers’ top prospects. The Rangers really wanted Gonzalez to stay in AAA for all of 2015, with the only possible major league service coming with September call-ups. But the Rangers started winning. And winning some more. Before anyone realized, a 7-14 April record had become a 24-24 record. The offense came alive, hitting home runs with abandon. Suddenly national writers started noticing the Rangers and proclaiming they could be contenders (some of us had a feeling they could be long before this but we’re just homers).

With the Rangers surging, the decision came down. Instead of a consistently inconsistent #5 starter like Detwiler, a pitcher with more upside was essential. Gonzalez, it was felt, might take some lumps but he’ll learn from it. And when he’s good, he’ll be better than Detwiler at his best.

Gonzalez proved that his first time out. Facing the Red Sox, all he did was spin 5 1/3 hitless innings before David Ortiz laced a double to left center. Ortiz applauded the rookie after he reached second. General Manager Jon Daniels says Gonzalez is not just a couple of starts pitcher. The rotation spot is his to lose, which will make for some interesting times when one of Matt Harrison, Derek Holland or Martin Perez is ready to go. Harrison begins a rehab assignment this week.

Joey Gallo

Joey Gallo

Meanwhile, Sunday’s breathtaking walk-off win against the Sox got tempered by the loss of Adrian Beltre for 2-3 weeks with a sprained left thumb. Pulling another surprise out of his hat, Daniels announced #1 prospect Joey “Gobbles” Gallo would replace Beltre at third. Unlike Gonzalez, Gallo will stay with the Rangers only as long as Beltre is out, then he’ll go to AAA Round Rock.

Gallo hits home runs. Lots of them. Majestic shots you won’t forget. I saw him hit one in Corpus Christi a year ago and it was a sight to behold. Gallo has 9 homers this season after hitting 40 each of the past two seasons. He also strikes out a lot and his defense will never be compared to Beltre’s. He does, however, get the chance to experience big league pitching for the next 14 to 21 days. If he hits .400 with 8 home runs in that time span, maybe he won’t go back down. If he does that, it’ll be interesting to see who the odd man out will be.

If I had my druthers, I’d put as little pressure on Gallo as possible and bat him 7th in the order, maybe even 8th. Hitting him higher gives manager Jeff Bannister a conundrum. With Beltre gone, Texas could go with 5 lefthanded hitters in a row: Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Mitch Moreland and Gallo. Despite the potential power there, it also makes it easier for opposing managers to use their bullpens against the Rangers. No situational lefties here. Get one southpaw and he could go for almost two innings. Put Gallo 7th or 8th and you can split it up just a little.

Hanser Alberto

Hanser Alberto

Another fresh face arrived on the scene last week in Hanser Alberto. Alberto is one of the best defensive infielders in the minors of any club but lately, he’s also been hitting a ton for Round Rock. Along with some guy named Josh Hamilton, Alberto’s impact on Texas was immediate, hitting .364 in his first three games with a triple and 3 RBI.

The new generation of Rangers is coming and there are more on the way. This team may be getting ready for another good 3-4 year run.

 

At The Quarter Pole

Hard to believe, the season is already at the 25% mark. The Texas Rangers finished the first quarter of the season a lackluster 18-23 at the quarter pole but, considering the season started at 8-16, it’s not horrible. Horrible would be the team behind the Rangers in the standings, the Oakland A’s, who are a full five games behind Texas, which sits in fourth, a half game out of third.

At the end of April, the Rangers’ report card reflected a totally awful offense. The first quarter report card has improved.

