Big changes for Rangers going to spring training

For the first time since the Texas Rangers moved their spring

training west a decade ago, Michael Young won’t be walking into

their clubhouse in Arizona this week.

Neither will slugger Josh Hamilton, the five-time All-Star and

former AL MVP. And they’re not defending an American League title

either. They didn’t win a game last October following World Series

appearances the previous two seasons.

There are some significant differences as Rangers pitchers and

catchers report to Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday, three days before

the reporting date for the rest of the squad.

”It’s definitely going to be a different atmosphere,” said

18-game winner Matt Harrison, the left-hander who got a new

contract last month.

That doesn’t mean the Rangers have lowered their expectations or

feel they had a bad offseason even though they failed to keep

Hamilton – they wouldn’t have matched the $125 million, five-year

deal he got from the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels – and missed

out on signing top free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. Young, the

longest-tenured Texas player after 12 seasons, was traded to

Philadelphia where he is expected to be a full-time starting third

baseman again.

”I’m genuinely like our chances,” general manager Jon Daniels

said. ”Obviously there were a couple of guys we were interested in

early on that ended elsewhere. That’s part of the deal. … We like

our club, and we like the possibilities ahead of us.”

Especially with the starting rotation they have in place, likely

for several seasons to come after the $55 million, five-year deal

for 27-year-old All-Star lefty Harrison with a club option for 2018

that could become guaranteed.

Japanese ace Yu Darvish heads into the second year of a $56

million, six-year deal, though there are provisions that could

allow the 26-year-old right-hander to become a free agent after a

year earlier, after the 2016 season.

Derek Holland, a 26-year-old lefty, is under contract through

2016, with club options for two additional years. And Alexi Ogando,

a 13-game winner and All-Star starter in 2011 before pitching out

of the bullpen last season, is back in the rotation and under team

control at least four more seasons, including his

arbitration-eligible years.

”We’ve had some great individual performances, but to look up

and have Matt and Yu and Derek and Alexi, and know that the core of

the rotation is going to be here – these are accomplished young

pitchers,” Daniels said. ”It is evidence that all the efforts

we’ve made on the scouting and development side to put this young

rotation together, that it’s paying off.”

Remember, this is a team that used to be known primarily for its

slugging.

While there will be competition among several young pitchers in

spring training for the No. 5 starting spot, the Rangers anticipate

the return of veteran right-hander Colby Lewis by June or July from

elbow surgery.

Darvish had a much more low-key arrival in Arizona on Monday

than a year ago, when his every move was documented by

international media as he made adjustments to a new country and a

new league. He went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA, 67 strikeouts and 15 walks

over his last eight starts of the regular season.

”Compared to last year, I feel so much more at ease, after

finishing my first year getting to know all the players, the

coaches, the front-office personnel. … I really feel I’m part of

the team now. How I feel right now, it’s a totally different

feeling,” Darvish said before getting to Arizona. ”Last year,

there was more of a rush, trying to prepare at a much quicker pace.

This time, I’m going at my own pace.”

Manager Ron Washington, getting ready for his seventh season

with the Rangers, hopes Darvish can build on the consistency he

showed the second half of his All-Star debut.

”I think what he accomplished was finding who Yu Darvish was,

the same Yu Darvish we thought we had when we got him,” Washington

said.

Switch-hitting designated hitter Lance Berkman, signed after

Hamilton’s departure, is likely to take over in the No. 3 spot in

the lineup. The six-time All-Star was limited to 32 games last

season for St. Louis because of a strained left calf and two

operations on his right knee, but the Texas native expects to be

ready for the regular season.

For now, the Rangers expect Nelson Cruz to be their everyday

right fielder, though he is part of a Major League Baseball

investigation being among several players named in a Miami New

Times story about banned growth hormones and other banned

performance-enhancing substances.

Cruz, third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus are

among Rangers players expected to miss some of camp to participate

in the World Baseball Classic. Top prospect Jurickson Profar, who

could have a chance to make the 25-man roster, also might play in

that international tournament.