DALLAS — Monday's 7-0 victory over the New York Yankees wasn’t just a historical feat by the Texas Rangers. Yes, Chris Woodward’s group accomplished something that nobody had done in 220 games by blanking the Bombers, but how they did it is more of a microcosm of what they need to look for in the month of September.
A couple of rookies, possible anchors of the future, meshed with a few of the measured and tried veterans to win a meaningful (at least, to the other team) baseball game. With only one series this month being against a non-contender, that is going to be the overarching theme as we close out the 2019 regular season.
From Minors to Minor
Not lost in the shuffle of yesterday’s New York nixing was the star behind the plate. Jose Trevino, two-time Minor League Gold Glove winner, was catching staff ace Mike Minor for the first time. Combined with Minor’s precision, the game that Trevino called – a dazzling mix of off-speed pitches to augment an almost token number of fastballs – resulted in one of the most impressive pitching performances this season.
Let’s be honest, Jeff Mathis – signed to a two-year deal, primarily because of his defense – has not been anything close to what the Rangers were expecting as a receiver and his bat has somehow been even worse than advertised.
The 26-year-old Trevino has a month to showcase that he can shoulder the load of being a primary catcher going into next year. If he can hit equally as well as he has the last several games, all the better for Texas. It appears, however, that Trevino is going to be given every single chance to work with both veterans Minor and Lance Lynn as well as the “Farm Arms” like Ariel Jurado, Kolby Allard, Brock Burke and Emmanuel Clase.
The Condor’s Return
In the wake of the consistent and continued tear that Danny Santana has been on throughout the summer, Ronald Guzman was optioned to the minor leagues in late July, despite his defensive advantage at first. On Sunday, the 6’5” Guzman returned to his post at first base as rosters expanded.
The time away from the Major League club appeared to do him some good, as he hit .308/.400/.504 for Triple-A Nashville. If Guzman can maintain anywhere close to that level of production against contending teams in September, then first base is his job to lose in 2020. His performance can alter how Jon Daniels approaches the offseason from a position player standpoint as being able to carry his weight with the bat would allow the Rangers to gladly put his superior glove back on the field.
That’s all the introduction the Rangers’ likely Player of the Year needs. Signed as anything but a star starting player, Santana has capitalized on every opportunity given to him and made himself indispensable. Boasting a robust slash line of .290/.317/.550 with 24 homers, 63 RBI and 13 stolen bases, the 28-year old is probably due for a nice raise in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
That’s right – the super-utility player is under team control for another three seasons. Unless he absolutely bombs in September, which doesn’t seem likely, could the Rangers try to buy out at least his arbitration years? He’s played at every position except for pitcher and catcher and has done so capably. Between him and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas has a pretty good start on their utility roles for next year in the first season teams will be able to carry a 26-man roster.
If You Can Hit, You Can Stay
The old adage appears to be holding true for a couple of members of the next generation of Rangers. For one Willie Calhoun, the man who “hits 3-hole,” as his preferred position seems to have found his place in the lineup. His production over the month of September against some pretty good pitching is going to determine how Daniels chooses to approach his glut of outfielders.
Shin-Soo Choo, maintaining a respectable level of production, has a fairly tradeable contract at this point should the Rangers opt to go that route. Nomar Mazara, with club-friendly control to showcase, but under-performing in most other areas has been a subject of trade rumors numerous times in the last couple of years. Mazara could use a big month. Meanwhile, Calhoun is champing at the bit to wedge his way into the everyday configuration of Chris Woodward's lineups in 2020.
So, too, is Nick Solak. The 24-year-old, who was acquired by the Rangers this summer in a swap that sent reliever Peter Fairbanks to the Tampa Bay Rays, has only played in 13 games thus far. In that time, though, Solak has racked up 14 hits and 5 RBI while manning second and third base.
With Rougned Odor hitting below the Mendoza line for much of the season, the acquisition of Solak led some to believe that Odor was a literal and figurative “one-hit wonder.” Should we see Solak start getting increased playing time at second in the season's final weeks, we might see Odor get decreased chances at being on the club next year.
If You Can Pitch, You Can Stay Too
Besides Minor and Lynn, the rotation for the 2020 Rangers, debuting in the comfort of Globe Life Field, is in flux. Even assuming that the club picks up one higher-profile starter to accompany those two, there are still two slots open. September seems to be a good time to see who can handle the pressures of playing winning baseball.
Can it be Ariel Jurado, who seems to work best with an opener in front of him? Can it be Adrian Sampson, who showcased flashes of brilliance over a couple of weeks but has had really, really awful outings sprinkled in since? Will the former Atlanta Braves first round draft pick Kolby Allard step up and maintain his string of zero losses after coming to Texas in a pre-deadline trade this July? Or can Brock Burke, acquired in the Jurickson Profar deal, earn his way onto the 2020 rotation? Burke is making a good case so far as he's sporting a 1.50 ERA over three starts and 18 innings.
Then there’s the case of Clase for the backend of the bullpen. Emmanuel Clase, he of the 100-mph cut fastball, has emerged as a closing candidate. Even in a 7-0 game against a potent Yankee lineup, Clase finished the shutout in a pressure situation.
With Jose Leclerc still working through the high expectations following signing a contract extension before the season, having Clase in the bullpen’s back pocket is going to be a huge boon going into next season.
September’s a great time to watch the future in action, even on a non-contending team like the Rangers. After this first weekend in September, buckle up, as Texas looks to play serious spoiler to the Wild Card and Division contenders in the American League.
Do you think any of the recent call-ups for the Rangers will be on the team the next time Texas makes the postseason? Share your thoughts on the latest crop of youngsters with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.