By Matthew Postins
The Texas Rangers have opened Spring Training in Surprise, Ariz. Spring Training started earlier this year, as the World Baseball Classic starts in March. RattleandHumSports.com previews the Rangers by breaking down the pitchers invited to camp.
Pitchers: Jeff Beliveau, Cory Burns, Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz, Wilmer Font, Jason Frasor, Justin Grimm, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, Colby Lewis, Josh Lindblom, Roman Mendez, Justin Miller, Joe Nathan, Alexi Ogando, Joe Ortiz, Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria, Matthew West, Coty Woods.
Non-Roster Invitees (as of Feb. 6)
Pitchers: Collin Balester, Jacob Brigham, Cody Buckel, Neal Cotts, Kyle McClellan, Evan Meek, Yonata Ortega, Nate Robertson, Yoshinori Tateyama, Nick Tepesch, Randy Wells, Johan Yan.
The Rotation: If you believe the depth chart on the Rangers’ website, the rotation is set. Harrison – who just received a long-term deal from the Rangers – and Darvish are the anchors. The Rangers hope that Holland can finally establish a full season of consistent pitching, while Ogando has to prove he’s the pitcher the Rangers fell in love with in 2010 and most of 2011. Perez, considered one of baseball’s Top 100 prospects, made several starts down the stretch last season but has to improve.
Rotation Competition: The popular contention is that Perez’s spot in the rotation is the only one up for grabs. There’s a chance Ogando’s could be in play, however, if he doesn’t throw well in the spring. There are plenty of candidates, many of which pitching coach Mike Maddux told reporters would be “stretched” out during the spring to prepare to be starters. Grimm had a tremendous debut last year, winning his first MLB start against Houston in June. He’s considered a bullpen candidate as well. Ross, who was a star in the Rangers’ bullpen a year ago, is going to get a look. The other candidates Maddux identified are non-roster invitees – Buckel, McClellan, Wells and Tepesch. Buckel is intriguing because he was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012. But none of the current candidates has much in the way of MLB experience.
The Wild Card: The Rangers could go outside to find a fifth starter. There’s a lot of chatter about Kyle Lohse, who was part of the Cardinals’ rotation when they beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series. But the Cardinals may go swoop Lohse up now that Chris Carpenter is hurt. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels expressed little interest in Lohse during an interview last week.
Don’t Forget About: Lewis, who is rehabbing an arm injury and could be back in the season’s second half.
Opening Day: Don’t be surprised if the Rangers seek a veteran for the back end of the rotation. There is too much uncertainty in the candidates for the No. 5 spot. The Rangers better hope Darvish, Harrison, Holland and Ogando stay healthy.
The Bullpen: There are some certainties. Nathan is the closer. Well, all right, there’s one certainty. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? Right?
Bullpen Competition: Some of this will be sorted out by the rotation competition. For instance, if Ross doesn’t claim the No. 5 spot, he’ll go back to the bullpen. The same could be said for Grimm. Scheppers, who threw well at times last year, is a leading candidate to return to middle relief. The Rangers acquired Frasor to help serve as a set-up man for Nathan. Same goes for Lindblom, a short reliever who averaged nearly a strikeout an inning and had a 2.93 ERA with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. Scheppers, Frasor and Lindblom are all right-handers. The Rangers took back Brigham after the Geovany Soto trade. He appears healthy now and could be a potential candidate. Tateyama is experienced, if inconsistent, as is Kirkman.
The Wild Card: Keep an eye on Woods, a Rule 5 selection from the Colorado Rockies. Woods converted 27 of 31 save opportunities in Double A and Triple A. He was hit hard at Triple A, where his ERA ballooned to 7.40 from a 0.76 in Double A, where he was clearly dominant.
Don’t Forget About: Feliz and Soria. Soria, acquired from Kansas City, should be back sometime in May from Tommy John surgery. Feliz won’t be back until August. Should both come back healthy, they could work with Nathan and give the Rangers three All-Star closers.
Opening Day: With Nathan anchoring the back end of the bullpen, expect Frasor, Lindblom, Ross, Grimm and Scheppers to be there. There are too many candidates to predict who the final bullpen arm will be right now, but the Rangers will need to explore every option among its left-handed relievers to find an appropriate set-up arm, especially if Ross manages to win a rotation spot.