2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Texas Rangers
The Rangers will have some new faces in new places in 2014, namely Prince Fielder manning first base and Shin Soo Choo roaming the outfield. Al Melchior sizes up the roster for Draft Day.
After experiencing back-to-back World Series losses, the Rangers endured even more heartbreak the last two seasons, losing the American League Wild Card game in 2012 and failing to make it past a play-in game last year. Despite the downward trend, the Rangers continue to reload rather than tear down.
And why not? The veteran duo of Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios provide a solid foundation for the rest of the lineup, while Elvis Andrus , Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin are all young enough to take a step forward. The Rangers went out and fortified an already-solid offense by trading second baseman Ian Kinsler -- made expendable by the rise of Profar -- to the Tigers for first baseman Prince Fielder , who has been a five-time All-Star and MVP candidate. By also signing Shin-Soo Choo to replace Kinsler at the leadoff spot, the Rangers aim to return to being the powerhouse offense they were just two years ago.
Adding Fielder and Choo doesn't automatically launch the Rangers back into the World Series picture, but it certainly won't hurt their chances. Fielder will have to rebound from a strangely nondescript season, at least by his standards. Even a minor rebound to 30 home runs and a .300 batting average (up from last year's 25 and .279) could be enough to make him the third-most valuable first baseman in Fantasy. Choo will have a hard time matching the career-high .423 on-base percentage he registered in 2013 with the Reds, though the Rangers' lineup should be able to help him plate at least 100 runs. That could allow him to preserve his value as a top 12 outfielder.
While the Rangers took care of their needs on offense, pitching could still derail their hopes for postseason glory. Yu Darvish is unquestionably fit to serve as an ace, but the rest of the starting pitcher corps looks shaky. Derek Holland will miss at least half the season after having microfracture surgery on his left knee this offseason. The team could be down a second starter if Matt Harrison is not fully recovered from two back surgeries and a third surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. That leaves sophomore Martin Perez and former swingman Alexi Ogando as the only clear rotation options behind Darvish. Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch lead the pack of contenders to fill any back-of-the-rotation vacancies.
The bullpen as a whole looks promising, but it's not clear who will be entrusted with nailing down saves. Neftali Feliz will probably get the first crack, but there are at least three seemingly qualified candidates (more on this below).
Though Darvish is the only obvious standard mixed league option among the Rangers' pitchers, everyone in their starting lineup -- with the exception of Mitch Moreland and Geovany Soto -- is draftable in those formats. A weak rotation may keep the Rangers from the playoffs for the second straight year, but they have a bevy of players to help catapult your Fantasy team to a title.
Underappreciated ... Alex Rios , outfielder
Because his stats in individual Fantasy categories have fluctuated wildly, Rios has gained a reputation for inconsistency, yet he is one of only four players to finish among the top 10 outfielders in Rotisserie value in three out of the last four seasons. (The others are Ryan Braun , Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Holliday .) Given that no outfielder has cracked the top 10 every year since 2010, Rios' overall production has been about as steady as anyone's. If he had been slightly better in 2010, he would have achieved the same feat in Head-to-Head leagues as well. Rios' horrid 2011 season is an outlier that should now be a distant memory. Not only can he be counted on to offer a nice balance of power and speed, but with a chance to play his first full season in Texas, manager Ron Washington's propensity to give runners the green light can only enhance Rios' value. So will batting in the middle of a loaded Rangers lineup. It's time once again to think of the 10-year veteran as a top 10 outfielder.
Breakout ... Martin Perez , starting pitcher
Even though Perez entered last season with only 38 big league innings, he would up being a stabilizing force in the Rangers' rotation after the team struggled to get good performances from their No. 4 and 5 starters. The 22-year-old surpassed expectations with a 10-6 record and a 3.62 ERA, but there is still room for him to improve. Perez frustrated his dynasty league owners in 2012 by losing his knack for missing bats, and given his pedestrian 6.1 K/9 ratio last season, he could enter 2014 with the stigma of being a contact pitcher. Perez actually induced swings-and-misses on 10.5 percent of his pitches in 2013, and that usually corresponds with a much higher strikeout rate. He may not improve much upon his record or ERA (he did strand 77 percent of his runners), but Perez has a chance to enhance his value by becoming a strikeout pitcher with a lower WHIP.
Buyer Beware ... Neftali Feliz , relief pitcher
Feliz enters spring training as the consensus favorite to win the Rangers' closer job, but even if he starts the year in that role, it doesn't mean he will keep it. He will have to be highly effective to fend off Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers , who have good credentials of their own. Not only will he be a little more than a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery, but even prior to getting hurt, Feliz showed some weaknesses that could hurt his cause. In his last full season as a reliever, Feliz sported a mediocre 7.8 K/9 ratio, and had trouble with command. While a career 2.61 ERA and 1.01 WHIP look imposing, he has been helped by a .223 BABIP that seems unsustainable, even for someone who profiles as a low-BABIP pitcher. While he could return to being the lights-out reliever he was early in his career, Feliz is risky enough that he should be a last resort as a No. 2 Fantasy reliever.
Having graduated Profar, Martin and Perez from their minor league system, the Rangers' prospect pipeline isn't what it was a year ago, but there are still some important names for Fantasy leaguers to know. Rougned Odor is the best of the remaining prospects, and he's possibly the closest to being major league-ready. He had no problem making the adjustment from Advanced Class A to Double-A last season and could be a midseason callup this year. Odor is a must-own in dynasty formats. ... Shortstop Luis Sardinas could be a stolen base threat within a couple of years, but he's solidly blocked from the Rangers' middle infield by Andrus, Profar and Odor ... Catcher Jorge Alfaro , outfielder Nick Williams and third baseman Joey Gallo all passed through Class A Hickory in 2013, and all are worthy keepers in dynasty leagues ... Hard-throwing starting pitcher Luke Jackson could make an appearance with the Rangers as soon as this season, though it could be as a reliever. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, both he and 2013 draftee Chi Chi Gonzalez could be considered for the opening day rotation, especially if Harrison isn't ready.
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