Offense

The offense has improved greatly from April. The season’s opening month saw the Rangers offense putting together a miserable slash line of .210/.293/.318 with an OPS+ of just 75 (league average would be 100). Shin-Soo Choo ended April at .092. The offense has recovered in May so now they stand at a more respectable .237/.312/.383 with an OPS+ of 96. It still isn’t good but it’s improved to just below average. If the Texas offense performs the rest of the season the way they have in May, the numbers at season’s end could be in the upper third in the league. At this point, the biggest need for offensive improvement is the average with runners in scoring position. The Rangers sit at a measly .214 with RISP. Only 16 of their 117 extra base hits have come with runners in scoring position and only 37 have come with a man on first. Texas is hitting for decent extra base power but nobody’s on base when they do it. Grade: C

Defense

Defensively, the Rangers have committed 33 errors in 41 games. Only Oakland has committed more in the AL. Greatness wasn’t expected defensively, despite a couple of well-regarded defenders like Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. In Baseball Reference’s defensive stats, Texas has a MINUS 5 on Total Fielding Runs Above Average, putting them 10th among the AL’s 15 teams. The good news is Prince Fielder admitted Mitch Moreland is a better defensive first baseman than he is and will agreeably be the DH if it helps the team win more games. Grade: D

Starting Pitching

The rotation took a header right off the bat when Derek Holland went down shortly after making his first start. With Yu Darvish already lost for the year, it was yet another hit the pitching staff could ill afford. The joke is, the Rangers have a better rotation on the Disabled List than many teams have on their active roster (Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Nick Tepesch). Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez have been outstanding, Yovani Gallardo below average (more later), Ross Detwiler awful and Wandy Rodriguez a godsend. Grade:  C

Relief Pitching

A nice 4-game stretch to close out the season’s first quarter makes the relief stats look better but only Oakland has a worse bullpen thus far. When Neftali Feliz blew a save on May 16th against the Indians, it gave Texas more Blown Saves than Saves on the season. There have been some bright spots: rookie Keone Kela and long reliever Anthony Bass but overall, inconsistency has been the pen’s modus operandi. One night they’ll look like killers, the next like victims. Jeff Bannister has made moves lately to try solidifying the bullpen. Feliz is no longer the closer. Shawn Tolleson has taken to the role so far, having picked up saves in consecutive nights against the Red Sox. Other than that, Banny says he’s not going to have role players in his bullpen for now. He’ll play match-ups more than having a 7th inning guy or an 8th inning guy. Grade: D-

Biggest Surprises

Delino DeShields

Delino DeShields

There is no bigger surprise than the play of Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields. The expectation for Double D, who hit only .236 for AA Corpus Christi last season, was, at best,  being the 24th guy on the 25-man team, serving primarily as a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. Instead, he’s putting pressure on the Rangers to find a place for him in the line-up every day once Josh Hamilton arrives.

DeShields leads the club in steals with 10. He’s actually tied with Adrian Beltre for first on the team in WAR at 0.9. He leads all Rangers regulars in pitches seen per at bat at 4.09 (Tommy Field is better but only has 9 games under his belt). When Hamilton joins the roster, DeShields could find himself in a CF platoon with Leonys Martin as well as a 2B platoon with Field.

While he has an impressive track record, nobody thought Prince Fielder would be as good as he’s been thus far. Fielder’s hitting for average, he’s hitting for power, he’s been the steadiest hitter all season. Facing a shift just about every day, Prince has learned to hit against it, going the opposite way many a time. He leads the AL in multiple hit games. And, as mentioned earlier, he manned up and became the primary DH because he saw that Mitch Moreland’s D gives the team a better chance to win.

On the pitching front, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Keone Kela all get nods. Lewis has possibly been even better than he was in the Rangers’ World Series years. Usually one of the league leaders in home runs allowed, he’s only given up three in 8 starts. In 50 innings he has 41 K’s, outstanding for a pitcher whose fastball seldom tops 90 on the radar guns. All this on a resurfaced hip. Colby pitched in pain for years. Now he probably wishes he’d done the procedure sooner.

Martinez was hands down the AL’s best pitcher in April, posting a sub 1.00 ERA. He’s struggled in his last few starts but still sports a 3-0 record with a 1.88 ERA. Pretty good for a guy who had never pitched above AA when forced into the Rangers plans a year ago. Martinez was below average a year ago, expected considering his situation, but posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 5 September starts. Seeing his success roll over to 2015 is great.

Keone Kela is a rookie who’s performed well in every role the Rangers have given him this year. He’s been used in long relief, short relief, in the middle of games and in high leverage late inning situations. Through it all, he’s put up a 3-1 record, 2.25 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20 innings. Only 22 years old, Kela is already thought of as a future closer in another year or two.

