Rangers hope new-look lineup is ticket back to playoffs
Fielder, Choo among offseason additions who are expected to bolster offense
ARLINGTON -- So now, after another tumultuous offseason, the Rangers are ready to rev it up for another run at the postseason with pitchers and catchers due to report on Sunday.
They do so with an offense they believe is much better than last year although with a pitching staff that has already suffered a major blow due to injury. Derek Holland was supposed to be the No. 2 starter but instead will be out until at least midseason after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee.
The Rangers have still added Prince Fielder to the middle of their lineup. It cost them Ian Kinsler but they replaced him as a leadoff hitter by signing Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract. They also acquired top outfield prospect Michael Choice from the Athletics and signed J.P. Arencibia to pair with Geovany Soto at catcher to make up for the loss of A.J. Pierzynski.
"I think that bringing in Prince and having Choo in front of the lineup is going to be really great for us, especially giving us more balance," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "It's a big loss in Ian but in time I think the bats we added are going to be really good for us. Hopefully we can stay healthy and help us do what we want to do this year."
Holland's injury leaves the rotation with one spot unsettled but that's standard operating procedure for the Rangers going into Spring Training. They still have four starters in Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Martin Perez.
Harrison and Ogando need to show they are over the injury problems they dealt with in 2013 and Perez is still unproven over a full season. But if they can provide positive answers to those questions early in Spring Training, the Rangers can focus on finding a fifth starter from Nick Tepesch, Colby Lewis or Robbie Ross. The Rangers have also signed pitcher Tommy Hanson to a Minor League contract, and he should be a serious candidate as well.
The bullpen must make up for the loss of All-Star closer Joe Nathan, but both Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz are former All-Star closers themselves before having to deal with Tommy John surgery. Feliz said he is back to being 100 percent again and if that proves to be the case, he should end up as the closer and the rest of the bullpen should fall into place.
The Rangers know the rest of the division is going to be competitive as the Athletics, Angels and Mariners were all busy this winter. That's something to worry about when the regular season begins. Right now they need to find some pitching answers in Spring Training and see if this offense really is better than last season.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Royals, Feb. 27, 2 p.m. (CT), 2:05 (CT), 1 p.m. (MT)
Home vs. Phillies, March 31, 1:05 p.m.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who will replace Holland in the rotation?
With Holland out until midseason because of knee surgery, the Rangers are looking for a fifth starter. Tepesch should be the leading candidate after going 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 17 starts and two relief appearances last season. Ross and Tanner Scheppers will both be given a chance to move from the bullpen to the rotation. Ross is the more serious candidate. Luke Jackson, their top Minor League pitching prospect, could be the sleeper just like Tepesch last year. Lewis is back on a Minor League contract and could also win this job. Hanson, who was 45-32 with a 3.61 ERA in 108 starts for the Braves from 2009-12, is another strong candidate.
2. Who will replace Nathan as the closer?
Feliz is expected to be 100 percent in Spring Training after missing a year with Tommy John surgery. Both he and Soria are two-time All-Star closers. Scheppers is also a candidate for the job. It would seem that the job is Feliz's to lose and he wants it back, but he will have to earn it in Spring Training.
3. Who will be the starting catcher?
Soto was the backup in 2013 and re-signed with the Rangers with the idea he would replace Pierzynski as the No. 1 catcher. The Rangers also signed Arencibia and he was the Blue Jays' No. 1 catcher in each of the past three seasons. Soto goes into Spring Training with the job but will definitely get competition from Arencibia.
91-72, second in the American League West
Projected batting order
1. LF Shin-Soo Choo:
.285 BA, .423 OBP, .462 SLG, 21 HR, 54 RBI in 2013
2. SS Elvis Andrus:
.271 BA, .328 OBP, .331 SLG, 4 HR, 67 RBI in 2013
3. 1B Prince Fielder:
.279 BA, .362 OBP, .457 SLG, 25 HR, 106 RBI in 2013
4. 3B Adrian Beltre:
.315 BA, .371 OBP, .509 SLG, 30 HR, 92 RBI in 2013
5. RF Alex Rios:
.278 BA, .324 OBP, .432 SLG, 18 HR, 81 RBI in 2013
6. DH Mitch Moreland:
.232 BA, .299 OBP, .437 SLG, 23 HR, 60 RBI in 2013
7. C Geovany Soto:
.245 BA, .328 OBP, .466 SLG, 9 HR, 22 RBI in 2013
8. 2B Jurickson Profar:
.234 BA, .308 OBP, .336 SLG, 6 HR, 26 RBI in 2013
9. CF Leonys Martin:
.260 BA, .313 OBP, .385 SLG, 8 HR, 49 RBI in 2013
1. Yu Darvish, 13-9, 2.83 ERA in 2013
2. Matt Harrison, 0-2, 8.44 ERA in 2013
3. Alexi Ogando, 7-4, 3.11 ERA in 2013
4. Martin Perez, 10-6, 3.62 ERA in 2013
5. Nick Tepesch, 4-6, 4.84 ERA in 2013
Closer: Neftali Feliz, 0/0 saves, 0.00 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Tanner Scheppers, 1.88 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Neal Cotts, 1.11 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Joakim Soria, 3.80 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Robbie Ross, 3.03 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Jason Frasor, 2.57 ERA in 2013
The new guys
1B Fielder: The Rangers traded Kinsler to the Tigers to get one of the top power hitters in the game. The Rangers went into the offseason looking for more offensive firepower for the middle of the lineup and now have Fielder under contract for seven years. His 25 home runs and .457 slugging percentage last season were the lowest of his career.
