Rangers have plenty of questions as spring training starts

Texas Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers will arrive at the Surprise Recreation Complex early Sunday morning and full squad workouts begin later this week.

For a team that’s won 370 regular-season games in the last four years and had a busy offseason, the club has plenty of questions.

Texas general manager Jon Daniels said the key to the spring is coming out of it healthy. Every other team could say the same.

As for what the Rangers need to be watching out for this spring, here are five big questions looming for the Rangers in the West Valley.

• Who’s No. 5? While you could argue that there are questions for each of the four locks in the Texas rotation, it’s at No. 5 where the situation gets really cloudy. That cleared up some this week with the team signing right-hander Tommy Hanson. If Hanson can bounce back from a poor season in Los Angeles that was due in part to a right forearm problem and the death of his stepbrother, then he has the edge over the field. If he can’t, then it brings another host of pitchers back into play. Nick Tepesch has 17 starts under his belt but his struggles in the second and third time through the order are well noted (8.31 ERA after third inning). Lefty Robbie Ross started in winter ball and will be stretched out again this spring. The same goes for Tanner Scheppers, although he’s likely too valuable as a set-up man. Michael Kirkman is a long shot, but not as long a shot as Jose Contreras, who is in camp on a minor-league deal. And Colby Lewis and his new hip can’t be overlooked either.

• Who is the closer? While Scheppers has said that if he’s not a starter he’d like a chance to close, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. The Rangers have two relievers with proven track records as closers. The issue is that both of them were limited in 2013 as each of them was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Neftali Feliz has more dominant stuff than Joakim Soria but he was limited to 4 2/3 innings with the Rangers last year because of his rehab from surgery. He had 72 saves for Texas in his two years as the closer and he appears to be the frontrunner. Soria logged just 23 2/3 innings in his first year with the Rangers after missing all of the 2012 season. Like Feliz, he has a track record as a closer (160 saves). Feliz pitched effectively in winter ball, with his velocity nearly reaching pre-injury standards. That should give him the edge.

• How does Profar respond to starting? When the Texas Rangers traded Ian Kinsler to Detroit it cleared the way for Profar to take over at second base. The organization said the club wasn’t just going to give Profar the job at second, but if you look at the other options, they already have. The good news for Texas is that Profar has some experience at second, starting 29 games last year. That should make things easier defensively for the team’s new double-play combo of Profar and Elvis Andrus. He’ll be limited early this spring because of right shoulder tendinitis, which will have him behind on his throwing program. That shouldn’t be an issue though. The bigger question comes at the plate. The switch-hitting Profar batted just .188 against left-handed pitching last year. He said he worked in the offseason on hitting from both sides of the plate after spending last year focusing on his approach vs. right-handers. The Rangers have to hope that work pays off for their likely No. 8 hitter.

• How will the bottom of the order work out? The Rangers have a solid 1-5 in their batting order. It’s after the Fab Five of Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios that things get interesting. Right now the Rangers have Mitch Moreland hitting sixth, Geovany Soto seventh, Profar eighth and Leonys Martin ninth. Of those four, Martin had the highest batting average last year at .260 and he was the only one of the four who hit better than .250. If Profar shows strides in his second year, that would help. Soto feels like he discovered something with a simpler approach at the plate last year and maybe that carries over. Moreland has been streaky throughout his career. Martin was streaky in his first full year too, hitting .324 in a one-month span but closing the season by hitting .210 in the final 36 games. The Rangers need their 6-9 hitters to find some consistency to get things back to the top of the order.

• Who is the fourth outfielder? Last year the Rangers had the luxury of having Craig Gentry, who came up big for Texas. With Gentry now in Oakland, how that void is filled remains to be seen. Michael Choice, who was acquired for Gentry, could be the answer. He can play multiple positions in the outfield but has limited experience in the big leagues. Jim Adduci could be the fourth outfielder. He hit .258 last season but if the Rangers need a right-handed bat that could hurt his cause. Engel Beltre also played well in his 22 games for the Rangers and could provide the same kind of spark as Gentry. Alex Castellanos put up decent power numbers in Triple A last year but like the rest of the candidates, is limited at the big-league level. He has just 41 at-bats in the majors.