2023 MLB Season Preview: Texas Rangers

Image: Sports Illustrated

2022 Record: 68-94 (.420 win%, 4th in Division)

2023 Payroll: $182,832,500 (9th)

2023 Projected Lineup (ZiPS Projections):

1. 2B Marcus Semien (R), .259 AVG/.327 OBP/.456 SLG, 5.0 fWAR

2. SS Corey Seager (L), .276 AVG/.350 OBP/.480 SLG, 4.8 fWAR

3. 1B Nathaniel Lowe (L), .272 AVG/.350 OBP/.454 SLG, 2.8 fWAR

4. RF Adolis García (R), .239 AVG/.288 OBP/.440 SLG, 2.2 fWAR

5. 3B Josh Jung (R), .242 AVG/.295 OBP/.428 SLG, 2.1 fWAR

6. DH Mitch Garver (R), .232 AVG/.320 OBP/.432 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

7. LF Robbie Grossman (S), .226 AVG/.330 OBP/.362 SLG, 0.8 fWAR

8. C Jonah Heim (S), .240 AVG/.303 OBP/.408 SLG, 3.4 fWAR

9. CF Leody Taveras (S), .239 AVG/.297 OBP/.373 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

10. OF Bubba Thompson (R), .237 AVG/.279 OBP/.360 SLG, 0.2 fWAR

2023 Projected Starting Rotation (ZiPS Projections):

1. RHP Jacob DeGrom, 163 IP/2.63 ERA/0.94 WHIP, 5.3 fWAR

2. RHP Jon Gray, 172 IP/3.96 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR

3. RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 152 IP/3.87 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR

4. LHP Andrew Heaney, 133 IP/3.85 ERA/1.15 WHIP, 2.3 fWAR

5. LHP Martín Pérez, 181 IP/4.15 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers (ZiPS Projections):

1. RHP José LeClerc, 67 IP/3.87 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

2. LHP Brock Burke, 69 IP/3.73 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

3. RHP Dane Dunning, 69 IP/4.34 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR

4. LHP Will Smith, 56 IP/3.98 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR

What Baseball Means to Arlington?

Is baseball in Arlington just an afterthought?  Its history, although becoming more lengthy, doesn’t seem significant from an outsider’s perspective.  The team hasn’t taken home a title, and beyond “Pudge” Rodríguez and five late years of Nolan Ryan, the club doesn’t have any Hall of Fame players who were with them for any significant length of time. 

It is without a doubt, though, that the 21st century has sparked an onset of strong Rangers teams, leading to significant growth in its fanfare.  There is a love for baseball in Arlington. 

After 12 seasons of baseball as the Washington Senators, the Texas Rangers moved to Arlington in 1972 and have remained here ever since.  Baseball’s importance here, though, is seemingly outshone by “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys.  It wasn’t until the early 2010s when the organization began to see on-field success, leading to the same in the box office. 

The Rangers won two straight AL Pennants, rolling out the lineup of the decade each and every night.  I genuinely believe if I were a Rangers fan in 2011, a lineup consisting of Adrián Beltré, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, and Nelson Cruz would have been a must-see attraction.

When considering viewership and attendance, a trend is evident.  The ebbs and flows of the Rangers winning percentage are directly correlated with their box office success.  Most organizations don’t have the type of fan base which sticks out and shows up no matter the state of the team, like in New York, LA, Boston, or Chicago. 

As can be attested by longtime Rangers fans, it’s obvious that, when the team is succeeding, the atmosphere at Globe Life Field will rival any one of the historic organizations listed above.

Owner Ray Davis understands the importance of a winning ball club, so spending on free agents has become the norm for the Rangers in recent years.  With the addition of some elite arms this offseason, it will be interesting to see how improved the squad will be.  Might the Rangers even have a shot at their first ever World Series title?  It’s not as far out of reach as you may believe.

2022 Offseason Recap:

In 2021, the Texas Rangers held a record of 60-102.  In 2022, that number improved to 68-94.  The squad added Marcus Seimien, Corey Seager, Mitch Garver, Jon Gray, and Martín Pérez last offseason.  Putting it plainly, Texas underachieved expectations.  