OF Choo: The Rangers signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract to be their leadoff hitter. He has superb on-base numbers with both power and speed but strikes out a lot and has struggled against left-handed pitching. The Rangers still expect 100-plus runs out of him.
OF Choice: The former No. 1 Draft pick of the Athletics gives the Rangers a right-handed bat as either the fourth outfielder or platoon designated hitter with Moreland. At some point the Rangers expect him to become an everyday player in the outfield.
C Arencibia: He can hit the ball out of the ballpark but strikes out a lot and does not draw many walks. Defensively he led American League catchers in errors and passed balls while dealing with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. He was the Blue Jays' No. 1 catcher the past three years but there is still much improvement needed to win that job for the Rangers.
Prospects to watch
C Jorge Alfaro: The Rangers' top prospect according to MLB.com, he hit .258 with a .338 on-base percentage and a .452 slugging percentage in 104 games at Class A Hickory. He is likely one to two years away but is definitely the Rangers' catcher of the future and a project for special assistant Ivan Rodriguez.
rangers top prospects
RHP Jackson: The 45th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Jackson was 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA in 23 starts and two relief appearances at Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco. He was 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA in four starts and two relief appearances in Frisco while getting some 1-on-1 tutorial from Greg Maddux.
SS Luis Sardinas: He is a standout defensive player with speed, very similar to Andrus coming up through the Minor Leagues. He has played just 29 games at Double-A. He has been mainly a shortstop through the Minors but the Rangers may try him at multiple positions to see if he can handle a utility role.
2B Rougned Odor: He's another superb middle-infield prospect who is blocked at the Major League level. He has played just 30 games at the Double-A level but has speed, power and excellent defensive ability. He could be the Rangers' future second baseman if Profar falters.
On the rebound
LHP Harrison: He was an 18-game winner for the Rangers in 2012, then made just two starts last season before undergoing two season-ending back surgeries. He is expected to be 100 percent in Spring Training and the Rangers badly need him to be fully recovered to fill out their rotation.
RHP Lewis: He hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since July 18, 2012. He has undergone two major surgeries on his right elbow and right hip. The Rangers expect him to be 100 percent in Spring Training. Lewis should compete for a spot in the rotation if the physical issues have not taken a toll on him.
LHP Holland: The Rangers' No. 2 starter underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in January and could be sidelined until midseason. It was a major blow for the Rangers.
RHP Feliz: He made eight appearances in September without allowing a run but it was obvious that he was not fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. The Rangers expect him to return to a meaningful role in their bullpen this spring, possibly as the closer.
RHP Shawn Tolleson: A former top prospect for the Dodgers, the Rangers claimed him on waivers this winter. He missed almost all of last season with a herniated disk in his lower back. If he is at full strength, he could compete for a job in the bullpen.
LHP Joseph Ortiz: He was 2-2 with a 4.23 ERA in 32 games for the Rangers but suffered a fractured ankle over the offseason after being run over by a motorcycle. He is expected to be sidelined for three months.
RHP Nathan: The Rangers' closer became a free agent after exercising an out clause in his contract. He had two outstanding seasons as the Rangers' closer and has signed with the Tigers.
2B Kinsler: A three-time All-Star, Kinsler was a huge part of the Rangers' success over the past five years with his combination of speed, power and defensive ability. The Rangers gave him up in the trade for Fielder and he will be tough to replace within the lineup.
C Pierzynski: Despite his amazing inability or unwillingness to take a walk, Pierzynski still had his normal offensive season for the Rangers and also added some character and personality to the team. But the Rangers made little effort to re-sign him and he is now with the Red Sox.
OF Craig Gentry: He never earned a regular spot in the lineup. But Gentry's tremendous speed and defensive ability made him a valuable role player for the Rangers over the past three seasons. He will likely assume a similar role with the Athletics.
OF Nelson Cruz: The assumption is that he is long gone. But Cruz is still an unsigned free agent so as long as he remains that way, there is a possibility he could return to the Rangers on a one-year deal.
OF David Murphy: After being a big part of three playoff teams in 2010-12, Murphy struggled at the plate last season and never could come out of his slump. He ended up signing as a free agent with the Indians.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.