Rangers begin spring training next week

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, February 9th, 2019

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM
Member United States Basketball Writers Association

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers begin spring training next week. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Tuesday with the first workout a day later. The report date for position players is February 17 and the first spring game is Saturday, February 23 against the Royals in Surprise, Arizona.
The spring training schedule concludes with a pair of games in
Globe Life Park, Monday and Tuesday, March 25 and 26.  The season then opens two days later at home against the  Cubs.

On the field, the key areas to look for are the starting rotation, catching, third base, and how the outfield picture shakes out.  The starting rotation is penciled in as Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Edinson Volquez, and Drew Smyly.  All veterans, all once considered to be quality pitchers and all coming back from arm surgeries.

Minor was very successful last season, his first as a starter since surgery.  Part of that success was the Rangers managing his
innings. They watched his pitch counts, keeping them low, and often put an extra day or two between starts.  They likely will do the same with Miller, Smyly and Volquez.

The fragility of the rotation demands depth with starting pitchers at the AAA level that could be on tap to join the Rangers on
short notice. Veteran Josh Hamel was signed this week to be part of the depth. Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez were part of the Rangers’ rotation late last season and figure into the depth as well.

Surprisingly, the bullpen appears to be set. New manager Chris Woodward named Jose Leclerc as the closer early on.  Leclerc took over the closer role at the end of July when Keone Kela was traded to the Pirates.  He was simply magnificent finishing the season with 12 saves in 12 opportunities allowing just one run in the final 18 innings, and finished the season with a 1.57 ERA.

Chris Martin and Jesse Chavez are back. Chavez was re-signed after finishing last season with the Cubs.  Chicago traded for him in July after three very good months with Texas to start the year. The Rangers recently added veterans Shawn Kelley and Zach McAlister, signed as free agents.

That’s five of seven or eight bullpen spots. Candidates for the final two or three spots include Luke Farrell, who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs this winter. Conner Sadzeck and Nick Gardewine are right-handers that saw action out of the Ranger pen last year. Left-handers C.D. Pelham and Jeffrey Springs did too.  The Ranger also have added Jordan Romano as a Rule 5 draftee.  He’ll need to make the Rangers’ roster or be offered back to the Blue Jays. Two more candidates are Brady Feigl and Kyle Bird, who were very successful at AAA last year, but did not get called up in September.

Lastly, veteran David Carpenter is trying to make a comeback after not pitching in the Majors since 2015.  He signed a minor league contract with Texas.

Seven of the starting eight position players are more or less set. They are Ronald Guzman, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, and Asdrubal Cabrera from first around to third base. The Rangers have announced Joey Gallo as the left fielder, Nomar Mazara is the right fielder and Delino DeShields is the incumbent center fielder.

In the infield, there could be a position battle at third base. Patrick Wisdom was acquired from St. Louis for Drew Robinson.  He is a right-handed batter with power and has a chance to be the guy that replaces Adrian Beltre.  If he does, Cabrera becomes a back-up infielder, and he’ll get lots of playing time at four positions. The Rangers also signed veteran infielder Matt Davidson to a minor league contract this week with an invitation to spring training. Davidson has played 273 games over four seasons with Arizona and the Chicago White Sox.  He’s got some power, hitting 43 home runs over the past two seasons.  He bats right, so could be a platoon counterpart to Guzman at first base, and he is also looking to pitch.

In the outfield, DeShields had a poor second half at the plate last year. He probably needs to show something in spring training to keep the job, though there is no heir apparent waiting in the wings. Willie Calhoun could also thrust himself into the outfield picture. He is said to be in much better shape this year, having lost a considerable amount of weight during the off season.  Considered a solid hitting prospect with defensive shortcomings, Calhoun has done all that he can do in the minor leagues, so he probably makes the opening day roster. Where he fits is the question.

Carlos Tocci was the Rule 5 outfielder the Rangers kept on the roster last season although he really wasn’t Major League ready.  He likely goes to AAA to start the year, but in the closing weeks of last season received a lot of playing time. He played solid defense in center field and showed progress at the plate. Tocci has to be considered a long shot, but has a chance to unseat DeShields in center field.

Veteran outfielder Hunter Pence (a U.T.-Arlington product) was signed this week to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Scott Heineman was outstanding last season at AAA.  He’s injured, but could figure in the outfield picture later in the season.

The position that is really up for grabs though is catcher. The spot opened up when the Rangers didn’t pick up the team option on Robinson Chirinos, who later signed with Houston. Chirinos’s departure definitely puts a hole in the batting order.  He hit 35 home runs over the last two seasons, very nice production from a defense first position.

Veteran Jeff Mathis was signed this winter. Highly regarded for his pitch calling, handling of pitchers, and overall defense, Mathis is viewed almost as a player/coach with the young pitchers the Rangers will be bringing to the Majors in the next couple of seasons. He’s not a front line catcher though. His lifetime batting average is .198, and he’s never caught as many as 100 games in a season.  He has caught more than 90 just twice, with the last time being 2011.

The signing of Mathis though is a clear indicator of where the Rangers want to go.  They want to be a better defensive team.
After Mathis, there are Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino. Trevino is not ready to be a Major League starting catcher, and his offense is suspect for ever being one.  Kiner-Falefa caught in 35 games last year, and doesn’t have much more catching experience in the minor leagues.  It’s difficult to imagine getting 162 games behind the plate from this trio.

A couple of older veterans have been signed to minor league contracts with an invite to spring training – Jeff Bandy and Tony Sanchez.  It is still very possible that the Rangers make a trade or sign a more high profile catcher to be in the opening day lineup.

That leaves Shin-Soo Choo as the designated hitter. Many teams have gotten away from an everyday DH and pass the assignment around regular position players to give them a half day off.  New manager Chris Woodward will likely find playing time for Choo in right field to make DH time available to other hitters on the team.

Meanwhile, back in Arlington the headlines have been about the choice of synthetic grass for the new Globe Life Field.  Shaw Sports Turf was selected as the surface.  They have developed a synthetic turf that differs dramatically from that used at fields such as Toronto’s Rogers Centre and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.  It’s designed to have the look and feel of real grass. The infield will have dirt base paths, not just dirt cutouts around the bases.  The pitchers’ mound of course will also be dirt, such that the look of the field will closely resemble that of a field with real grass.

NOTABLE:
• The Rangers have set Saturday, June 8 as the ceremony date to
retire Adrian Beltre’s number 29.  The ceremony will commence at 7:35
PM (Central) with the game time slated for 8:05 PM.
• The “disabled list” or “DL” is a thing of the past. It’s been
re-named the “injured list” or “IL”.

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