It’s clear that spending money doesn’t always solve problems.  Roster building is a much more complicated venture, which should surround pitching and depth.  In case of significant injury, an abundance of healthy arms and utility players on offense are necessary and simply weren’t addressed by the Rangers in 2021-22.

It was thought that pitching depth, primarily in the bullpen, would be a large focus of the team, as well as the signing of some niche offensive pieces.  The team, instead, addressed big arms and forwent the offense.  Let’s take a deeper look.

The New Arms

Since money clearly wasn’t an issue for owner Ray Davis this offseason, I do like what Chirs Young did from the pitching end.  The top arms were identified, and a plan was devised as to how to secure a rotation full of them.  The first step was bringing back Martín Pérez who, in his eleventh career season, made his first All-Star Game in 2022.  The longtime Ranger returned to the team on a one-year deal in 2021 after a three-year hiatus.

On yet another prove it deal, the veteran lefty honestly doesn’t have much to prove.  With a FIP of 3.27, 7.75 K/9, and a 3.8 fWAR, Pérez had by far the best year of his career and did so without adding anything to his repertoire. His value has always lay in his control and ability to eat innings, but Pérez has always had All-Star potential.  I do expect more of the same in 2023, as Pérez is a healthy step away from today’s typical power arm.

RHP Nathan Eovoldi and LHP Andrew Heaney, both veteran arms, signed two year deals to bolster the middle of the Texas rotation this offseason.  Neither of these guys have really ever had consistent innings.  Eovaldi has had his share of injuries and was in and out of the Red Sox bullpen until establishing himself as a quality arm in 2021.  Heaney has had even more of an injury bug and has never put a full quality season together.  

Both had ERAs in the 3.00s in shortened 2022 campaigns and stuck to their MOs.  Eovoldi displays elite control, finishing consistently in the top 10 in BB/9 year in and year out, while Heaney is a strikeout artist who posted 13.6 K/9 with the Dodgers in 2022.  Both arms are somewhat hit or miss and, if healthy, could be key contributors to the rotation this season.  If Texas is falling behind in the standings, though, Pérez, Eovoldi, and Heaney could all be on the trade block.

The first blockbuster deal of the offseason came when Texas signed Jacob DeGrom to a five-year, $185M contract.  There really isn’t much to be said here.  DeGrom is elite.  The numbers and the history say it all.  I’ll discuss more in the “Player to Watch” section later, but simply put, this was the deal meant to turn the Rangers recent woes around.  It hangs on one seemingly thin string, though.  Will DeGrom remain healthy?

These four additions and Jon Gray could combine to be one of the top rotations in the league, but health remains a concern.  The bullpen has its share of questions as well, as veteran arm and top 2022 reliever Matt Moore was lost in free agency this offseason.  He will be replaced by another veteran lefty, Will Smith.  Smith is as consistent as they come and adds surety to a bullpen relying on young arms.

As a Tigers fan, I was sad to see yet another young player with potential go for nothing.  On the other hand, Rangers fans, you might just have something in Kyle Funkhouser.  He missed all of 2022 due to injury but came on during his 2021 campaign.  If he can successfully recover, the former Tiger top prospect could potentially be an important piece of the 2023 Rangers bullpen.

The New Bats: An Only Slightly Smaller List

Pitching was evidently a point of emphasis for Chris Young and company this offseason, and if healthy at all levels, the Rangers pitching staff has elite potential.  On the other hand, the offense wasn’t addressed in even the slightest.  Beyond Adolis García, the outfield is quite shaky, and the addition of veteran Robbie Grossman is unlikely to quell such problems.

Grossman has poor bat to ball but one of the better eyes in the league.  His ability to track pitches and produce a high walk rate is an asset, but hardly what the team needs.  His lack of consistent power and high K-rate won’t play well in Arlington.  

Rangers fans also have to be confused, as young utilityman Eli White was traded for cash.  White’s speed and versatility could have been important for providing this Rangers team with depth.  It’s also hard to beat his defensive prowess.  Who remembers this catch?   

The Verdict: Pitching is What Counts

On the surface, the Rangers had a good offseason.  They addressed their rotation, which now has elite potential.  DeGrom will put fans in the seats and can single-handedly win a team a baseball game, and all the others bring different strengths to the table. 

