Playing Pepper 2015: Texas Rangers

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Texas Rangers
67-95, fifth in the AL West

Everything went south quickly for the Rangers last season.  A year after a 91-win season and falling just one win shy of the playoffs, nothing went right for the Texas team.  Injuries, bad play, you name it, you could probably find it in the 2014 season.

I noticed during the 2011 World Series that I live almost exactly between St. Louis and Arlington.  My brother’s a fan of the team (though not of the GM) and you can find them on TV up here, so I tend to check them out from time to time.  However, if you want the real scoop you, of course, go to the bloggers.  Today we’ve got three for you to read through.  First up is Steve from One Strike Away…Twice!, a blog title that will always warm the heart of a Cards fan.  He’s on Twitter @RangersBlogger.  After him, we have Rob from Texas Rangers Cards, a look at the history of the franchise through baseball cards.  No Twitter for Rob, I don’t believe.  Finally, we have Chris from the staff of The Texas Rangers Blog.  You can follow the blog on Twitter @TTRBTweets.

C7o: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason?  Did they do what they needed to do?

OSA: They mostly did what they needed to do. Ask the average fan and they might say Texas didn’t do enough. But they’re the ones who think the Rangers should be able to afford James Shields, Max Scherzer AND swing a trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler were two pick-ups that should allow Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch to get a little more seasoning in the minors, where they should have been all of last year if not for the injuries. I would’ve liked to see Texas pick up a better catcher but if Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo do what they’ve done in their careers, the Rangers won’t need a lot of offense from the position. Jon Daniels doesn’t believe in spending a lot on the bullpen pieces outside of closer so the jury’s out there. The biggest lack was getting a legitimate starting left fielder. At the same time, there’s a lot of talent in Spring Training trying to get that job so it may turn out not to be a lack. Overall, the front office might get a “Meh” based on the pieces they picked up but we won’t know how well it all works til the end of September.

TRC: I thought they might have until Yu Darvish went down for Tommy John surgery. Now I’m not so sure. Seems the starting pitching is pretty thin and it’s going to take a lot of luck to get through the season in one piece. Of course with the contracts the team already has on board it would have been very difficult to pick up any front-line starting pitching over the winter.

TRB: As of yet, I don’t think the Rangers have really done anything this offseason that will have a big effect on the season, for better or worse. I know there is a lot of buzz around Gallardo, but he has yet to prove he can be the ace he was projected to be when he broke into the league in 2007. In fact, his career ERA and WHIP are 3.69 and 1.30, and those are great representations of every year he’s been in the majors. Unfortunately, when those numbers are translated to the AL, we’re probably looking at a 4+ ERA, which they probably could have found without trading prospects for. The Rangers also added a former 1st rounder who has been unable to keep a rotation spot, a few bullpen pieces, and Kyle Blanks, an enormous first baseman with a ton of power and an inability to stay healthy. All that being said, the success of the Rangers this season hinges on health (darn), and the players they paid big money to last year showing they’re worth anything close to the contracts they were given. Given the large contracts on the roster and the rash of injuries, there isn’t a lot the Rangers can do yet. I do like the idea of pitching Juan Carlos Oviedo and Leo Nunez in the same game.

C70: What are the expectations for Prince Fielder this year?

OSA: I expect Prince is going to be just fine. The first thing to keep in mind is that before this injury, Prince Fielder was one of the most durable players in baseball, playing no less than 157 games in 8 consecutive seasons. By all accounts, he is A) healthy; B) happy; and C) in the best physical shape of his life. Will he match his offensive output of his best years? That I don’t know. The bar I have for him, though, is performing better than the Rangers first basemen of a year ago performed. All told, Texas got just 14 homers and 67 RBI out of the first base position a year ago. Even if Prince only puts up 20 homers and 90 RBI (below his marks in any full season he’s played except for the 81 RBI in ’07), that’s a far cry better than a year ago.

TRC: Very high. Even higher than when he first arrived. Last season was extremely disappointing, even more so since Ian Kinsler enjoyed a pretty good season in Detroit and there was a hole at the top of the Rangers lineup. Prince has got to have a bounce back season. Rangers fans are pretty forgiving but a second lost season and they will start to sour on him and his large contract.

TRB: I have high hopes for Prince Fielder, but much lower expectations. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get off to a slow start given the year off. I’d say .260 with about 22-25 HR’s is what I’m expecting, assuming he plays the whole year. If he can get to about .275 with 30 HR’s, it will be a successful season for him.

C70: Jurickson Profar’s name seems to always come up in trade rumors. Is he going anywhere? (Note: the problem with sending the questions out early…..)

OSA: As you know, Profar is out, likely for the season, after recurring shoulder muscle issues cropped up before Spring Training even began. He’s not going anywhere until he’s healthy.

