Alex Kielar | March 3rd, 2020
Well, the Rangers closed The Ballpark in Arlington in decent fashion, going 78-84 last year, and now move into their new ballpark, Globe Life Park. Not much was really expected last year for the Rangers in the AL West with the Astros* and A’s, but they were in the American League Wild Card race for part of the season and outperformed where expectations were.
I would like to say the Rangers could contend for something this year with some of their new additions like Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, and Jordan Lyles. They want to open their new ballpark in style, but that won’t be an easy task as the Angels also made solid improvements to their team. Everything will have to go right for them to have a real shot at the playoffs. Let’s take a look at how they will roll their team out in 2020 and what to expect.
Make sure to check out our other Team Previews here.
C: Robinson Chirinos
1B: Ronald Guzman
2B: Rougned Odor
3B: Todd Frazier
SS: Elvis Andrus
After one season with Houston, Chirinos is back up in Arlington after spending six seasons with the Rangers from 2013-18. He has been pretty consistent the last few seasons, with over 400 plate appearances the last two while mashing 17, 18, and 17 home runs in 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively. He might not get 400+ PAs this year as he could split time with fellow catchers Jeff Mathis and Blake Swihart depending on performance and health.
Guzman is still only 25, but he hasn’t shown anything in his first two seasons in the Majors that points towards anything special. He didn’t even make our Fantasy Baseball Top 30 First Basemen rankings. Guzman does have decent pop, with 10 homers last season and 16 in 2018 with 113 more PAs. Former Yankee Greg Bird was brought in on a minor league deal and is the main competition for Guzman at first base. If Bird can stay healthy, he can tap more into his power potential.
As I said in my Fantasy Baseball Top 30 Second Basemen rankings, Odor has lived up to his name by being a stink in the Rangers lineup. He only hit .205 last season and struck out 178 times; youngster Nick Solak could be someone to look for to come for the position (more on him later). Some positive to Odor’s game is some pop with 30 bombs last year, but that should regress back this year. He also brings speed but only had a 55% stolen base success rate.
The Rangers brought in the Todd Father on a one-year, $5 million deal, as the 34-year old enters his eighth full season in the big leagues. Frazier isn’t the All-Star third baseman he once was, but he can still produce some pop with 21 home runs and a 106 OPS+ last season.
Andrus will provide a solid batting average and 20+ stolen bases. Over the last few seasons, his batted ball rates have improved with his hard-hit rate and fly ball percentage continuing to increase.
LF: Willie Calhoun
CF: Danny Santana/Nick Solak
RF: Joey Gallo
DH: Shin-Soo Choo
Calhoun enters his age-25 season after breaking out with a .269/.323/.524 slash line and 21 homers last season in just 83 games. He was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers in 2017. It took a Joey Gallo injury last season for the former top prospect to get significant playing time and Calhoun made the most of the increased playing time. He has 30+ homer and 90+ RBI potential with a full season worth of at-bats.
Santana was a utility player last year and the Rangers look to put him in center full time. He doesn’t provide much at the plate with just a .338 xwOBA last season, but when he does get on base he can use his speed with 21 bases stolen last year. Solak might make a push to start ahead of Santana if he misses out on the chance of taking over for Odor at second. Since I don’t think Solak will start out the year as a starter, check the “Players to Watch For” section for more on him.
Gallo made his first All-Star Game last year as he was having a huge season at age 25, but missed some time with an injury. He had always been known as a power hitter but someone who failed to hit for average. That changed last year as he hit .253 and still hit 22 homers in less than half a season (70 games). Gallo’s BB% rose from 12.8% in 2018 to 17.5% in 2019, so he showed more discipline. The strikeouts were still there, however, as his K% also rose to 38.4% from 35.9% in 2018. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was at a high .368, so his batting average may fall back down to his normal numbers this year, but he will still have the power and increased discipline.
Choo enters his 15th big league season and even at age 37 is still a solid bat. Obviously, his defense is not there anymore as he will be the full-time DH. He provides power with 24 homers last season and over 20 for three years straight. He also has some speed as he stole 15 bases last year. Choo hasn’t had a season with an OPS+ under 99 in any of his full seasons.
Starting Rotation Projections
Kluber was out for most of the 2019 season with a broken right forearm and strained oblique. The Rangers obviously hope he will make a full recovery as they traded for him this offseason for outfielder Delino DeShields and reliever Emmanuel Clase. The trade will probably end up as the Indians being fleeced by the Rangers if Kluber returns to Cy Young form. Outside of last season, Kluber has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He threw 418 innings between 2017 and 2018, so the time off may be of help to him, giving his high-mileage arm a rest. Kluber pitched three innings on Sunday in his first time pitching in a game since May of last year.