The lack of offensive moves may have simply stemmed from the fact that so much money was allocated towards pitching, but it is clear these decisions may become questionable down the road.  At the end of the day, though, pitching is a necessity and should be top priority, and the Rangers have loaded up in this department.

2023 Regular Season Preview:

A playoff berth doesn’t appear entirely out of reach for this Texas squad, as their young talents have another year of service under their belts, and the pitching staff has been rehauled.  As little as the organization did offensively this offseason, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the Rangers bats.  Going into 2023, let’s check out how the roster fills out.

The Core

A staple of the Rangers lineup all last year was newcomer Marcus Semien, and we expect to see much of the same this year.  Playing in every single game of the season for the third time in his career in 2022, Seimien led the entire MLB in plate appearances and at-bats. 

Even given this, Semien’s tally of base on balls totaled fairly low for a leadoff guy last year, as his walk rate was below the MLB average at 7.3%.  Coming off of a third place AL MVP finish in 2021, Semien’s 2022 was somewhat a disappointment.  Given his durability, though, he will prove a valuable asset.  

At second base, Semien plays solid defense, and his bat may have honestly seen its floor last year in a 26 homer, 83 RBI season.  Along with his high ceiling as seen in 2021 with Toronto, Semien has value and will be a consistent piece for the Rangers.  Another key attribute the 32 year-old possesses is increased speed.  He nabbed a career high 25 bags in 2022, as the Rangers put an emphasis on stealing.  With increased base size in 2023, we will likely see more of the same from the Rangers second baseman.

Rejoining Semien on the right side of the infield in 2023 is 1B Nathaniel Lowe.  The AL Silver Slugger first baseman in 2022, Lowe took his offensive talents to another level.  Although his WAR was reduced to 3.0 due to poor defense, Lowe’s offensive numbers were elite. 

With a .302/.358/.492 line and solid power numbers (27 HR, 26 2B, 76 RBI), Lowe was consistently in the three hole for Texas in 2022.  An important left-handed bat, Lowe struggled with the strikeout bug from time to time but was largely consistent.  

Nate was an absolute monster in the Rays minor league system but wasn’t given consistent opportunities with their big league squad.  Lowe had a solid 2021 with the Rangers, an improvement from his time with the Rays which would be outdone in 2022. 

He has continued to improve as his career has gone on, so why shouldn’t we expect more of the same?  There is clear reason for concern with his defense, but playing a low leverage position like first base should limit the worry of Rangers fans.

Rounding out the double play unit is shortstop Corey Seager.  Signed along with Semien before the 2022 season, Seager is only 28 years old and likely to be a staple of the Rangers lineup for a long time.  The ten-year deal he received may have been a stretch considering his past issues with injury. 

Nonetheless, he was healthy in 2022 and was the Rangers two hitter for the entirety of the year.  Making the All-Star Game and totaling a career high in home runs, Seager was yet another key piece for the Rangers in 2022.

With Semien’s speed and Lowe’s consistency on either end of Seager in the lineup, his low strikeout rate and high launch angle combine to be the perfect fit for Texas.  I wasn’t sure how the Semien, Seager dynamic would work, but the defense was also better than expected in 2023. 

There have been questions about Seager’s glove throughout his career, but he really doesn’t prove to be a detriment to his team in any way.  In 2022, FanGraphs had Seager in the middle of the pack in overall shortstop defensive rating (11th of 22 qualifying players).

Rounding out the heart of the Rangers lineup will be clean up man and right fielder, Adolis García.  Putting it simply, García hits bombs.  With some of the most colossal moonshots in the MLB the past two seasons, the thirty-year old outfielder is the perfect clean up guy to follow Semien, Seager, and Lowe.  Another durable player, García’s speed also plays a role in his game.  Finishing with 27 homers and 25 steals in 2022, he is undoubtedly a rare 30-30 candidate.

Also a defensive asset (with an absolute cannon of an arm), what liabilities does García have?  He does get into really bad bouts of contact struggles and is a high swing and miss guy.  In 2022 among qualified hitters, García finished 7th highest in the MLB in K rate.  He’s got a lot of chase, but this comes with immense power.  For a four hitter and right fielder, García is a very valuable asset for the 2023 Rangers.

