With the start of Spring Training just around the corner, the Rangers are hoping to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the American League this year. The team hopes this is the year the team returns to playoff contention amid seven consecutive seasons with a losing record. Following a colossal spending spree in the past two offseasons and one of the best farm systems, the team has set itself up in a solid spot to contend this year.
For the Rangers to contend, every player on the team must be able to perform at the level the team expects. Each player must show that they are a part of the team's long-term future and take a step forward in their development this season. For these three players, however, time may be running out this season for them to establish themselves as a part of the team's future.
Taylor Hearn needs to establish himself in the bullpen
Taylor Hearn entered the 2022 season with a chance to establish himself as part of the rotation's future. Instead, he struggled as a starter, and he was optioned to the minor leagues before being recalled and spending the remainder of the season coming out of the bullpen. Hearn was much more effective for the Rangers coming out of the bullpen than as a starter.
As a starter for the Rangers, it's no secret that Hearn struggled in the 13 games he started where he compiled a 4-5 record. He pitched across 59 innings with an era of 6.25, a 1.746 whip, 54 strikeouts, and 28 walks. These numbers ultimately led to his demotion to the minor leagues in July. Following an injury to Jon Gray in August, Hearn was recalled to the majors and pitched strictly out of the bullpen.
Upon his return to the Majors Hearn fared much better coming out of the bullpen. Hearn appeared in 13 games out of the bullpen in a long relief role with a 2-3 record. Hearn pitched in 41 innings out of the bullpen and had an era of 3.51, a 1.146 whip, 43 strikeouts, and 15 walks. Great numbers in a long relief role that should provide optimism for the 2023 season.
Coming into this season, Hearn is expected to remain in the long relief role with the Rangers in 2023. If Hearn pitches as he did once he was recalled to the majors he should find himself as a part of the future of the team. However, if he struggles as he did as a starter last season then Hearns's time may have run out in Arlington for the recent arbitration-eligible player.
Leody Taveras must have a big season with the bat
Despite being only 24 years old, time may be running out for Leody Taveras to establish himself as the Ranger's primary option in Center Field. While his glove is certainly major-league-ready, the same can't be said with his bat. Across the season Taveras played in 99 games and across the 314 plate appearances he hit .261, with a .309 on-base percentage, and a .366 slugging percentage to go along with 5 homers. Solid numbers but Taveras production can mainly be seen as a tale of two different hitters.
Taveras didn't start the season in the majors last season but after a dominant start with the bat in Triple-A he was rightfully called up to the majors. The switch-hitting Taveras then ended up having a very dominant first half with the Rangers showing how he could be a strong part of the team's future. Across 30 games and 90 plate appearances in the first half of the season, Taveras hit .341, a .367 OBP, and a .553 SLG, along with 3 home runs. His best month came in July when he hit .341, with a .387 OBP, and a .529 SLG to go along with 2 homers.
Then the second half of the season came and Taveras came back to Earth following a hot start and greatly struggled with the bat. Across 69 games and 255 plate appearances in the second half, Taveras hit a mere .231, with a .288 OBP, and a .297 SLG, along with 2 home runs. A significant drop in production for Taveras, following a dominant first half to seeing his production with the bat decline as each month passed. September and October saw Taveras's worst production with the bat as he played in 31 games and across 102 plate appearances staggered to hit .192, with a .248 OBP, and .266 SLG to go along with 2 home runs.
With the Rangers already having huge question marks at Left Field, they can't afford to have another question mark at Center Field this season if they want to contend. Therefore, Leody Taveras must produce with the bat this season as he did in the first half of 2022. With three of the Ranger's top 10 prospects being outfielders, if Taveras doesn't produce he may find himself slipping off the team's future plans, especially with Evan Carter impressing this Spring.
Spencer Howard cannot afford to struggle at any level
Based on his recent struggles, it may be hard to remember that Spencer Howard was recently one of baseball's promising prospects. Just as recently as 2021 Howard was the 42nd-ranked prospect in all of baseball and was the Philadelphia Phillies' top-ranked prospect. Despite this pedigree, Howard has struggled mightly in the Major Leagues since the Rangers acquired him as part of a package for Kyle Gibson.
2022 was a very difficult year for Howard as he constantly struggled to produce in his starts. He posted a 2-4 record pitching in 10 games and started 8 for a total of 37.2 innings. He pitched to a 7.41 ERA, 1.726 WHIP, 32 strikeouts,15 walks, and allowed 12 home runs. His struggles led to him being demoted to Triple-A to help him figure things out.
Upon being demoted to Triple-A, Howard pitched better but still struggled on the mound. In Triple-A he posted a 3-6 record across 14 games and 12 starts. In 59 innings of work, he posted a 4.73 ERA, a 1.322 WHIP, 73 strikeouts, 25 walks, and allowed 6 home runs.
It's no secret that the Ranger's current rotation has its share of injury concerns so the team must have strong pitching depth. Due to the need for that starting pitching depth, the Rangers cannot afford to have Howard struggle in the Majors or the Minors this season. If he struggles in both levels this season then Howard's time in Arlington may have run out for the former top pitching prospect.