Fantasy Preview – Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers
1. Ian Kinsler
2. Michael Young
3. Josh Hamilton
4. CJ Wilson
5. Hank Blalock
6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
-Deep Leagues
Kazuo Fukumori
Marlon Byrd
Gerald Laird
Milton Bradley
Kevin Millwood
Brandon McCarthy
Kason Gabbard
Vicente Padilla
Jason Jennings
John Patterson
Joaquin Benoit
Neftali Feliz
Wes Littleton

Best Batting Average: Michael Young

Most Power: Hank Blalock
Most Stolen Bases: Ian Kinsler
Best Hitter: Josh Hamilton
Best Pitcher: Kevin Millwood
Projected Closer: CJ Wilson
Closer in Waiting: Kazuo Fukumori
Player on the Rise: Josh Hamilton
Player in Decline: Kevin Millwood
Young Hitter to Watch: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Young Pitcher to Watch: Neftali Feliz

Projected Lineup
1. Michael Young SS
2. Ian Kinsler 2B
3. Josh Hamilton CF
4. Hank Blalock 3B
5. Milton Bradley RF
6. Marlon Byrd LF
7. Ben Broussard 1B
8. Gerald Laird C
9. Frank Catalonotto

Projected Rotation
1. Kevin Millwood
2. Vicente Padilla
3. Kason Gabbard
4. Jason Jennings
5. Luis Mendoza

