By Dic Humphrey
The Rangers’ spring training is down to little more than a week. Their last game in Arizona is next Wednesday, at which point the roster will be essentially set. After they break camp, they play three exhibition games against a Mexican team in Arlington and two against San Diego in San Antonio before opening the season on the night of Easter Sunday in Houston, a game to be nationally televised on ESPN.
The Rangers re-assigned 12 players this week, which reduced the number in Major League camp to 46. Six were pitchers and six were position players, including Mike Olt. Olt struggled as he hit just .194 and led the team in strikeouts. He clearly needs more minor league seasoning and was assigned to AAA Round Rock. He was outstanding defensively at third base and was only adequate in right field. There doesn’t appear much need for a third baseman in Arlington any time soon with Adrian Beltre signed long term.
Right field is a relatively new position for Olt, and he will continue to get more work there as well as third base. He will likely be back in Arlington later this summer in any event. Injuries have a way of creating the need, and he could force his way onto the roster with a stellar performance at Round Rock. In any event, he appears to be an important cog in the Rangers’ plan going forward. Corner outfielders David Murphy and Nelson Cruz are eligible for free agency after the 2013 season; and Olt, as the premier power hitting prospect in the organization, could take one of their places if they depart.
With the roster moves this week, 12 of the 13 position player roster spots are essentially set. A. J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto are the catchers. Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Beltre are the starting infielders. A platoon of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry in center field will join Murphy and Cruz as the outfielders. Lance Berkman is the designated hitter, and Jeff Baker will be the right-handed bat off the bench. Baker, who is batting .467 this spring, can play first, second and third base, as well as right and left field.
That leaves just the backup middle infielder position up for grabs. Jurickson Profar, now back from playing with the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, is a candidate for that roster spot, though management has indicated that Profar would need to be in line for at least 350 at bats, an unusually high number for the backup middle infielder, in order to make the team and forego playing every day at AAA.
That also means that outfielder Julio Borbon will not be with Texas much longer, barring injury. Borbon has performed well this spring, hitting .357 with nine RBI’s. But he is out of minor league options, so he must stay on the active roster or clear waivers in order to return to the minor leagues. It is likely that he would be claimed if exposed to waivers, so the Rangers will probably make a deal.
On the pitching end, the field for the fifth starter is, in all likelihood, down to three pitchers. Veteran Kyle McClellan fell out of the competition with an injury. That leaves lefty Robbie Ross and righty Nick Tepesch as candidates. However, the Rangers are now considering Michael Kirkman, a starter in the minors who has seen action in the Rangers’ bullpen in each of the past three seasons.
Veteran Derek Lowe tossed three shutout innings against Kansas City Monday night as the starting pitcher, subbing for Yu Darvish, who was scratched with neck stiffness. However, manager Ron Washington said after the game that Lowe was not a candidate for the rotation. GM Jon Daniels told Richard Durrett on ESPN Radio Wednesday afternoon that he expects the fifth starter to come from the internal candidates; that he was not engaged in any serious talks for a trade.
With four starters in place, Ross and Kirkman, who have roster spots as either a starter or reliever, and Jason Frasor and Joe Nathan in the pen; eight pitching roster spots are spoken for, leaving four up for grabs. Actually, the Rangers could start the season with an 11-man pitching staff, giving them an extra position player in the early going. They will not require a fifth starter until the ninth game of the season.
Daniels said Wednesday that the Rangers basically have the roster set, but feel no need to announce the final cuts. There is still a week to go, so they plan to wait and see what plays out.
BALLPARK UPDATE: Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington is undergoing a significant renovation with an eight-digit cost. Tuesday night, fans were able to get a preview of the construction as UT-Arlington played TCU at the park. Much of the stadium was closed off to the public, as much of it is actually a construction site. The former Jose Cuervo Club, now re-named the Capital One Club, is undergoing a truly significant renovation. More permanent seats have been added to the club, and it will offer fans entering at the home plate gate a clear view through to the field. Many of the seats in the lower bowl have been replaced, a gift shop behind sections 30-31 replaces the former ticket office at that location, and a few front row seats have been added between the dugouts.
There appears to be a massive amount of work left to complete the construction with just a week until the exhibition game against the Mexican team and a little over two weeks until the home opener. However, Ranger official Jay Miller expressed confidence that all will be well when the Angels arrive on April 5 saying, “I know we have a long way to go, but having been through five stadiums being built, I have no doubt it will get done.”
WBC UPDATE: The World Baseball Classic came to an end Tuesday night when Team Dominican Republic beat Team Puerto Rico 3-0 in the final. The Dominican team was clearly the best in this Classic as they were undefeated at 8-0, including three wins over Team Puerto Rico. The Dominican team is full of household names, such as their keystone combination of the Yankees’ Robinson Cano at second base and the Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes at short. It had a bullpen that essentially any team in the Majors would be pleased to have. Manager Tony Pena also got high marks for his game management.
With the conclusion of play, the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz (Dominican Republic) and Jurickson Profar (The Netherlands) are back in camp with Texas.
* Rangers’ outfielder Leonys Martin missed workouts Monday and Tuesday. Martin, a native of Cuba, was in Miami becoming a United States Citizen.
* Commissioner Bud Selig said that the WBC would be scheduled again in 2017.