Minor had a career year last year as he eclipsed 200 innings for only the second time in his career. He struck out a career-high 200 batters and held a 3.59 ERA, making his first All-Star Game and finishing eighth in Cy Young voting. I don’t see him being able to repeat the same type of season, with regression likely. I see him having an ERA north of 4.00 as a real possibility, and not reaching near 200 strikeouts again. His 3.77 FIP and 4.42 xFIP indicate that he has a good defense and good luck behind him.
Lynn is similar to Minor. He had a career year, striking out 246 batters in 208.1 innings pitched. Both Lynn and Minor are 32, while Lynn turns 33 in May. Of the two, Minor points to having more of a regression than Lynn. Lynn had a 3.13 FIP which means his ERA sits around where it should be expected to, at 3.67 last year, and could see improvement.
Both Gibson and Lyles were signed by the Rangers as free agents, Gibson to a three-year, $28 million contract, Lyles to a two-year $16 million contract. Gibson was subject to some bad luck last season, as he gave up a .330 BABIP which resulted in a 4.84 ERA. With a solid sinker and good infield defense in Texas, he should put up some more reasonable numbers. His strikeout rate rose while his walk rate decreased. Lyles split time with the Pirates and Brewers last season, putting up a 12-8 record with a 4.15 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and striking out 146 in 141 innings. In the hitter’s park in Texas, his numbers won’t be great, but he has some upside as a backend starter.
The Rangers bullpen is a huge question mark, they had the 21st-ranked ERA (4.73) and 25th-ranked FIP (4.88) last season and could be worse in 2020. They traded their best reliever in ERA in Chris Martin last summer and now will rely on Leclerc to be their closer. Leclerc had an up-and-down 2019, holding an 8.44 ERA and .442 wOBA against in April, 2.13 ERA in May, then rising back up to high 3’s in June and July and 4’s as the season closed. He should see more of a constant this year with a .267 xwOBA against the actual .306 rate and xBA and xSLG at .175 and .288 marks, respectively.
Montero came back from 2018 Tommy John surgery in July and put up solid numbers in a 2.48 ERA and a 30.1% K% and 4.4% BB%. He is a flyball pitcher and gave up homers at a 1.55 per nine rate last season, but that could improve in a new ballpark. Martin made his debut last season and pitched 62.1 innings to a tune of a 4.76 ERA. His underlying numbers are encouraging with a 3.65 FIP, 3.66 xFIP, and 3.70 SIERA. He is a groundball pitcher, holding a 53.8% GB% and is a solid option as a setup man and the Rangers primary southpaw out of the bullpen.
As you dive into the middle relievers, there are a lot of question marks, and if the Rangers want to contend they will have to upgrade. One potential option for the bullpen is the Rangers 22nd ranked prospect Demarcus Evans. More on him later.
The Rangers also hired a new bullpen coach in Doug Mathis, who also pitched in Texas during his playing career. In our “Too Much Pod Tar” podcast, we interviewed Mathis as he let us what his thoughts are on the Rangers pitching staff and what he does when working with relievers. Listen to the interview here.
Players to Watch For
Nick Solak – As I mentioned earlier, Solak has a shot at pushing for playing time at a number of positions around the diamond. The addition of Frazier puts a slight damper in major playing time for the former Tampa Bay Ray prospect, but with his utility, he can back up a few positions including center. His defense is questionable which also makes him not a definite starter. He raked in the minors with 32 total bombs between the Rays and Rangers organizations (five in the majors with Texas).
If the Rangers number five prospect taps even more into his potential, he may end up taking over one of the positions at some point this year. That all depends on how guys like Frazier, Santana, and Odor perform throughout the Spring and moving into the season. Any injuries to the lineup will definitely open that door even more.
Demarcus Evans – As I mentioned earlier, Evans could fight for a spot in the bullpen with several question marks. The 23-year old has done well this Spring, pitching two scoreless innings, striking out three and walking one. The more of that kind of performance for Evans will get him on the team out of camp. Evans had a sub-1.00 ERA last season between High-A and Double-A, striking out 100 and saving 12 games in 60 innings. That was good for a SO/9 rate of 15. He has the sort of impressive stuff to be a high-leverage reliever and he will get that shot this year.
The Rangers exceeded expectations last year with their 78-84 record and seemed to have improved this year. However, their division is very tough and the Angels, a team they finished six games ahead of, also vastly improved. I don’t see the Rangers getting much better a record than last year and they won’t finish above third place. I’ll predict they finish 80-82, but I’d say their ceiling is at 82 wins and their floor is somewhere around 73-75.
Questions and comments?
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