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Top Five: Remaining Spring Questions For Rangers

The Rangers are largely a settled roster, but a few questions have lingered this spring. Foremost among them: wither Neftali Feliz?

Feliz delivery
Feliz delivery

The Rangers entered spring training without a lot of questions to be answered. The only significant subtractions from their 2010 pennant winners were Cliff Lee, Frank Francisco (who was not on the postseason roster), Vladimir Guerrero (replaced in effect by some combination of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli) and Bengie Molina (replaced by Yorvit Torrealba). While losing Lee and adding only a health question mark in Brandon Webb certainly created a void, the team expects C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis to lead the rotation.

The biggest question facing Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels and Ron Washington at the outset of camp was what would happen with Michael Young. We appear to have an answer to that one: nothing. Young has reported, hit well, and played 3B, 2B, 1B and DH, while carrying on in his role as clubhouse leader as if he hasn't had a standing request to be traded. 

No. 5: Who will step up into late bullpen roles? 

One obvious answer here is Alexi Ogando. His 2010 rise was remarkable, from banishment to a U.S. pitching debut at the AA level and an early MLB promotion, he was arguably the second best reliever on the major league team in his 41.2 innings. Washington seemed to be terrified of using him early in the playoffs, but he turned in six solid innings there as well.

After Ogando, things get a little dicey, particularly from the right side. The Rangers clearly want Mark Lowe to take on a late role, but while his stuff seems to be returning, his command is not there yet. He may have to work his way back to an important role early in the season. Darren O'Day has been borderline spectacular when not overused, but any ideal alignment wouldn't rely on him to consistently pitch entire eighth innings. From the left side, the Rangers carry two lefties in their forties who have handled late roles. The question for Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes is when they will hit the age wall, but neither has showed many signs of slowing down just yet. 

No. 4: Where will Michael Young's 600 plate appearances come from?

Assuming that Adrian Beltre's calf issue doesn't reappear, this should be a nice problem. Mitch Moreland has been impressive again this spring, Ian Kinsler is healthy, and Mike Napoli continues to pound left-handed pitching. This all seems to add up to the vast majority of Young's PAs coming from the DH spot. Moreland has been solid defensively this spring, so, aside from injuries, Young's only regular starts in the field may be the ones he wins over Napoli at first against left-handed starters.

I don't know if Young has gotten over his perceived offseason slight(s), but if he's angry, his .407/.485/.630 spring line suggests that may be a good thing.

No. 3: Who out of the Rangers' group of young lefties - Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Michael Kirkman - can win a rotation spot?

I'm biased here, because I've not bought into the thinking that Holland's stock should be sinking. As uneven as his 2010 was, he still posted numbers that we would all accept from the number four or five slot this season. His last spring outing was excellent, so I can't see any reason that we shouldn't expect him to start the Rangers' fourth game, the Seattle series opener.

Harrison is having another good spring, but we've seen this before. I'll believe that his sum equals the parts when I see it. If the season opened today, given what we've seen from Dave Bush, Harrison would probably be the best option (pending No. 1 below), but be ready for more of what we've seen from Harrison as a starter. Kirkman tantalizes with four pitches, 2-3 being above average on a given day, but the smart money has to be on him winning a bullpen role or preparing himself with more starts in Oklahoma City's rotation.

No. 2: When will Brandon Webb be ready to pitch?

We still don't know exactly (which, of course, is why it's still one of the top questions), but it's looking like we could see him at some point in May. What will he look like when we do see him? I don't think we'll have any idea until then, but velocity continues to be the big question. He topped out around 85 in his last session, which the Rangers called "crisp."

No. 1: Will Neftali Feliz start or close?

This is certainly the question of the day in Rangers camp, since Feliz followed another imperfect but solid start with a reversal of his previous preference to remain the team's closer. Ron Washington added a little extra drama by saying today that if Feliz becomes a starter, he expects Jon Daniels to trade for a closer. Washington can't be dumb enough to think that going out and dealing for a closer in late March is a realistic expectation, particularly when the team traded Frank Francisco a month ago. More likely, it was his way of saying that he is fully in the Feliz For Closer camp. And I will admit, outside of Ogando I don't have a lot of confidence in the remaining late relievers.

I want to see Feliz win a starting role sooner or later, as we all should, and I continue to see signs that make me expect that it will happen eventually. The factor that makes this a pretty complicated scenario, though, is his age. It's easy to forget that Feliz is still just 22 and that a full season as a starter would more than double his innings total from 2010 and shatter his career high of 127 comfortable minor league innings in 2008. Even with his inconsistent command and secondary pitches, Feliz could survive now in a rotation, and the Rangers might be better for it. I'm not so certain that Feliz would be.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.