5 reasons I'm looking forward to the start of spring training
It won't be long before the Texas Rangers are packing up the equipment truck and driving out to Surprise. We've waited a long time for baseball to come back, and it seems like the start of a new season is getting closer every day. Expectations for the Rangers in 2023 will be higher than in seasons past with a fully revamped pitching staff, not to mention another year of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien and several highly-rated prospects knocking on the door. There's a lot to look forward to, and here are five things I'm excited to watch when players begin to report to Surprise.
1. Jacob deGrom
The best pitcher on the planet plays for the Rangers. It's been nearly six weeks since Jacob deGrom signed a five-year, $185-million contract to come to Texas, but it's still hard to beleive. All eyes will be on deGrom when camp opens in February. There's no question about deGrom's talent when he's available, and the Rangers hope he's able to remain healthy throughout the spring so that he can take the ball when the Rangers open the regular season against the Phillies in Arlington on March 30th.
2. The young pitchers
Jacob deGrom will get to spend quite a bit of time with the Rangers' young crop of pitchers during Spring Training. The big-league rotation seems set assuming that everyone is healthy, but there is plenty of anticipation among Rangers fans to see how Owen White, Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, and Brock Porter continue to develop. It's been years since the Rangers have had so many young pitchers to be excited about (who remembers the DVD days?), but it won't be long before the young guns get a chance to contribute at the big league level.
3. Ezequiel Duran in the outfield
It's easy to forget about how much offensive potential Ezequiel Duran offers. Rangers fans are quick to send him off in potential deals for stars like Bryan Reynolds, perhaps because he doesn't seem to have a clear path to play every day. Zeke spent most of his time in the minors as a second baseman and shortstop before spending a majority of his time at third base during the 2022 season. He had a chance to play the outfield on a regular basis in the Dominican winter league, and he'll have a chance to earn an everyday job in Spring Training given how the team is currently constructed. That could certainly change with another signing or trade, but nobody should be sleeping on Duran's skillset.
4. The battle for center field
Leody Taveras was solid in 2022, but will he come into camp as the undisputed opening day starter in center field? Bubba Thompson might have other thoughts. Both players have areas of their game that need further improvement and development, but they also have the potential to impact the game in multiple ways. They will both get a look in Spring Training, and the batlle for the opening day center field job should be one of the hottest storylines in camp.
5. The final bullpen spots
The off-season isn't over, and the Rangers could certainly make external additions to bolster their bullpen before they arrive in Surprise. Matt Moore is still a free agent. So are Andrew Chafin and Michael Fulmer. I imagine the Rangers want to add another bat before they consider further investing in their bullpen, but you never know what Chris Young might be thinking - especially after he learned that Brett Martin would miss the majority of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
As things currently stand, Brock Burke, Joe Barlow, Jonathan Hernandez, Taylor Hearn, Jose Leclerc, and Jake Odorizzi seem to be locks. That likely leaves two spots open. Will John King or Josh Sborz stake their claim? Could one of the young starters (Otto, Dunning, Howard, or Ragans) serve in a long relief role alongside Odorizzi? Will someone else from deeper in the organization surprise us in Spring Training? We'll have to wait to find out.