-The Rangers are one of those teams in “rebuilding mode”. Over the past few seasons they’ve acquired some nice young pieces but it cost them some of their best players in the process. All-star 1B, Mark Teixeira, is now an Atlanta Brave and Francisco Cordero was lights-out for the Brewers and will now be closing games in Cincinnati. The reason they are no longer playing their home games in the Lone Star State is a combination of salary restraints and a losing culture. It’s been a while since they’ve seen a winning record in Arlington and the team can’t afford to shell out big money to star players if all it brings them is last place in the division. Any remedial businessman will tell you that it’s not a wise way to invest your money. Instead, they’ve taken a page out of their division rival’s playbook…the Oakland A’s. Michael Lewis made the A’s team-building philosophy famous in his best selling book “Moneyball”. Many teams have followed this strategy in recent years. They end up shipping out their stars for a handful of prospects and try to build new stars all over again. The record shows that it works a bit better for the A’s than most team but what do the Rangers have to lose? They’ve already lost the division. Massive contracts had loomed in the shadows for years so management finally made their move. Arlington, meet Josh Hamilton. He came over from Cincinnati all will be the team’s new CF this season. Hamilton, a former 1st round draft pick, is a dynamic 5-tool player who spent several years out of the league due to drug problems. At one point it didn’t look like he’d ever play baseball again but made an incredible comeback last season with the Reds. The trade that brought him to Texas didn’t involve any star players but did cost them some quality young arms…something that the team is a bit short on to begin with. Their star player, Mark “Tex” Teixeira, was also sent packing to the Braves in exchange for stud catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I had projected big things from “Salty” this season and expected a very fantasy-friendly season out of him. He swings a big bat and possesses all the offensive ability you could want out of a prospect but the team surprisingly decided to send him down to AAA to start the ’08 season. Many had thought it was almost guaranteed that he’d be the starter behind the plate to begin the season but that won’t be the case. Veteran, Gerald Laird, will get the nod instead. He’s not a bad option behind the plate but isn’t in the same neighborhood as “Salty”. 
The top ranked Ranger in fantasy this season is the former top prospect who replaced Alfonso Soriano at 2B, Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is a 20/20 guy already and is still developing. Power is rare at the 2B position and Kinsler is one of the better options out there. It’s possible that he’ll eventually become a 30/30 guy in time but that probably won’t come along this season. However, 25 HRs could happen. Look for numbers somewhere within the vicinity of .275/22/65/25 along with about 100 runs or so. Draft him anywhere in the middle rounds. 
Michael Young is the other half of the dynamic infield duo in Texas. In my opinion, Young is a much better player in reality than in fantasy but tends to get overrated year after year nonetheless. What really kills his value is his lack of power and stolen bases yet people mistakingly believe he excels in both categories year after year. It’s true, in ’04 and ’05 he hit 22 and 24 HRs respectively but has averaged about 11 HRs in the other 5 years he’s been in the league. Along with the fledgling power numbers, he’s never stole more than 13 bases in a season. 11 HRs and 13 or less stolen bases is not what I want from one of my top draft picks. The one thing he consistently does well is hit for contact which translates to somewhere around a .315 average year after year. But hey, if you’re drafting your middle infielders on average alone, you might as well wait for someone like Placido Polanco or Edgar Renteria several rounds later. A .320/15/80/15 season is possible but is probably a best case scenario. Don’t overreach for this guy. 
One Ranger quickly gaining popularity in fantasy circles is new CF, Josh Hamilton. He came over to the
team in the deal that sent pitching prospect, Edinson Volquez, to Cincinnati. Selected #1 overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999, he’s what’s called a 5-tool player, which means he can hit for average, power, can steal bases, has a great glove and a good arm. Sadly, his career was postponed for a number of years due to drug use. He was involved in a car accident in 2002 that left him with pretty serious injuries. While rehabbing in Florida, drug use entered the picture and quickly took over. In 2002 he was suspended by major league baseball for testing positive for drugs that are considered to be harder than marijuana; drugs like heroin, cocaine and LSD. It was not specified exactly what he’d been using but whatever it was, it kept him out of the league until 2006, when he made an amazing comeback with the Reds. Many thought he’d never play baseball again but he proved them wrong by posting a .292 batting average, with 19 HRs and 47 RBIs in only 298 at-bats. No one’s ever questioned his talent, he was selected #1 overall in the ’99 draft after all, but people wondered if the years of development he missed would keep him from ever realizing his full potential. I think that demonstrates just how much talent this guy actually has. Most people who are out of the game for that long, that early in their career, never recover. Hamilton did and in a big way. It was a little surprising to see the Reds deal him over the offseason after the potential he showed last year but their OF was overcrowded and they needed pitching. Hamilton had the most value of the possible trade candidates so he was the obvious choice. The move to Texas shouldn’t make that much of a difference this season. Arlington, like Cincy, is considered to be one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. On top of that, he’ll get a chance to play everyday and will hit in the middle of the lineup. Injuries have been a problem for him throughout his career (which could be an effect of the car accident but that’s just a guess) so just know that a 15-day DL stint at some point is probable. In the drafts I’ve been in so far, Hamilton has been going in the mid-late rounds. I think he’s a player who’s value could easily exceed his draft position but I wouldn’t overreach for him due to perceived value. Let him fall and enjoy the production. Given a full season, he could easily become a .300/35/100 player this season. That may be asking for a bit much when you factor in health concerns but I think 30 HRs is pretty much a given. Just know that this is probably the last season that you’ll be able to get this guy in the later rounds. Keeper league owners, take notice. 
