by Clayton Myers
2018 Record: 67-95 (5th in AL West)
2018 Payroll: $140,625,018 (16th)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
1. DH Shin-Soo Choo .254 AVG/.356 OBP/.418 SLG, 0.8 WAR
2. 2B Rougned Odor .249 AVG/.307 OBP/.453 SLG, 2.1 WAR
3. SS Elvis Andrus .266 AVG/.322 OBP/.394 SLG, 1.3 WAR
4. OF Joey Gallo .225 AVG/.334 OBP/.507 SLG, 3.2 WAR
5. OF Nomar Mazara .271 AVG/.337 OBP/.463 SLG, 2.0 WAR
6. 3B Asdrubal Cabrera .271 AVG/.332 OBP/.445 SLG, 1.8 WAR
7. 1B Ronald Guzman .252 AVG/.321 OBP/.417 SLG, 0.4 WAR
8. OF Delino DeShields .239 AVG/.326 OBP/.339 SLG, 0.8 WAR
9. C Isiah Kiner-Falefa .263 AVG/.325 OBP/.362 SLG, 0.5 WAR
Projected 2019 Rotation:
1. Lance Lynn 138.0 IP/4.46 ERA/1.43 WHIP, 1.6 WAR
2. Mike Minor 175.0 IP/4.59 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
3. Shelby Miller 106.0 IP/4.86 ERA/1.43 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
4. Drew Smyly 130.0 IP/4.78 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
5. Edinson Volquez 128 IP/5.12 ERA/1.53 WHIP, 0.8 WAR
As is the case for many rebuilding teams, the Texas Rangers had a pretty quiet offseason, making only small transactions. The most notable roster change for the Rangers this offseason was the retirement of future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. To replace him the Rangers brought in Asdrubal Cabrera, who spent last season with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. Cabrera will be an interesting player to watch for the Rangers, seeing which version of his 2018 self he brings to Arlington. If he can replicate his form with the Mets where he put up a 124 wRC+ and 18 home runs in 98 games leading to 2.2 fWAR, Cabrera becomes either a key contributor to a contending Rangers team or an intriguing trade piece for another team. If Cabrera plays for the Rangers with the same quality as he played with the Phillies, where he posted an 83 wRC+, he could find himself out of the lineup. The second most notable signing the Rangers made in terms of fielders was bringing in catcher Jeff Mathis after they declined Robinson Chirinos’ 4.5 million dollar option. Bringing in Mathis gives the Rangers a veteran presence behind the plate and in the clubhouse. However, Mathis does not bring a very good bat to the team as he hit .200 last year. With Mathis turning 36 at the end of this month there’s not much potential for growth this season. Lastly, the Rangers said goodbye to former number one prospect Jurickson Profar, trading him to the Oakland Athletics for prospects. Profar had his struggles with the Rangers but was productive in 2018, posting a 2.9 fWAR. Despite last years success, the Rangers felt that they didn’t have a spot for the 26-year-old. It will be interesting to see how this deal turns out for the Rangers because despite Profar’s struggles in the past he has shown signs of being able to at least partially match his very high potential.
The major focus of the Rangers’ offseason was retooling their pitching staff. Last season after they traded Cole Hamels to the Cubs, the Rangers rotation was quite poor. The quintet of Mike Minor, Bartolo Colon, Yovani Gallardo, Martin Perez, and Doug Fister isn’t the best rotation a team can put out. Of those five only Minor remains with the team. Perez was able to find a contract with the Twins, but Fister, Colon, and Gallardo are all without a job. The biggest move the Rangers made to shore up their rotation was signing Lance Lynn to a 3 year, 30 million dollar deal. Last year with the Twins and Yankees he had an ERA of 4.77. While on the surface that doesn’t seem like a very good signing, in his 11 games with the Yankees Lynn had 2.17 FIP and 3.03 xFIP, indicating that Lynn has the potential for a major rebound. Anyways, Lynn has been a solid pitcher throughout his career. He will bring a productive option for the Rangers at the front of their rotation. The second starter the Rangers brought in was Shelby Miller. Miller only played in 5 games last season for the Diamondbacks and wasn’t effective in those games with an ERA of 10.69. Miller has had issues with injuries over the past few years, and the Rangers hope that he can stay healthy and provide some value to the team. Drew Smyly was the third player the Rangers brought in to shore up the rotation. Smyly has not played in the majors since 2016 and has struggled with durability, reaching 100 innings only twice in his career. When healthy, Smyly has been an effective pitcher, with a career ERA+ of 107. He could provide the Rangers with a solid mid-rotation starter if he stays healthy. Edinson Volquez was the last starter the Rangers brought in to patch up the rotation. Volquez missed the 2018 season with elbow surgery, and in his last season in 2017, he had a 4.19 ERA and a 1.0 fWAR. Throughout the majority of his career, Volquez has been pretty average, but he should be a reliable arm at the end of the rotation nonetheless.