Biggest Disappointments

With three-fourths of the season still ahead, everyone has time to improve back to expected levels. Still, two of the biggest disappointments are infielders.

Everyone had high hopes for second baseman Rougned Odor following a rookie campaign in which the 21-year-old hit a respectable .259 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI. This writer projected Odor for about .270 this season with 14 home runs and 70 RBI. Instead, he laid a big egg. The league adjusted to Odor and he didn’t adjust back. With a .144 average after 29 games, Texas sent Odor to AAA Round Rock to get his game back. He’ll likely be back no later than the All-Star break (and already has 3 Home Runs for the Express) but nobody expected him to get sent down either, so who knows?

Elvis Andrus: $15 million man

Elvis Andrus

 

Meanwhile, his teammate Elvis Andrus has everyone worried. Never a great hitter, Elvis is regressing so far again this year, checking in at this writing at .224 with a homer and 11 RBI. After spending most of his career as the #2 hitter in the line-up, Andrus shows up at #6 more often than not these days. Once he’s on base, he only has 5 steals in 8 eight attempts. This would all be acceptable if he played defense the way he’s known to, but even that is regressing. Elvis has nine errors in the season’s first 41 games and should have gotten tagged with his 10th in a game against the Red Sox this week. Put it all together and you have a MINUS 0.5 WAR. That’s right, Elvis is now considered a BELOW REPLACEMENT LEVEL player! This from a guy who averaged over 4 WAR from 2011 to 2013. Oh yeah and a new long-term contract just kicked in this year. The only thing saving Elvis right now is the Rangers feeling they don’t have an everyday shortstop down on the farm. I think the problem is mental. In the World Series years, the Rangers were full of leaders and Elvis could just enjoy playing baseball. Now he’s a veteran and maybe expected to do more and he’s letting it get to him. If he doesn’t hit, fine. But Elvis, you’ve got to get your D back!

On the pitching side, I could say Neftali Feliz is a disappointment but he’s never regained his velocity since Tommy John surgery. For me, the biggest pitching disappointment is Yovani Gallardo. Sure, he’s a bit removed from his days fronting the Brewers rotation. But I didn’t expect him to have so many command issues. Gallardo is 3-6 with a somewhat respectable 4.26 ERA but it seems every start is a struggle for him. I’ve gotten used to Eric Nadel describing the action on the radio and hearing an opposing batter has worked the count to 3-2 on Gallardo. He’s only allowed 15 walks but every batter feels like a long battle. While he’s not a heat thrower, Gallardo is reminding me of Rich Harden in 2010, where you just prayed the at bat would end soon. He’s averaging less than 6 innings a start and he’s the guy who’s needed as the “ace” with Holland and Darvish out. When acquired, Gallardo got pencilled in as the #3 starter. He’s pitched like more of a #4 than the #1 or 2 results the Rangers need from him now.

 

That’s the first quarter report card. Overall grade: C-

 

So What Do We Know So Far?

Star of the WeekTwo weeks into the season, the Texas Rangers stand at 5-8, in last place in the AL West, albeit just a game and a half out of first. The season is still early but it’s not too early to give a State of the Team address. Here are the takeaways from the season’s first 8% of the schedule:

Thank God For Nick Martinez

It could change rapidly but the big league sophomore has been the Rangers’ best pitcher, starter or reliever. Martinez has gone seven innings in each of his first two starts and has yet to surrender an earned run in getting off to a 2-0 start. Without Martinez, the Rangers pitching staff would be lowly indeed. Colby Lewis has been OK, Yovani Gallardo slightly below average and Ross Detwiler abysmal to the point you’d be hard-pressed to find a single Rangers fan in favor of letting him make another start ever. On top of that, no sooner had fans resigned themselves to being without Yu Darvish for the year then the new expected ace, Derek Holland went down for two months with a shoulder issue. Anthony Renaudo wasn’t the answer in one start. The chorus of fans singing for promoting Chi Chi Gonzalez is growing.

