Rangers fans of the world, take heart: It only gets better from here.
After years and years of beyond awful pitching, the Rangers' dedicated scouting and careful drafting will soon give the organization its long-awaited payday. Its minor-league system, you see, boasts groves and troves of talent, headlined by starting pitchers Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Michael Main -- all destined to become household names.
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About the only way the Rangers can botch that trio is if they rush it to the big leagues in a misguided attempt to catch the rotation up to the starting lineup, which boasts two of the best players in Fantasy in center fielder Josh Hamilton and second baseman Ian Kinsler -- potential first-rounders, both.
Of course, the Rangers have no shortage of hitters in the minor leagues either, as first baseman Chris Davis showed in his American League slugging tour following a midseason call-up last season. He looks poised to hit 30-35 home runs in his first full season. Heavy-hitting catchers Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez also arrived in Arlington, making Jarrod Saltalamacchia, once the prize of the Braves farm system, almost a forgotten man. Teagarden and Saltalamacchia will go head-to-head this spring, though Ramirez could certainly make a push for the job as well.
Elvis Andrus looks like he'll become the most recent farmhand to ascend to the majors. A gifted hitter with excellent speed but so-so power, his glove bumps five-time All Star Michael Young to third base, which then bumps Hank Blalock -- remember him? -- to designated hitter, where he'll have a chance to stay healthy and put together another 25-homer campaign. And as if they didn't have enough talent already, the Rangers have apparently gone to the scrap heap for another potentially elite slugger, rescuing Nelson Cruz from his own unrealized expectations. After another dominant minor-league season, the late bloomer finally made a successful transition to the majors, hitting .330 with seven home runs in 115 at-bats. He'll man right field.
But for all of the Rangers' hopes for the future, their starting rotation keeps their expectations grounded in the present. Perez, Holland and Main don't appear ready just yet, meaning the Rangers will have to resort to their usual uninspiring lot of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and company. Matt Harrison did show some promise at times last year, as did Scott Feldman, and Brandon McCarthy still has more promise than his numbers would indicate. But until those pitchers find some measure of consistency, they'll remain nothing more than AL-only sleepers.
|The sky is the limit for Chris Davis, but the early hype is misleading. (Getty Images)|
Potential Breakout: Chris Davis, 1B/3B
Granted, the hype on Davis can sometimes spiral out of control, with some Fantasy owners drafting him under the assumption his half season of numbers will project over a full season, but those Fantasy owners do have good reason to demonstrate such faith in the 23-year-old. Between the majors and the minors, he hit 40 home runs last year -- and almost half of them after breaking the big-league lineup. True, his high strikeout rate opens the door for a possible setback, but if you can get him in the middle rounds, the potential reward of him hitting 35-40 homers outweighs any risk of him hitting .250 or so.
Potential Bust: Michael Young, 3B/SS
Young doesn't want to play third base. He admitted it but begrudgingly accepted the job -- for the good of the team, or something like that. Will an unhappy player play his best? Maybe, maybe not. But considering Young's best has become not so great in recent years, do you really want to test him? He no longer hits for power -- his slugging percentage steadily declining to the point that it barely topped .400 last year. He never really stole bases. His value stems totally from his batting average, RBI and runs scored -- products of playing in a hitter's park and a loaded lineup. If the Rangers give him his wish and trade him, moving him out of his preferred ballpark, his Fantasy appeal stands to take its biggest hit yet.
Potential Sleeper: Nelson Cruz, OF
For Cruz, this was a long time coming. The Rangers always saw him as a middle-of-the-order hitter, but every time they gave him a chance, he gave them no reason to keep him in the majors. Their dissatisfaction with him reached such a point that they seemingly tried to ignore his circus numbers at Triple-A Oklahoma City last year. But when he compiled a .342 batting average and 37 home runs in 383 at-bats, they had to give him another shot. Apparently, he learned his lesson, showing the Rangers enough in 115 at-bats that they now seem ready and willing to make him their cleanup hitter, batting behind Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton. Ahoy there, RBI. Draft Cruz late and reap the benefits.
|Texas Rangers Outlook|
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Ian Kinsler||2B||1||Kevin Millwood||RH|
|2||Michael Young||3B||2||Vicente Padilla||RH|
|3||Josh Hamilton||CF||3||Scott Feldman||RH|
|4||Nelson Cruz||RF||4||Matt Harrison||LH|
|5||Hank Blalock||DH||5||Brandon McCarthy||RH|
|6||Chris Davis||1B||Alt||Kason Gabbard||LH|
|7||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||C||Top bullpen arms|
|8||David Murphy||LF||CL||Frank Francisco||RH|
|9||Elvis Andrus||SS||SU||C.J. Wilson||LH|
|Top bench options||RP||Warner Madrigal||RH|
|R||Taylor Teagarden||C||RP||Dustin Nippert||RH|
|R||Andruw Jones||OF||RP||Derrick Turnbow||RH|
|1||Neftali Feliz||20||RH SP||Double-A||Double-A|
|Perhaps best pitching prospect in baseball. Could debut despite young age.|
|2||Derek Holland||22||LH SP||Double-A||Double-A|
|Left-handed strikeout artist could ascend quickly to majors. Dominant.|
|Power hitter impressed in late call-up. Could start with hot spring.|
|Rangers ready to give him job, but doesn't have much power. Can run.|
|Put up crazy numbers at Double-A last year, but depth keeps him in minors.|
|Best of the rest: SP Michael Main, SP Eric Hurley, 1B Justin Smoak, 1B Ian Gac, 1B Nate Gold, OF Greg Golson, SS Joaquin Arias, OF Julio Borbon, RP Omar Poveda, SS Jose Vallejo, SP Kasey Kiker, SP Blake Beavan, OF Engel Beltre, SP Thomas Diamond, RP Brennan Garr, SP Tommy Hunter and 3B John Whittleman.|
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