2019 Season Preview:
Coming off a 67 win season nobody really expects the Rangers to be a contender this year. In a division with the Houston Astros, it would take a shocking turn around for the Rangers to make it to October. I do think the Rangers are not a cellar dweller this year. They should have a strong enough team to keep things interesting into at least August.
The lineup has a mix of young players and veterans that should be at least somewhat productive this year. One of those veterans, 36-year-old Shin-Soo Choo is coming off a season where he rebounded after having a few down years. Last year, Choo put up a very respectable .377 OBP. With that walk rate, Choo managed to put together a 52 game on-base streak last year, which is a Texas Rangers franchise record. Choo ended up with a 118 wRC+, indicating he was 18% better than a league average hitter. Last season’s resurgence was not just a lucky season, proven by Choo’s BABIP, which was .330, slightly below his career average of .337. With that being said, Choo has a good chance to have another productive season, partially because he is very good at drawing walks. Choo’s 13.8% walk rate placed him 14th in the majors last season, and even if his bat starts to decline due to age, Choo should get on base enough to be productive. I see Choo as a veteran who can provide stability at the top of the order.
The middle infield combo of Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus both have been mainstays with the Rangers for a while and are solid players who will be key players for the team this season. Odor will be looking to replicate his 2018 form, where he posted a career-high walk rate (8%) and raised his batting average by .049. If Odor can combine his 2018 plate approach with his 2017 power, he could be a very dangerous batter. A season like that would look around .250/.330/.450 with 30 home runs, which is really good for a second baseman. Unlike Odor, Elvis Andrus would like to put 2018 behind him. Andrus played in 97 games last season and put up his lowest fWAR in his career at 1.2. The Rangers hope that Andrus’ struggles last season were due to injuries and he can play in 2019 as he did in 2017. The 2017 version of Andrus showed a potential for power, as he hit a career high in home runs with 20. If both Odor and Andrus play up to their potential this season, the Rangers could have a really good middle infield over the next few years, with Odor being 25 and Andrus 30. Both players also bring an element of speed to the team, with Odor averaging 12 steals per 162 games and Andrus averaging 30.
On the topic of speed, center fielder Delino DeShields is one of the fastest players in baseball. DeShields had a down year last season, hitting only .216 for a wRC+ of 61. I think that DeShields should be able to bounce back from last year’s disappointment in part because his BABIP was around .040 lower than his career average. If DeShields can raise his batting average to around .250 and combine that with his career 10.1 % walk rate, he will be able to consistently get on base and be a terror on the base paths. Deshields should be able to surpass his career high of steals of 29 this year and be a decent option for the Rangers in center field.
The biggest power threat the Rangers have this season is Joey Gallo, who is coming off back to back 40 home run seasons, and it is certainly possible that he could reach that mark again. Gallo is the perfect representative of three true outcomes baseball. In his career, Gallo has a walk rate of 13.4%, a strikeout rate of 38%, and 12.3 AB/HR, and we can expect nothing different in 2019. I would expect Gallo to continue to put up a lot of home runs this year and provide a feared presence in the middle of the Rangers’ order.
Nomar Mazara is a player that has not quite lived up to the expectations set on him when he rose through the Rangers system as a top prospect. Despite not reaching his potential yet, Mazara is still 23 years old and has plenty of time to improve and become a star. Last season, Mazara hit too many ground balls, with a 55.1% ground ball rate. Despite his struggles putting the ball in the air, Mazara has produced three straight 20 home run seasons. If Mazara can reach his potential at the plate, he can be a really strong middle of the order bat, and even if he doesn’t make the jump to become an all-star caliber hitter, Mazara will be a cheap, league average hitter.
Behind the plate, the Rangers will deploy a tandem of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jeff Mathis. Kiner-Falefa is a former infielder that the Rangers transitioned to become a catcher. Last year, Kiner-Falefa played 35 games at catcher and was effective at throwing base stealers, catching eight of the 25 runners. While Kiner-Falefa had a solid arm behind the plate, the rest of his defensive game made him a below average catcher. That’s why the Rangers brought in Jeff Mathis to be a platoon player this year. Mathis will be an average player but will provide the clubhouse with veteran leadership. Overall, the Rangers’ catcher situation is a weakness, but because the team is rebuilding it is not the biggest deal.
In general, the Rangers lineup has some pretty solid players and could be an above average offense. If the Rangers are to make a push for the postseason, their offense will be the ones to carry them there. The pitchers that the Rangers plan on running out there are not the most exciting for the fans. Of those, Lance Lynn is the pitcher Rangers fans should be excited about after he signed with them for 30 million over 3 years. Last season Lynn had 9.25 strikeouts per nine innings, and in his 11 games with the Yankees, he posted a 2.1 fWAR in 54.1 innings. If Lynn can perform similarly to how he did with the Yankees, the Rangers will have a bargain on their hands.