The Bullpen Is A Mess

Despite bright spots like Anthony Bass in long relief and Shawn Tolleson in the 7th inning, nobody else in the pen is rising to the challenge. Nowhere was that more evident than Sunday’s gut-wrenching 11-10 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Tanner Scheppers, in his second game back from the DL, couldn’t find the strike zone in the 8th, walking the bases full. Rookie Keone Kela, seen by many as the heir apparent for the closer’s role, showed he’s not ready for prime time, walking in one of the runs after relieving Scheppers. Closer Neftali Feliz was forced to try to get a 5-out save and couldn’t get the job done, giving up a 2-run single in the 8th, then two more runs in the 9th to blow the save and get the loss. The Rangers firemen have acted more like arsonists.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder

Thank God For Prince Fielder

The big guy doesn’t have a single home run and leads the AL in singles of all things. He’s also been the Rangers’ steadiest hitter. He’s beating the shift by going the opposite way, which is why he’s getting a lot of singles. He’ll eventually get the power stroke going but it’s going to require Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo to start hitting the way they can. Fielder won’t see better pitches until the guys hitting behind him start giving pitchers something else to think about.

New Year, Same Problems

2014 was a record-setting injury year for the Rangers and 2015 isn’t starting much better. Derek Holland is out for two months, left fielder Ryan Rua sprained his ankle, then discovered he has a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out for a while. Choo and Mitch Moreland have missed games already with minor ailments, Scheppers just returned from the DL. Texas is a slightly deeper team than they were a year ago but can still ill-afford many more injuries.

Elvis Andrus: $15 million man

Is Elvis In The Building?

What’s happened to Elvis Andrus? Never a scary offensive presence, now his defense seems to have regressed. Elvis makes his living being a brilliant defender first, a decent running threat second. Thus far, he’s not hitting, he’s not running and he’s not fielding. As of yesterday, he was the lowest rated position player by WAR in baseball. This HAS to improve.

In Conclusion…

The season is not off to a good start. Texas is once again resembling a last place team. They will hit better. There are too many pieces with good track records who have started out slowly. Pitching is another issue altogether. The Rangers need more innings from their starters and a couple more bullpen pitchers to step up. Otherwise it’ll be another long year in Arlington.

85 or 64 Wins? Whose Prediction Is Closer?

Star of the WeekOne thing is clear, though not scientifically proven, by reading fan comments on social media and message boards: most of them think their teams are better than what they’ve shown.

 

I figure on average, fans think their baseball teams are about ten wins better than the number of wins they end the season with. Even fans who know their teams will be terrible figure they can’t suck as badly as they eventually show us they do. On the other end of the spectrum, one only has to look at teams that win 100 games a year routinely, as the Yankees did in the early 2000’s, to know that their fans thought they should have won 110 games every year, if not more. This is really the “Backseat Manager” effect, that strange affliction that tells us we could do a better job managing our team than the current man in the position.

 

All this as preface to this Rangers fan still thinking, even without Yu Darvish, his team still is capable of being an 85 win team. The odds are great that they won’t get to 85. The bullpen beginning the season is nothing to brag about. The offense has the core back from injury but not enough depth to deal with any injuries to that core again. The starting rotation is actually the strong point despite the loss of their ace. It’s certainly a stronger rotation front to back than the one the Rangers rolled out most nights in 2014. Yeah, 85 wins seems a tad optimistic, but dang it, that’s the potential this team has.

 

Even if I’m ten wins off, 75 wins is a darn sight better than Bruce Bukiet thinks Texas will do. I should say what Bukiet’s mathematical model says they will do. Bukiet has the skins. He’s a mathematician who also runs a gambling analysis website. His winner’s picks have been pretty accurate. Here’s what CBS News wrote about Bukiet’s predictions last year and the chart of this year’s picks:

 

“Before the start of the 2014 season, Bukiet correctly predicted that Detroit would go on to win the American League Central, the Dodgers would win the National League West, St. Louis would win the Central and Washington would win the NL East.”

