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2013 Team Preview: Texas Rangers

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

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Ace Yu Darvish will be critical to the Rangers' hopes in 2013. (AP)

RELATED: Full spring training coverage

We've gotten accustomed to seeing the Texas Rangers as part of the AL playoff fray. But can they keep it going without the services of Josh Hamilton? Let's dig right in ...

Probable lineup
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Lance Berkman, DH
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. David Murphy, LF
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C
8. Mitch Moreland, 1B
9. Leonys Martin, CF

Probable rotation
1. Yu Darvish
2. Matt Harrison
3. Derek Holland
4. Alexi Ogando
5. Martin Perez
Colby Lewis (INJ), Neftali Feliz (INJ)

Bullpen construction
Closer: Joe Nathan
Setup: Jason Frasor, Robbie Ross, Joakim Soria (INJ)

Notable bench players
C Geovany Soto, OF Craig Gentry, IF/OF Leury Garcia, IF/OF Jeff Baker

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
Lance Berkman. Sure, there's risk in signing a 37-year-old who's coming off a season in which he managed just 97 plate appearances. However, Berkman is just two years removed from a .301/.412/.547 season, and it's entirely possible that strict DH duty will afford much better health. As well, consider that in 2012 Texas DHs combined to hit .265/.323/.432, which isn't a terribly high bar for an offense-only position playing home games in hitter-friendly Arlington. Berkman likely needs to be sat against lefties, but as the primary DH he's a nifty addition.

Fantasy Bust: David Murphy
"In 2012, Murphy had his best season, not only because he made a career-high 521 plate appearances, but also because he posted his highest batting average since his first season with the Rangers, when he went to bat only 110 times. Murphy's .304 mark gave off the appearance of a breakout. It's a little unusual for a 30-year-old to take an unexpected leap in his performance, but there is an even stronger reason to be skeptical than merely his age. While Murphy isn't exactly a slow-poke, his .292 batting average on grounders is something you would expect from one of the game's top speedsters. It's especially hard to expect a repeat given that Murphy achieved that average in spite of a sharp decrease in his infield hit rate. With a strong chance of even greater playing time in 2013, owners might look to Murphy as a middle-to-late round option, but he isn't likely to return adequate value. He doesn't possess enough speed or power to take advantage of the increased playing time or compensate for a probable drop in his batting average." - Al Melchior (Full Rangers Fantasy Preview)

Biggest strength
Although the tendencies of the Rangers' home park might lead you to think otherwise, the rotation is this team's bedrock. In 2012, the Texas rotation ranked second in the AL in fWAR, fourth in road ERA and fourth in xFIP. In other words, put the Texas rotation in the proper context (i.e., correct for or remove the influence of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington), and it stands as one of the best in the American League.

As well, the (imposing) front of the Texas rotation -- i.e., Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland -- is uniformly at an age that lends itself to skills growth. In Darvish's case, his impressive propensity to miss bats (he ranked second only to Max Scherzer last season strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances) in tandem with some tweaks to his mechanics down the stretch put him on the short-list of Cy Young contenders for 2013. Throw in upside on the back end (Alexi Ogando and Martin Perez), and you've got a very impressive starting corps.

Biggest weakness
Production from the outfield. And this is where the dominating absence of Josh Hamilton is going to be most acutely felt.

David Murphy should be good for his usual above-average level of production, but elsewhere the situation is less certain. Long-term, Leonys Martin should be an asset offensively, but fits and starts at the highest level are to be expected. However, the real concern may be Nelson Cruz and his decline from a year ago.

In 2012, Cruz put up an OPS of .779, which is far from optimal for a corner outfielder playing half his games in Arlington. Hope for a rebound? Maybe not. Last season, Cruz continued to struggle to make contact, continued to have difficulties against same-side pitching, failed to hit balls in the air as often (a pattern since 2010) and lost significant distance on what balls he did hit in the air. At age 32 and having long been prone to minor injury, Cruz is probably a player you should think as being squarely in decline.

The state of the Texas outfield is hardly a glaring weakness (the Rangers are, after all, a very good team), but the loss of Hamilton's bat will be felt, as will Cruz's continued decay.

Best-case scenario
An AL West title and the top overall seed in the AL bracket. Darvish claims the Cy, top prospect on the planet Jurickson Profar forces his way to Arlington sooner rather than later and contends for RoY honors, Ian Kinsler rebounds a bit, Elvis Andrus continues to cultivate his on-base skills, Adrian Beltre hits and fields like Adrian Beltre, Berkman stays generally healthy, and in the dugout Ron Washington adopts a "first, do no harm" policy.

Worst-case scenario
Third place. An already suspect offense struggles mightily without Hamilton, Darvish's control problems return, they fail to make room for Profar and Mike Olt, the middle-relief corps struggles, and the back of the rotation fails to stabilize. Even then, though, they'd still be better than the Mariners and Astros.

Most-likely scenario
Second place to the Angels in the AL West and a claim on one of the two AL wild-card berths.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

 
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