’09 Preview — Texas Rangers

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2008 Record: 79-83, 2nd AL West
2009 Prediction: 3rd AL West

Impact Player: Josh Hamilton
Impact Pitcher: Vicente Padilla
Top Prospect: Neftali Perez, RHP

Significant Acquisitions: SS Omar Vizquel, P Eddie Guardado,
P Brendan Donnelly, P Derrick Turnbow
Significant Losses: C Gerald Laird, INF Ramon Vazquez, OF Milton
Bradley
, P Jamey Wright, P Kameron Loe, P Franklyn German

                                                                                                       

The Texas Rangers haven’t had a winning season since 2004
and this year doesn’t look good.  Their offense has no problem; the
Rangers finished in the top 4 in the AL in every major offensive category last
year including #1 in runs scored, hits, batting average, slugging percentage,
and doubles.  With much of the same team returning for ’09, the Rangers
won’t have a problem scoring runs, but their pitching is a different
story.  The Rangers made no visible improvements to a staff that was
dead-last in the AL in ERA in ’08.  GM Jon Daniels may be on thin ice if
this team can’t at least show some improvement in ’09; new team president Nolan
Ryan might want to install his own guy who has more of an emphasis on pitching.

Pitching
As I said just seconds ago, this team can’t pitch.  The Rangers were
at or near the bottom in most pitching categories and this year they look no
better.  They have some young guys coming up through the system but most
of them are still a few years away from making a real impact.  Vicente
Padilla is back as the de-facto #1.  Padilla was 14-8 last year but posted
an erratic 4.74 ERA and is entirely too hittable to be the best pitcher on a
staff.  Kevin Millwood was awful last year; he battled injuries and finished
with a 5.07 ERA in 168.2 innings.  If Millwood is healthy he could be a #1
starter, but he’s 34 and not getting any younger.  After that, the three
pitchers expected to make the rotation are Scott Feldman (a converted reliever
with moderate stuff), Matt Harrison (who showed major promise last year going
9-3 but still only had a 5.49 ERA), and Brandon McCarthy (who has upside, but
threw only 22 innings in ’08 due to injury).  The Rangers had signed Ben Sheets to a two-year deal but revoked the offer after his physical when a tear was discovered in his pitching elbow.  If Sheets recovers by mid-season, the Rangers could still have a shot at signing him, but that will only happen if they are close enough to make a run at the division.  Dustin Nippert and veteran
Jason Jennings are also in the running should someone fail to step
up in the spring.

In the ‘pen, the Rangers won’t be much better.  They have four pitchers
with closing experience in C.J. Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Brendan Donnelly, and
Derrick Turnbow, but the job will likely go to Frank Francisco who posted a
solid 3.13 ERA in ’08.  Wilson will set-up and be the primary option
against lefties; he posted 24 saves last year but had a 6.02 ERA. 
Guardado returns for his second stint in Texas (he started the year here last
year before finishing it in Minnesota) and should help Wilson in setup.  A
minor-league contract was given to oft-injured vet Donnelly who looks to make a
comeback as does Turnbow who can’t seem to stay healthy since going off the
juice.  Younger options, Josh Rupe, Warner Madrigal and Luis Mendoza
appear to be in the mix as well.  Joaquin Benoit will be out until mid-season recovering from an operation on his shoulder in January.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Vicente Padilla (R/31)
  • Kevin Millwood (R/34)
  • Scott Feldman (R/26)
  • Matt Harrison (L/23)
  • Brandon McCarthy (R/25)

Bullpen

  • Frank Francisco (R/29)
  • C.J. Wilson (L/28)
  • Eddie Guardado (L/38)
  • Josh Rupe (R/26)
  • Warner Madrigal (R/25)
  • Derrick Turnbow (R/31)
  • Brendan Donnelly (R/37)
  • **Joaquin Benoit (R/31) — Out until mid-season with an injury.

Lineup
The Rangers won’t have a problem scoring runs with this lineup in a hitter-friendly ballpark.  The core of this group is still young and if they could ever get just a bit of pitching help, the Rangers would, without a doubt, be a contender.  In the outfield, Josh Hamilton will play in center after his MVP-type ’08.  Hamilton shocked the baseball world by coming back from a crippling heroin addiction to hit .304 with 32 HR and 130 RBI.  He tailed off as the season went on but in all fairness, it was his first full big league season so fatigue might have been an issue; it shouldn’t effect him as much this year.  David Murphy was impressive in his first full season and should start in Left; and Right-field will be fought over by Nelson Cruz and Marlon Byrd.  In the infield, rock-of-the-franchise Michael Young is back but moves to Third to make room for impressive prospect Elvis Andrus at Short.  Young was initially put-off by the Rangers’ request to move him and asked for a trade, but things seemed to have quieted down and he appears to be okay with it now.  If Andrus struggles, the Rangers signed Omar Vizquel as insurance.  At Second will be Ian Kinsler.  Kinsler has become one of the best offensive second-baseman in the game; he hit .319 with 18 HR and 71 RBI last year and the team has talked about moving him down in the order to be their cleanup hitter.  At First, Chris Davis had a coming-out party in ’08 hitting 17 HR and driving in 55 RBI in only 80 games.  Davis is expected to be a guy who can deliver .300/30/100-type numbers for years to come.  At catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is slowly getting better defensively and at 24 should continue to develop into a solid starter.  The DH in ’09 will likely be Hank Blalock who can still contribute with the bat but knee injuries have forced him to give up most of his defensive playing time.

On the bench, the Rangers will try out Taylor Teagarden at catcher and he could leap-frog Saltalamacchia for the starting job if he continues on the track he was on last year; Teagarden hit 6 home runs in 16 games with the Rangers in a September call up.  Whoever’s not playing in Right-field, Vizquel, veteran utility-man Frank Catalanotto, and infielder Joaquin Arias will also ride the Rangers’ pine.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • SS  Elvis Andrus (R/20)
  • 3B  Michael Young (R/32)
  • CF  Josh Hamilton (L/28)
  • 2B  Ian Kinsler (R/27)
  • 1B  Chris Davis (L/23)
  • DH  Hank Blalock (L/28)
  • LF   David Murphy (L/27)
  • C    Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S/24)
  • RF  Marlon Byrd (R/31)

Bench

  • OF  Nelson Cruz (R/28)
  • INF Joaquin Arias (R/24)
  • C    Taylor Teagarden (R/25)
  • UTIL Frank Catalanotto (L/35)
  • SS  Omar Vizquel (S/42)

Outlook
If the Rangers could just get some consistent pitching they would challenge the Angels for the division; their offense rivals that of the Yankees and Red Sox.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to improve upon a staff that was awful in ’08, and that may be the undoing of young GM Jon Daniels.  Final Prediction: 70-92, 3rd AL West

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