Bukiet 2015 Predictions

 

What I quibble with is not the top but the bottom of the standings. Bukiet’s mathematical model says the Rangers will finish 64-98 in 2015. Let that sink in. 64 wins. The Rangers of a year ago won 67 games, most of them without Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland. Darvish missed about the last quarter of the season and Jurickson Profar, the expected second baseman, played zero games. Zero.

 

Fielder is back this year, as is Choo and Moreland. Holland is here for the whole season. Colby Lewis has a year’s experience on his new hip and was visibly better in the second half of 2014 than the first half. Nick Martinez and Rougned Odor are two sophomores with a year of experience under their belts.

 

In other words, barring injury (and every pre-season prediction doesn’t consider injury), the Rangers offense is better than it was a year ago, the starting rotation is better than it was a year ago. The bullpen begins the year sketchy but the reinforcements on the DL are not expected out for long.

 

Maybe my 85 win hopes are ten games better than they’ll probably finish, but Bukiet’s 64 win prediction? No way.

Texas-Oakland kicks off the season Monday night. Time to forget last year and make this year count.

baseball-bat-and-ball-on-grass-overhead-view

 

 

3 Reasons NOT To Break Up The Texas Rangers

Adrian Beltre 2Several stories have appeared nationally suggesting it’s time for Jon Daniels to bite the bullet and tear down the Texas Rangers in order to build them up again. Nobody is more forthright and insistent on this than MLB Network’s Jim Bowden, himself a former GM.

 

Overall, the mantra of these national scribes is: the Rangers are going nowhere this year, so why not get what you can for the pieces you can get a return on. This is often brought up at the same time as speculation that the Rangers are after Cole Hamels to provide them with an ace while Yu Darvish is out for the season.

 

Not a single game has been played in the 2015 regular season, yet already the Rangers are given up for dead.

 

I’m here to tell you, now is NOT the time to tear down the Texas Rangers. In fact, now is a great time for Daniels to stand pat and play the hand he’s been dealt for 2015. Here’s three reasons why.

 

Joey Gallo Isn’t Ready Yet

Along with his insistence that now is the time to trade Adrian Beltre, Bowden ties it together with the call for Rangers uber-prospect Joey Gallo to start his major league career as the new Rangers third baseman. Why someone who’s worked at the top of the MLB food chain would suggest this is puzzling. For all his prodigious power potential, Gallo isn’t ready for the majors yet. He’s only had about 250 at bats at the AA level and he struck out almost 120 times in those at bats. A K% like that does not spell “Big League Ready” in anybody’s book but Bowden’s. So, if the Rangers traded Beltre, who plays third base? Nobody of any consequence. And if you’re using Beltre as a chip to acquire Hamels, the Phillies aren’t going to throw in a big league third baseman as well.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder

 

The Biggest Contracts Have The Least Return

Outside of Beltre, the three biggest Rangers contracts belong to Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus. Fielder and Choo are coming off injury-plagued years and Andrus had arguably the worst season of his career in 2014. In other words, their trade value is at the lowest it could possibly be. The Rangers would get very little return in players. Maybe a little salary relief, but not much in players. Derek Holland might fetch a decent return but Texas isn’t about to part with one of their best pitchers when putting together a decent rotation is the key towards reaching the post-season.

 

Two Years From Today

Joey Gallo isn’t ready this year, but he probably will next year. Also ready in the next year or so will be catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez, who nearly made the club THIS year. Martin Perez is coming back from Tommy John surgery this year, Darvish will be back next year. Heck, we might even put Jurickson Profar back in the mix, who could be back next year as well. The point here is, while this year’s Rangers may not make the playoffs (and I think they’ll be better than a last place team), the 2016 Rangers could feature Gallo and Alfaro as rookies. If they become the big leaguers scouts think they will, the 2017 Rangers will have one of the most potent offenses in the AL with Gallo, Alfaro and Rougned Odor, even if Fielder has aged into a 20 HR hitting DH. Meanwhile, the starting rotation will feature Darvish, Holland, Perez and Gonzalez.

 

Not every prospect pans out but there’s every reason to believe the ones who are just a year away from Arlington are going to be special.

 

Break up the Rangers? Even if this season is a rough one, there’s enough on the horizon to stand pat. The window may be opening again soon.