One of the Rangers’ recent moves absolutely shocked me. Many others and I had assumed that top catching prospect, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, was a lock to start the season behind the plate for the big league club. He came over to the team from the Braves last season in the blockbuster deal that sent superstar 1B, Mark “Tex” Teixeira, the other way. In only 308 at-bats last season he managed to hit .266 with 11 HRs and 33 RBIs at the age of 21. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’ll be a star in time but the team was concerned with his defense and wanted to give him more time to develop…to take the pressure off in effect. He was sent down to the AAA affiliate just the other day. Before this news came in, I had him ranked right in between the likes of catchers like Kenji Johjima and Bengie Molina because that’s the kind of production I expected from him right out of the gate. Gerald Laird will now become the full time catcher to start the season. He’s not a bad option but has nowhere near the upside of “Salty”. I expect him to get the call up to the big league club at some point but he’s no longer the attractive option he once was…unless you’re in a keeper league. It’s hard to estimate what he’ll do now that he may not even start this season but if given a full season worth of at-bats, he’s the type of player who could go .280/20/80 in his rookie season at the catcher position…but who knows when that season is going to come? 
-Deep Leagues
There is a lot more here than you may think if you’re playing in a deep league. The Rangers always provide fairly good offensive numbers but struggle with pitching. That may not be the case this season. Granted, their pitching staff isn’t going to blow teams away but Kevin Millwood is still a rosterable pitcher in deeper leagues. Expect 10-12 wins and an ERA around 4.50 or so for him. Kason Gabbard is a much riskier pick in my eyes. True, he showed that he could be a capable big league pitcher at times but his stuff is nothing special. He only pitched 81 innings last season so it’s yet to be seen if he can even handle a full season on the mound. Even if he was a great pitcher, his numbers wouldn’t look as nice pitching in Arlington anyway. Look for about 120 Ks and an ERA around 5.00. It’s nothing special but he’s not the worst pitcher to own and can be used as a decent matchup pitcher. The wild cards here are Jason Jennings and John Patterson. There was a time when both pitchers were considered as two of the better young pitchers in baseball but injuries have since sidelined their careers. Now they find themselves in the great state of Texas. It won’t be easy but there is a chance that both players could rebound and pitch like they once did…not likely but worth watching depending on the size of your league. Once the team falls out of playoff contention (which I fully expect) they may decide to try out some of their youngsters and call up top prospect, Neftali Feliz. He’s an excellent strikeout pitcher and has an overpowering fastball but is still young. It’s possible that they’ll wait to start the clock on him but he’s definitely a guy to keep your eye on. 
As far as offense goes, there’s a lot to choose from. As mentioned, top catching prospect, Jarrod “Salty” Saltalamacchia, was sent down to the minors leaving Gerald Laird as the everyday starter behind the plate. He’ll definitely be worth owning in deeper leagues and can hit for decent power. This will be the first time the team has decided to go with him full-time so it is still a wait-and-see kind of deal. He showed a lot of promise in ’06 but regressed the following season in ’07, which opened the door for the “Salty” trade. I’m not counting on him to hold the job all season but the team may keep him there for his glove. It’s possible that he could surprise a lot of people and emerge as a decent fantasy option…throw out the .224 average last year and look at ’06 when he hit .296. That’s a pretty large gap. The power is there to put 20 HRs over the fences but batting average will largely determine that. If he can hit for a .260-.280 average he’ll have a much better chance of lasting the whole season. 
There’s a couple Rangers in the outfield, besides Hamilton, that you may want to grab in the later rounds of your draft…Milton Bradley and Marlon Byrd. Bradley is the better option here but Byrd’s not so bad for owners in leagues with 12 or more teams. At the end of last season in San Diego, Bradley was injured in an odd occurrence in which his former Padres manager tried to restrain him to keep him from arguing with an umpire and getting kicked out of the game. In the process, his knee buckled and he fell to the ground, writhing in agony. After knee surgery and a new contract with the Rangers, he’ll be ready for DH and limited OF duties to
start the season. He’s one of those players who could be great but has never fulfilled his true potential. Perfect for deep leaguers. Health has always limited his production but in only 209 at-bats last season he was able to power 13 HRs out of Petco Park last year…just to give you an idea how much power he has. If the team can keep him healthy splitting time between DH and the OF, there’s always a chance he could finally have that breakout season everyone’s been waiting for and hit .300 with 30 HRs. The ability to steal double-digit bases used to be there but I wouldn’t expect much on that front coming off of knee surgery. If his track record tells us anything, it’s that he’ll probably finish the season with around 300-400 at-bats and about a .270-.300 batting average and 12-19 HRs. 20+ HRs has been out of reach for him so far, which is surprising, but if it’s going to happen somewhere, Texas seems like a pretty good bet. Their other deep league OF, Marlon Byrd, hasn’t gotten many at-bats in his career either…not necessarily because of injuries but because he’s always been viewed as more of a bench player than a starter. The Rangers gave him a chance to start last year and he surprised many by hitting .307 with 10 HRs and 70 RBIs in 414 at-bats. Not bad if you need an OF for your bench or to fill out your roster. Trade rumors have been circling around him this spring and there’s a chance he could end up with the Cubs. If that happens his fantasy value will disappear because he’ll be destined for another bench role. Until that happens you can probably expect a .275/10/60 season from him. He’s probably not as good as last year’s numbers say he was but showed that he’s a little better than the bench player label he’s been given over the years. 

The Rangers are a team that will struggle once again in reality but will be of interest to fantasy owners. They have some good young offensive players who can help your team and make for excellent keeper candidates. Don’t sleep on them because they will be popular picks and should produce consistently in that hitter-friendly park in Arlington. 

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