2010 Texas Rangers Preview

Rotation
Rich Harden, RHP
Scott Feldman, RHP
Derek Holland, LHP
Tommy Hunter, RHP
Brandon McCarthy, RHP

Closers and Setup
Frank Francisco, RHP
C.J. Wilson, LHP

Starting Lineup
Julio Borbon, CF
Michael Young, 2B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Vlad Guerrero, DH
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Chris Davis, 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Elvis Andrus, SS

Player in Decline
Vlad Guerrero and Michael Young are the only projected regulars more than 30 years of age. Both should be fine, although Vlad’s knees (and plate discipline) are always of some concern.

Player on the Rise
Neftali Feliz set the baseballing world — and catchers’ gloves — on fire during his 31 relief innings in 2009. The Rangers will give him a chance to crack the starting rotation in 2010.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Ian Kinsler: Elite
Michael Young: Average
Nelson Cruz: Average
Rich Harden: Average
Frank Francisco: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Justin Smoak, 1B
3. Martin Perez, RHP
4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
5. Kasey Kiker, LHP
6. Robbie Ross, LHP
7. Wilmer Font, RHP
8. Mitch Moreland, OF
9. Max Ramirez, C
10. Jurickson Profar, SS

Overall team outlook: Last year marked the first season since 2004 that Texas posted a winning record. A group of promising, cost-controlled players (Nelson Cruz, Julio Borbon, Elvis Andrus) and an improved pitching staff (including Rich Harden) should help the club remain competitive while preserving fiscal sanity.

The Starting Rotation: Last year, Rich Harden was the best of all starters at making batters swing and miss. That’s a pretty good skill for a pitcher to have. Of course, he’s also a perpetual injury candidate. The only question for the Rangers, who signed the righty for $7.5MM plus incentives, is: “Do you feel lucky?” Scott Feldman probably won’t win 17 games in 2010. That said, his cutter should continue to depress his BABIP numbers and control lefties. Derek Holland is better than his 6.12 ERA. He should strike out more than seven per nine while walking about three. Last year’s 4.38 xFIP is probably more likely as 2010′s ERA.

Young Tommy Hunter’s 4.10 ERA last season is a bit surprising. It’s also unlikely to be repeated, as the righty strikes out fewer than six per nine and seems unlikely to top a 40% ground-ball rate. His walk rate makes him serviceable but unexciting. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Brandon McCarthy is a safe choice but gives up a bunch of long flies. After dominating in Japan, Colby Lewis is a contender for the fifth spot. Finally, Neftali Feliz will try to harness his electric stuff in the service of a starting role.

The Bullpen: Frank Francisco is the closer in Texas. The big righty has posted a 3.41 K/BB ratio over the last two seasons. His only nemesis is injury. If and when such a thing were to happen, C.J. Wilson has closed out games before. His 2009 was particularly impressive: 10.26 K/9, 3.91 BB/9, 55.4% GB. Former closer Chris Ray came to Texas in the trade that sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore.

The Starting Lineup: Word on the streets (and in the newspapers) is that Julio Borbon will be leading off and playing center for Texas. He’s a very promising fantasy player, combining a .300 batting average with 30 or 40 stolen bases. Some players are more productive in fantasy than in real baseball. Michael Young is one of them. He’s not bad at all. It’s just, he’s reliant on his average for production. Josh Hamilton will look to stay injury-free and build on his success in 2008. His new position is left field. How much does Vlad Guerrero have left? Enough, probably, but he’s also not much better than, say, Luke Scott at this point. Ian Kinsler hit 13 more homers in 2009 than in 2008 to become the only member of the 30-30 club in 2009. Only problem is, his increased fly-ball rate created a pretty serious dip in his BABIP. It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with that approach in 2010.

Right fielder Nelson Cruz entered 2009 still attempting to evade the Quad-A label. He left 2009 as roughly a four-win player, displaying an above-average bat and glove. His 20/24 stolen base rate was pretty good, too. No, he didn’t bat .300 as Bill James’s projections suggested he might – in fact, he didn’t even bat over .240 – still, Chris Davis is only 24 and possesses awesome power. CHONE likes him to rebound (.268/.321/.487), while ZiPS is more bear-ish (.251/.300/.475). It’s a rule in baseball that a team needs to field a catcher. Neither Taylor Teagarden nor Jarrod Saltalamacchia distinguished himself in that role last season. Finally, Elvis Andrus probably won’t post league-average offensive numbers anytime soon, but he was worth about a win in the field in 2010. Also, he’s a good candidate to steal 30+ bases again.

The Bench: For the first time in his career, Khalil Greene could play in something resembling a hitter’s park. Between the baleful effects of PETCO and then the baleful effects of the anxiety disorder he suffered through last season, it’s hard to say exactly what Greene is now. It’ll be interesting to see. Outfielder David Murphy is an above-average hitter and, as a corner outfielder, defender. Max Ramirez almost went to Boston for Mike Lowell in the offseason. Whether he’s still a catcher remains to be seen.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

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