Cactus League preview: Texas Rangers
FEB 16, 2014 1:10p ET
The Texas Rangers could not have come any closer to making the playoffs for a fourth straight year in 2013, needing a 163rd tiebreaking game to seal their postseason-less fate.
But with 91 wins in 2013, even if none of them came in the playoffs, the Rangers remain strong AL West contenders as they enter another spring training.
Battling the Angels, Athletics and new-look Mariners, they still face a grind in the West but arrive in Surprise with a couple big-time additions in outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and first baseman Prince Fielder. But like most teams, they also report with some questions to address.
Here's a look at what's in store for the Rangers this spring and what to watch for in camp.
2013 in a nutshell
The Rangers spent 95 days atop their division during the 2013 season yet somehow found themselves playing no baseball in October. A 37-31 record in the second half will do that to a team playing in the ultra-competitive AL West. The Rangers finished the year 91-72 and second in the West, missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. Second-year ace Yu Darvish finished second in AL Cy Young voting after going 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA, and Adrian Beltre hit 30 home runs for a third straight season.
Comings and goings
-- Departures: DH Lance Berkman (option declined), OF Nelson Cruz (free agent), SP Matt Garza (free agent), OF Craig Gentry (traded), 2B Ian Kinsler (traded), SP Josh Lindblom (traded), OF David Murphy (free agent), RP Joe Nathan (free agent), C A.J. Pierzynski (free agent).
3 burning questions
1) How will the new lineup click?
While much of the Rangers' Opening Day lineup should look similar to last season, there have been a few big changes this offseason. Texas dealt longtime second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit for slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, an All-Star who drove in 106 runs last season but saw a slight decline in his numbers for a second straight season. Fielder should benefit from hitting in Rangers Ballpark. The Rangers also added a top tier free agent in outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo may not put up the kind of power numbers he did a few seasons ago but always has a high on-base percentage and should provide solid support for Fielder and Beltre in the batting order. Elsewhere, catcher Geovany Soto moves back into an everyday role with A.J. Pierzynski gone via free agency. While the lineup changes are relatively few, they are far from subtle.
2) How will the starting rotation look without Holland?
In Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, the Rangers had a solid one-two combination, but with Holland now out for at least half the season with a knee injury, there is uncertainty in the rotation. Darvish is now the only returning starter who threw 200 innings or more last season. Of the others, only Martin Perez (124 1/3) and Alexi Ogando (104 1/3) reached 100 innings. After a solid rookie season, Perez should be in position for more innings, as should Ogando if he remains healthy -- he went on the disabled list three times in 2013. Elsewhere, Matt Harrison is still recovering from three back surgeries in a year, Colby Lewis is on the mend from a hip injury and Nick Tepesch made just three appearances in the second half last season due to elbow inflammation. The Rangers did sign free agent Tommy Hanson to a minor league contract, and he's presumably a middle/back-end option. Relievers Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers could be rotation candidates as well.
3) Can Feliz return to form as a closer?
The Rangers lost Joe Nathan, who collected 43 saves last season, to the Tigers in free agency. While they do have an obvious replacement in Neftali Feliz, the arrangement isn't a sure thing. After notching 72 saves combined in 2010 and 2011, Feliz has made just 14 appearances the past two seasons due to an elbow injury. Feliz moved to the starting rotation in 2012 but went down with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery, keeping him out for most of 2013. The Rangers are hoping he can come back strong this year and return to form as a closer, but Joakim Soria and Scheppers will be candidates as well.
And another thing
Jurickson Profar should benefit from some consistency. A utility player last year, Profar now has second base all to himself with Kinsler gone. The 20-year-old switch hitter, considered among the top young infielders in baseball, played in 85 games last season but now has the opportunity to be an everyday player.
Player to watch
Michael Choice. The 10th overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft, Choice came to the Rangers via trade as the Athletics' No. 2 prospect. He ranks nearly as high in the Rangers' system and stood to win the starting job in left field before the Rangers signed Choo. Choice will now try to make the roster as a fourth outfielder and part-time designated hitter, and he could turn out to be a significant offensive contributor.
Pitchers and catchers report Sunday, Feb. 16. Full squad reports Wednesday, Feb. 19. Games begin Feb. 27 at Surprise Stadium, 15960 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise. Visit www.texasrangers.com for full schedule and tickets.