The Rangers probably do not have the pitching to make the playoffs in 2006. I would not count the Rangers out completely, though. This offense is deadly and could score more runs that any other team in MLB. With even average pitching, I think the Rangers can compete with the A’s and Angels. It was just about a .500 team last year and has done a couple things to improve.
The Rangers are still probably a player or two short.
The Pitching: If at first you don’t succeed. The Rangers starting rotation was awful last year. So, what did new GM John Daniels do? He replaced every single one of them. Here’s how the new rotation will look:
Kevin Millwood: Millwood signed a 5-year, $60 million deal this winter. The deal has an injury clause which can void the last year of the deal, and the deal is back-loaded. Still, this is an immensely risky contract to give a 31 year old pitcher. Millwood had the lowest ERA in the AL last year. While he pitched very well, it was not too far off from previous years, when his ERA was in the fours. Therefore, the ERA was kind of a fluke. I doubt that he will be worth the money he gets in years 3 - 5. But, in this market for pitchers, we cannot overlook the fact that the Rangers could use him for awhile and pawn him off at the deadline for a huge haul.
Vicente Padilla: On the other extreme of Millwod is Padilla, who is coming off the worst year of his career. Even in his worst year, Padilla posted a 4.71 ERA. While he is not the all-star pitcher he used to be, Padilla still is not bad, and he came at a bargain in this market.
Adam Eaton: Eaton has never really had a year that put him on the map. His ERA has fluctuated in the mid-4 area his entire career. His peripheral stats are decent, and he showed flashes of dominance last year. This could be the year he breaks through, though it is going to be tough pitching in Arlington.
Juan Dominguez: He is a 25-year-old with not too much potential. He ended the year in the Ranger rotation in 2005, posting a respectable 4.22 ERA, 2.95 away from Arlington. If all goes well, he’ll be an average starting pitcher.
Kameron Loe: Like Dominguez, he ended 2005 in the Rangers rotation, posting a good ERA and not good peripherals. He, too, will be an average starter at best this year. Again, though, that is all the Rangers can ask for and want. He is still just 24 and a ground-ball pitcher, meaning he is a good fit for this team. I like him better than Dominguez, who will probably be the first displaced starter when the time comes.
The pitching staff may be better, but I have my concerns. I would like to see more sinker-ballers and left handed pitchers, as lefties tend to have more success that righties in Arlington (at least as far as I know). There are no lefties and only one ground ball pitcher in the rotation. Furthermore, the Ranger defense is not good. I’d like to see more strikeout pitchers. Run prevention is going to be a problem again. Just how much, though?
The bullpen is lead by Frank Cordero and newly acquired setup man Akinori Otsuka. Cordero is one of the finest closers in baseball. He is a fantastic power pitcher whose ERA would be in the low-2’s if he didn’t have to pitch in Arlington. Otsuka was one of the best relievers in the NL two years ago. As hitters got accustomed to his odd pitching style, his ERA rose a bit in 2005. Still, Otsuka is a good bullpen arm and could regain some of his success facing a new league. It should be noted though that Otsuka is switching from a pitcher’s park to an extreme hitter’s park. Outside of Cordero and Otsuka, the Rangers have thrown a ton of arms at the bullpen problem, hoping that at least three or four of them turn out good. Given the ridiculous going rate of middle relievers, this is the approach I love to see teams taking to fill bullpens. Fabio Castro is a small young pitcher acquired via Kansas City in the Rule V draft. He has potential but is really not ready for the Show. Jon Leicester came in a deal from the Cubs. Another young arm, he could have a breakthrough year in 2006. Joaquin Benoit is a low-ceiling swingman that could fill in the rotation if needed and take some higher leverage innings in the bullpen. All in all, the bullpen is not very good, but we really do not know what to expect from it in 2006.
The Lineup: I absolutely love the Rangers white-boy lineup. There is a perfect mix of hitters, lefties and righties, on-base and power. It is right up there with the Phillies and Reds in my book. The Rangers finished behind only the Red Sox and Yankees in runs scored last year.
1B Mark Teixeira: Still only 25 years old, Teixeira is a stud switch-hitting first baseman. He continues to get better every season. A lot of his numbers are driven by his home park, where he had an OPS over 1.100 last year. On the road, he barely exceeded an .800 OPS. He hit 17 more home runs at home. Still, he is a very good ballplayer that loves to hit at home, especially when he is hitting left-handed.
2B Ian Kinsler: I will discuss him later.
SS Mike Young: Young posted a .900 OPS last year. His numbers were just as good on the road than at home. He is maybe the best shortstop in baseball.
3B Hank Blalock: Blalock is the same age as Teixeira and came up together touted as the corner infielders of the future. Since then, their careers have progressed in opposite directions. Blalock posted a .900 OPS at home last year and a miserable .600 OPS on the road. His plate discipline needs some work. I would not be surprised to see Blalock dealt to some team like the Twins before the start of the 2006 season. I have heard rumors that Blalock’s struggles are a result of his swing getting messed up because of the desire to hit everything to Arlington’s short porch in right.
C Rod Barajas: He slugged 21 home runs last year, and only 7 of those came at home. He is not much more than a .300 OBP threat, but he has the power to slug in the high-.400’s, making him an above average hitting catcher.
DH Phil Nevin: Nevin is pretty far removed from his prime, but I would not be overly surprised if he managed an OPS above .800 this season.
LF David Dellucci: He had a career year last year: .251/.367/.513. The numbers were not driven solely by Arlington. I am usually skeptical of breakout seasons from 31-year-olds, but the isolated BB and power are VERY impressive. His 29 home runs may have been a fluke, but that awesome walk rate is not.