Although it was unclear how these four hitters would mesh in the Rangers lineup heading into 2022, they were one of the more consistent core groups in the league.  With a combined 19 missed games between the four of them, their health and consistency were key.  Pitching woes and the remainder of the lineup proved lethal for the Rangers 2022 season, but these four hitters were nothing but beneficial and will continue to be in 2023.

The Backstops

Catchers Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver were solid pieces for the Rangers in 2022, but both still produce some viable questions.  Heim, in his first full season as a starting catcher, was pretty solid defensively.  Among catchers with at least 500 innings caught last season, Heim had the eighth highest fielding percentage.  He did so while catching the seventh most innings in the entire MLB and throwing out runners at a league average rate.

Offensively, Heim struggled at times with his contact, but showed some decent power and on-base ability.  Walking almost half as much as he struck out in 2022 and compiling 16 homers in 406 at-bats, Heim produced well.  He only had a .227 AVG but, in the modern game, was still one of the better offensive catchers out there.  He’s also valuable as a switch hitter, which will sway Bruce Bochy away from benching him often.  If he can improve his output at the plate, Heim could be one of the higher WAR catchers in the league.

Mitch Garver caught when Heim needed rest and DH’d from time to time in 2022.  This year, when healthy, he should see increased plate appearances and, hopefully, increased productivity.  Garver, plainly speaking, has struggled offensively the last three seasons.  This is largely a result of his inability to stay on the field, though.  His 31 homer, .995 OPS 2019 still sticks out as an outlier in his career but proves he has the potential to be one of the better hitters in the league.

Nonetheless, Garver still won’t see consistent ABs and isn’t likely to recapture his 2019 form.  He is a below average defender and will only DH in 2023 for the most part.  The Rangers signed veteran catcher Sandy León this offseason, who might see some opportunities defensively instead. 

Heim and Garver both have nothing but potential, but have yet to prove themselves in a consistent manner offensively.  Relied upon as hitters in the 5-7 range in their lineup this season, the Rangers catchers will need to step it up.

The Depth

With an extremely solid core and a decent catcher room, the Rangers have the pieces to be successful on offense.  Depth and filling out the bottom of the lineup are important, though.  Starting in the infield, third base has some serious questions.  Last year, the position was largely a split between rookies Ezequiel Durán and Josh H. Smith, while veteran Brad Miller got some time as well.

Durán showed glimpses of potential and can play some solid defense but lacks power and a consistent approach at the plate.  I believe he could make a career for himself in this league, but this would likely come as a backup infielder who can play anywhere across the dirt.  

As for Smith, he burst onto the scene in his first number of plate appearances but quickly found himself in a slump.  The contact bat ended up finishing his limited rookie year with a sub-.200 AVG.  Smith can play any position in the infield or outfield and will likely work in as a utility piece for the Rangers this year.  He is, just as Durán, likely not a viable filler for the third base opening.

Veteran Brad Miller is versatile and can play a number of positions, but his defense is extremely poor.  Since he is a lefty like Smith, the former 30-HR hitter isn’t likely to make the roster, and if he does, his tenure likely won’t last long.  The career .237 hitter’s service time is likely winding down barring some significant improvements. 

Given last year’s third basemen aren’t really solutions to fill the hot corner, who is projected to take on the role?  This will likely be longtime top prospect, Josh Jung.  A first-rounder for the Rangers in 2019, Jung’s had his share of setbacks, including injuries, the Covid year, and inconsistency from time to time.

Since Jung wasn’t fully phased into the third base role last year, he didn’t garner significant at-bats, hindering his performance at the plate.  He is a career .311 hitter in the minors with potential 30-HR pop.  Rangers fans have been excited for Jung for some years now, and he is likely to see the majority of plate appearances at third base for the Rangers in 2023.  FanGraphs projects Jung to have a fairly average season at the plate, which seems reasonable.  

We have a small major league sample size for Jung, so it’s difficult to rely on him to take on the third base role.  Nonetheless, he’s immensely talented on both sides of the ball and will have significant opportunities at the big league level this season.

As for the outfield, Adolis García has little company in the outfield in 2023.  Robbie Grossman, an addition discussed earlier, is unlikely to add much benefit to the Rangers lineup.  Throughout spring training, Bochy has had Grossman hitting in the seven hole, so this is where we are likely to see him in 2023.

