It’s March first. There’s still over a month left before Opening Day, and–depending on how Jeff Banister chooses to juggle his rotation–perhaps as many as six weeks before the Rangers will require the services of a fifth starter. But when your rotation is already 80% set, it’s only natural to start wondering: does anyone have an edge in the fifth starter competition?
The candidates are multitude, and each have their own path to victory, to varying degrees.
A.J. Griffin is the incumbent, having established himself with the Rangers last season, going 7-4 in 23 starts.
Mike Hauschild has been impressive in Spring Training early, and is a Rule 5 pick, meaning that the Rangers have to keep him on the big-league roster or offer him back to the Astros
Nick Martinez is also a known entity, having shone for the Rangers early in 2015. He has bounced back and forth between Arlington and Round Rock since, however. His two scoreless innings yesterday matched the effort earlier in the week by…
Chi Chi Gonzalez, who also impressed in 2015 before the league adjusted to him. Chi Chi got away from his changeup a little bit late in 2015, but has thus far impressed this Spring
Tyler Wagner is perhaps a bit more of a long shot, returning from a lat injury that sidelined him for most of 2016. But the stuff is there, and so is the potential: he entered last season as the Diamondbacks’ #10 prospect.
Eddie Gamboa is the knuckleballing former Oriole and Tampa Bay Ray. He gave up a few hits in his recent outing, but showed immaculate pickoff moves to both first and second base. Plus, knuckleballers are always intriguing.
Dillon Gee is the DFW native (Cleburne) who once looked to be a rotation staple with the Mets before struggling and eventually finding himself in Kansas City in 2016. Gee likely projects to be injury insurance, but has enough Major League experience to be in the conversation
Allen Webster was once a blue-chip prospect (#4 in the Red Sox system in 2013), but injuries led to a stint in Korea last season. He is probably the longest-shot to make the rotation, but the Rangers didn’t just sign him to throw batting practice.
It’s hard to make assessments on March 1st. Don’t expect Jeff Banister to make any grand announcements this week. But this is Major League Baseball: there’s always assessment happening. So how does Jeff Banister use these early weeks to help inform his upcoming decision?
“I look for how they compete more than I look for stuff,” the manager said today before the Rangers game against the Angels. “Are they throwing strikes? How well are they competing in some tough situations? What do they do when an error is made behind them? When they get behind in the count? Can they control the strike zone off the mound with their fastball *and* secondary stuff? The challenge for me is that right now, some of the hitters -- it’s still so early, some guys are a little ahead of others as far as the barrel is concerned, so I tend to suppress my expectations early on that, and gauge it more on the third time out.”
It’s easy, as a fan, to watch games with the usual goalposts in mind. Get batters out, win games, dominate. But it’s March first. With today’s game the first one of the Spring being broadcast on television, perhaps this is a good reminder what to look for, not only from Griffin (who is scheduled to pitch second, behind starter Martin Perez today) but from three pitchers (Andrew Faulkner, Wesley Wright, and Adam Loewen) who are competing for that other temporarily-open-due-to-injury position: left-handed reliever.