3 Texas Rangers Spring Training storylines to follow

Los Angeles Dodgers v Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Dodgers v Texas Rangers / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

We are finally through the off-season. Pitchers and catchers for the Texas Rangers have officially reported to camp. It has been an off-season of change for the Rangers. Chris Young has rebuilt the starting rotation, hired Bruce Bochy and Mike Maddux, and has spent the off-season telling anyone who will listen that the Rangers are expecting to compete and make the playoffs this season. Making the playoffs would be a departure from the six straight losing seasons that this team and the fans have suffered through since 2017. Heading into one of the most anticipated seasons in Texas Rangers history, there are three storylines that fans will want to follow. Can the starting rotation make it Opening Day healthy, who will be playing left field on Opening Day and beyond, and finally who will be closing out games?

The first storyline revolves around the health of the starting rotation and their ability to make it through Spring Training and be ready to go on Opening Day. Pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday, but, per Chris Young via the assembled media, Jacob deGrom will miss time with tightness in his left side.

"We’re more about planning for March 30. It’s cold and wet and we’re going to have to alter some of what we do anyway. He’s six bullpens in. He’s competitive and wants to be out there. This probably says more about me than it does him."

Chris Young

This decision today though does illustrate how fragile this rotation is and the lengths the team will go to protect the health of the rotation. Young and Bochy know this team will only go as far as the rotation will take them.

Jacob deGrom, Andrew Heaney, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jake Odorizzi not only share being Rangers off-season acquisitions in common, but they also all missed time last season. Jon Gray also missed significant time with a variety of injuries in 2022. Heaney oftentimes will miss time with injuries early in the season. The 2021 season is the only season that started in April that did not see him either start the season on the injured list or be placed on the injured list in April. This rotation has the potential to be a very high reward and also a high-risk rotation. The case for the Rangers being a winning team relies on their starting rotation to remain healthy and pitch 6-7 innings every night. They also need to take the stress off the bullpen, and not force the offense to have to score 8-10 runs to win. If they have health issues and have to rely on Dane Dunning, Glen Otto, or Cole Ragans to pitch extended periods of time, then it becomes harder to believe they will be able to win enough to make the playoffs.

The second storyline revolves around the competition for left field. Outfield is one of the areas the Rangers were expected to fill through free agency or via trade. The Rangers were mentioned as potential landing spots for Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, and are still in the market for Jurickson Profar. They have also been mentioned as being involved in trying to trade for Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds. They ended up signing none of these players and still have not traded for Bryan Reynolds.

Spring training is getting underway and the left field candidates appear to be returnees. Bubba Thompson, Josh Smith, Ezequiel Duran, Brad Miller, and Mark Mathias all will be making an appearance. The Rangers also brought in Jackson Frazier, Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Travis Jankowski to compete for the job as well. This job will be won by the players who perform the best at the plate and do not make mistakes in the outfield. Left field is likely to be a platoon position. Thompson, Duran, Mathias, and Frazier will be in the running for the right-handed platoon spot. Smith, Miller, Tsutsugo, and Jankowski will be competing for the left-handed spot. Versatility and health will play a role in determining who comes away with the job. Don't just look at who has the best numbers either. The player who can get on-base, moves runners over, and has productive at-bats will likely be the one who gets the job.

The third big storyline is the competition for closer. Nothing is more demoralizing to a baseball team than to have an unreliable closer. A team battles all night and then the closer walks guys, leaves balls up in the zone, and gives up the lead making it hard for a team to compete for the playoffs. The Rangers as currently made up do not have a defined closer. Jose Leclerc, Ian Kennedy, Joe Barlow, and Jonathan Hernandez all have experience closing out games. Neither Bochy or Young have not really tipped their hand to this point at who they are wanting to close out games. They even could still bring someone in. It was reported by Ken Rosenthal and others that the Rangers were one of the teams to attend a workout for Zach Britton, who has closed games for the Baltimore Orioles and was also in the New York Yankees bullpen before having several elbow related issues that culminated in a Tommy John surgery in 2021. He made four appearances at the end of the 2022 season and is now aiming to continue his career with a new team.

A closer's competition in spring training is different than in the regular season. This competition will be different from a normal competition as well. Jose Leclerc is scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He will be out of camp for a couple of weeks pitching in late game situations for the Dominican Republic. The coaching staff will surely be watching to see how Leclerc performs in that event. They also will be watching how Hernandez, Barlow, Kennedy, and Burke perform in the spring training games. I would expect this competition to go down to the last 10 days of camp when Leclerc will be back in a Rangers uniform and players are ramping up for the start of the season. The Rangers need to have the closer spot locked down in order to secure wins and get off to a good start to the season.

If the Rangers can get most of these things figured out, there isn't really a reason they can't be the team we all want them to be. In fact, there isn't really any other reason this team shouldn't be a good club come opening day if these potential issues are resolved in spring training. It's been a long time coming when you think of winning baseball in Arlington, Texas, yet, that could all change this year. Well, at least there is a feeling around the team that it could change.