Evaluating Rangers 2 weeks shy of opener
March, 17, 2014
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezWill Colby Lewis be in the Rangers' starting rotation on Opening Day in two weeks?
There are two weeks until the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies get the regular season going on Opening Day the afternoon of March 31.
That still leaves some time in spring training to get things ready to go. So where does this team stand at this point? A few thoughts:
Rotation: Colby Lewis has been one of the big stories of camp. But as Rangers manager Ron Washington said the other day, the club won't let its heart get in the way. I've argued that if Lewis was "tied" with others for a spot that he'd get the tiebreaker based on what he's done for this organization and that he's a huge gamer. But he has to get the point where he makes that decision difficult. And his last performance didn't do that. The team also is being very careful, as it should, to be sure he steadily builds up. I just can't see Lewis starting the season in the rotation.
With that in mind, I still think Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders begin the season as starters. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers offer some depth, but both can help this team in the bullpen. Matt Harrison still needs more time to be fully ready for 2014.
Neftali Feliz: There were a handful of folks very excited about Feliz coming into spring training. That excitement hasn't turned into a solid spring for the young reliever. Feliz's velocity still isn't where it was before the surgery -- or where reports had it in winter ball -- and no one is ready to hand him the closer's job at this point.
The bullpen would line up better if Feliz was the closer, with Joakim Soria and Scheppers setting up. But Feliz has to be right for that to happen. That's something worth watching in these final two weeks of spring.
Michael Choice: I was surprised by how focused he came into spring training. This wasn't a guy joining a new team and simply hoping to get ready to start the season in the minors. He wanted to show he could help the big club. He's certainly doing that. He has had good at-bats, has impressed coaches with his overall attitude and play and is mature beyond his years. And here's another key: He's a right-handed bat. The Rangers need that on this bench.
Options: This is the time of spring when those who have options -- like Nick Tepesch -- and those that don't -- like Engel Beltre -- are impacted. Tepesch can go to the minors and continue to pitch and be ready to start should something happen. If the Rangers don't keep Beltre on the roster as a fifth outfielder, they'll lose him. That's why I think he and Choice both make it. The club doesn't have to choose between the two.
Offense: Many of you have emailed with concern over some of the club's regulars and their stats this spring. Do yourself a favor and don't take the numbers too seriously. Now that the regulars will start to play more and the drumbeat gets a little quicker with the regular season in view, we'll get a better gauge. But this offense will score runs. There are too many good players with track records.
Moreland's role: While he can play the outfield, I think Mitch Moreland becomes the primary DH against right-handed pitchers and will get some time at first base when Washington wants to give Prince Fielder a half-day off and put him at DH. No, I don't see Moreland playing much in the outfield and, as we discussed earlier, I think Texas will have enough outfielders on the roster.
Martin Perez: I remain high on him. I think he's going to validate what he did in the second half of last season. Put him on your radar, you fantasy players getting ready for drafts.
Shifts: We've heard a lot about them this spring, and with Tim Bogar as the bench coach, we should see more of them this season. Every little bit helps. If that means putting players in positions where they can better aid a pitcher, the Rangers need to be doing that.
Injuries: The Rangers aren't the only ones dealing with them. The Oakland Athletics’ rotation has been impacted, too. In a division race that appears to be close the whole way, injuries could decide things. The Rangers must stay healthy. But so, too, must the competition.