Breaking News
More () »

Corey Seager’s impending return highlights lineup decisions for Rangers

The Texas Rangers will gladly welcome back their All-Star shortstop Corey Seager in the coming days but his return will impact playing time across the lineup.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tuesday, April 11, just 11 games into the 2023 season, Corey Seager laced a ball into the left field corner for a double to continue his hot start to his second season in Texas.

However, as the $325 million shortstop rounded first, he pulled up suddenly and grabbed at his left hamstring.

The next day, the Rangers splash cold water on the team’s early success by announcing that Seager would be headed to the injured list. His timetable of recovery? At least a month.

At that point in time, Seager was hitting a raucous .359/.469/.538 with a homer and four RBIs, having scored seven runs. Seager was easily their best hitter in the lineup, as he was being paid to be. The injury to their best player presented a dire situation for the Rangers, who went into the season with a lot of variables – but “What if Corey Seager got injured?” wasn’t even near the top of that list.

The Rangers, however, answered that question quite clearly. What if Seager got injured? Well, the offense would just have to produce, top to bottom. With no clear guiding star in the lineup, the whole team would just have to get the job done. 

In the time since Seager’s injury, the Texas offense has slashed .271/.351/.456 overall. They are second only to the Tampa Bay Rays in runs scored with 223 with their per game average of 6.4 runs topping the big leagues. 

Texas is also leading the majors in hitting when they can do damage, with a video-game-like line of .338/.385/.565 with runners in scoring position. In short, the offense as a whole hasn’t missed Seager as much as they thought. It also should send tremors of fear throughout the league at the prospect of what it could be when he comes back healthy.

Seager is set to begin a rehab assignment in Frisco on Thursday, with a return to action in the big leagues potentially as soon as Monday when Texas returns home. To that end, the Rangers are going to have a few decisions to make. How do you transition the lineup when everyone seems to be firing on all cylinders?

Active roster wise, an injury to Travis Jankowski has likely assisted with being able to do lineup Tetris. Jankowski, who in his own right was more than doing his part in the lineup, hit the IL on Tuesday with a right hamstring strain. To replace his spot, Texas called up catcher Sam Huff for the time being as their options on the 40-man roster were slim for position players.

Huff, who started the year in Triple-A Round Rock, has actually been doing pretty decently at the plate. Slashing .267/.337/.456 with five homers and 20 RBIs, Huff could bring that to the lineup for Texas and fit in quite nicely. However, Texas currently has two catchers already on the roster with Jonah Heim and Sandy Leon ahead of Huff in the pecking order. 

Heim has started to establish himself as one of the best catchers in all of baseball, and Leon is here as a veteran, defense-first backup backstop. Huff has more of a future in the organization than Leon does but now might not be the time for him to earn a role. Still, Huff is on the roster for now so the Rangers might give him a shot at a start or two to relieve Heim.

When Seager returns, it’s entirely possible that Huff gets sent right back down, unless he just happens to be outshining Leon. At that point, Leon could be let go to keep some bigger bats up at the major league level. Catcher/designated hitter Mitch Garver is also due back by the end of the month, and his return would effectively replace either of Huff or Leon, if Texas is satisfied with his ability to spell Heim behind the dish.

Eventually slotting Seager back into the active lineup might prove to be a trickier proposition than expected, as laughable as that sounds. When Seager first went on the IL, it was Josh Smith who was granted most of the playing time at short. In that time, Smith has been one of the few Rangers not contributing positively to the offense, as he’s hitting well below the Mendoza-line. It’s not Smith’s presence that Texas has to worry about juggling.

Ezekiel Duran, the 23-year old spoils of the Joey Gallo trade, has exploded onto the scene in Texas after grabbing the shortstop gig in Seager’s stead. Duran, who earned a spot on the roster after slashing .357/.390/.714 in Spring, very quickly earned manager Bruce Bochy’s trust after Smith sputtered.

After stumbling in the first couple of games out of the chute after Seager’s departure, Duran, since April 18, has come close to replicating his Spring Training slash – he’s at .353/.389/.588 through those 18 games. Duran's contributions both offensively and defensively could create a bit of a disturbance if he’s removed from regular playing time.

So how can Bochy manage this?

Duran’s ability to spell at shortstop will help the team ease Seager back into full-time duty. Especially with a hamstring, it might not be best to keep Seager in the field continuously right off the bat. Seager taking a game here and there to DH while Duran plays the field might be one of the better options, especially early on.

After Seager is ready to resume full-time duties at shortstop, Duran very likely slots in as a regular option for left field. Jankowski was primarily the left fielder for the Rangers, and over 25 games, was slashing an impressive .305/.382/.412 – not bad for someone who was put on the Opening Day roster because he was one of the few options in camp who actually had outfield experience. 

Duran, while primarily an infielder, has logged some games at the start of the season in left field. With Jankowski experiencing the same injury Seager had, the Rangers could need a better option at the corner outfield spot. The team wants to get Duran’s bat in there on a regular basis, and he’s earned that opportunity. 

When Seager returns, the Rangers could deploy a lineup that looks like this:

  1. Marcus Semien – 2B

  2. Corey Seager – SS

  3. Nathaniel Lowe – 1B

  4. Adolis Garcia – RF

  5. Josh Jung – 3B

  6. Jonah Heim – C

  7. Robbie Grossman – DH

  8. Ezekiel Duran – LF

  9. Leody Taveras – CF

Duran and Grossman could take turns DH-ing and playing the field, especially with Grossman being a switch hitter. Leon and Huff will be spelling Heim until Garver returns to further enhance the lineup. Ultimately, there are a lot of possibilities, and if all of the Rangers’ bats keep going the way they’ve been going, it’s not going to matter what order or position Bochy slots anyone in.

Do you think Ezequiel Duran has earned everyday at-bats once Corey Seager returns? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB

More Texas Rangers coverage:


Before You Leave, Check This Out