The 2014 Major League Baseball season is just around the corner and spring training is even closer! More wheeling and dealing could happen in the next month, but for the most part every team has their roster set. Except a power bat is still looming in free agency, Nelson Cruz. Cruz has been a middle of the order guy for Texas who can hit the long ball, but he turns 34 this year and is still asking for too much money. The Rangers signed Shin-Soo Choo to a long term deal as his replacement. Although if Cruz comes down to a reasonable price, he could be signed as the DH due to lack of physical shape in comparison to Choo, Rios, Martin, and even recently trade pick up Michael Choice. With the sign of Choo, and the trade involving Kinsler for Fielder, the Rangers actually increased OBP, and received more power than the lineup had last season.
Shin-Soo Choo led the league among lead off hitters last year with an OBP of .432. Ian Kinsler was fifth with .355, which is highly desirable among most teams and the reason Texas dealt him to Detroit for power hitting first baseman Prince Fielder. An upgrade from great to best in the league with Choo, who can also hit the long ball. Signing Choo allows the Rangers to leave Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar in the 8 and 9 holes to develop mechanics and production without much pressure. If they do happen to get on base and steal often, Choo’s RBI total will more than likely be the highest in the league among lead off hitters.
Elvis Andrus will be able to permanently bat from the second spot in the order this year with the signing of Choo. Without Choo, Martin was going to be the lead off hitter and Andrus would only slide up barring injury. Andrus is better off as the “sacrifice”. He is a contact hitter and knows how to lay down a bunt when needed. When Kinsler missed time with a chest injury, Andrus filled the lead off spot and his numbers suffered tremendously. He hit .189 with an OBP of .254. A short stop isn’t traditionally known for having a big bat, but if his numbers can increase, let them. In his career he has a .274 avg., which dropped last year due to a .271 avg. His career OBP is .339, which dropped due to a .328 OBP in 2013. Andrus is phenomenal on defense and has good numbers offensively for a short stop, and he should be back to normal next season hitting in the 2 hole.
Prince Fielder should provide the extra power in the middle of the lineup that Texas missed last year. Prince barely played during his first MLB season at 21 years of age, but the next eight years have been very solid for the big lefty. He has hit at least 25 home runs in every season, and over 100 RBI in six of the eight seasons. Fielder has taken a walk in at least 75 plate appearances in seven of the eight seasons. He has a career .527 slugging percentage and played in all 162 games in the past 3 years. Fielder is a native of Texas, so the heat shouldn’t cause any fatigue. Arlington is known for the jet stream blowing out to right center, therefore creating opportunities for him to produce even bigger numbers. The numbers were down last year for the lefty, but he had personal issues and his focus wasn’t always on baseball. He said he is ready for a new beginning and I believe that he has the ability to hit around 40 home runs and 120 RBI in Texas this year.
Adrian Beltre has hit mostly from the cleanup spot and manager Ron Washington says he doesn’t plan on making a change with the addition of Fielder. Ever since the Rangers acquired the gold glover in the hot corner, his power numbers at the plate have increased. The jet stream in the ballpark contributes to some flight on the ball, but don’t underestimate Beltre’s power. When he gets a hold of the ball, it flies far. In his 13 seasons prior to Texas, mostly in LA and Seattle with one year in Boston, Beltre only had 2 seasons with an average above .300, and one came in Boston where the fences are known to be a little short in the corners. Two of his three seasons in Texas have been over .300 and the other was just under at .296. He has hit 30 or more home runs each year in Texas and over 100 RBI in two of the years. His OBP and SLG have also increased. Those kind of numbers are supposed to decrease as a players career nears 20 seasons, but the Ballpark in Arlington is giving him a new life. With Fielder in front and Rios behind Beltre in the order, the slugger should have another significant season at the plate.
Alex Rios was acquired from the White Sox last season after Nelson Cruz was suspended for the usage of PED’s. Rios has spent 10 years in the majors, all in the American League, and has been primarily a number three hitter in some lineups not known to put up exciting numbers. He hits home runs in the teens every year and can steal 20 bases, too. Instead of being looked at to extend the inning, Rios can now relax and just swing the bat from the five hole. Some of his home runs will actually knock somebody in besides himself. Washington likes his players to be aggressive on the bases, and with mostly contact hitters behind him, look for Rios to be on the move in hit and runs, and also pure steals. He is coming off his best year at swiping bases with 42. Playing a full year in Texas and hitting behind Fielder and Beltre will also give him an opportunity to hit over 2o home runs. The RBI total may go down because of those guys, but he should be on base more because he will see better pitches to hit.
Geovany Soto has been the backup catcher for the past year and a half since being acquired from the Cubs. The inconsistent playing time has caused a drop in his batting statistics, but he’s a catcher, he doesn’t have to hit that well. He calls a great game from behind the plate as the Rangers have won over 70% of the games he has caught. It is possible that they caught a hot streak or he is just that good at pitch calling; whatever it is, the Rangers like it. In 2014, Soto will be the starter and his numbers at the plate should increase. His home run total should be near the up-teens and RBI total should trend upwards as well. The catcher has had plenty of rest in the last two years, so durability shouldn’t be a question.
Mitch Moreland has spent all four years of his career in Texas and has been the starting first baseman in the last three. However, acquiring Prince Fielder via trade, talks of trading Moreland in a package deal have occurred. If he stays in Texas, he will more than likely serve as the DH. As a starter, he has hit 15 or more home runs and 50 or more RBI each season. Those are not the typical numbers you want to see out of a first baseman, especially a left handed hitter that plays in Texas. Maybe he will be able to focus solely on hitting and put up the big numbers we have been expecting as the DH. If not, the Rangers have gained Michael Choice in the trade with Oakland giving them Craig Gentry. Choice is young and excited to play for the professional club right next to his home town. Choice is also a power hitter that can play outfield. If Moreland doesn’t get the job done early, be watching for a trade to bring in a better hitter.
Jurickson Profar hasn’t even reached the age of 21 yet, and hasn’t played in over 100 games yet either. The youngster saw action at short stop, second base, third base, left field and a game at first base last year. He never played on a regular basis so the numbers are lacking, but with Kinsler gone, he is now the starting second baseman. We will truly see how good he is and if he lives up to the hype. On the bright side, he did have an OBP of .308.
Leonys Martin is also another young guy the Rangers have a hold on for awhile. He has shown discipline at the plate and can draw walks which is why his OBP is at .306 in his young career. Although he is prone to the strike out with 104 in his first full season as a starter last year. When Martin gets on base, he is a threat to steal as he swiped 36 bases in 2013.
If Martin and Profar keep getting on and stealing bases in the 2014 season, the top of the order is going to have plenty of success in knocking in runs. The Rangers should be back in business with their offense and with a healthy rotation could win over 100 games. Yu Darvish is coming off of a Cy Young runner-up performance. Matt Harrison should be well rested coming off of back surgery after only two starts last year, and Martin Perez hopes to build off his 2013 campaign. With Holland set for a mid season return, from his knee surgery, Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch, or Robbie Ross will fill two of the remaining spots in the rotation.
About the Author
Written by Hayden Ballard
I am an avid sports fan. I was once DFW baseball Player of the Year and played one year of college baseball at HPU. I am currently in college majoring in kinesiology with dreams of becoming a high school or hopefully a college baseball coach.