Now that the Texas Rangers active roster is constructed heavily of young talent for the future, what is the most exciting lineup that they can put out?
The season is winding down but many fans are finding the Texas Rangers a more exciting team to watch despite them being a long way off the playoff race. Much of that is attributed to the continuing push for young players to get regular playing time in the big leagues as the focus shifts to development for the future. Names like Leody Taveras and Anderson Tejeda have gotten significant time in the lineup after debuting this season while others continue to increase their importance in the early years of their Rangers’ careers.
That got us thinking. What would be the most exciting lineup the Rangers could put out with those players currently on the active roster? For the lineup building, that means that Jose Trevino is excluded from consideration since he is currently on the IL. That also means Corey Kluber is out of contention for the starting pitcher spot and Elvis Andrus cannot be in the lineup.
Let’s get started…
Leading Off: CF Leody Taveras
One of the players who has been the most exciting to watch this season has been young outfielder Leody Taveras. A defensive star, Taveras has game-impacting speed both in the outfield grass and on the base paths. His bat has also been better than many expected and there’s quite a few around the prospect scouting community who think his offensive ceiling is higher than what we see currently.
His plate discipline has been pretty impressive with the 22-year old posting a 12.2% walk rate in 23 games this season. Of the debutants we’ve seen this season Taveras has the best shot at securing a starting role next season and is starting to look like one of the most important pieces the Texas Rangers have for the future.
A switch-hitter with fairly even splits against lefties and righties, Taveras can pair flexibility with plus-speed to become a stellar leadoff hitter. He’s unlikely to ever produce a ton of pop but with the quality of defense he produces, he won’t have to generate a ton of extra-base hits. If he continues developing this season and upcoming offseason, he quickly could become on of the best players in Arlington.
Batting 2nd: SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Kiner-Falefa probably joins Taveras atop the list as the best breakout seasons for the Rangers this year. Highly effective with the glove, Kiner-Falefa’s bat has arrived in style with the 25-year old hitting .312 this season in 47 games. Kiner-Falefa puts the ball in play nearly every chance he gets and his strikeout rate is just 13.7%.
He’s not a big power generator either but he has the ability to send the ball to all fields which makes him a highly effective offensive weapon. Despite IKF hitting over .300 though, he might bring even more value defensively. Operating mostly at third base this season Kiner-Falefa has been arguably the Rangers’ most consistent defensive performer.
Per Baseball Savant, IKF ranks third in all of baseball in Outs Above Average among all positions. His 5 OAA trails only White Sox centerfielder Luis Robert (6) and Rockies’ seven-time Gold Glove third baseman, Nolan Arenado (6).
Recently, Kiner-Falefa has been hitting third in the lineup that past couple of games after the return of Willie Calhoun. However his ability to put the ball in play and reach base regularly really would make a great second hitter in a lineup and alongside Taveras would give Texas a formidable one-two punch before the power hitters reach the plate.
Batting 3rd: RF Joey Gallo
Getting Joey Gallo into the third spot in the lineup would be a shift from where we’ve seen him for a lot of his career. Pretty much all year Joey Gallo has hit in the cleanup spot for the Texas Rangers and throughout his career he’s mostly operated in the four or five-hole. But long-term getting Joey comfortable in the third spot in the lineup could boost the offensive threat for the team as a whole. Back in February, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wrote about the positioning of Gallo in the lineup and that the Rangers’ would like for him to take over the third spot in the order however as of yet, it hasn’t really happened.
A lot of this is chalked up to keeping Gallo comfortable as he continues to develop as a hitter. Last season was a breakout campaign for the now 26-year old but the 2020 season has been pretty rough. Still, there’s little denying that he is the most talented bat in the Rangers’ organization and getting him more at-bats, even in a year where he’s struggling, is beneficial.
Gallo, beyond the threat he can present at the plate, has also become an elite defensive outfielder. Settling into a permanent right field role, Gallo has shown off his athleticism and elite arm on multiple occasions and is just his bat finding its groove away form being one of the premiere players in the league.
With the defense not really a concern, putting Gallo in the third spot is a way to try and develop some comfort in a lost season while also presenting a better opportunity to protect his bat. It may take some growing pains but considering wins and losses aren’t quite as meaningful as in year’s past, the growing pains are one’s Texas can afford to endure.
Batting Cleanup: LF Nick Solak
Solak isn’t your prototypical cleanup hitter but in a Texas Rangers’ lineup that is lacking in consistent power anyways, it makes sense to get the next best bat available into this four spot. Solak has struggled a bit this season after he put together a stellar debut campaign for the Rangers in 2019 in an admittedly abbreviated stint.
A professional hitter, Solak doesn’t have tons of power at the plate but is consistent with his ability to put the ball in play and when he’s clicking, he can spray the ball around the field too. Even in a down year, Solak is still hitting .259 and there’s reason to believe he can settle in at a regular average around the .275 or .280 mark at some point.
Offensively though, Solak behind Gallo at least gives you some protection to help increase the number of quality pitches Gallo sees. For much of this season, the Rangers have lacked balance or multiple offensive threats with a significant drop-off after Gallo in the order.
