Spring Training is now less than a month away for the Texas Rangers. Pitchers and catchers will report to Surprise, Arizona on February 22nd, and what a sight it will be as Yu Darvish will surely garner a massive amount of attention from both the club and the media.
Still, Darvish represents just one of 25 that will make up the Rangers 2012 roster. There are going to be some notable changes on the '12 version of the Rangers, but for the most part, the team won't be drastically different from the '11 Rangers -- which is fine, since you know, that team won the American League pennant and everything.
Offensively, Texas' lineup is once again strong, and will boast many of the same regulars as it did in '11. Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland all figure to make up the infield for the Rangers. Kinsler, Andrus and Beltre will, of course, anchor second base, shortstop and third base respectively. Napoli should serve as Texas' primary catcher, and will likely pick up some starts at first -- much like he did in 2011.
First base, though, is what many figured the Rangers would address this offseason. It seems that the club is content with Mitch Moreland at first, with Young likely to pick up some starts at first as well as Napoli. Playing through a wrist injury in '11, Moreland hit just .259/.320/.414 with a .317 wOBA. For a first baseman, those numbers are borderline unacceptable. Bill James' projection for Moreland has him hitting .270/.339/.446 with a .338 wOBA, which, isn't great for a first baseman, but it's obviously a step up and would be plenty acceptable given Texas' deep lineup.
It is possible that Moreland will be challenged in the spring, as the Rangers did sign Brad Hawpe to a minor league contract and invited him to Surprise. Still, it's unlikely that Hawpe will have much left in the tank. Hawpe is coming off two miserable seasons, which he spent with Colorado, Tampa Bay and San Diego, so expecting anything out of him is simply wishful thinking.
Texas' outfield could be a bit different in '12. Nelson Cruz is certainly locked in at right field, and Josh Hamilton figures to play either left or center field. Where Hamilton ends up playing depends highly on the spring performances by Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin. Rangers fans have already seen Borbon, and for the most part, know what to expect from him.
Martin, though, is a wild card. Baseball America recently ranked Martin as the fifth best Rangers prospect, behind Darvish, Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez and Mike Olt. Martin should be a plus defender in center, and he profiles as a leadoff hitter. Martin handled AA pitching with ease last year, hitting .348/.435/.571, but struggled in AAA, hitting just .263/.316/.314. He might need time in AAA to start off, but, he could very well win the job out of the gate -- which would move Hamilton to left field.
Should neither Martin or Borbon impress enough, Hamilton will likely start in center for the Rangers, with David Murphy getting the nod in left field.
On the pitching side, the top of the rotation will look different. Yu Darvish will slot in at or near the top of the rotation immediately, followed by Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz. Feliz, of course, is the most notable of the first four, as he's spent the first two years of his major league career as Texas' closer. His highest potential still comes in the rotation, so it certainly makes sense to start Feliz.
The fifth spot of the rotation is still currently up for grabs. It would figure that Matt Harrison would earn the spot after his very successful 2011 campaign, and thus sending Alexi Ogando back to the bullpen. Still, the team continues to flirt with signing veteran right hander Roy Oswalt, which could possibly send both Harrison and Ogando to the bullpen, or result in Harrison possibly being traded as well.
The back of Texas' bullpen also looks different this year, with the team signing former Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan. Mike Adams, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, Ogando and Scott Feldman also figure to be parts of the bullpen. Texas currently is without a lefty reliever, but, that could change if Harrison is moved to the bullpen, or if the team re-signs Mike Gonzalez. It's possible, although unlikely, that the team would use Perez out of the bullpen, though I doubt the Rangers would stunt his development to serve such a minor bullpen role.
Koji Uehara remains on the roster as of today, but, his name has been in many trade rumors in the past week, and it would now seem unlikely that he'll be on the Rangers in a month.
No matter how you slice it, there is plenty reason to be excited for the '12 Rangers. An excellent lineup remains excellent, and we'll likely get to see Martin take over in center at some point during the season. We'll get to watch Darvish against major league hitting, and we'll get to watch Feliz for more than an inning at a time.
No, the Rangers didn't add Albert Pujols to their team like the Angels did. But they didn't need to. This is an excellent team that should very well return to the postseason in '12 and make a bid for a third consecutive American League pennant.