2019 was supposed to be a fulfillment of hope for the Texas Rangers at first base. Since Mitch Moreland’s departure after the 2016 season, Texas had been plugging in players at first to fill the gap.
Unfortunately, the first base production in Arlington wasn’t the breakthrough that the organization had been looking for. Now, in 2020, the Rangers will go into the season with renewed hope and a couple of backup plans just in case things don’t work out again.
Opening Day: Ronald Guzman
Through the Season: Danny Santana, Logan Forsythe, Scott Heineman, Patrick Wisdom
The 24-year old, 6’5” Dominican Ronald Guzman was long projected to be the franchise answer at first baseman for the Rangers after signing a record deal as a teenager in 2011. With a wingspan that earned him the nickname “The Condor,” and a stretch at the bag that makes most people gasp in awe, Guzman had the defensive acumen but needed to show improvement with the bat.
With a decent .235/.306/.416 line coming off of his rookie year, the Rangers thought they had something to work with on the offensive side. If nothing else, they could coast on that line and get by with the defense, right?
Midway through July, the Rangers decided that the offensive struggles just weren’t worth the defensive stability. At the time he was sent down in favor of reliever Pedro Payano, Guzman was batting a dismal .193/.282/.396 with Texas still on the outskirts of wild card contention.
Guzman wasn’t ever able to get his 2019 season on track after a hamstring injury slowed him at the start of the season. Danny Santana and Logan Forsythe would hold down the fort at first for most of the rest of the way until the September roster expansion. Guzman seemed to have found himself down in Nashville. Similar to Rougned Odor, Guzman apparently didn’t handle the rapid influx of information and analytics under new manager Chris Woodward easily and that helped lead him to a sophomore slide.
In Nashville, Guzman was able to get back to the basics that had gotten him to where he was in 2018 and thrived, hitting over .300 while with the Sounds. The work in Triple A showed up in September at the big league level, as Guzman found his way into 19 games down the stretch, slashing .305/.397/.475. It was the exact type of turnaround the Rangers had been looking for from the young standout.
Projected Opening Day: Ronald Guzman
Depth: Greg Bird, Sam Travis
With a full year under the new regime under his belt, Guzman finds himself on something of the same offensive plane as Odor. After both reportedly struggled to adapt to the new analytical ways that the organization has headed, both now seem to have a better grasp on how to put the information to good use.
If any of that translates the way that it did in September of last year for the now-25-year old Guzman during the full 2020 season, that’s sure to be of use to a Rangers team trying to make an impact in a new stadium in a topsy-turvy AL West.
Even if he’s only able to get back to the line he was at in 2018, hovering around .240 – his on-base percentage plus slugging remained the same from year to year, but a better average could help him improve that– while contributing between 15 to 20 home runs, with his defense, he perhaps won’t be a star in the league, but he’ll get his at-bats as an everyday, reliable first baseman.
Behind him, the Rangers have a couple of former AL East backup players. Sam Travis was acquired from the Boston Red Sox this winter for reliever Jeffrey Springs. Last year, the 25-year old Travis played in a career-high 59 games with the Sox, both at first base and from the outfield. It’s more likely that he’ll start the season with Nashville, but his power against left-handed pitching might help land him a spot on the bench with the Major League team.
Greg Bird, at one point, was supposed to be the next franchise first baseman for the New York Yankees. Bird had a promising start to his career in 2015, but he has since been severely hampered by injuries. Successively, a shoulder injury, ankle injuries, and plantar fasciitis limited Bird to just 140 games over the last three seasons in the New York system.
Now on a minor league contract with Texas, Bird is looking to remain healthy and get repetition under his belt. Bird is a left-handed batter, so the chances of him supplementing Guzman on the Rangers’ bench are slim, but the potential of him being a first man up if Guzman’s struggles continue, or if The Condor is downed by injury, are very good.
After an offseason where the Rangers didn’t do much to address first base as though it were a long term problem, it signifies that they still believe in Guzman for the future. For 2020, at least, the organization is a little better prepared if Guzman doesn’t look like he’s ready to soar.
Do you think Ronald Guzman will be able to take a step forward and hold onto the first base job in 2020? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.