5 Ways the Rangers Can Fill the Void at First Base
The 2017 Texas Rangers could be a power bat away from being real World Series contenders. With the absence of Mitch Moreland a free-agent splash could push the Rangers further into contention.
Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in 26 short days. The Rangers still have no first baseman. With Mitch Moreland signing with the Boston Red Sox, Jon Daniels may have to get creative to fill the void at first base. The free agent market is certainly a possibility as several big name free agents still remain. The Rangers also have plenty of in-house options if the front office wants to go that route.
5. Ronald Guzman/Joey Gallo
Ronald Guzman is one of the fastest climbing prospects in the Rangers farm system. Climbing all the way to the 4th spot according to MLB Pipeline. As a 21-year-old Guzman hit a respectable .274/.333/.449 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. However, his .216/.266/.330 slash in 25 games in Triple-A is a cause for concern. These struggles could warrant a delay in his Major League debut.
Guzman’s power numbers have steadily been on the rise since his Minor League debut in 2012. As he grows more into his frame his numbers should continue to rise. One of the major concerns with Guzman is his plate discipline. Last season he struck out 105 times while only drawing 39 walks. Guzman will benefit from another year of seasoning in the minors but a strong showing in Spring Training may force the Rangers hand.
At 23-years-old Joey Gallo could be the Rangers biggest wildcard. If he can start making more contact and lay off the off-speed pitches. If Gallo can utilize his 80-grade power, the Rangers could have a legitimate 40 HR threat who provides solid defense at first. Gallo still has plenty to work on and from his performance last year, Gallo just might not be ready yet. In 25 Major League at-bats Gallo struck out a whopping 19 times only amassing one hit which happened to also be his only home-run.
Gallo had an average season in Triple-A, but his short stint in the Majors was concerning. If Gallo shows signs of improvement in his approach at the plate this spring, then he is a possible choice for starting Opening Day. Otherwise, he may need more time in the minors refining his approach to be ready to take over third base when Adrian Beltre retires.
4. Josh Hamilton/Ryan Rua Platoon
The Rangers may have to get creative if they do not want to spend big money. After signing a minor-league deal with the club yesterday, Josh Hamilton said he was going to “try and play first” base” as T.R. Sullivan tweeted. Hamilton has never played first in his 10-year Major League career and as Ron Washington once said “it’s incredibly hard”. Given his decline in athleticism and his fragile state, Josh Hamilton may be at a DH-only point in his career. If he proves he can provide adequate defense at first he could be a solid platoon option against right-handed pitchers.
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Ryan Rua was a pleasant surprise in 2016. Even though he teetered off in the second half. Rua put up solid numbers against lefties and has earned a spot somewhere on the team. That somewhere may be a platoon at first base. Rua hit a respectable .277/.348/.406 against left-handed pitchers last year, but there are more encouraging stats. Against left-handed starters Rua put up a .311/.370/.462 slash and in his 25 games at first he hit .333/.382/.464. With his ability to play the outfield, Rua may be better utilized as a platoon for Shin-Soo Choo in left field but as a hitter he’s better utilized at first.
3. Sign Chris Carter
Let’s get this out-of-the-way, the free-agent options at first base are going to be major defensive liabilities. The defensive drop off between Gold Glove winning Mitch Moreland and Chris Carter would be significant. His -16.6 defensive rating (according to FanGraphs) was the 2nd worst among National League first-basemen. Compared to Mitch Moreland’s -2.9 defensive rating which was the in the MLB. First base is not a defense demanding position, but the difference between the two would be quite noticeable.
The increase in power from Moreland to Carter would be noticeable. At this point in his career it’s safe to call Carter a one-trick-pony. He hits home-runs and that’s about it, but he hits home-runs at an elite level. His 41 home-runs in 2016 were tied for most in the National League with Nolan Arenado and his ISO power rating of .277 was best in the National League. However, his 206 strikeouts and 32% strikeout rate were also first in the National League. Regardless of his swing and miss rate, Carter would provide a significant power threat in the middle of the lineup.
2. Sign Mike Napoli
Who does not want to see Mike Napoli return for a third stint? The “NAP-O-LI-” chants roaring throughout the stadium. I can almost feel the one-strike-away vibes right now. Just like Carter, Napoli is simply not good defensively. His -11.8 defensive rating was the 4th worst in the American League. That is with almost 300 fewer innings than the rest of the field. Napoli may be better used as a DH, but if you can look past the horrid defense. The 35-year-old still provides a solid thump in the middle of the order.
Napoli set a career high in homers and in RBI’s a year ago with 34 and 101 respectively. His .226 ISO rating was the 4th highest of his career and his highest since 2012. His .465 slugging percentage was the highest it has been in three years. However, his 30.1% strikeout rate was the highest of his career and his 12.1% walk rate was the lowest since 2010. Much like Carter, if you can look past the poor defense and high swing and miss rate, Napoli would be a huge get for a team hungry for a power bat.
1. Sign Mark Trumbo
Mark Trumbo would be a huge signing for the Rangers. Of course, it would come with the cost of a first round pick since Trumbo turned down the Baltimore Orioles qualifying offer. Although since the Rangers are getting compensated for Ian Desmond signing elsewhere it could be worth the risk. Trumbo is coming off a career year, his 2nd All-Star appearance and his first Silver-Slugger award and yet the Rangers could get him at a bargain. We’ve seen players in the past get less than market value because of the qualifying offer and with teams worried about his defense Trumbo could be cheap and absolutely worth it.
Trumbo set career highs in home-runs with 47 (best in MLB), and RBI with 108, and slugging percentage with .533 and ISO rating with .277. His 25.5% strikeout rate matches up with his career totals but is still lower than both Napoli and Carter. His .316 OBP leaves much to be desired especially as a power hitter but his walk rate was one of the highest of his career. Trumbo would thrive in a hitter friendly park and would be a major run producer with a high scoring offense. While he has not had significant time at first base since 2013 he makes for a much better defender at first than in the outfield posting a decent -3.6 defensive rating in 2013. Trumbo would be a splash and would considerably change the outlook of the 2017 Texas Rangers.