While everyone else is talking about the Ranger’s options for the fourth and fifth start, it might be good to take a look at the entire 2017 lineup to start the season and compare that to what 2016 looked like.
Catcher—last year Robinson Charinos was the starting catcher and this year he is the backup to Jonathan LuCroy. The numbers are strikingly better both offensively and defensively. A career .284 hitter, who belted 11 home runs in just 47 games in 2016. He can easily project for .284 average and 25 home runs.
First Base—Josh Hamilton is hurt again, the surprise would have been if he were not hurt, so having Mike Napoli is huge! A career .252 hitter, but hit 34 home runs for the Indians last season. That total is above his career average, but 25 is certainly doable. His glove is not as good as Mitch Moreland, but the numbers are a significant upgrade. Last year we thought Prince Fielder was the guy, only to see him deliver almost nothing due to that career ending neck injury. This position is far ahead of last year.
Second Base–Roughned Odor led the team in home runs, and batter .271. Much has been written about his low walk totals, and his 22 errors last year. Odor has a huge upside as he learns more plate patience and becomes more consistent. Keep in mind this will be just his 4th major league season. However, Odor was the starter last year, but this is still an upgrade because he has so much upside.
Short Stop–Elvis Andrus improved his entire game last year in every statistical category. It is possible that he peaked, but look for more consistency which is always good. Equal to last year because it is the same guy, but the team needs the 2016 Elvis all season.
Third Base–Iron Man Adrian Beltre will again be the team leader. Every year we expect to see some slippage from Beltre, and every year he exceeds expectations.
Right Field—Sin Soo Choo projects as the starter, but the reality is that Nomar Mazara will most likely be the everyday right fielder. Mazara could easily hit 25-30 home runs and bat .275 which is a huge upgrade over what that position delivered last season with Choo hurt most of the year.
Center Field—Carlos Gomez was a superior addition for the Rangers after the Astros cast him aside. In just 33 games as a Ranger he hit .284 with 8 home runs. His numbers are probably not going to be what Ian Desmond did for the team last year, but he should provide a defensive upgrade and can probably project a .275 average with 20 home runs.
Left Field—This position is a full open competition between Delino DeShields, Ryan Rua, and Jurickson Profar. If DeShields can find his game again that will round out one of the fastest outfield’s in all of baseball. By all accounts he has slimmed down, regained his speed after bulking up last year, and is more patient in his at bats. The versatility of having both Rua and Profar on the team will allow Jeff Bannister to mix and match while resting veterans.
Designated Hitter—Again there is competition but I expect that Sin Soo Choo will get the bulk of this position. This is a huge upgrade considering Fielder missed almost the entire season and did not produce very much when he was there. I consider this a huge upgrade! There is no doubt in my mind that the Rangers have a depth at almost every position that this team has never had in franchise history.
Starting Pitching—Everyone is writing and discussing the 4 & 5 spots, but how many teams in baseball have two legitimate aces? Outside of Boston, Chicago Cubs, Dodgers and a couple of others the answer is very few. The Rangers have that in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. If Martin Perez can find some consistency that is a very strong upper rotation. The host of candidates have not shown very much in Spring Training, but the career numbers for Andrew Cashner, if he can find health, has strong potential. That rotation might even be better if Tyson Ross can return from his surgery, and return to form by mid-May as projected. In the interim the team will begin the year with one of 4-5 candidates filling those last couple of spots. If you remember last year the season began with Yu Darvish recovering from Tommy John, and no 5th starter at all, so your starting four were Hamels, Holland, Perez, and Lewis. I consider this position very equal to last year.
Bullpen—last year Tolleson was the closer and he blew a half-dozen games before giving way to Sam Dyson. Add in the setup pieces of Matt Bush who I think can be an elite pitcher, and Jeremy Jeffress along with a strong supporting cast and the bullpen is much improved overall than last year. Losing Jake Diekman is significant, and just as the team was last year they are thin with left-handed relievers. Alex Claudio will be counted on heavily. This group is seasoned, a group of extremely hard throwers, and should be very good.
Overall this is just a better team that is much more set than last season, and they are the defending champions. Every year it seems the sportswriters pick someone else to win the AL West. Maybe that is the secret to motivating this team, lack of respect. In just a few days we get to find out, hope you are as ready as I am to see what this team can do.