Overview: The Texas Rangers are another intriguing team from the AL West, much like the Oakland A's. As is always the question with the Rangers, will their starting pitching be adequate enough to push them into the playoffs. They have a fantastic looking offense and a bullpen that has FIVE pitchers with closers experience. They have incredible depth on their bench as well. Nobody has been talking about the Rangers, but I really think that this could be a team that is going to surprise a lot of people this year and contend in the AL West all season long.
Starting Pitching: Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, Matt Harrison, Brandon McCarthy and Jason Jennings are currently slotted in the Rangers starting rotation. That's not exactly the best news for Rangers fans because that rotation is definitley not getting better. Watching Edinson Volquez dominate the National League hurts too, but the Rangers do have a good amount of young pitchers, so if any of the last three starters in their rotation get hurt or aren't cutting it, they have the flexibility to try a fresh arm. Kason Gabbard, Scott Feldman, Kris Benson, Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza could all start this season for the Rangers. I see no reason to believe that the combined starters ERA is going to be much lower than 5.00 this season. Unless something changes drastically and one of their younger pitchers develops or they acquire a solid arm, the Rangers are going to be let down by their starting pitching once again.
Bullpen: For now at least, this looks to be a position of strength for the Rangers. As mentioned in the overview, the Rangers have five relievers with closer experience. Frank Francisco has been given the job with CJ Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Derrick Turnbow and Joaquin Benoit also having closer experience. At this point, Wilson, Guardado, Turnbow and Benoit are not feared arms, but they are solid enough to give Ron Washington the ability to mix and match with two lefties (Wilson and Guardado) and two righty's (Turnbow and Benoit) to get to Francisco in the late innings. I only worry that they do not have a long man in their bullpen as of right now. Though with the amount of starting pitching that the Rangers have, it wouldn't be too hard to have one of those pitchers throw some decent innings for them. There are health concerns with just about all of these relievers, so the issue could still be in doubt, but for now, I like this bullpen.
Offense: The Rangers offense is going to be one of the best in baseball this season, if not the best. With a Micheal Young shift to third-base, the team improves across the board. With that one shift, the Rangers are able to take Hank Blalock off the field to become the full-time DH and super prospect Elvis Andrus is given the starting shortstop job. That will also improve the defense markedly as Young has never been the best shortstop. Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis fill out the right-side of the infield and each are young players that have come through the Rangers system. Kinsler is a top-5 second baseman and Chris Davis showed that he could rake in limited time last season (295 ab's -- .285, 17, 55). Behind the plate, the Rangers are loaded with talent with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez. Each appear to be offensive minded players with real star potential. The question is which one will get it figured out at the major league level fastest. This is a commodity that will come in very handy around July when frequent trade partner, Boston, is shopping for Jason Varitek's replacement and use their surplus of pitching talent.
In the outfield the Rangers are six deep and are very talented. With MVP candidate Josh Hamilton leading the pack, the Rangers also have David Murphy and Nelson Cruz. Each is a young talent with a good amount of potential. Murphy has showed himself to be a gap hitter with 20 home run potential. He reminds me a lot of former Rangers outfielder Rusty Greer on the late 90's variety of the Rangers. Cruz had an 1.000+ OPS in limited at-bats last season. While that was probably a fluke, there is certainly enough reason to think that he could be the 2009 version of Carlos Quentin or Ryan Ludwick. He has a lot of power potential and put it together last year. Watch both of these guys become steady contributors to a solid lineup. Behind this talented young group, the Rangers have Brandon Boggs, Frank Catalanotto and Andruw Jones. Boggs is in a tough situation, because he is talented enough to get a look somewhere as a starter, but it won't be the Rangers unless there is an injury. He has a ceiling similar to Murphy. Catalanotto is nearing the end of his career, but he certainly has always been able to hit and is a great bat to have off the bench, with the ability to play the corner outfield, first-base or second-base in a pinch. Finally there is Andruw Jones. Three years removed from a 40 homer season and widely being considered one of the games best center fielders, he is now barely part of the Rangers roster. There is little reason to believe that he is going to return to form, but at 32, he could give the Rangers quite a bit in event of an injury.
Overall: The Rangers look to have an offense that will be the toast of Major League Baseball this season. Josh Hamilton could very well be on his way to an MVP award if he puts together a similar season on a winning team. The Rangers will also see development of at least one other stud offensive player whether that is Chris Davis or Nelson Cruz. They also will hope to have a full season of Hank Blalock now that he is a full time DH. This is going to be an offensive juggernaut for years to come, I can't wait to watch this team hit. Pitching is going to be a major struggle yet again for this team, but I do strongly believe that the Rangers are en route to a second-place finish in the AL West, and they will give the Angels all they can handle with 7 of their final 17 games head to head. Every starter for this team is an offensive threat, watch their youth develop closely this season.