CF Brad Wilkerson: Wilkerson is an awful lot like Dellucci. He has pretty good home run power, takes a ton of walks, and strikes out a ton/doesn’t hit for high average. Last year was a bad year for Wilkerson, but with less nagging injuries and a much better park to play in, he should get back to .800’s OPS territory.
RF Kevin Mench: Hit 25 home runs last year. His plate discipline is good, though he does not take too many walks. I’d expect something along the lines of a .780 OPS again next year.
Backups: The Rangers have five useful backups, who give the team a good amount of depth and flexibility.
CF/OF Gary Matthews Jr.: Defensively, he is the best outfielder on the team. He actually hit better on the road last year, posting a .756 OPS on the year. He is a very good fourth outfielder, and the Rangers may be better off starting him in center and moving Wilkerson to right. At the very least, Matthews will start every game against a lefty.
3B Marshall McDougal: 27 year old journeyman who has put up +.850 OPS each of the last two years in AAA, with 30 HR in 577 AB. He will have to fight to make the team.
UTIL Mark DeRosa: Useful in that he can play anywhere on the field and post something around or above a .700 OPS.
OF/DH Jason Botts: Three true outcome prospect. There may not be enough room on the roster for him.
2B D’Angelo Jimenez: Jimenez was wrongfully released by the Reds last year and has been signed to a minor league deal in Texas. Jimenez is a bit of a one-trick player; his trick being annoying pitchers and taking a lot of walks. His career .350 OBP should earn him a spot backing up Kinsler at second, but the competition is fierce.
The Rangers have quickly become one of my favorite teams. I was champing at the bit to review the organization because it recently hired Jon Daniels, a young stat-head, as its new GM. Daniels has inherited a lineup loaded with talent and has constructed a pitching staff designed to float, something last year’s staff could not do. The Rangers have suffered from some awful contract liabilities in the past few years. The team is just about to come out from the shadow those signings left. After 2006, the Rangers should have some money to spend. The organization has done a good job locking up some of the good young talent it has developed. Offensively, the team looks set for several years to come. On the pitching side, there are enough good young arms in the minors to believe the Rangers can post some respectable team ERA’s in the future. Daniels will probably move quickly and efficiently in building a pitching staff, as so many other stat-head GMs have done. With Daniels at the helm, I can see the Rangers putting up a very good battle with the A’s and Angels over the next five years or so.
Farm System: I think the Ranger farm system is quite underrated. No one puts it in the top 10, but I think it is in there. The Rangers tend to promote patience at the plate and power. So, you can understand my partiality. The system is loaded with live arms with high ceilings. Danks, Volquez, and Diamond (referred to as DVD) are highly regarded. There is a lot of potential here:
1) Ian Kinsler: 23 2B/SS. Kinsler has put up very impressive minor league numbers. He has a good amount of power for a middle infielder with good range. He also walks once per 10 plate appearances, has his strikeouts under control and could be a good bet to hit around .300 at the Major League level. He and Michael Young will be the Rangers middle infielders in 2006.
2) Thomas Diamond: 22 SP. Diamond was the Rangers first pick in 2004 out of the University of New Orleans. In his first calendar year out, he split time between three single-A levels, posting a ridiculous 169/44 K/BB, 4 HR, and about a 2.10 ERA in 127 innings. In the middle of last year, he was promoted to AA, where he struggled a bit with home runs (8) and walks (38) in 69 innings. Still, that is not that bad, especially in a hitter’s park He managed to strike out 68 in those innings. He is a very good pitching prospect.
3) Jason Botts: 25 OF/DH. At 6’6” 250 lbs., Botts hits the living hell out of the ball. He also strikes out a lot. But, get this, he walks about once every 8 AB. You guessed it: I like him a lot more than most. He just looks like he should be playing on the Rangers . . . or the A’s. He is a switch-hitter, who in my opinion would fit very well platooning in the Rangers 2006 outfield. I cannot wait to see him play, especially if he flanks Dellucci and Wilkerson. His defense may be questionable, but the Arlington outfield is one of the easiest to play in the league.
4) John Danks: 20 SP. Danks was a high-schooler whom the Rangers selected with their first pick in the 2003 draft. He is on about the same pace as Tom Diamond; they both played about half a season in AA last year. Danks struggled a little bit in AA, too; but, it should be noted that AA Frisco is a hitter’s park. I am not worried about the AA struggles too much from either Diamond or Danks. In just over two years in the minors, Danks has a strikeout per inning, about a 3/1 K/BB ratio, and one home run allowed per 10 innings. He is young with a good arm and is left handed.
5) Edison Volquez: 22 SP. Signed as an international free agent, Volquez exploded through the Rangers minor league system last year, ending up all the way in Arlington to end the summer. His peripheral numbers are good for the most part. I worry a bit about his ability to keep the ball down and not surrender hits. His control and strikeout numbers are there, but, pitching in Texas, he has to be very cognizant of not letting anyone make good contact. Because he was promoted so quickly, I will try to ignore the 22 runs he gave up in 12.2 MLB innings.
6) Taylor Teagarden: 21 C. Teagarden was a third round pick in the 2005 draft because he was affiliated with Scott Boras. In short-season A-ball, his three true outcome numbers were incredible: 7 home runs, 23 walks, and 32 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. That was good for a 1.061 OPS. I have read that he will miss most of the 2006 season with injury. I do not know if this is true.
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San Francisco Giants
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Kansas City Royals
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
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