A Team Takes Shape

One week from Opening Day and the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Texas Rangers.

Gone are non-roster veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Shierholtz. Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo will not appear in the starting rotation. At this point, only the utility infield position is available on the offensive side and three bullpen slots are open.

Here’s what the Rangers are looking like so far:

1B Prince Fielder

2B Rougned Odor

SS Elvis Andrus

3B Adrian Beltre

C  Robinson Chirinos

C Carlos Corporan

DH Mitch Moreland

LF Ryan Rua

LF Jake Smolinski

CF Leonys Martin

RF Shin-Soo Choo

OF Delino DeShields, Jr.

The only minor surprise here is DeShields making the team as the 5th outfielder. A Rule 5 pick who’s never played above Double A, DeShields’ speed ended up being the deciding factor that sent the more powerful Ludwick and Shierholtz to pondering what to do next with their careers.

The only remaining offensive position open is utility infielder. Adam Rosales is still the favorite to get that slot. He’s had a good camp and was a good complementary piece a year ago. Yet there are still 4 utility infield candidates still in camp: Rosales, Ed Lucas, Elliot Johnson and Tommy Field. Field has been a slight surprise. The former Texas State athlete has played in just about every game in spring training and shown some pop with two home runs. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the LA Angels, but got released by both the Angels and the Pirates last year. I still don’t think Field makes the club but will instead be the starting second baseman at AAA Round Rock. I do think if Rougned Odor has a sophomore slump that Field would become a consideration as a starting replacement instead of Rosales, who would stay in a utility role. Lucas and Johnson? They’ll probably be released and signed just before Opening Day by another club.

Over to the pitchers. Here’s your Rangers rotation:

Yovani Gallardo

Derek Holland

Colby Lewis

Ross Detwiler

Nick Martinez

Martinez won the 5th starter slot on the basis of a strong spring 0.84 ERA, capped off by six scoreless innings in his last start. He ended 2014 strong and came out firing bullets in ’15. Tepesch, who also spent most of last season in Texas, showed the same tendencies that have dogged him in his career thus far. Great the first time through the order, considerably more hittable the second and third times through. He still has a shot at making the team in long relief, where he’d only need to face a line-up one time through.

The bullpen is more problematic. There are seven openings and thus far, these are the only sure bets:

Neftali Feliz (closer)

Tanner Scheppers (8th inning)

Shawn Tolleson (7th inning)

Sam Freeman

Freeman is a southpaw just picked up from the Cardinals. Before his acquisition, rookie Alex Claudio was the only lefty remaining in camp and he was starting to have troubles against left-handed batters in games. Freeman has a few years in the bigs under his belt and has a bullpen slot even though he just joined the team.

As for the other three slots? It’s anyone’s guess. A good case can be made for rookie Keone Kela, who has yet to give up a run in 8.1 innings this spring. He’s allowed only two hits and struck out 10. Other candidates are Tepesch (10.38) ERA, Jon Edwards (1.69, 17 K’s in 10.2 IP), Phil Klein (9.00 ERA), Kyuji Fujikawa (1.35 ERA), Lisalverto Bonilla (9.00 ERA) and Anthony Bass (9.00 ERA). Ross Ohlendorf  (0.00 ERA, 1 hit and 11 K’s in 5.1 IP) will have a role with the Rangers, but minor injuries will keep him off the active roster Opening Day. Rangers brass hope he’ll be ready by May.

The bullpen doesn’t sound very impressive, but most teams don’t know how good their bullpen truly is for at least the first third of the season. You can also bet at least one waiver claim will bring someone new to the roster and at least one other slot becomes interchangeable with a shuttle going back and forth from Arlington to Round Rock.

Seven days left to Opening Day. It can’t get here soon enough.

Looking Ahead To 2015: Designated Hitter

There have been some great Designated Hitters in the history of baseball. David Ortiz is the first to come to mind in the here and now. Others have included Edgar Martinez, Don Baylor, Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. When the DH was first introduced, it appeared it would be the domain of aging sluggers whose best defensive years were behind them or young sluggers whose defense was shoddy at best.