TRC: Short answer is no, not anytime soon. His recent injuries and now his shoulder surgery have pretty much sapped any trade value he had. Roughned Odor seems to have passed him up in the organizational depth chart as well. One fellow fan I talked to referred to Profar as being “Wally Pipped” by Odor. Right now that seems to be an accurate assessment of the situation. Long term Jurickson still has come promise. He’s young and can bounce back from the injuries and surgery. What remains to be seen is if Texas will have a spot for him when he bounces or if he’ll find himself on the way to another club. The Rangers are unlikely to move him up to the Majors or to another club until he’s fully healthy.

TRB: A resounding no. Obviously, this has become a much easier question to answer. With the state of his shoulder, they can’t get enough in return to make it worth trading him. Might as well hold on and hope he fulfills the immense potential.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

OSA: I’ve got two to pick from, a pitcher and a position player. For the pitcher, I’m going to say Derek Holland. After missing most of the season with a knee injury, he was close to dominating upon his return in September. He’s said the time off actually helped him in realizing how much he missed competing and made him renew his focus. Dutch has been inconsistent most of his years in Texas but I have a feeling he’s finally going to turn the corner in 2015.

For a position player, Rougned Odor has shown in every level of the minors that after a few months, he starts to figure the league out and then shows a marked improvement. He was already beginning to show those signs towards the tail end of 2014 and I think he outperforms all the projections that are out there: ZIPS, Pecota, any of them. Stink is one of those guys who’s competing 100% of the time, he hates to lose and makes other teams hate him at the same time they respect him and wish they had him for a teammate. Odor might make people forget Ian Kinsler ever played in Arlington.

TRC: Going to cheat a bit and give two names. Roughned Odor or Robinson Chirinos. Both impressed with partial seasons in the Majors last year. There are pretty high expectations for both this year, probably more for Odor. Both have shown an ability to adapt under pressure and should be able to make great progress with a full season and a starting job.

TRB: I’d love to say Rua or Rodriguez, but I think it has to be Odor. He flew through the minors and held his own last year with the big club. He could add twenty points the the batting average, hit about 15-17 HR, and steal about the same amount of bases. His stolen base percentage should improve greatly from last year, when he was caught about twice as many times as he was successful.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

OSA: I go back and forth on this all the time. Is this a pennant contending team or am I just drinking the Kool-Aid. After all, this is a team with a new manager, a number of injured players trying to come back and real question marks in left field and the bullpen. Despite all that, though, I believe. I’m not going to predict an AL West crown in 2015, especially with Yu Darvish out for the year. I do think, health permitting, this Rangers team will be in playoff contention in September even without Darvish and have the horses to be in the post-season. They’re deeper than they were a year ago, two of the injuries were to players with no history of steady DL trips and Jeff Bannister seems to already have the team reading off the same page. I think 85 wins is the minimum we see from the Rangers this year.

TRC: Hurts to say but 81-81. Third place in the American League West. The entire division is improved and that’s going to make things real tough. Texas has the ability to stay ahead of the Astros and one of the other three teams is likely to stumble. The A’s are going to be tough again this season and will likely win the division. The Mariners are also greatly improved and the Angels are a yearly contender at this point.

TRB: Of the teams in their division, the Rangers are probably the hardest to predict. I could see them with anywhere between 65 and 85 wins, but I’m going to say 74-88 and just behind the Astros for dead last in the West. I’d love to be more optimistic, but too many things have to go right, and some of them are already going wrong.

C70: What do you like best about being a Rangers fan?

OSA: I just relocated to Austin from the Rio Grande Valley in November. That means two things: Instead of an 8 hour drive, I can get to Arlington in three hours; and if I can’t go to Arlington, the AAA Round Rock Express is just a 35 minute drive away. I actually plan on seeing more games live this year than ever. Besides that, I love that Rangers fans have such a strong presence on social media so we can do a lot of back and forth during the games. I love that there are a number of good blogs and podcasts out there devoted to the Rangers. I love being to share my fandom with my oldest son, who lives in Arlington and is just as big a fan as I am. The ballpark can be miserable in the middle of summer but Rangers fans are passionate and brave the heat to see their team.

TRC: The club does a pretty good job of fan relations. Having been to the FanFest the past couple of years and reading about how other teams do theirs, it becomes obvious that Rangers fans have it pretty good. This holds true at the ballpark as well. The atmosphere is great and the club clearly cares about retaining its fan base. Throw in the fact that they’ve been competitive recently (until last season) and have a bright future and being a Rangers fan is a great place to be.

TRB: I live in Chicago right now, so this is fairly simple; Nolan Ryan pummeling Robin Ventura, who was 20 years younger than him. I love that that wins me almost any argument here. As Rangers fans, we don’t have a rich history full of World Series victories and Hall of Fame players, but I remember where I was when Ryan manhandled Ventura . I remember the front page of the paper the next morning. I miss Nolan. I’m afraid we may be approaching a mild rebuild, so that’s what I fall back on right now. This season, I’ll be able to add a food stand at The Ballpark entirely devoted to fried food to this list. Given the current food climate, fans may actually have a heart attack the next time the Rangers get one strike away. Twice.

My thanks to all these guys for their time and efforts.  Seems like it should be an interesting year in Texas!

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