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2008 Texas Rangers
You Re-Made Your Team, Now Lie in It.

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Karl Wright, BaseballEvolution.com
March 28, 2008

The Texas Rangers' front office has apparently made a decision concerning their direction and it points towards building a club with youth and a solid farm system. The Rangers’ farm system went from being ranked 27th among MLB clubs to 4th overall, in just one year! The shrewd trades of Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne, and Kenny Lofton have allowed the team to stockpile some talented players. Of course, if your season preview begins with kudos for improving the level of prospects in your system, there’s a good chance that you’re not very good at the top levels. Unfortunately, that appears to be the case here.

2007 Standings - AL West W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Los Angeles Angels 94 68 0.580 - 54-27 40-41 822 731 90 72
Seattle Mariners 88 74 0.543 6.0 49-32 39-42 794 813 79 83
Oakland Athletics 76 86 0.469 18.0 40-41 36-45 741 758 79 83
Texas Rangers 75 87 0.463 19.0 47-34 28-53 816 844 79 83


Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Milton Bradley DH
Eddie Guardado RP
Josh Hamilton OF
Franklyn German RP
Jason Jennings SP
John Patterson SP
a
Departed Pos.
Mark Teixeira 1B
Sammy Sosa OF
Freddy Guzman OF


Catcher
2007 Starter    Gerald Laird
Projected 2008 Starter   Gerald Laird, Jerrod Saltalamacchia

Why would anyone project a club’s AAA catcher as the starter? Because it would surprise many if Saltalamacchia was still in Oklahoma in July, and if he’s on the active major league roster, the Rangers have made clear he’ll be their catcher. Apparently, their strategy is to give Laird the chance to add trade value to himself by continuing the success he’s had this spring. They then hope to use that increased value to get another prospect into their farm system and simultaneously open a spot for Salty. Unless Laird undergoes a major transformation, this idea will backfire in their face. Although it may make sense to get Saltalamacchia more backstop experience in the minors, they have done so over his objections. This could get messy if Laird doesn’t do his part to get out of town, as the Rangers could be stuck with their 5th best hitter in the minors for an extended period of time.

First Base
2007 Starter   Mark Teixeira
Projected 2008 Starter   Ben Broussard

Breakout Candidate
Ian Kinsler
On the map for a few years now, needs playing time and consistency.
Surprise Candidate
Hank Blalock
He's been there before, and he's still young.
Ron Washington seems to be continuing the philosophy that has been in place at first for some time: don’t give Jason Botts a chance. It appeared that after Teixera was shipped off to Atlanta, Botts would finally get some real time at the position. However, after a couple months of splitting time there, the Rangers decided to go out and sign Ben Broussard. Again, they hope that giving Broussard the job full-time will enable him to increase his value in the open-market. Not a chance. Broussard will be in Arlington in September and Botts will either be on the bench there or on another club. The reality of the situation is that Botts’ potential will be of more value than Broussard’s production.

Second Base
2007 Starter Ian Kinsler
Projected 2008 Starter Ian Kinsler

Kinsler is once again the starter at second and is poised to have a tremendous season. Although his average and slugging numbers dipped last year, his overall performance at the plate was still solid. The true liability he has is his fielding. Last season saw Kinsler make some of the most bone-headed mental mistakes possible. This is no comment on his fielding abilities, but rather an indictment of his decision-making abilities. Manager Ron Washington is considered to be a teacher of the art of infielding, and the club hopes that he will be able to polish Kinsler’s skills.

Third Base
2007 Starter   Hank Blalock
Projected 2008 Starter   Hank Blalock


Ian Kinsler
Time is officially beginning to run out for Blalock in Texas. Since his 2006 campaign that garnered him a second All-Star selection and MVP consideration, his numbers have consistently gotten worse in nearly every offensive category. Last year, of course, he battled injuries that limited him to 208 AB in 58 games. He did not perform poorly in those at bats, however and the club is hoping that he returns to form. If he is not able to do that this season, however, the front office is likely prepared to send him packing to bring up stud prospect Chris Davis from the minors.

