KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Texas Rangers?
No Josh Hamilton. Now what?
Will Leonys roar?
Really, it's probably not that big of a deal. The club expects prospect Leonys Martin to occupy center field most of the time, and how much "most" is will probably depend on the Cuban's ability to hit southpaws and avoid mistakes defensively. The speedy Craig Gentry will probably serve as Martin's right-handed foil if the former is an issue. Martin, 24 in March, is an interesting sleeper because of his plus BA skills and speed (a possible 15 to 20 thefts here).
Left fielder David Murphy (.304 BA, 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 521 plate appearances in 2012) put up excellent results against left-handed pitchers last season, and his numbers against them in 2010 were quite solid. The left-handed batter's advanced indicators don't necessarily correlate with the kind of improvements he's made, however, so it's understandable if both roto managers and the Rangers are wary of Murphy's sustainability as an everyday player. He'll almost certainly receive the opportunity to be one, however, and that prospect should raise your interest in him a little, especially if he's not going to cost any more than he has in past years.
Don't rule out a surprise winner of the battle to man center field, either. The formerly lauded Engel Beltre, 23, and recent flameout Julio Borbon, 27, will provide the starkest competition for Martin this spring. Each would probably be a good source of stolen bases if he landed the job and kept it, at least for a stretch. Gentry could end up taking time from Murphy. And it's always possible that the Olt kid's name comes into the picture again. The 2013 season could turn out to be one of transition, but the Rangers will still score plenty of runs, and they'll find solutions that'll help them do it. It's just unfortunate that fantasy owners won't have that singular, injury-prone outfielder to consolidate all these possibilities into one risky bid.
When will Texas turn to Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt?
If the Rangers have their likely druthers, neither member of fantasy baseball's most highly coveted prospects will be on the 25-man roster for most of the season. The club inked worn-down veteran Lance Berkman to a one-year deal so that he would serve as DH, eliminating scenarios in which other position players fill that void on occasion to accommodate one of the green youngsters.
Everyone knows that Berkman is far from dependable because of his propensity to develop injuries. This certainly qualifies as justification for Profar's and Olt's spots on reserve rosters everywhere this spring. In mixed leagues, this pretty much seems like a waste of a resource, but in AL-only setups, casting a penny into that well isn't exactly a poor decision. There may even be reason to employ the tactic in 15-team leagues that have an MLB universe. The Rangers' plan for 2013 just doesn't seem likely to involve long-term major league exposure for either player, however. Each spent the 2012 campaign, save his call-up, at Double-A Frisco.
Texas has more question marks and greater flexibility at the corners, probably not by accident. Adrian Beltre, 34 in April, isn't a complete stranger to the DL. Mitch Moreland, 27, hasn't yet convinced the organization that he can hit left-handed pitching. Olt, the third baseman, is 24, has a polished game and has the likelier avenues to PT. Heck, the Rangers put the kid in right a couple of times last season. Who's to say they don't rearrange the outfield to find room for his bat this summer - especially if they aren't scoring the way they're expected?
As far as Profar, 20, is concerned, Texas isn't committed to Ian Kinsler beyond this season and, unless he becomes an outfielder, probably won't contemplate the idea of an extension for him. The long-time second baseman for the Rangers has been known to be a visitor to the infirmary on occasion, it's worth nothing.
In the end, no one knows how the Rangers will handle a situation that presents an opportunity to promote one of these players. That's largely because the front office can't know until that scenario arises and they've taken all aspects into consideration. A debilitating injury to any of club's regulars would probably prompt internal discussion about the possibility of bringing one of the two potential future studs up. The club's bench is pretty thin. Olt and Profar are tantalizing lotto tickets.
Berkman, 37, is at it again, by the way. Interest in him will likely be lukewarm, at best, and that works in the favor of willing investors. The switch-hitter is expected to bat third in one of the AL's best lineups, and the upgrade in hitting environment is a big plus. Buying Berkman on the cheap may not yield much of anything, but if it doesn't, who cares?
How is this year's rotation shaping up?
Olt bolting to bigs?
Rotisserie managers should have a better idea of what to expect from Yu Darvish this time around. In the second half, the Asian right-hander improved his control rate by a full walk per nine innings and in general became tougher to hit. He made a transition to the States (living, not just playing baseball at the game's highest level) look a lot simpler than it is, and he should be better in 2013 because of all he learned last season.
Left-hander Matt Harrison backed up a strong 2011 campaign with a more profitable 2012, thanks mostly to his 18 W's. He's backed up those significant control gains and remains a threat to post an ERA well under 4.00. Although he's no soft-tosser, he doesn't promise to generate a K/9 of anything greater than 6.00, however, and heavily team-dependent results implore fantasy owners to check their bids early.
On the other hand, this could be a good year to buy Derek Holland. The 26-year-old has maintained a healthy rate of strikeouts while reducing his BB/9 in consecutive seasons. The home run ball has been a problem for him, but never more so than last season. Reducing such costly mistakes and keeping the ball down seems to be a matter of maturity in terms of his development. Although there's nothing specific that suggests Holland will take that step this season, his cost may tempt you to gamble that 2013 will be it.
Righty Alexi Ogando has already proven that he's a capable starter. How will he handle the transition a second time? Bidders certainly shouldn't pay for what he did in 2011 (13 wins, 3.51 ERA and 6.71 K/9 in 169 frames), but they may throw in a little extra for the possibility.
The Rangers seem to be prepared to enter the season with Martin Perez as their No. 5 starter, too. The erratic left-hander is considered one of the better pitching prospects in the game, but he has yet to demonstrate that he knows where his pitches are going. His recent outcomes hint at a focus on reining in his arsenal before he tries to rack up strikeouts. Perez, 22 in April, has a long way to go before he's a consistent pitcher, but he'll warrant AL interest.
Texas hopes that Perez pitches well enough to hold down the fort, sans injuries, until Colby Lewis has recovered from surgery to fix the flexor tendon in his right elbow. The team hopes to have him back in May or June. He was on his way to a career year (3.43 ERA, 7.97 K/9 and 1.20 BB/9) before he was injured. His previous, solid results suggest that he'll be worth stashing in all but the shallowest of leagues, although his owners shouldn't just expect him to pick up where he left off last season.
If the rotation begins to fall apart, Texas may seek outside help. For short-term, temporary or experimental fixes, the organization has righties Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez waiting in the wings. Grimm in particular, with his shiny peripherals, is an interesting, very deep sleeper.
What's the explanation for A.J. Pierzynski's 27 home runs?
There isn't much of one, at least which points to a good likelihood of anything close to a repeat. Perhaps the left-handed batter beefed up a little and altered his approach just a bit in order to staunch the drop-off in his fly-ball rate from the previous season. You won't find much of an explanation in the numbers on his Fangraphs page (unless you read a take on his season from one of the site's many writers, like Howard Bender's).
Pierzynski parlayed his walk year, spent in the baseball's top launch pad, into the heftiest contract of his career. He bested his previous lifetime high in the category (which came in 2005) by nine. Yes, catchers often experience spikes in power production late in their careers, and he moved to another fantastic yard, which serves as home to a team with a better lineup than the Chicago White Sox's. But Pierzynski, 36, probably didn't sacrifice a measly couple of points in his above-average contact rate in order to become a candidate to bat cleanup for the Rangers. We may come to find out that he is, but the odds aren't in his favor; fantasy owners shouldn't be expecting it, even if some are willing to pay more than usual for him.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.