Top five Rangers spring training storylines

The Texas Rangers will begin working out in Surprise, Ariz., next week in what they hope is the beginning of the process of returning to the World Series for a third consecutive year.

There will be a lot of eyes on the Rangers this season because of the moves the team made on and off the field since losing Game 7 of the World Series to St. Louis.

Here are the top five storylines in Texas as they begin spring training.

1. Dealing with Yu-mania: The Rangers are prepping for a spring training like no other in the wake of the signing of Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish. Last year, the Rangers issued around 50 media credentials for spring training. This year, that number has more than tripled. All eyes will be on Darvish, who cost the team $111 million. Every pitch he throws will be scrutinized. His bullpen catcher will draw interviews, as will the batters Darvish is throwing batting practice to. The Rangers have added extra press facilities and extra security to try and handle the expected crush from both the media and new fans. It’s as close as Surprise is ever going to get to “Linsanity.” The key for Darvish is getting used to a new team and a new pitching regime. Hopefully the circus surrounding him won’t hamper that.

2. The Hamilton saga: Josh Hamilton may have a new best friend in Darvish. By the time Hamilton makes his first appearance in camp late next week, Darvish will have already addressed the media and some of the national spotlight will have already shifted away from Texas. That could be a good thing for Hamilton, who has had a rough offseason after his alcohol relapse. It’s a big spring for Hamilton, who has to prove he’s healthy both mentally and physically. A strong, quiet spring for Hamilton will go a long way to him returning to normalcy and getting ready for a huge season for the free agent to be.

3. No hangovers allowed: Texas fans still wince just hearing the words “Game 6.” Some of the Rangers probably do, too. The best way for Texas to get past last season is to get back on the field and start playing. The good thing is that there was no carryover from the 2010 World Series last year as the Rangers made it back to the World Series. If they proved 2010 was no fluke, maybe they can show they can get one more strike in 2012 and finally win the World Series. Manager Ron Washington said he would make sure his team’s focus is where it needs to be early in camp. Expect that to be the case.

4. The race for center: The best position battle in camp will be in centerfield. Texas could decide to use Josh Hamilton in center, although Washington has said he wants to take as much stress off Hamilton’s body as possible. That could open the door for Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry or Leonys Martin. Borbon struggled last year before getting sent down and then getting injured. Gentry excelled late in the season, but has had issues staying healthy. Martin hasn’t played a full year in the organization. A platoon of Borbon and Gentry is possible, although if one of them has a big spring that could open the door for the club to keep another bench player like Conor Jackson or Brad Hawpe.

5. The Feliz transition: Two years ago, the Rangers had success converting C.J. Wilson from reliever to starter. Last year, it was Alexi Ogando who made the switch. Now the Rangers will try to do it with Neftali Feliz. The club has been in contact with him all winter and even set up a meeting with Dominican great Pedro Martinez. The key for Feliz in spring training will be building up his arm strength and working on pitches other than fastballs. The Rangers aren’t expecting Feliz to be an All-Star this year like Wilson and Ogando were in 2011, but if he can become an effective back-of-rotation starter in his first year on the job, it’s another conversion success story for Texas.