SURPRISE, Ariz. -- What I like, and dislike, about the Rangers:
-- With two 30-plus homer seasons and two Gold Gloves in his first two summers in Arlington, third baseman Adrian Beltre remains a smash hit for the Rangers. He is smart. Great range. A leader. And a gamer. Struck with back spasms last September when the Rangers were trying to hang on, he practically came out of traction in Anaheim one night to hit. As you might remember, also in that series, Josh Hamilton removed himself from the first game in the third inning with fuzzy vision and missed the next several days.
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-- Elvis Andrus continuing to get better. As entertaining a shortstop to watch as there is in the game, Andrus last summer sliced his error total to 16 from 25 the year before. One interesting thing now will be watching how he handles potential trade rumors with Jurickson Profar breathing down his neck. The Rangers have several ways they can go to get Profar into their lineup, one of which is trading Andrus for pitching and prospects. Not to say that's going to happen, but it sure is a nice dilemma, having too many talented young players than not enough.
-- The Rangers did a nice job working late in the winter to add designated hitter Lance Berkman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. At 37 and coming off of a season in which he played in only 32 games, Berkman's legs unquestionably will play a big role in whether Texas's retooling is a success or failure. They've got a chance to make it as a full-time DH. Pierzynski, 36, has been a winner with the Twins and White Sox and adds a clubhouse edge that the Rangers can use. He's been working overtime getting to know Rangers pitchers this spring, to rave reviews. “He's very vocal. He talks with all the pitchers all the time,” starter Matt Harrison says. “He does a great job.”
-- Alexi Ogando will remain a starter, rather than bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and that move eventually will pay dividends for a Rangers rotation that should start strong and then get stronger as the season progresses. Manager Ron Washington noticed the way Yu Darvish became more at ease in the second half of 2012, the early season microscope gradually shifting to low beam. His second half WHIP was 1.189 (1.364 pre-All-Star break) and his second half strikeouts-to-walks ratio was 2.89 (2.21 pre-break). Darvish, Harrison coming into his own, Derek Holland, Ogando and prospect Martin Perez should work early, and the projected returns of Colby Lewis (May) and Neftali Feliz (July or August) could make for a very interesting rotation.
-- Replacing Josh Hamilton's numbers will be tough, if not impossible. Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli are gone from a lineup that scored the most runs in baseball last year. Now, can a mix of Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and others, including newcomers Berkman and Pierzynski, combine to score enough to keep the Rangers in contention? New hitting coach Dave Magadan is a terrific addition to an All-Star staff that includes pitching coach Mike Maddux. Under Magadan, late of Boston, expect strong at-bats and tough outs. Highly intelligent man and good communicator.
-- Nelson Cruz under a cloud. His name showed up in that paperwork from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Major league baseball continues to investigate Cruz and others. Will he be slapped with a suspension? That nagging concern is in the back of the Rangers's minds. As such, third baseman Mike Olt, one of the game's top power-hitting prospects, is working some in right field this spring, and that could be Olt's entrée into the majors. Olt knows it, too, which is making him wobbly in early spring. “He just needs to get his heart rate down,” manager Ron Washington says. “Once he gets his heart rate down, he'll be fine.”
-- How will the Rangers respond after two absolutely crushing finishes to their past two seasons? Last summer, they resided in first place in the AL West for 178 days before blowing the division title to Oakland in the season's final series. Two Octobers ago, they came within one strike two different times of defeating the Cardinals in a wild World Series. “You can't single out one guy,” Beltre says of Josh Hamilton's dropped fly ball in Oakland (and striking out in 35 percent of his at-bats after Sept. 1). “We had to win two games out of six at the end, and we didn't get it done. … I think we got too overconfident because we only had to win two games. We were thinking about that instead of executing.” Hard lesson. The Rangers need to prove they learned it in 2013.
-- After Colby Lewis went down last season, those filling his spot in the rotation combined to go 0-10 in their starts. Scott Feldman and Martin Perez were the culprits. Perez, with a hard mid-90s fastball and terrific low-80s changeup, has a chance to break camp in the Texas rotation. Just 22, you can still chalk up last season's 1-4 record and 5.45 ERA over 12 games (six starts) to a learning curve. The hope is it helps make him far better in 2013.