With the realistic hopes of contending for their third World Series appearance in five years severely dampened, those in the Rangers' front office find themselves in a position where they must learn about what they have on the current roster that can help them going forward.
Using a Wally Pipp analogy to describe the opportunities available to Rangers currently filling roles due to injuries probably isn't appropriate. Wally Pipp had a headache and needed some Aspirin. The Rangers may have taken more MRIs than Aspirin this year, but nevertheless, opportunity awaits for those who have been used as Band-Aids on the surgical scars that make up the 2014 roster.
The top 5 things that the Rangers must figure out during the 2014 season:
5. Catcher. With Geovany Soto missing the first half of the season with a knee injury, J.P. Arencibia made quick work of losing manager Ron Washington's confidence. Robinson Chirinos has filled the role, and while his productivity at the plate can leave a lot to be desired (.230/.271/.377, 4 HR, 15 RBI), Chirinos has been excellent at controlling the run game. The Rangers passed on signing a longer-term catcher this off-season, as they are seemingly looking forward to the arrival of prospect Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro is currently in High-A Myrtle Beach, and while he possesses all of the tools of a future elite catcher, the 21-year-old remains relatively raw. If Alfaro can graduate to Double-A Frisco at some point this season, the Rangers could decide to roll into 2015 with the same game plan of simply filling the catching position with placeholders until Alfaro is ready.
4. Michael Choice. Choice has shown flashes this season of the corner power hitter that the Rangers hope that he can become, but Choice (who is batting just .199/.272/.344) needs to continue to develop to ensure that he is a part of the Rangers' core going forward. With Alex Rios as a possibility in 2015 and the designated hitter position wide open, Choice has a real opportunity to assert himself as an everyday player going forward.
3. Alex Rios. With a $13.5 million club option for 2015, Rios entered the season with some uncertainty concerning where he would be playing beyond this season, but his performance may be helping him take his destiny back into his own hands. Rios, who will turn 34 next season, is currently batting .329/.364/.482 on the year and trails only Robinson Cano and Victor Martinez in the race for the batting title. Rios has been the Rangers' most consistent and dependable player offensively, and if the Rangers plan to compete in 2015, he should be an attractive option this offseason in an otherwise weak free agent market for outfielders.
2. The middle infield. It hasn't taken Rougned Odor long to put his talents on display in Arlington; the fearless 20-year-old prospect has put together a line of .312/.333/.481 over his 26 games with the big league club. With Jurickson Profar likely out for the season, Odor has the opportunity to restore the middle infield with an embarrassment of riches and force the Rangers to make some room. While the Rangers likely plan to have Profar penciled in at second base next season, Odor's performance could impact the futures of both Rangers starting middle infielders.
1. The rotation. With the rotation depleted by injuries to Martin Perez and Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison facing tough odds on returning from a spinal fusion operation, both Nick Martinez (1-3, 4.63 ERA) and Nick Tepesch (2-2, 4.91 ERA) will have extended auditions for a 2015 rotation spot. Both young righties have had troubles when facing major league lineups for the third time, but each has shown flashes of promise in his limited role this season. One other potential option as the season progresses is Luke Jackson, who is currently 7-2 with a 2.86 ERA for AA Frisco. Jackson wields a mid-90s fastball and strikeout rate of 9.2 SO/9. Jackson could find himself in Arlington in either a bullpen or starting role later this season, particularly after rosters expand. With the Opening Day rotation only currently set with Darvish and Holland, there is certainly room for more than one internal option going forward.