As a fan, I used to want one of those sluggers in my team’s line-up, that team being the Texas Rangers. Even today, there’s a clamor among Rangers fans for Prince Fielder to transition to DH so we don’t have to put up with his lack of range as a first baseman. I no longer subscribe to that theory. The Rangers first foray into the World Series in 2010 put an end to my thinking that way.

Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero

In 2010, the Rangers had future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero as their Designated Hitter. It was a match made in heaven. Here was a quality power hitter whose knees could no longer take the regular pounding of playing in right field every day. Vlad’s one year with Texas was superb: a .300/.345/.496 slash line with 29 home runs and 115 RBI. Guerrero slumped in September but rebounded a little in the playoffs with a .267 average, 3 doubles and 4 RBI in 11 games. Then came the World Series.

The problem with having your everyday DH being one of your main RBI guys is something’s got to give in the World Series when you visit the National League park and can’t use a DH. Either you sit a major part of your offense on the bench or you put his less than stellar defense on the field. Ron Washington felt he had no choice. Guerrero got penciled in as the Rangers’ right fielder, where he’d played all of 16 games in the regular season.

The problems surfaced immediately. Vlad committed two errors in what turned into a 3-run 8th inning that helped propel the Giants to an 11-7 Game 1 victory. So poor was his performance, Washington decided it was better for his slugger to ride the pine in Game 2.

 

Michael Young

Michael Young

Lesson learned, right? To a certain extent. In 2011, Wash went with a carousel of Designated Hitters, led by Michael Young’s 69 games. Young also served as a sort of “Super Utility” infielder, getting starts at all four infield positions. He responded with a .338/.380/.474 year with 106 RBI despite just 11 homers. Again, Wash felt obligated to play Young in the field on the road in the 2011 World Series. Defensively, Young had a nickname among Rangers fans: PADMY, an acronym for “Past A Diving Michael Young”, heard often in the play-by-play. He wasn’t the butcher Guerrero was but there were better defensive options.

In the pivotal Game 6 in St. Louis (the One Strike Away Twice game that gave this blog its name), Young played first base and committed two errors, both eventually leading to runs. Without those errors, the Rangers may very well have been the World Series champs. We’ll never know.

That brings us to today and the Rangers are pretty certain Mitch Moreland is their primary DH. He will NOT, however, be the everyday DH for three reasons: 1) He’s a streaky hitter; 2) he doesn’t hit lefthanders well (a career .227/.289/.347) and 3) he is a walking injury case.

Fans have wanted to love Mitch Moreland for some time. He came along in 2010 when both Chris Davis and Justin Smoak bombed as the Rangers first baseman and contributed a decent 9 home runs and 25 RBI in 47 games. He further endeared himself with the fans by going 6 for 13 in the World Series, which included a Game 3 home run off  Jonathon Sanchez that led to the lone Texas win in the Series.

Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland

Since 2011, Moreland has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons. He missed half of June and most of July in 2012, half of June in 2013 and more than half the season a year ago, playing his last game June 7th.

This has to be considered Moreland’s last shot with the Rangers. He has power potential, which is why they keep him around, but at some point he has to deliver. either by hitting southpaws better or by staying healthy. I’m not convinced he’s able to do either.

The question is who will serve as the Rangers DH against lefthanders? Washington gave Moreland every chance against lefties. Jeff Bannister is under no obligation. That’s why DH will likely be another revolving door, which isn’t a bad thing. Odds are Mitch plays mostly against righthanders and maybe he’ll play first base on occasion so Prince Fielder can DH (Moreland is OK defensively at 1st). Against lefties, the Rangers are hopeful newly acquired Kyle Blanks will be able to overcome injuries and tape into the power potential he showed with San Diego.

The problem here is Blanks has been just as injury prone as Moreland, thus making DH as much of a battle for playing time as left field is for Texas.

Moreland will play the most games at DH if he stays healthy. Beyond that, the spot in the order for Designated Hitter is probably Bannister’s best way of rotating quality at bats for the other three bench players. Unless Moreland is productive, it might also be the weakest position in the Rangers line-up.