Last year I had the Rangers as the fourth best team in baseball. They had traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and dropping some serious coin ($130 million over 7 years) on Shin Soo-Choo. They had a plethora of young talent ready to rumble as well as some older dogs returning. But oh how the injury gods smited the 2014 Rangers. From the looks of it, they won't be having any part of a healthy 2015 edition of this team either. Fielder played in all of 42 sub-par games in 2014, hitting just three home runs before undergoing season-ending neck surgery. It was one of the first in a crushing series of gut punches the Rangers endured last year. The Prince says he is 100% healthy now but similar to back injuries, neck injuries that require reconstructive surgery don't just "go away." Second base has already been bitten by the injury bug in 2015. Jurickson Profar, who missed all of 2014 with a torn shoulder muscle, will now miss the entire 2015 season. Attempts to rehabilitate the shoulder backfired and now the 22 year old Curacao native will have to recover from labrum surgery. His age gives Rangers fans hope, but two consecutive seasons wiped out by injury wasn't in the script for the organization's former number one prospect. He will be replaced by the even younger Rougned Odor. The 21 year old Odor, colloquially known as Stinky like he probably was in second grade, showed signs of power from the second base position in 2014 and with the job firmly in his grasp could produce 20-25 home runs to conjure memories of Kinsler. Hopefully by the time 17 year old Rougned Odor, yes the current Rougned Odor has a younger brother named Rougned Odor, makes the Majors, he'll be conjuring Rangers' fans memories of Rougned Odor. *JUST A DUDE PLAYING A DUDE PLAYING A DUDE* Elvis Andrus remains the shortstop after being one of the few Rangers to escape serious malady in 2014. With all the heads rolling around him however, Andrus put forth his worst statistical season as a Major Leaguer. That hurts just that much more with Texas management investing nearly $120 million in him until 2022. The ageless Adrian Beltre remains at third, but for how long depends on the development of top prospect Joey Gallo. Beltre was the best position player last year as he has been every year since coming to Arlington from Boston. His run production dipped but I'll chalk that up to the morgue of a lineup around him than a drop off in ability. He still hit .324 with 19 home runs and 33 doubles. But he'll turn 36 just after Opening Day and Gallo is murdering Minor League pitching. Between two levels in 2014, he hit 42 home runs and drove in 106. If Texas starts to struggle again, which I predict they will, Beltre, a free agent after 2016, could be moved to a contender. At catcher, Robinson Chirinos will be given every opportunity to replicate his 13 homer rookie season though he is hardly a neophyte at 30 years old.
The outfield is just as dependent on bounce back years. Like Fielder, big money man Shin Soo-Choo returns from injury to take at least one spot in the outfield. Where that is just yet is up for debate. With his injury history and loss of range, he maybe more well suited in right field, where he played half of 2014, than his preferred center field. The center field job looks, for now, to be in the grasp of Leonys Martin. The 27 year old Cuban played both corners during his first full season but settled into the middle of the outfield last year. He will also bat lead off for Texas, another role he took from the oft-injured Choo. Left field is up in the air. When healthy, which wasn't very often, this was Choo's spot last year. Now that they are sans-Alex Rios, the Rangers have to pick from a laundry list of out of options players and minor league invitees. Ryan Rua seems to have the pole position on left currently, but could just as easily be relegated to the bench for Michael Choice, Jake Smolinski, Ryan Ludwick, or Nate Schierholtz based on new manager Jeff Banister's mood. The odd man or men out will likely platoon with DH Mitch Moreland who will not play against tougher left handed pitchers.
The rotation is certainly diminished by the loss of Yu Darvish. The three-time All-Star is the latest Tommy John blow among top of the rotation arms. No Yu means a bump up in the order for everyone. The new number one is Derek Holland. He may not start Opening Day, that'll probably be newcomer Yovani Gallardo, but Holland returns from injury (what a surprise, an injured Ranger) to take the mantle as the leader of the staff. As for Gallardo, he comes to the American League for the first time after a trade from Milwaukee. They are hoping he is more than a rental after giving up two of their top prospects to acquire him. Gallardo is a free agent at season's end. Another free-agent-to-be possible rental is Ross Detwiler. Detwiler isn't the pitcher that Gallardo is but the former top 10 pick pitched to a 3.46 ERA from 2011-13 before overcrowding in Washington moved him to the bullpen last year. Detwiler will be looking to use his transition back into a starting role into a big payday but has a spotty medical record. Both him and the Rangers are hoping he can produce to get that contract. Recovering from hip surgery, Colby Lewis took a beating in 2014. He led the American League in losses and ended with a 5.18 ERA. Lewis seemed to turn around an otherwise disappointing career in 2012. We'll see this year if that was just an outlier, or if the hip was to blame for a return to ineptitude. The fifth spot may change very often at Globe Life Park this year. The current battle is between two Nicks, Tepesch and Martinez. Both struggled throughout 2014, combining for just 10 wins. Another candidate is former Red Sox farmhand Anthony Ranaudo. He may be suited more as a long man out of the bullpen but with the way Rangers get injured he may be in the rotation sooner than later. Looking towards the middle of the season, all three fifth starter candidates may be bullpen bound with the returns of Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Harrison has top of the rotation stuff but is still recovering from spinal fusion that has limited him to just six starts in the past two years. Perez looked promising before Tommy John surgery cut his 2014 short.
The bullpen is a big question mark. It is closer Neftali Feliz and then...I don't know. Like Feliz, Tanner Scheppers has bounced between the rotation and bullpen in his Rangers tenure. Will management allow him to become a trusted set-up man or thrust him back into the rotation if injuries mount? I don't know. Shawn Tolleson was a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen in 2014. Will he be able to take on a similar workload (64 games, 71 2/3 IP) to last year, the most he's ever pitched in his career? I don't know. Who are the rest of the pitchers who will presumably take on the sixth and seventh inning work? Cub castoff Kyuji Fujikawa? Journeyman Joe Beimel? Young gun Alex Claudio? I don't know. The only thing I know is that if the Rangers are going to make me look as dumb this year as they did last year, the bullpen is going to need to be elite.
Of the teams in the bottom five, the Rangers are the most poised to prove me wrong in 2015. They have talent all over the diamond and have shown a pedigree for winning before last season's dismal 67-95 record. I am just too gun shy to pick them to do anything positive until that talent can all stay on the field for a full 162 games. If they become the walking wounded again, the Rangers will once again be rock bottom in the American League.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #4 (DOWN 22)
PREDICTED RECORD: 70-92
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Neftali Feliz (relief pitcher), Rougned Odor (second baseman)
Trevor Utley once watched a full season of Walker Texas Ranger, not consecutively.
Image Credit: Rangers logo (sportslogos.net)