2014 Rangers preview: Can Choo, Prince help club dethrone A’s?
Offense: The Rangers lineup will take a hit with Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar missing the beginning of the season without reliable replacements for either player. Gone is Kinsler, who is replaced by Choo at the leadoff spot. The Rangers are hoping Choo can continue to play at a high level, getting on base consistently as he has done for most of his career along with hitting 20 or more home runs as he has done in three of the past five seasons. New No. 3 hitter Fielder should see his stats improve in Texas’ more hitter-friendly ballpark, which favors left-handed hitters with a short distance to the right-field wall. Choice was brought in to the be fourth outfielder, but will likely see more playing time after having an outstanding showing in spring training.
Rotation: Spring training and the offseason have not been kind to Texas’ starting pitchers with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison set to start the season on the DL. Yu Darvish, scratched from his Opening Day start, could wind up on the DL as well with neck problems. With Darvish’s injury, former reliever Tanner Scheppers will make his first career Opening Day start. Once the three injured arms are healthy, the rotation could be a strong point for the Rangers. However, they will have fight through the first couple months of the season with replacements. Fortunately, Martin Perez is still healthy and will look to improve on his solid first extended season in the big leagues where he went 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts.
Bullpen: With Joe Nathan moving on, the Rangers named Joakim Soria the new closer over hard-throwing Neftali Feliz, who was sent to Triple-A after returning from Tommy John surgery and could return at some point in the season. During Soria’s first five major-league seasons, all with the Royals, he saved 160 games in 180 opportunities. Alexi Ogando will be used as a setup man, and Shawn Tolleson, who struck out 39 in 37 2/3 innings in 2012, makes his return after lower back surgery forced him to miss the majority of last season. Overall, the bullpen should be in good shape, and will be looked to often in the early parts of the season to pitch more innings given the current state of the rotation.
Player to watch: Profar will start the season on the DL with a torn muscle in his throwing shoulder. Once he returns, he will be stepping into the role of the Rangers everyday second baseman voided by Kinsler who was traded to Detroit for Fielder. In Profar’s extended time in majors last season, he hit just .234/.308/.336 with six home runs in 85 games, but at just 21 years old, along with the full-time starting gig at second base, his numbers could begin to reflect his former status as one of the top prospects in all of baseball just one season ago.
Why they will in: Much like the past few seasons, the Rangers offense will be relied on heavily to hold the team up, especially with the rotation being in the state it is in. With Choo and Fielder in the offensive mix, the Rangers are expecting the lineup to be strong once again and hopefully be over the consistency issues that plagued the team much of last season.
Why they will lose: Despite starting the season without their best pitchers in the rotation, the Rangers will have to make sure they do not dig themselves too big of a hole to start the season. While bad starts can sometimes be recovered throughout the course of the year, Texas likely won’t be able to catch up if it gets too far behind in the tough AL West.
Rob Neyer’s outlook: This might have been the Rangers’ season. Hey, it might still be the Rangers’ season. Choo should score a ton of runs, and Fielder’s power might come back in Texas. But now the Rangers seem ill-poised to take advantage of the Athletics’ injury-plagued rotation, because the Rangers’ rotation is just as injury-plagued. Maybe more plagued! First Holland and Harrison got hurt, and now Darvish is gimpy, too. Plus, the Rangers lost their starting second baseman when Profar went down with a serious shoulder injury. Can the Rangers win 90 games with Scheppers, Joe Saunders, and Robbie Ross in the rotation? Sure they can. Fielder just has to hit 40-or-more home runs.