Mike Minor was the best starter on the Rangers last season, leading the team in innings pitched with 157.0. With his performance, Minor was the only starter the Rangers retained from last years rotation of him, Bartolo Colon, Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, and Martin Perez. The reason that Minor was kept by the Rangers is that he was actually very effective last season. Minor had a 4.18 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, and he was even better in 2017 with the Royals, where he had an ERA+ of 176. Reaching either his 2017 or 2018 performance level will provide the Rangers with a very good pitcher that could lead them to a contending season or provide them with a very attractive trade option.
Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly, and Shelby Miller all are in a similar boat, coming off injuries causing them to miss most of or all of 2018. Honestly, this trio isn’t the most exciting for fans, with Miller being the youngest at 28 years old. Volquez is a 35-year-old who didn’t pitch in 2018 due to injury, so Rangers fans can’t expect a great performance. Smyly hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016, so we have to question if he can perform at the same level he previously had, and even that wasn’t elite. Shelby Miller made 5 starts last year and was not good in those starts. Miller did have a good stretch at the beginning of his career with the Cardinals, so if he can reach is 2014 form the Rangers have a good pitcher on their hands.
The Rangers best pitcher can be found at the back end of their bullpen in closer Jose Leclerc. The 25-year-old became the team’s closer after the Rangers traded Keone Kela to the Pirates, and he pitched great. Leclerc pitched in 59 games last season and had a 1.56 ERA. Leclerc struck out 38.1% of the batters he faced and had an fWAR of 2.5 out of the pen. Because he is so young, Leclerc should continue to be one of the best relievers in baseball, allowing the Rangers to feel comfortable with a lead in the ninth.
Overall, the Rangers have a decent team, but they lack the depth to be a team that closes in on the postseason. In large part, due to their pitching staff, the Rangers will likely fall out of the Wild Card hunt by July, allowing them to trade away pieces to further their rebuild. I think if the Rangers can continue to build their farm system and develop some good pitchers, the can be back in the playoffs in the next few years.
Record Prediction: 76-86
Player to Watch #1: OF Nomar Mazara
A look at Nomar Mazara would make you think he would be an excellent power hitter. With his 6’4” frame, Mazara looks like he should be able to send balls into orbit, similar to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. But in each of his three major league seasons, Mazara has hit exactly 20 home runs and has been a below average hitter by wRC+. What Mazara does have is his prospect pedigree and time on his side. Mazara was a top 20 prospect in all of baseball when he made his major league debut in 2016. Scouts saw a very strong hit tool in Mazara, and at the time in his major league career, he has been able to display it. If Mazara can consistently hit up to his potential, the Rangers will have a feared bat for many years to come, as Mazara is only 23 years old. Most projections place Mazara as a .265/.330/.450 hitter with around 25 home runs, which is respectable. But if Mazara is to make big strides toward reaching potential in 2019, I would like to see a line around .280/.350/.500 with around 30 homers. If Mazara could reach those numbers, the Rangers and their fans would be thrilled.
Player to Watch #2: OF Willie Calhoun
Willie Calhoun is another player the Rangers have that was highly rated as a prospect but has lacked production in the bigs. Calhoun has played 48 games in the majors in 2017 and 2018 and has hit .233 with an on-base percentage of .283. The reason Calhoun is so important for the Rangers in 2019 is that they can’t afford another former top prospect to struggle. One thing Calhoun has done very well in the minors has been avoiding strikeouts. For example, Calhoun only struck out 47 times in 432 AAA at bats last season. In his short amount of time in the majors, Calhoun has seen his strikeout rate double to 21.4%. Calhoun needs to get back to not striking out as he is not the type of player to rely on walks. Because they are not contending this season, all the Rangers need to see out of Calhoun is progress to him becoming an everyday player. If Calhoun can show the tool he displayed in the minors, baseball fans will be in for a treat.
Player to Watch #3: SP Drew Smyly
Drew Smyly has not pitched in the major leagues since 2016. Missing two straight years makes Smyly a wild card for the Rangers rotation. Smyly in his career has been a solid pitcher with both the Detroit Tigers and the Tampa Bay Rays, with a career ERA of 3.77. If Smyly can pitch as he did before his injury, the Rangers would have a bargain paying him only 5 million dollars for the season. The risk for the Rangers is if Smyly is not the same pitcher as he was before the injury and isn’t able to effectively eat innings for them. I hope that Smyly can pitch as he did in 2013 through 2015 for the Tigers and Rays, where he had an ERA below three in around 300 innings. If Smyly can return to this level, the Rangers have a starter that can pitch well above his contract or be flipped for a pretty good prospect.