2014 MLB PREVIEW: TEXAS RANGERS
March 3, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
So close and yet so far away for the Texas Rangers. In 2011, Texas was one strike away from beating the Cardinals for the World Series title only to let it slip away. In 2012, Texas blew a huge division lead to Oakland and then lost the wild-card game to Baltimore. Last season, the Rangers dropped the loser out game to Tampa Bay.
If the Rangers are planning to contend again in 2014, they will have to have better run production. The 730 runs scored last season and their .412 slugging percentage were enough for GM Jon Daniels to make some drastic changes in the off-season. Texas traded for Detroit 1B Prince Fielder and sign free-agent CF Shin-Soo Choo. Daniels did his job, now it’s up to Manager Ron Washington.
STARTING PITCHING: Texas starters had a 3.99 ERA in 2013, the second-lowest in the last 21 seasons in Arlington. Yu Darvish went 13-9 with an ERA of 2.83. Darvish had a strike-out rate of 11.89 per nine-innings. Joining Darvish will be Derek Holand who established career highs in ERA (3.42), innings pitched (213), starts (33) and strike-outs (189). Martin Perez joined the rotation in June after suffering a broken forearm in the spring. Perez went 10-5 in 19 starts. Left-hander Matt Harrison was an 18 game winner in 2012, but has battled injuries and two surgeries. Texas lost Matt Garza to free-agency so the Rangers will turn to Alexi Ogando who started 18 games in 2013. If Ogando doesn’t stay in the rotation, the Rangers like what he can bring out of the bullpen. Others who will be a look will be Nick Tepesch, Robbie Ross and Colby Lewis.
RELIEF PITCHING: Losing closer Joe Nathan will hurt the Rangers. Nathan saved 43 games while posting an ERA of 1.39. Texas will look to former closer Neftali Perez, who saved 72 games for the Rangers in 2010 and 2011. Perez is coming off Tommy John surgery after the Rangers moved him to the starting rotation. If Perez isn’t the answer, the Rangers will look to Joakim Soria, who had 160 saves with the Royals before he suffered an elbow injury and had Tommy John surgery. Tanner Scheppers may also be an answer after pitching in 76 games last season with an ERA of 1.88. Neal Cotts will also get a look this spring.
INFIELD: The catching duties will be up to Geovany Soto, the back-up to A.J. Pierzynski, who left for Boston. Soto is a former NL Rookie of the Year in 2008, but hasn’t lived up to his potential. The back-up to Soto will be J.P. Arencibia, who hit 21 HR’s with the Jays last season. Rookie Jorge Alfaro is considered one of the top prospects in baseball. Alfaro will get a long look this spring after throwing out 36% of the runners who tried to steal against him in 2013. Texas needed run production so they traded for 1B Prince Fielder. Fielder hit 25 HR’s with 106 RBI and a .819 OPS. The Rangers are counting on his numbers going higher in a more hitter friendly ball-park. Texas had to give up Ian Kinsler for Fielder and that has enabled Jurickson Profar to take over at 2B. Profar is considered the best prospect in baseball but he will have to make his way at 2B since the Rangers have Elvis Andrus at SS. Profar is expected to be a .300 hitter and a possible 20/20 player in the majors. Andrus hit .313 after the All-Star break and had 42 steals. Adrian Beltre is back at third after hitting .315, 30 HR’s and 92 RBI. Mitch Moreland will be the primary DH after hitting 23 HR’s in 2013.
OUTFIELD: Getting CF Shin-Shoo Choo will be big for the Rangers. Choo has the ability to get on-base (42.3% for the Reds in 2013) and score runs. Choo struggled against left-handed pitching but pounded right-handers (1.011 OPS). Choo will play leftfield in Texas with Leonys Martin in CF. Martin stole 36 bases in 2013 and is a very gifted outfielder. Alex Rios is the starting RF. Rios came to Texas from the White Sox in August and hit 18 HR’s and drove in 81 with both teams. Michael Choice will look for time after coming over from Oakland. Choice hit .302 in the minors and got on base 39% of the time.
PREDICTION: Texas will be a contender again in 2014 and after committing $260 million for Fielder and Choo they will finally score enough runs to help the excellent pitching staff. If the Rangers don’t make a move in the playoffs this season, Manager Ron Washington may be on the hot seat.
1st AL West