PRESEASON PREVIEW: Texas Rangers
Barajas is the key to Texas
Barajas is the key to Texas

Posted Feb 25, 2005


The Rangers shocked all of baseball by staying in the AL West race until September last season. Rather than overhauling a good young core of players, the Rangers elected to pick up cheaper alternatives to compliment Soriano, Young, Blaylock and Cordero. With one unknown quantity after another in the starting rotation the bullpen will again be asked to shoulder the load, can they keep the Rangers in a very tough AL West?

ADDITIONS:  C Sandy Alomar Jr. (free agent from Chicago White Sox); OF Richard Hidalgo (free agent from NY Mets); RHP Pedro Astacio (free agent from Boston); 1B-DH Greg Colbrunn (minor league free agent from Arizona).

LOSSES:  OF Brian Jordan (signed with Atlanta); INF-OF Eric Young (signed with San Diego); DH Brad Fullmer (unsigned free agent); DH Herbert Perry (unsigned free agent); RHP Colby Lewis (claimed on waivers by Detroit); RHP Mickey Callaway (released); RHP Jeff Nelson (signed with Seattle); RHP Jay Powell (signed with Atlanta).

1: 2B Alfonso Soriano

2: 3B Hank Blaylock

3: SS Michael Young

4: 1B Mark Texiera

5: LF Kevin Mench

6: RF Richard Hidalgo

7: DH David Dellucci/Greg Colbrunn

8: C Rod Barajas

9: CF Laynce Nix/Gary Mathews Jr

The Rangers offense was potent for the first half of 2004 but slumped in the second half.  A primary concern for Texas was getting deeper, and they did that with the additions of Hidalgo and Colbrunn.  Both players bring the potential for big bats from the right side, but both have also been injury prone.  Dellucci saw his first season as a full time starter in 2004 and barely managed a .200 average in the second half, and Nix also wore down in the Texas heat late in the season.  Dellucci and Colbrunn will split time at DH, Nix and Hidalgo will get spelled by Mathews Jr.  If the offense maintains its production through a full season then they might be looked at a serious contenders rather than the 'overachievers' they were considered last year.

They will have speed at both the top (Soriano and Young) and bottom (Nix, Matthews Jr.) of the order, and power everywhere.  Barajas will likely start the season in the eighth hole, but if he really has come into his own (15 homers and 58 RBI in 358 at bats in '04) he could move to the six hole quickly.

BENCH:  Mark DeRosa (INF) was handed the keys to 3rd base in Atlanta last year and couldn't get the job done.  He's coming off knee surgery that could leave him a little less versatile than the Rangers would like, but should at least be able to back up at second and third base.  Perhaps a bigger acquisition than Hidalgo and Colbrunn was bringing Sandy Alomar Jr. in to backup Barajas.  The Rangers are a lot of things, but experienced is not one of them.  Barajas is still raw, and Alomar will help to smooth out the edges, but beyond being a backup catcher Alomar, and his 18 seasons of MLB experience, can help show a team nobody thought would contend last year what it is like to win meaningful games.

STARTING ROTATION:  

LHP  Kenny Rodgers

RHP Ryan Drese

RHP Pedro Astacio

RHP Chan Ho Park

RHP Chris Young

To say the starting rotation is a question mark would be a Texas sized understatement.  Rodgers won a career high 18 games last year and was a unquestioned  Ace, but he's 40 years old.  Drese was a breakout pitcher last year with one of the better sinkers in the league, but he really started pressing at 175 innings and goes into his first season where the hitters will have seen him.  Astacio is a train wreck, Pedro Martinez's arm with a body that's been worked on like an old Chevy.  He's pitched less than 50 innings in the last two seasons combined, but the Rangers are walking around Spring Training talking about getting 1000 innings out of their starting rotation.  That should be even more amusing with Park as the #4.  He's supposed to be healthy for the first time since he came to Texas from the Dodgers, and he's throwing in the low 90s again, but the last time he was effective he was throwing 95, and that is a long way back in the rearview mirror.  Young was an August call up last season, and as with any 6'10"lefthanded starter there were Big Unit comparisons, but he's still essentially a rookie, meaning this rotation has nothing even close to a 'sure thing.'

The Rangers aren't looking for a Cy Young to emerge, and the 1000 innings goal is probably a little unrealistic, but all this rotation really needs is to improve on the 61 quality starts they posted last year (a number that finished dead last in the American League).  If that number is closer to 90 the Rangers should be in good shape because their bullpen might be the best in the league.

BULLPEN: 

Closer:  Francisco Cordero

Set Up:  Frank Francisco

RHP:  Carlos Almanzar

RHP:  Doug Brocail

RHP:  R.A. Dickey

LHP:  Ron Mahay

LHP:  Brian Shouse

Cordero has emerged as a big time closer, and one more season like last year's 49 save campaign with propel him to official 'Elite Closer' status.  He comes into the Spring with even more confidence in the slider that made him so dominant last season and anchors a bullpen that won the 'Triple Crown' last season, leading the league in ERA, Bullpen Winning Percentage and Converted Save Percentage.  Francisco on the other hand has had soreness in his arm from almost his first toss of the Spring, enough that the Rangers have shut him down temporarily.  There are no plans to give him an MRI at this time, but there will be a very slow schedule for him this Spring.  Almanzar is, like Astacio, a guy desperately trying to come back from arm injuries, and will, more than any other pitcher in the Rangers pen, have to prove himself to get meaningful opportunities.  Brocail remains a solid middle relief guy, and Dickey will likely split his time between long relief and spot starts, and would be the most obvious choice to replace Astacio in the rotation if injuries arise.  Unlike many clubs the Rangers have one set up guy (Francisco) instead of a lefty/righty tandem, but Mahay and Shouse keep the Rangers solid from the left side.  Mahay has added value in that he's nearly as effective against right handers while Shouse is one of the better lefty specialists in the league.  The bullpen is by far the biggest strength of this club, and since there are so many question marks in the rotation that doesn't look like it will change soon.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK:  It would be easy (and correct) to say the starting rotation, but instead we'll go with Kevin Mench.  He appears to be on the verge of becoming a dominant hitter from the right side, and could anchor the very potent lineup, or he could have been a flash in the pan, and the Rangers newfound depth with return to being a thin bench without much pop.

BREAKOUT PLAYER:  Rod Barajas.  Last season showed everyone that the Arizona Diamondbacks should have taken a look at Barajas as their 'catcher of the future' before allowing the Rangers to scoop him up.  This season could be the one where Barajas announces himself as the heir apparent to Ivan Rodriguez.  With Sandy Alomar Jr. in the locker room, and the confidence of knowing the starting job is his, Barajas should seize the opportunity to become on of the best catchers in the league.

PROJECTION:  Buck Showalter is quite possibly the most underrated manager in the big leagues and held this team together seemingly with his bare hands last season.  For months the pundits and prognosticators predicted the Rangers would fall off, and they did, in late September.  Most assumed the Rangers would make a big offseason push for starting pitching, but after the Park debacle the Rangers elected to go with cheaper, less proven talent (Astacio and Young) and depend on the bullpen that carried them throughout '04.  With the A's losing two of their 'Big Three' and the Mariners just starting to rebuild a team that lost 99 games last year, the Rangers can finish in the top half of the division, but seem unlikely to challenge the Angels as AL West champions.



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