Defensively, Solak still lacks a true home but he’s carved out a pretty solid body of work in left field this season. Solak would also benefit from being next to Taveras, an elite center fielder. His bat is good enough to make up the difference and with more work, Solak could develop into a somewhat average defender thanks in large part to solid athleticism.
Batting 5th: DH Willie Calhoun
Like a number of other hitters on the Texas Rangers this season, Willie Calhoun has struggled at the plate. Still just 25 though, Calhoun has plenty of offensive upside and it does feel like if he can put together a solid stretch of being healthy, he could generate significant momentum offensively.
With his struggles, it’s hard to put him near the top of the order despite the fact that he’s been hitting second recently after returning from an IL stint. However he could be a nice bridge between the top half of the order and bottom half with an offensive ceiling that includes some moderate power and good contact skills.
Long-term Calhoun doesn’t really fit into a defensive spot but he has the makings of a really talented DH when his at-bats start to heat up. He’s definitely in the category of important players for the future of the Texas Rangers so dropping him into the middle third of the order would present good opportunity and gives Texas the potential for a talented top half.
Batting 6th: 3B Sherten Apostel
The six spot is a tricky one to figure out and if the Rangers were in a competitive position, Apostel likely wouldn’t be starting much less hitting in the middle third. But if we’re going for exciting dropping a Top 10 organizational prospect in the lineup is about as exciting as it gets.
Having made his big league debut on the last homestead, Apostel is a player who could get some increased game time as the season winds down. I’m not sure if he can stick at third base long-term but for this exercise, it’s worth getting him the experience in the name of excitement. The reason he slots in here is that he does possess some significant raw power while also featuring a surprising solid hit tool.
The offensive ceiling for Apostel is what will determine his value in the Majors long-term and while he might not be fully polished, he does still have an outside shot at a regular big league role next season. That is justification enough to get him as much exposure as possible before the season ends.
Batting 7th: 1B Ronald Guzman
I wrestled with whether to bat Guzman seventh or eighth and despite better numbers in the eight spot, it felt better to have an experienced bat to break up the young guns at the bottom of the order. Guzman has had an offensive resurgence of sorts in limited time this season as he fights to secure an everyday role at first base for the Texas Rangers moving forward.
He falls into a similar category as Leody Taveras and Isiah Kiner-Falefa where his defensive value is so high that his bat doesn’t have to be elite to still be a solid contributor. However, Guzman seems like a player with untapped potential in his swing, particularly in the power department.
The goal with Guzman for the rest of the year is trying to keep that offensive spark going that he seems to have found since returning from the Alternate Site. That could mean keeping him in the eight spot where he’s hitting .400 in six games but putting him in between some high variance, power hitters at the bottom of the order could give him a few more opportunities to get hittable pitches.
Batting 8th: C Sam Huff
As mentioned above, Jose Trevino is excluded from this exercise because he currently is on the IL. If he was healthy, this lineup likely is rearranged considerably and he would be starting behind the plate. Without him though, star prospect Sam Huff gets the nod despite a very raw set of tools for a big league player.
I gave consideration to putting Huff in the sixth slot in the lineup but thought that Apostel was a bit more polished and would be a better fit in a role that likely would offer more opportunities for run production. Huff though provides an impressive power threat for the bottom of the order and would at least give pitchers something to think about when facing Ronald Guzman in the spot ahead of him in the order.
Huff still needs plenty of development and to me, he’s a long shot to be in the big leagues come next season but while he’s here he definitely fits the exciting narrative of this exercise. Just 22 years old, Huff is a Top 100 prospect with elite power and an elite arm behind the plate. He’s a high risk prospect with a lot of value tied to his ability to stay behind the plate, something his 6’5″ frame puts at risk. However if his hitting and defense click, he has the potential to be a future star for the Texas Rangers.
Batting 9th: 2B Anderson Tejeda
In terms of production, there’s a case to be made putting Tejeda higher in this lineup. However he still has an incredibly aggressive approach at the plate which has contributed to a sky high 42.9% strikeout rate. That regularity of swings and misses keeps him tied to the bottom of the order as a high-risk, high-reward bat that could create production before the lineup turns over.
His best numbers have come hitting eighth and ninth this season and with excitement the key to this lineup, it’s hard to imagine many more exciting nine-hold hitters than Tejeda who features impressive power for a middle-infielder.
Defensively, Tejeda has the tools to play shortstop or even third base but his consistency with the glove has been a little fringy so far. Putting him at the keystone could let him focus more on footwork and receiving the ball. His arm is his best defensive weapon so the transition back to the left side wouldn’t be much of a concern.
On the Mound: RHP Lance Lynn
The theme of this lineup has been heavily tilted towards prospects and future production. However, nobody in this the Rangers rotation features quite the excitement that their ace Lance Lynn does. Despite only being under contract for one more year and a likely trade candidate for the offseason, Lynn’s pitching performances this season have been the most exciting thing about the Texas Rangers.
Putting Lynn on the mound would give you a Cy Young level pitcher surrounded by high-upside talent, a perfect mesh of the present and the future for the Texas Rangers who are embarking on a new era of baseball in Arlington.