Shortstop
2007 Starter   Michael Young
Projected 2008 Starter   Michael Young

Surprise Candidate
Josh Hamilton
We've seen what playing outfield for the Rangers does to mediocre outfielders. Hamilton is not mediocre.
Kingman Candidate
Milton Bradley
Maybe more in attitude than in stat-line
A perennial All-Star selection, Young is looking to continue producing both at the plate and at shortstop. He started slowly last season, but more than made up for it in the second half, increasing his average by .027, his OBP by .026 and his slugging percentage by .030. Expect him to have yet another All-Star-caliber season.

Outfield
2007 Starters   Brad Wilkerson, Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton, Marlon Byrd, Frank Catalanatto
Projected 2008 Starters   Josh Hamilton, Marlon Byrd, David Murphy, Milton Bradley

The addition of Hamilton has made this unit a strength. He has had a wonderful spring hitting .455 in 19 games with 11 runs scored, 7 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homeruns, and 17 RBI. Obviously, he can’t keep up that pace, but if he’s able to be this kind of an asset at the dish, this lineup will experience a major boost over last year. Byrd was the surprise of the 2007 season, making such players as Lofton and Sosa expendable and relegating Catalanatto to DH and bench duties. Milton Bradley was another off-season acquisition that should pay significant dividends, assuming his temper and body cooperate.
Rangers Fun Fact
The 2007 Texas Rangers pitching staff finished with the fewest strikeouts in the league, while finishing with the second highest number of walks in the league.


Designated Hitter
2007 Starters Sammy Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, Frank Catalanatto
Projected 2008 Starters Milton Bradley, Frank Catalanatto, Jason Botts

This is an area that has obviously been upgraded. The upgrade would be even more evident had Saltalamacchia not been optioned to AAA. Milton Bradley should make for a very effective DH, at least until he is capable of returning to the outfield, at which time Botts will likely be jilted again in favor of Catalanatto.

Bench
Projected 2008 Bench Ramon Vazquez, Jason Botts, Adam Melhuse, Frank Catalanatto, Nelson Cruz

Not a bad bunch, especially considering that two of these players are former starters and that Botts could easily be an everyday player. The DH obviously lowers the importance of the bench, but this group should allow the team to survive the inevitable injuries that they’ll face.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, Jamey Wright, Robinson Tejeda
Projected 2008 Starters Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, Jason Jennings, Kason Gabbard, Luis Mendoza

Kevin Millwood

Again, the Rangers find themselves hoping that their pitching has improved enough to help their offense win. Again, it hasn’t. The “ace” of the staff, Millwood, posted a career-worst 5.16 ERA to go along with a 10-14 record (also a career nadir) last season. Why should you think he’ll do better this season? You shouldn’t.

Let’s be honest, Padilla wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for the enormous contract he currently enjoys. At $9 million for the year, there isn’t a team in MLB that is even tempted. Not only was he a terrible pitcher last year (6-10, 5.76 ERA), but he was bad the three years prior to that and is a locker room cancer to boot. Jennings is coming off an injury-riddled season of his own - his worst. He compiled a 2-9 record with an ERA of 6.45 in 18 starts with the Astros last year. If he can return to his 2006 form, he may be of some help to the rotation. Gabbard and Mendoza bring up the rear on this rotation, but may not be the worst pitchers on it. Mendoza will start the season on the DL with a blister, but unless it becomes one of those nagging problems, he’ll surprise many people with his stuff.
Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Eric Gagne, Akinori Otsuka, Kam Loe, C.J. Wilson, Joaquin Benoit
Projected 2008 Relievers C.J. Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit, Kazuo Fukumori, Jamey Wright, Franklyn German

C.J. Wilson is the closer. That may say all there is to say about the bullpen. The club made an unsuccessful play to re-acquire Gagne in the off-season and decided that Benoit was not suited for the role. The addition of an Eddie Guardado is a plus and will be the contingency plan for the Rangers should Wilson perform poorly as closer. Last year, it was the bullpen that kept their games respectable. This year, it does not seem equipped to handle that task.

Outlook for the Season

Even with a weakening AL West, the Rangers are a longshot to compete for the division. The lineup has improved, but not to the level of being able to out-score teams that are facing Rangers pitching. The starting pitching is slightly improved as well, and the team must believe that Millwood, Padilla, and Jennings are going to rebound. However, only Jennings has posted decent numbers in the last two seasons. There is no reason to think that that trend will discontinue. My prediction: 3rd Place in the AL West.


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