Think of Spring Training as a full season. If you do the math (and don’t worry, I did it for you), game five of Spring Training is pretty much one month of a regular season (27 games, to be exact). What does that mean? It’s time to start seeing what some of these players who have a real shot at making the roster can do.
They have a limited time in each game, a limited time in Arizona, and a limited time to show Jeff Banister that he needs them on his 25-man Opening Day roster.
The last three days have shown that some players are stronger candidates than others to answer questions on the roster. With the recent agreed upon in principle addition of “The Freak” Tim Lincecum, perhaps even more questions have present themselves. Or maybe some things have come into focus.
At the Dish:
Three games in three days, but only two of them had Jurickson Profar in them. Against the Dodgers, Profar didn’t fare so well. Against one of the supposed future stars of the game, White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, Profar racked up his second hit of the Spring. It was, again, an opposite field gap shot as a left handed batter for the switch-hitting Profar. This one drove in a run and, once again, showed that Profar is displaying the confidence that he said he had. I would expect a couple of more games featuring Profar prominently, and then I could see his at-bats dialed back. After all, if the Front Office wants to keep Profar on as the utility infielder, then he’s definitely not going to be active every day. Once Profar gets his swing where he wants it, maybe Banister starts to see how he responds to a few days off.
Drew Robinson is making a nice little case for himself at the plate. With three hits, two runs scored and a run batted in, Robinson is making himself almost a lock for Opening Day. Whether that’s as the starting left fielder or not is still to be determined, but Robinson has the most at-bats of the spring so far. In terms of regular repetitions, that alone helps his case.
Speaking of left field candidates, how about Willie Calhoun? Since the Spring Training opener, Calhoun has appeared in each of the last three games and racked up a hit in each of those games. He’s driven in two, scored one…and been thrown out twice on the bases. Never mind that for the time being, though. In order to get thrown out on the bases, one has to get on the bases, and Calhoun has been doing that. On Wednesday, as the Designated Hitter for the entire game, Calhoun not only got a hit, but drew two walks. While left field might be Calhoun’s most immediate path to the big leagues, DH is probably his eventual path. Keep swingin’, Willie.
Same-side hitting seems to be a key thing to look at when observing either a struggling hitter or one that’s up and coming. That’s certainly the case for Nomar Mazara, who had two hits against lefties against the Dodgers. The Big Chill might be a model of consistency as far as temperament goes, but he’s looking to be a consistent hitter at the plate. That means being able to attack lefties and righties, where there were significant splits in 2017.
On the Mound:
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Connor Sadzeck had another bad outing. This one was his second appearance of the Spring and it was against the Dodgers on Tuesday. In this appearance, Sadzeck was entrusted with a 4-3 lead in the 9th inning. It’s a situation that the flamethrower might see himself destined bound for in the future. Closers have to have short memories and be able to bounce back, sometimes a day later. In this case, it was three days after blowing a lead against the Cubs. Sadzeck’s afternoon started off innocently enough, with a fly out. Then he walked Henry Ramos, struck out Andrew Toles and allowed a liner of a base hit, moving Ramos to third. The control problems continued, as Sadzeck uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score. That game ended in a tie, and Sadzeck’s afternoon ended with a fizzle. While the upside for Sadzeck remains high, perhaps it’s the pressure of being on the verge of a regular role on the Major League club that is getting to him. Sadzeck, even though it’s just been two outings, is having the kind of Spring that is way too reminiscent of the early months of the 2017 bullpen. Nobody wants that.
As far as the other serious contenders for rotation or bullpen spots on the Major League Opening Day roster, things went fairly well (there were a couple of exceptions). Tony Barnette? One scoreless inning. Jake Diekman? One scoreless inning and he was feeling healthy and ready to go a full season. That’s huge. Keone Kela? One scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Chris Martin? One scoreless inning. Alex Claudio and Jose LeClerc? One extraordinarily filthy scoreless inning each. The starters – Matt Moore on Wednesday: Two scoreless. Jesse Chavez on Tuesday: Two scoreless. As with the regular season, it’s going to take a few more outings to be able to make any kind of judgment or prediction for pitchers – we still haven’t reached the point where relievers pitch in back to back games – but right now, all signs point up for Texas.
