The Rangers represented the American League in the World Series for the second straight year, capping off a season that produced a franchise-best 96 regular season wins. If not for David Freese's run-producing shot that soared just over the outstretched glove of Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6, the Rangers would have secured their first World Series championship.
After losing their ace, C.J. Wilson, to the Angels via free agency this offseason, one might have thought that the Rangers were preparing to cede the AL West to their SoCal rivals. With the signings of Wilson and Albert Pujols, the Angels made the biggest splashes in the free agent market, but the Rangers didn't exactly sit on their hands, as they signed righty Yu Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal. In addition to luring Darvish away from the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League, Texas made another tweak to their rotation, moving closer Neftali Feliz back to the starting role he occupied as a minor league prospect. To make room for Feliz, manager Ron Washington sent Alexi Ogando back to the bullpen, where he started his major league career two seasons ago. Along with Mike Adams, Ogando will set up for closer Joe Nathan, who was added on a two-year deal back in November.
While the Rangers made substantial changes to their pitching staff, they decided to stand pat with their regulars. The team will once again have one of the majors' most potent lineups, with Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus setting the table and Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz filling out the middle of the order. When you boast a lineup that likely features Mike Napoli, who has clouted more than 25 homers in each of the last two seasons, in the seventh spot, opposing pitchers can't expect to get many breaks. The one area of uncertainty in the lineup is in center field. Josh Hamilton started 30 games there a year ago, and he should get some playing time there again in 2012, but Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin will also vie for a share of the starts.
With a packed lineup, the Rangers will continue to be a threat in the AL West. However, their ability to seize a third straight division title may rest on whether Darvish can successfully adjust to the majors and on Colby Lewis' and Derek Holland's ability to help him to replace Wilson's production. Even at their best, the Rangers' rotation probably can't match the Angels', but their offense will keep them in the picture as serious title contenders.
Bust ... Elvis Andrus, SS
Andrus has been very consistent since his arrival in the majors back in 2009 as a 20-year-old. However, consistency isn't necessarily what Fantasy owners are looking for from a young hitter. Before a player reaches his peak, owners would ideally like to see growth, but Andrus hasn't provided many signs of progress. He has yet to develop much power, build on his walk rate or break the 40-steals barrier. Andrus has reduced his strikeouts, though we have yet to see it have much effect on his batting average. He is still plenty young enough to have a breakout season, and because of his youth, many owners may assume that it is coming this year. However, there are no signs of it occurring anytime soon, and he could wind up underperforming his draft position for many owners.
Impact 2012 prospect ... Yu Darvish, SP
At 25 and as a veteran of the Japanese Pacific League, Darvish isn't a prospect in the usual sense, but in making his major league debut this spring, he will face many of the same challenges and uncertainties that young players from the minor leagues face. We won't know until he takes the mound how well Darvish will respond, but we know two things for certain. He will be given a prominent role in the Rangers' rotation and will keep it all year long, barring an injury. Also, he comes to North America with an even better track record in the Japanese leagues than Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Hideo Nomo. While there is risk involved in drafting Darvish, there is clearly a lot to like here.
Bounce-back ... Joe Nathan, RP
Coming back successfully from Tommy John surgery is no sure thing, and to look at Nathan's stats from last season, it would be easy to assume that he didn't enjoy much of a triumphant return. Overall, he compiled a 4.84 ERA and a higher-than-normal 1.16 WHIP, but much of the damage was done during the first three weeks of the season. In just his first seven appearances with the Twins last year, Nathan allowed eight earned runs over 6 1/3 innings, and he blew a pair of saves. The rest of the way, his ERA was a more respectable 3.76, and an 0.99 WHIP shows that he mostly suffered from stranding too few baserunners. Now with the Rangers, Nathan is fully recovered from his surgery and should continue to do a solid job of keeping runners off the basepaths, as well as a better job of preventing them from scoring. Though you probably won't need to draft him early, Nathan could return to performing like a No. 1 Fantasy reliever.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Ian Kinsler||2B||1||Colby Lewis||RH|
|2||Elvis Andrus||SS||2||Derek Holland||LH|
|3||Josh Hamilton||CF||3||Yu Darvish||RH|
|4||Adrian Beltre||3B||4||Matt Harrison||LH|
|5||Michael Young||DH||5||Neftali Feliz||RH|
|6||Nelson Cruz||RF||Alt||Scott Feldman||RH|
|7||Mike Napoli||C|| |
|8||David Murphy||LF||CL||Joe Nathan||RH|
|9||Mitch Moreland||1B||SU||Mike Adams||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Alexi Ogando||RH|
|R||Craig Gentry||OF||RP||Mark Lowe||RH|
|R||Yorvit Torrealba||C||RP||Michael Kirkman||LH|
|1||Yu Darvish||25||SP||DNP -- in Japan||Majors|
|A sensation in Japan with a mid-90s fastball, Darvish could quickly become the Rangers' ace, but he will start off in the middle of the rotation.|
|2||Jurickson Profar||19||SS||Class A||Class A|
|Profar has great strike zone recognition for such a young player. He is still at least a couple of years away and may get moved to a new position.|
|3||Mike Olt||23||3B||Class A||Double-A|
|Olt put on a historically-good hitting display in the Arizona Fall League but still has to work on his contact skills. He could rise quickly.|
|Martin will get a shot at being the Rangers' starting center fielder. If he wins out, he could help owners with steals, and he has a strong batting eye.|
|Perez could eventually be a near-elite starting pitcher, but if the lefty contributes in 2012, it will likely be as a reliever.|
|Best of the rest: Neil Ramirez, SP; Rougned Odor, 2B; Cody Buckel, SP; Jorge Alfaro, C; Christian Villanueva, 3B; Robbie Ross, SP; Roman Mendez, SP; Tanner Scheppers, RP; Jake Skole, OF; Justin Grimm, SP; Will Lamb, SP; Kevin Matthews, SP; Miguel De Los Santos, SP; Ronald Guzman, OF; Nomar Mazara, OF; Luke Jackson, SP; Odubel Herrera, 2B; Luis Sardinas, SS; Barret Loux, SP; Justin Miller, RP; Matt West, RP; Leury Garcia, SS; Tommy Mendonca, 3B; Johan Yan, RP.|
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