Just in sheer numbers alone, there’s bound to be a surprise or two for the Texas Rangers this spring,
Right now the club has 63 players on the spring training roster, five more than they’ve carried to camp in any of the last five years. Most of the 63 have their futures mapped out for them this year already whether they know it or not.
But there are a few who could have big springs and play themselves into the Rangers’ plans for this year. Here’s a look at five who could surprise in Surprise this spring.
OF Julio Borbon: Remember when Borbon was the Opening Day centerfielder for the Rangers in back-to-back seasons? It seems so long ago but it was really just in 2010 and 2011. Now Borbon comes to back in a new situation. He’s out of options so this is his last shot with the Rangers. General manager Jon Daniels has already said that Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry will get bulk of the work in center this year. But if for nothing else than to showcase Borbon, he’s got to get a look. Maybe the extra playing time will give him a chance to open some eyes. He’s still got more playing time in the majors than either Martin or Gentry and he had a solid season at Round Rock last year, batting .304 and scoring 78 runs.
RHP Evan Meek: Remember last year when the Rangers had Joe Beimel and Mitch Stetter in camp as non-roster invitees. Meek is in that category but with more upside than the two early camp evictees last year. Meek had two healthy years in Pittsburgh that culminated with an All-Star season in 2010. But shoulder injuries slowed him the last two years, and he pitched in just 12 games last season with a 6.75 ERA and ended his year in the minors. If Meek is healthy he could compete for a spot in the bullpen. General manager Jon Daniels said that the only two guarantees in the bullpen are Joe Nathan and Jason Frasor, so at least Meek is coming to Surprise with a chance.
RHP Cody Buckel: Call this the Robbie Ross roster spot. Anyone who had Ross making the roster out of spring last year deserves a gold star. Maybe Buckel could be this year’s version of Ross. He fits the mold as he’s never pitched above Double A. But Buckel, who will go to camp as a starter, went a combined 10-8 last season with 2.49 ERA while earning the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year honors. While he’s not a frontrunner for the No. 5 rotation spot, it could be done. He could also end up being a bullpen piece. He has made 13 appearances in relief in the minors. While it may be tough for him to make the big leagues in his first major-league camp, it can happen.
INF Leury Garcia: Garcia doesn’t have the prospect buzz that Jurickson Profar has but he may have the inside track on winning a utility infielder spot over Profar. The Rangers still want Profar to play every day and would seem more willing to let Garcia get the limited playing time at the major-league level. Garcia did well enough offensively at Frisco last season (.292 average) and would give the Rangers a base-stealing threat off the bench, as he’s had at least 30 steals in each of the last three seasons. He’s also proved versatile, as he played 39 games at shortstop last year and 57 at second. The Rangers also want to get him some work in the outfield this spring. He played sparingly in center last year. OF Joey Butler: Let’s call Butler the ready-made Nelson Cruz contingency plan. If Cruz gets suspended for the PED allegations and the Rangers aren’t satisfied with any of their options in right field, then they can turn to Butler. He’s handled right for Round Rock the last two years, and had a big season in 2012 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs. If the Rangers are uncomfortable trying to make a right fielder because of need, Butler can step right in.