In centerfield, 24-year old switch hitter, Leody Taveras, will return to the squad in 2023.  Taveras is an extremely athletic, talented young player who has the ability to be a .300 hitter.  Despite this, though, he’s also the type of player to get phased out of the position due to his lack of power. 

If the Rangers had a better outfield option, there may have been a competition for this spot this spring training, but Taveras will man center this year.  A player to keep an eye on in this spot is Bubba Thompson, who is one of the players to watch I outline shortly.

In its entirety, the Rangers 2023 offense is front loaded with a lack of depth.  The bottom of the lineup is likely to struggle, and there are no viable injury replacements rostered.  If the team sees early success due to strong pitching and top of the lineup hitting, be on the lookout for GM Chris Young to make a move for an outfielder or another right-handed bat.

The Staff

In addition to the retained contract of Martín Pérez, the Rangers signed veteran arms, Jacob DeGrom, Nathan Eovoldi, and Andrew Heaney this offseason.  These pitchers will fill out the rotation which was headed by Jon Gray in 2022.  The 6’4” power-armed rightie missed some starts due to injury (a trend in the Rangers 2023 rotation) but had one of the better years of his career overall.

In 24 starts in 2022, Gray had a FIP of 3.80, while striking out over a batter an inning throughout the season.  Coming from Colorado, Gray’s prior statistics are fairly deflated (less strikeouts and a higher FIP).  This leads me to believe that 2022 was simply an average season for Gray and that he has the potential to move beyond these numbers.  Although Gray isn’t going to eat up innings like Pérez, he will pitch in a very efficient, low walk manner.

Given DeGrom, Eovoldi, and Heaney weren’t in Arlington last year, a collection of other arms actually proved fairly strong in starting games for the Rangers.  The two most notable were right-handed innings eaters Glenn Otto and Dane Dunning.  Otto burst onto the scene to compile a 4.64 ERA in 135.2 innings in 2022, while Dunning followed up his 2021 campaign with yet another solid season in the mid-4.00s.  Expect both of these pitchers to be useful this season as the current starting rotation is riddled with injury prone arms.

Outside of signee Will Smith, the Rangers bullpen is somewhat inexperienced.  Nonetheless, the late innings Rangers relievers in 2022 were hardly ever the cause of any of their 94 losses.  Lefties Brett Martin and John King were solid pieces last year but were hardly successful in comparison to veteran Matt Moore.  Don’t expect Will Smith to fill Moore’s 2022 role to the same extent.

A particularly interesting young reliever in 2022 was leftie Brock Burke.  He is one of my players to watch for 2023, and I will discuss him in-depth later on, but it is safe to say the young arm will be a key component of the Rangers back-end bullpen this year.  Likely to fill the closing role will be José LeClerc

Dealing with injuries from 2020 on, LeClerc has had trouble seeing consistent innings.  Nonetheless, when he has pitched, the power arm has been lights out.  With a high 90s fastball and a wipeout curveball, LeClerc is the typical high strikeout, high walk closer of the 2010s.  If healthy, expect more success from him.

In its totality, the Rangers pitching staff is pretty solid.  When healthy, the rotation is surely above average, and the bullpen has its share of pieces as well.  With a healthy complement of both lefties and righties throughout the pitching staff, Bruce Bochy will have the means to manage the game how he wants. 

Using arms like Otto and Dunning as long relievers isn’t out of the question either.  The sole concern here is how healthy the pitching staff can remain.  Apart from Pérez, the other four starting pitchers have had their share of injuries and are all less than likely to avoid them in 2023.

Player to Watch #1: SP Jacob DeGrom

The DeGrominator isn’t the superhero nickname his longtime Met counterpart Noah Syndergaard had, but it will suffice.  It seems necessary, too, considering the level at which DeGrom plays.  He’s your team’s superhero, but everyone else’s villain.  For me, when healthy and on the mound, Jacob DeGrom is the best pitcher in the league hands down.  

People will bring up Verlander, Scherzer, Kershaw, Cole, Burnes, and others potentially, but nothing beats a healthy DeGrom.  Who else will throw triple digit fastballs until someone hits a chintzy foul ball just to be struck out on a 94 MPH slider with three feet of break on the next pitch?  Also, he doesn’t walk a soul, while posting one of the highest K rates in the league.

