MLB team report: Rangers have sights on World Series

MLB team report: Rangers have sights on World Series

Rangers

MLB team report: Rangers have sights on World Series

The Rangers won an American League-high 95 games last season but were swept out of the playoffs by the Toronto Blue Jays in embarrassing fashion. This time around, manager Jeff Banister gets a full season out of catcher Jonathan Lucroy and center fielder Carlos Gomez, who were late season acquisitions in 2016. But the question mark falls on the rotation — headed by Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Boeck takes an inside look at the team. (*Denotes prospect)

MLB team report: Texas Rangers

Catcher

Lucroy vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Cleveland Indians, who lost in seven games to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. But the veteran catcher found a home in Arlington, Texas. After the trade at the deadline, he was one of the Rangers’ best hitters. He ranked among team leaders after the start of August in home runs (third) and RBI (third) and batted .342 with runners in scoring position. Depth chart: Lucroy, Robinson Chirinos, Brett Nicholas

First base

The Rangers remain in the market for a first baseman/DH. Options include free agents Mike Napoli — the preferred choice — Chris Carter and Pedro Alvarez. The club also signed Travis Snider and James Loney as non-roster invitees. But, for now, the job might land on Jurickson Profar. Pofar, a natural second baseman, played five defensive positions in 2016, including 13 starts at first base. Depth chart: Profar, Ryan Rua, Hanser Alberto, *Ronald Guzman

Second base

Rougned Odor, who will turn 23 in February, established himself as one of the game’s premier young players — and toughest when he confronted and slugged Toronto’s Jose Bautista in the jaw after a hard slide at second in May. Odor set career highs in nearly every offensive category last season, including 33 home runs, which ranked third most by a second baseman, trailing Brian Dozier (42) and Robinson Cano(39). Depth chart: Odor, Profar, Alberto, *Andy Ibanez

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Third base

At 37, Adrian Beltre continues to defy the odds and prove he’s a future Hall of Famer. Last season he became the eighth player (11 instances) in the modern era (since 1900) to have minimums of a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI in an age 37-or-older season. Beltre joined Babe Ruth (1932-33), Hank Aaron (1971), Andres Galarraga (1998), Edgar Martinez (2000), Fred McGriff (2001), Barry Bonds (2002, 2004) and David Ortiz (2013, 2016). He’s also one of the best in clutch situations. In 2016, he led the AL with a .385 batting average in close and late situations. Depth chart: Beltre, Profar, Alberto, *Joey Gallo

Shortstop

Two months after sports hernia surgery, Elvis Andrus, 28, is expected to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic and be fully healthy by opening day. Andrus, who’s entering the third year of an eight-year, $120 million deal, established career highs in batting average (.302), home runs (eight) and RBI (69). Depth chart: Andrus, Profar, Alberto

Left field

Nomar Mazara might be better suited for right field, but with Shin-Soo Choo healthy, Mazara likely will see more playing time in left. Mazara, who turns 22 in April, exceeded expectations during his rookie campaign filling in for injured Choo in right field. Mazara led all American League rookies in hits (137), total bases (216), runs (59) and RBI (64), and he tied in homers (20). Of his 130 starts, 33 of them were in left. Josh Hamilton, 35, signed a minor league deal to return to the Rangers after missing all of last season with a knee injury and looks like a backup at best at this point. Depth chart: Mazara, Rua, Delino DeShields, Hamilton, Travis Snider, Drew Robinson, Jared Hoying

Center field

Signing with the Rangers last season resurrected Gomez’s career. In August, he was designated for assignment by the Houston Astros after he had struggled offensively, batting .210. After a 1-for-19 start with the Rangers, he regained his stroke and batted .330 the rest of the season. In the offseason, he re-signed with the club and returns to his natural position full time. The Rangers’ top outfield prospects, led by Leody Taveras, are lower down in the system and at least a year or two away from contributing at the big-league level. Depth chart: Gomez, DeShields, Hamilton

Right field

Choo, 34, was limited to 48 games last season after four stints on the disabled list. He played in six of the Rangers’ first 63 games and in 15 of the last 67. The Rangers need a bounce-back season from Choo, who is set to make $20 million this season, his fourth of a seven-year, $130 million contract. Depth chart: Choo, Mazara, Rua, Hamilton, Robinson, Snider, Hoying

Designated hitter

Gallo, 23, is one of the organization’s top prospects, but he struggled at the plate in two brief stints at the major league level. In 2015, he struck out 57 times in 108 at-bats and then 19 times in 25 at-bats in 2016. A second option is Choo, who was approached in the offseason for approval, though not as the primary designated hitter. Depth chart: Gallo, Choo, Profar

Starting pitchers

The rotation begins with Hamels and Darvish but drops off significantly after that. Martin Perez is projected as the No. 3 starter, but he struggled with consistency. The final two spots will be filled out among A.J. Griffin, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross — all of whom were ineffective or injured last season. The rotation will try to improve on a 4.38 ERA in 2016, ninth best in the AL. Depth chart: LHP Hamels, RHP Darvish, LHP Perez, RHP Cashner, RHP Griffin, RHP Ross, RHP Mike Hauschild, *LHP Yohander Mendez, *RHP Ariel Jurado
Bullpen

The relief corps remains nearly intact. It was seen as one of the strengths in 2016, and there was little change in the offseason. Sam Dyson, who saved 38 games in 43 attempts, returns as the closer — with Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Bush providing a formidable right-handed setup combination. The one gap the Rangers need to fill in the short term is Jake Diekman, their No. 1 setup reliever. He is expected to miss at least the first half of the season after surgery to have his colon removed. Depth chart: RHP Dyson, RHP Bush, RHP Jeffress, LHP Alex Claudio, RHP Keone Kela, RHP Tanner Scheppers, RHP Tony Barnette, LHP Dario Alvarez, LHP Andrew Faulkner, LHP Wesley Wright

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Offseason outlook

The Rangers have the personnel to win their third consecutive AL West title, but the club has its sights set much higher. After disappointing losses in the division series in each of the last two seasons, nothing short of a World Series title is expected.

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Top five prospects

Excerpted from BaseballHQ.com’s 2017 Minor League Baseball Analyst. To order: Baseballhq.com/mlba2017:

1. Yohander Mendez, LHP: Mendez is a long, projectable 22-year-old who pitched on four levels and ended his season in Texas. He uses his 6-4 height to create a downhill plane to the plate, and he struck out 113 in 114 combined innings pitched. His changeup is a knockout offering. He’ll likely start in Class AAA but should reach the majors.

2. Leody Taveras, OF: Taveras, 18, is an athletic, lean outfielder with all of the tools to be an impact player. He makes consistent, hard contact from both sides of the plate, is an excellent defensive center fielder and should hit for above-average power with maturity. He knows the strike zone.

3. Andy Ibanez, 2B: Ibanez works the counts and uses a controlled, compact stroke for plus contact and average pop. Though his power is mostly to the pull side (13 home runs in 2016), he uses the whole field. His thick frame limits his quickness, but he is a solid defender.

4. Cole Ragans, LHP: Ragans, 19, has a polished approach. He uses his fastball early in the count to get ahead, then mixes in a curveball and a changeup. He should report to full-season ClassA in 2017.

5. Josh Morgan, 3B: Morgan, 21, has keen plate discipline and an advanced bat. He has a career .300 batting average in the minors, and his power is starting to emerge. He is a steady defender with good hands, but Morgan’s lack of range might lead him to second base. He will report to Class AA.

Jeremy Deloney

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