IT’S HERE!!! Baseball is back.
Pitchers and catchers have officially reported to the Rangers spring training facility in Surprise Arizona. The rest of the team reports on February 16 with their first full workout on the 17th.
The time has come to talk baseball again, so let’s dive into the things we want to watch for.
Trades or Signings
It is no secret the Rangers are still in the market for a right-handed bat preferably at the center-field or first base. What do we need to look for?
In the trade market, there are names that are being talked about throughout the league. For the third or first base, you have Kris Bryant and Nola Arenado at the top of the list. The Rangers would likely be more interested in Arenado than Bryant. Bryant’s agent is Boras, which means an extension is likely out of the question. Arenado would require more since his contract is in place. He does have an opt-out in two years. Negotiating around an opt-out seems far easier than extending a Boras client. Trey Mancini is another name that comes up.
The question is whether the Orioles are serious about moving him.
Mancini would move to first base for the Rangers and could be the best move of the three. Another name to watch for is Miguel Andujar of the Yankees. He is blocked by Gio Urshela at third base. He may not be as steep as a price as Bryant, Arenado, and Mancini.
When it comes to finding a center fielder through trade, the names don’t seem quite as flashy. Ender Inciarte and Starling Marte seem to be bantered about with local media. Free agency was another route that is possible. However, with Kevin Pillar signing with the Red Sox, there aren’t any center fielders left who make more sense than players already on the roster.
With that all said, let’s talk about who the Rangers have.
Spring Training Competitions to Watch
Ronald Guzman vs Greg Bird
The Rangers have made no secret that they want an upgrade at first base and expect more from the position. Ronald Guzman had a good September after being demoted to Nashville. He spent the offseason working with former Ranger slugger Nelson Cruz. This is intriguing in that Cruz didn’t become a legit power hitter until he was 28 years old. In fact, he found his power stroke at Oklahoma City after clearing waivers. Guzman is only 25 years old. If he has indeed learned to be more selective and drive his pitch, he may be the guy the Rangers have always hoped he could be. But if he isn’t, Greg Bird is an interesting alternative.
He is the most likely candidate to pull a 2019 Danny Santana. (Santana was on a minor league deal and started the season in AAA Nashville before winning MVP of the Rangers) Bird made a splash in 2015 when the Yankees called him up for 46 games. He hit .261 with 11 HR.s and had an OPS of .871. He has been a disappointment since then. He has been up and down with poor play and a rash of injuries.
Bird is still only 27 years old and a change of scenery could be all that is needed. Santana was DFA’d twice by two separate teams before figuring things out in Texas. It should be a fun one to observe.
Jeff Mathis vs Jose Trevino
This might be the most-watched competition by the casual fan. Jeff Mathis was never supposed to catch as many games as he did in 2019. He was signed here to be a mentor to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and teach the art of framing pitches. Playing in 86 games exposed his bat. Mathis has always been a player who hit around .200, but he finished 2019 with a .158 average.
If it wasn’t for the lack of catching depth in the top levels of the organization, the Rangers might have cut bait last year. Mike Minor had him as his catcher for most of his starts which didn’t hurt. Trevino was called up late in the season. He finished the season well and proved that he might be ready to become a full-time backup.
With Chirinos likely to catch over 100 games, Mathis might be less exposed and become an asset to a newly revamped rotation. If so, Trevino could go to Nashville and catch possibly the best rotation in minor league baseball. Let’s see what happens.
Rougned Odor vs Nick Solak
Ok!! So maybe this might be the most-watched competition in Surprise. The consensus is, that unless Odor struggles right off the bat he is likely the opening day starter at second base. The Rangers seem intent on trying Solak out at multiple positions including center field and third base. One thing is for sure, Nick Solak will play if he continues to hit. However, should Odor continue to look lost at the plate, he is not guaranteed the second base spot.
While Solak is the competition being talked about, he is lacking on the defensive side of things. Odor spent the winter in Florida working on things. The Rangers sent people to observe and work with him. All indications are that he is ready to listen to the staff and change his approach. We will see.
Nick Solak vs Scott Heineman vs Matt Duffey vs Isaiah Kiner-Falefa
When you look at the final roster it becomes obvious that someone who has played in the big leagues is starting off in AAA. Being versatile is going to be a big plus. Being able to hit is going to be mandatory. It’s really easy to pencil in Solak as one of the obvious choices to begin in Arlington. But Solak’s time in the big leagues is minimum and against other players getting a look in September. He was impressive and has hit well throughout the minor leagues. However, he has options and could be the Willie Calhoun of 2020.
With a limited number of at-bats in the big leagues, regular at-bats at Nashville might be an idea the Rangers warm up to. IKF and Heineman have different tools that put them ahead of Solak as far as defense is concerned. IKF can be an emergency catcher. He is also a very good infielder. In fact, he might be the best defensive third baseman on the team. Heineman, on the other hand, is a good outfielder. He might actually be the best center fielder on the team who has a shot at the big leagues. If Solak isn’t going to hit every day, then why not put a good defensive player on your bench. On a side note, IKF reported to camp more muscular. He has let it be known that his power numbers are something he wants to improve.
There is Matt Duffey. He is another guy who plays all across the infield. He has had some success in the big leagues, especially in 2018 with Tampa Bay. He is on a minor league deal which means he would require a roster move to be in the major leagues. He is also a very viable third baseman that could push Frazier over to first. That is why the competition between these four should be interesting.
Featured Image: AP Photo/Nick Wass (Nick Solak)