The Rangers suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the wild card playoff last season and that could possibly be the last hurrah for a while. This team isn’t the powerhouse that we’ve gotten use to seeing in Arlington over the past few years. The loss of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton have forced the Rangers to adapt.
They have questions in the starting staff, the bullpen and the lineup. They’ll have two rookies in key positions, players who are still growing into their skills and aging vets hoping to help this team hold the line and reach the playoffs once again. It’s not a sure thing.
I’ve had to omit a few players who deserve write up, including Adrian Beltre, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland, so that I could focus on the players with more upside, downside, bigger questions or who are ready to burst onto the scene. All of the above do deserve a little research, but I’m sure you can handle it.
Here are 10 to watch in 2013.
Lance Berkman (DH/1B): When the Rangers lost Josh Hamilton to free agency they brought in Berkman to be a middle of the lineup hitter and to make up for the power they lost with Hamilton. Berkman is older (37) and many who weren’t paying attention last year will look at last season’s overall and ignore him when it comes to draft time. He’s a terrific hitter who still has plenty of power, and as the team’s primary DH should be able to stay healthy and concentrate on his hitting. Upside here is probably about .280, 25 home runs and 100 RBIs on a cheap investment. Yu Darvish (SP): Darvish’s first crack at the big show was impressive though not quite ace like in terms of results. His 221 strikeouts were great, the 3.90 ERA not quite as much. If he can cut down on the walks the upside is tremendous. Pitching in hitter friendly Arlington does him no favors, but at this point he is his own worst enemy. Cut the walk rate in half and he’s as good as any ace in the game, maybe even better.
Alexi Ogando (SP): Starter, reliever, starter, reliever. The yo-yoing goes on with Ogando, who once again returns to the rotation in 2013. His last crack at in 2011 was plenty good: 13 wins, 3.51 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 126 strikeouts in 169 innings. However his upside for this season is considerably better if he can hold onto the gains in dominance and strike percentage that he’s gained since ’11. Think about eight strikeouts per nine innings, 15 wins and a sub 3.50 ERA as upside.
Nick Tepesch (SP): Expectation for the rookie hurler should be kept very low. He pitched at University of Missouri and is relatively mature at age 26, but his experience beyond college and rookie ball is limited to just 16 games at AA. He hasn’t really impressed in spring training, but the rest of the competition was either worse or sidetracked by injury. At AA he struck out just under seven per nine innings, so you can expect him to max out at only about five per nine in the big show. You can probably safely disregard him early in the season, but he might be worth keeping an eye on. I see some growth potential here. Ian Kinsler (2B): Kinsler’s age 30 season was a big let down following his monster 2011. His home runs fell by more than a third, steals by a third and run and RBI totals came down too, despite more at-bats. Still he came within a home run of being a 20-20 player. Last year is probably closer to the real potential for Kinsler at this point, especially since 2011 was driven by a higher than normal home run/fly ball rate. I’ll happily take .250-20-20 from a thin second base crop.
Leonys Martin (SP): The Cuban refugee looks like he has the opening day centerfield job locked up, at least initially. He’s got nothing left to prove in the minors, having gone .359 with 12 home runs in just 231 ABs at AAA last year. He didn’t fare as well during his cup of coffee in the majors last season, hitting just .174, but he’s looked great in spring training. If he can stick he offers 15-20 home run power to go with similar stolen base potential.
Jurickson Profar (2B/SS): At some point this season it wouldn’t be surprising to see Profar make his presence known. Rated as the top minor league prospect in the game Profar is a hitting machine who’s probably be in the lineup for almost every other team in baseball. However the Rangers have Elvis Andrus already at shortstop and have been toying with the idea of moving Profar to second, where he’s blocked by the aging Ian Kinsler. When he comes up he’ll be an immediate impact type player. However unless the Rangers trade Kinsler or a big injury occurs he probably won’t get enough major league at bats to be in the ROY discussion.
Nelson Cruz (OF): Cruz still has tremendous power but age seems to be telling a bit, and the threat of MLB investigation into PEDs coming from the Biogenesis clinic of America has Cruz’s name in the headlines for the wrong reason. That potential 50-game suspension is a huge concern for anyone considering drafting him or other players named in the investigation. Still if he gets to play, 30-plus home runs and 10 stolen bases is the upside, and that’s worth the risk if the price is right.
Elvis Andrus (SS): What happened to Andrus in the second half? He stopped trying to steal bases, his batting average against lefties plunged and his plate discipline just collapsed. While that does raise some red flags, it’s probably more just a symptom of youth or hidden injury, as it trends against pretty much everything he’s done in his career thus far. Odds are good not only that he’ll bounce back but that he’ll get plenty more steal opportunities than he had last year. Thirty or 40 steals seem more than likely. AJ Pierzynski (C): AJ managed to hit 27 home runs last year at age 36 -- more than he’s hit in any two seasons combined in the previous four years. It’s very unlikely that he’ll ever come close to that total again, but the Rangers sure hope he does. Moving to a hitter friendly ballpark from a neutral park should help a bit, but he’ll be a useful fantasy catcher, not an elite one. Give him the benefit of the doubt and plan for 10-14 home runs and accept anything else as cake when assessing him for draft day.