In limited work (224.1 innings) from 2020-2022, which equates to about a full season, DeGrom had 352 strikeouts and 37 (yes, only 37) walks.  This honestly doesn’t even seem possible.  The statistics show it all. 

In 2021, before getting injured after 15 starts, DeGrom was having one of the greatest seasons in MLB history.  He had a 1.08 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, and 14.3 K/9.  Last year’s 11 starts didn’t even compare to 2021, but DeGrom was still one of the top pitchers in the league whilst having an off year.

The obvious glaring question going into this past offseason surrounded DeGrom’s free agency and potential contract.  I was sure Steve Cohen was prepared to bring DeGrom back at all costs, but he settled for the more reliable option, Justin Verlander.  Yes, the pitcher who had Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2021 season is a more reliable option than DeGrom.

Given his injury history, I had the expectation of DeGrom receiving a two-year deal but with the highest AAV in MLB History, topping Scherzer at about $44M.  I was surprised to see the Rangers pay the injury prone pitcher for five years at $185M, all guaranteed. 

When healthy, this number honestly seems low, but given he hasn’t had anywhere near a full season of work since 2019 (the pandemic year 2020 wasn’t really a full season for anyone), I was surprised by the number of years. Will DeGrom really still be reliable in his age 38 season?  Will he even still be pitching?

What this signing means for the Rangers this season, though, is that they have a solid 25 wins guaranteed in a full DeGrom campaign.  That may be an overestimate, but I truly believe DeGrom is that good.  He’s good enough to turn an organization around.  Rangers fans are praying for his health, though.  DeGrom has already dealt with minor arm soreness this preseason, an unimportant, yet concerning sign for the organization.  

Player to Watch #2: OF Bubba Thompson

If you’re not a Rangers fan or an absolute diehard baseball nut, you’re probably unaware of both of the next two young players.  24-year old outfielder, Bubba Thompson, is quietly one of the more exciting players to watch on the Texas Rangers.  I was able to watch just a little bit of Texas baseball in the second half of the season last year, and in that small amount of time, Bubba Thompson stood out.

Whether coming in as a pinch runner, a defensive replacement, or just a needed spark, Thompson was impacting the game every time he stepped onto the field.  Thompson played mostly left field at the big league level last year, as this was a position of need which wasn’t being filled by Leody Tavares.  In 170 at bats, the young spark plug hit .265 with limited power.

With Grossman in left this year who is likely to be an everyday player, Thompson will be fighting for his opportunities.  I see centerfield as the most viable place to do so.  Tavares hasn’t shown the dynamic ability which Thompson has.  Bubba has even shown his power stroke at times in the minors, hitting 16 homers in 2021.  Last year, he was at an even higher pace at a higher level of play before being called up to the bigs.

A first round draft pick by the Rangers back in 2017, Bubba started off as a struggling hitter without contact or power in low-A ball. He progressed each year, as both his contact and power came at the same time.  One aspect of his game which has always been present, though, has been his speed. 

Thompson, during his short stay in the majors in 2022, had the second most stolen bases per game appearance in the entire MLB (18 steals in 55 appearances).  The only player higher was MLB’s stolen base leader, Jon Berti.

If ever given a starting opportunity, I could see Thompson holding a .270/.330/.460 slash line, with 20 homers and 50 steals.  While this is a best case scenario, there is no doubt the Rangers have an exciting young player on their hands.  Thompson is definitely a piece to keep an eye on moving into 2023.  Could the Rangers begin to phase out Tavares for Thompson?  Only time will tell.      

Player to Watch #3: RP Brock Burke

Brock Burke, the 26-year old Rangers left-handed reliever, is not shy.  He attacks hitters with a mid-90s fastball, which he uses at an extremely high rate.  Burke hits his spots well, also utilizing a backdoor slider with a wipeout changeup.  While he’s nothing out of the ordinary, Burke is just really good.

If you look at Burke’s minor league numbers as a starter, he has been dominant at every level he’s pitched at.  He’s had his struggles with control but has been nothing but consistent.  This is why Burke was so highly touted when he made his way up to the big league squad in 2019 as a starter.

