One week from today the Texas Rangers will be taking on the Philadelphia Phillies in one of the most anticipated Opening Days in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Despite the Rangers’ annual spring trip to Suprise Ariziona almost being in the books, there are still questions to be answered in the final week before opening day.
Today, I’m going to break down three questions that the Rangers need to answer before Opening Day.
1. Who is going to be the Opening Day closer? – When manager Bruce Bochy was asked how he felt about his late-inning situation, the three-time World Series champ said “I’ll be comfortable with it”. Bochy went on to say “I don’t have an answer for you on who definitely would close the first game [or] second game but I think there are some pretty good names down there.
On Wednesday in the Rangers’ 2-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, Jose Leclerc pitched a scoreless 9th inning striking out two batters to earn team leading 3rd save of the spring. It’s likely that Leclerc will get the first crack at the closer position but I don’t imagine that any leash in that spot would be very long.
Amongst the options for the position are two guys that have closed games at the big league level before in Joe Barlow and Ian Kennedy. Before being dealt to the Phillies at the trade deadline Kennedy picked up 16 saves as the Rangers’ closer in 2021. Joe Barlow started last season as the Rangers’ closer where he earned 13 saves but saw blister issues that kept him from being at his peak.
Jonathan Hernandez definitely has the stuff to be the closer for this team but if Bochy sees him better as a setup man remains to be seen. Hernandez had a 2.97 ERA in 30.1 innings pitched in 2022.
2. What will the roles of Glenn Otto, Dane Dunning, and Cole Ragans be like? – This perhaps is the most tricky question that Bruce Bochy and his staff will have to answer before camp breaks later next week. Following the Rangers’ starting pitching splurge, Dunning, Otto, and Ragans plummeted down the depth chart.
If the Rangers did want to use a six-man rotation to start the season a spot would be open for one of these three after the injury to Jake Odorizzi. All three have starting experience in the big leagues.
Another option for these three could be to provide multi-inning roles out of the bullpen. With Cole Ragan’s increases in velocity this spring he would seem to be a good candidate for this role. None of the three have ever pitched out of the pen but we’ve seen success with young starters heading to the pen in the past.
With the way I see it, two of these guys make the team, and the other starts in AAA. Cole Ragans could benefit most from innings in the minors but his talent may be just too good to keep off this team.
3. Who starts in Center Field on Opening Day? – Last season Leody Tavares was able to find sustained success in the big leagues for the first time in his young career. With Tavares going down with a strained oblique earlier this Spring, it will force the Rangers to find a different center fielder on Opening Day.
The most likely option will be speedy rookie Bubba Thompson who appeared in 55 games with the Rangers last season. Thompson hit .265 and stole 18 bases in 20 attempts. If Thompson was to go in for Tavares he’ll be able to provide the same high-level speed and defense that Tavares brings. At the end of the day, this will likely be the option that Bruce Bochy goes with.
Other options include moving Adolis Garcia from right to center to start the year. Garcia has played 57 games in center field in 2022 and can play the position at a high level defensively. Bochy has said that he would like Garcia to have some time in center this season.
Josh Smith and Ezequiel Duran have also been getting reps out in the outfield with Smith even playing some center field this Spring. I don’t see either Smith or Duran being likely options out there but with Tavares’ injury, it could open a spot on the team for one of them that may not have been there otherwise.