Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 MLB Preview #4: Texas Rangers

Greetings everyone... previewing the 2-time defending AL Champs...


C - Mike Napoli/Yorvit Torrealba
1B - Mitch Moreland/Michael Young/Mike Napoli
2B - Ian Kinsler
SS - Elvis Andrus
3B - Adrian Beltre/Michael Young
LF - Josh Hamilton
CF - Craig Gentry/David Murphy/Julio Borbon
RF - Nelson Cruz
DH - Michael Young/Mike Napoli

This is the best lineup in the Major Leagues in my opinion. Mike Napoli had a career-year last year when he posted 30 HRs (in only 369 ABs) with an OPS over 1.000 and a ridiculous playoff run. While I don't expect a full repeat of those numbers, if he can replicate top-5 catcher production (easily attainable) I think they'd take that, and with Torrealba as a solid backup, it allows them to play Napoli at 1B and DH as well. Positional movement is very flexible on this team because of Napoli, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Young. Moreland isn't your prototypical first-base bat (.733 OPS in 2011), but he can play some left field, and is the best defender at 1st base, while Young is an elite hitter (.854 OPS, .338 BA, 106 RBI) who isn't great defending anywhere, but can play multiple spots. The middle infield is very good with Kinsler, who finally stayed healthy and hit 32 homers in 2011, and Andrus', who is a whiz defensively and provides speed at the bottom of the lineup with 50 steal potential. Beltre is one of the best 3rd basemen in the entire league, and if he stays healthy (124 games in '11), watch out. The outfield is injury-prone but productive. Josh Hamilton is one of the best talents out there, but between injury issues and his checkered past with substance abuse, reliability isn't always there. That said, he managed to post an OPS near .900 and 25 homers in under 500 ABs last year, and he's elite when he plays. It's a similar story for Nelson Cruz (minus the substance abuse) in trying to stay on the field, but again, he's remarkably productive (29 homers in 475 ABs) when he's out there. The 3rd outfield spot is in flux (as you can see above) because Hamilton floats between LF and CF, and while Gentry and Murphy are nice options, each leaves something to be desired, and they also need a place to stash Moreland when they play Young and/or Napoli at first. There are no real holes in this lineup, and it's the faction of the team that provides this ranking.

Starting Rotation

1 - Colby Lewis
2 - Yu Darvish
3 - Derek Holland
4 - Neftali Feliz
5 - Matt Harrison/Alexi Ogando

First things first, the loss of CJ Wilson is a big blow for this unit. You can't expect to replace the 200+ innings of monster production lost by inserting a first-time starter in Feliz or a "rookie" unknown like Darvish. That said, this is a deep rotation with 6 legitimate arms. Lewis struggled at times last year (4.40 ERA) but his 35 homers allowed is probably a result of a little bad luck, and he's a solid option. Darvish has every scout I've seen raving about him, and the stuff is clearly there, they'll need a return on that investment immediately. I really, really like Derek Holland. First of all, he's a certified lunatic (love it), but secondly, he threw 198 innings of quality ball last year with a sub-4.00 in that ballpark. The biggest question mark (ahead of even Darvish for me) is Neftali Feliz. The former Braves prospect is only 23 years old, and coming off of two elite seasons as a closer, they've asked him to make a rotation spot. The stuff is certainly there, but question marks around innings caps, durability, etc. can't be ignored. Harrison and Ogando seem to be battling for the 5th spot, and while Ogando had a great run to start his career last year, he leveled off significantly, and I flat-out think Harrison is the better pitcher. At any rate, this is not a weakness.


The loss of Feliz to the rotation will no doubt hurt this unit, but replacing him with a bonafide option in Joe Nathan helps. Nathan struggled out of the gate mightily last year, but got it together late, and reclaimed the closer role in Minnesota. I trust him when he's healthy, and he seems to be. The set-up role is very, very good with Mike Adams and Koji Uehara providing quality innings, and with Scott Feldman and either Ogando or Harrison in the pen as well, this is a top-5 bullpen in the league.


95-67, 1st in AL West

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