Putting it plainly, Burke, for the first time in his career, struggled.  Following a hiatus in 2020 which couldn’t have helped the young arm’s development, 2021 presented more opportunity.  In 20 starts, Burke compiled a less than mediocre 5.68 ERA, with an uncharacteristically high K rate.  He struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings, and this was enough to earn him a spot on the 2022 roster as a reliever.

Being a starter his entire life, Burke’s transition to the bullpen may not have been ideal, but it was the correct move.  Brock Burke was, plainly speaking, ridiculous in 2022.  Burke led all MLB relievers in innings and did so while posting a sub-2.00 ERA.  The next highest innings total of a sub-2.00 ERA reliever last year was his teammate, Matt Moore.

With Burke and Moore in the back end of the Rangers bullpen, there was no concern on the daily for the 6th through 8th innings.  Despite Burke’s success, though, his name didn’t appear to circulate the media very much.  Non-closing relievers never seem to get the same coverage as those who take up the ninth inning night in and night out, but it’s necessary they are recognized.

Moving into 2023, Burke may have a shot at being the team’s closer but is likely more suited for a versatile role once again.  Since he has the ability to pitch in long relief and late in games, Burke is an extremely valuable asset. 

Given his metrics are generally average, I don’t expect Burke to have quite the same production as in 2022.  Nonetheless, he will be a key and hopefully notable component to the Rangers pitching staff in 2023.  

Position Group to Watch: Infielders

Do the Rangers have the best infield in the MLB?  The simple answer to this question is no.  The team basically doesn’t have a third baseman, Seager struggles hitting for contact, Marcus Semien underachieved in 2022, and Lowe can’t field.  If Josh Jung lives up to his extremely high potential at third base and all things go right, though, it’s not out of reason to say this is one of the better infields in the league.

If you take Corey Seager’s monster 5.3 WAR 2017, Marcus Semien’s 5.0 WAR 2021, and Lowe’s 3.3 WAR 2022, you might have something brewing.  Add on just a 3.0 WAR Josh Jung, and all of the sudden the infield appears to be taking shape.  While Jung is the main unknown, there are questions as to whether Seager and Semien can both recapture their best forms and earn the money they are being paid.

As for Lowe, his defense needs to improve, but his bat was very scary in 2022.  2023 might be the year for everything to come together, although this is less than likely considering Jung’s lack of experience.  Since all four of these guys will be locked up under contract through at least 2026, I find it likely that the Rangers infield will come together sometime before then.  When it does, it will be scary, and the AL West might want to watch out for what the Rangers are bringing to the table.

2023 Record Prediction: 80-82

Originally, my intent was to look through the Rangers situation and conclude that they might, at the very best, improve by another eight win margin as was the case between 2021 and 2022.  This would put them at 76-86, which doesn’t seem out of reason at all.  Upon diving further into the team, though, they have what any good team needs to make a run.

They have an elite starter, alongside four very strong pieces, with solid late bullpen arms, an elite top of the lineup, and a few specialist players who are strong defensively.  In theory, this could be a playoff bound team.  I won’t leave this out of the realm of possibility either, but when considering the landscape of teams around them, I don’t quite see the Rangers making the playoffs.

With the Astros and Mariners solidified ahead of them in the division, and the Angels making a strong case as well, Texas will have a lot of work to do throughout the season against a strong AL West (sorry Oakland). 

I do believe they will leg it out over the Angels, though, and so, I conclude, if the rotation remains healthy, we have an 80-82 team on our hands.  In the case of incurring a number of injuries which exceed that of the Angels heavily, though, I could see them dropping down to the low 70s in win total.

Some may see this 80-82 prediction as somewhat bold, as this would be a 12 win jump from the 2022, but it’s hard to deny the money which was spent on pitching this offseason by the Rangers.  Add on the hiring of the veteran and likely future Hall of Fame manager, Bruce Bochy, and you have a heavily improved squad. 

I believe the Rangers have prepared themselves well for the future and, despite not being a fan of the team, will keep my eye on them closely moving forward.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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2 replies

  1. Who’s playing at Choctaw?

  2. Give Josh H Smith Texas Rangers a better wrap! He is a great kid and a great baseball player. He tried so hard in 2022 when he came to the Rangers AAA and Majors! Looking forward to his improved batting in 2023 and his versatility all over the field! Shame the man can’t pitch and catch!! Lol! We love our Louisiana boy! #47.

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