Levi Weaver of The Athletic went into great detail on the two incumbent members of the Rangers’ rotation – Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. No, they didn’t pitch in any of the official Spring Training games thus far, but they had their first action against their teammates for a BP session. To make a long story short, Martin Perez was good, Cole Hamels was not. That certainly minimizes the actual performance of each, and since they haven’t gotten into a game, it doesn’t mean much, but it’s probably more encouraging that Perez was good than it was discouraging that Hamels was bad.
Still unofficially, as of Wednesday night, Tim Lincecum appears to be Surprise/Arlington bound. Not to bring in more math to this article, but nine position players, six starters, Kela, Barnette, Claudio, Diekman, Martin, a backup catcher, at least one utility infielder and outfielder…you’ve got one more arm and one more bat to add. You figure that one of the starters that doesn’t make a six-man rotation gets added to the bullpen and that leaves one spot. Does that go to The Freak? First thing’s first – maybe he should be officially announced first.
In the Field:
Jon Daniels made a bold move by not more seriously pursuing a true center fielder this winter. Carlos Gomez signed with the Rays for around $4 million. Lorenzo Cain went to Milwaukee for a reasonable, market-value 5-year, $80 million deal. He has pieces to be able to acquire Kevin Kiermaier from Tampa Bay, who seems likely to give him away for the original recipe for Frozen Margaritas. But Daniels and Banister believe in the strides that Delino DeShields has made since coming over as a Rule 5 Acquisition from Houston. So far, DeShields has rewarded that faith. Against the Dodgers, DeShields threw out Chris Taylor, trying to tag from first. He’s showed range and smart judgment. The Rangers are riding with DeShields as their center fielder until someone decides to change their mind, and to his credit, Delino is going to do everything he can to make sure they don’t regret it.
Prospect Isaiah Kiner-Falefa might not make the 2018 Texas Rangers Opening Day Roster, but his versatility is exactly the type of thing that managers salivate over. He is beyond a super-utility player in that he can be a receiver behind the plate, too. So far, Kiner-Falefa has played shortstop, second base, and catcher. Who knows where else he might end up, but it’s fun to watch someone bounce around like that and still be serviceable.
On the Bench:
It was just a precaution. Hanser Alberto hasn’t played since being taken out for a hamstring issue. I get that it’s only been four days, but for just being worried about the weather affecting it, Alberto, I feel, should have been back out now. Instead, according to Jared Sandler, the man they call “Radio” has only progressed to having grounders hit right at him. That, to me, seems to be more than just a little tweak of the hamstring.
In the battle of backup catchers, it would appear that Brett Nicholas has taken the lead, simply off of his bat. Also on Nicholas’ side is the fact that Trevino is the future franchise catcher. Juan Centeno hasn’t really done anything to separate himself from the pack. As a matter of fact, Centeno stands to be a DFA candidate if/when the Lincecum deal is official. For now, Brett Nicholas has gone 2-for-4 this Spring. That’s a painfully small sample size, and I probably didn’t need to waste a paragraph on it, but backup catcher is one of the big positions to be filled this Spring. There’s no guarantee that Robinson Chirinos catches as many games as the Rangers want. Whoever ends up taking the rest of the receiver duties could be a key cog for the 2018 Texas Rangers.
Rule 5 selection Carlos Tocci hasn’t exactly been a standout. He’s been fine, thus far, but since the fourth outfielder competition is so stacked at the moment (Rua, Robinson, Calhoun – and that’s just on the 40), “fine” isn’t going to keep him on the roster. The problem here is, who wants to pay $50,000 just to send a player back to his original team?
It’s kind of crazy, but we’re already almost a week into Spring Training. Again, there’s limited time for players to make an impression. You kind of already have an idea of who’s actually going to be a competitor for the big league roster and who is just here because someone has to catch the baseballs. Once we get through one turn for each of the starting rotation candidates, then the competition is really going to heat up.
Who do you see winning the fourth outfielder job for the Rangers to begin the season? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.