Spring Training Worries About The Texas Rangers

There has been a lot more good than bad in looking at the potential of the 2013 Rangers to do some damage in the AL West. Last time out, I mentioned most of those good things. Of course, it turns out the only name I mentioned in passing could just possibly become the #5 starter , that being rookie Nick Tepesch. It’s not a surety, as it was also reported Michael Kirkman, who is on the team anyway, was stretched out to 4 innings in a minor league game. What reason for that if not to move from the pen into the #5 hole?

Enough, though, about the positives. Today is about the negatives. Most fans would agree, as much as we like our teams, we also tend to see our team’s flaws better than just about everyone and there are things this spring that have me a tad concerned (who is this Tad anyway and why is he always concerned?) going into the regular season.

English: Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers pitcher.

Alexi Ogando (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fortunately, one of those things became more of a moot point after the Rangers played the Reds on Sunday. Alexi Ogando had not been having a real good spring and he’s the #4 starter. While he was an All-Star as a starter two seasons ago, Ogando was in the pen and, following an injury, did not have a good second half. That combined with his poor spring had me thinking, who cares about the #5 starter? If our #4 isn’t doing well, nobody’s going to care about #5! Then Alexi goes out and tosses six goose-egg innings against Cincinnati and all seems right with the world again.

Look, Ogando still concerns me. We’ve heard he still needs to develop a third pitch to become a better starter. In 2012, he somehow managed an All-Star nod despite just a 2-pitch repertoire. Nothing I’ve heard out of training camp tells me Ogando’s third pitch, a change-up, is ready as a consistent weapon. If it is, I’ll breathe a lot easier. If not, the Rangers’ fortunes good go further south.

Of even more concern is the lack of right-handed depth in the bullpen. As glowing as my last post was about the southpaws Robbie Ross, Joe Ortiz, Michael Kirkman and Nate Robertson, the reverse has been true of the righties. The guys the Rangers really need to do well are Josh Lindblom (acquired from the Phillies in the Michael Young trade) and Tanner Scheppers. Lindblom struggled at first with his velocity. Now he’s struggling with his command. Scheppers was slowed by injury in training camp. Of the two, Scheppers seems to be the one turning it around somewhat, with scoreless outings in each of his last four appearances.

A year ago, the bullpen was a Rangers strength. This season, it’s definitely a work in progress. If all goes according to plan, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz will help solidify the pen after the All-Star break. In the meantime, Texas needs at least four of the aforementioned individuals to step up their games, especially Lindblom and Scheppers.

The last concern seems minor but it’s still an important roster spot. Texas still doesn’t know what they’re doing for a utility infielder who can back up Elvis Andrus at short. Last time out, I mentioned Yangervis Solarte as a possibility, but that ended when Solarte was reassigned to the minors over the weekend. Of the players now in camp, only Leury Garcia and Jurickson Profar are left. The Rangers have already said Profar, their #1 prospect, won’t stay unless he can get 350 at bats for the season. Profar would need to play 4 games a week to get those AB’s. With Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus up the middle, that’s not likely to happen.

That leaves Garcia and I just don’t think Ron Washington is ready to hand the job to a rookie. In other words, less than a week from Opening Night and it’s highly doubtful the player chosen as the Rangers’ utility infielder is even in Rangers camp. Ideally, he would be acquired in a straight-up trade for Julio Borbon, who probably won’t make the club despite an outstanding spring. Surely there’s someone out there who needs a 4th or 5th outfielder who could spare an infielder in return. We’ll know in the next 6 days.

Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan (Photo credit: phoca2004)

On a totally unrelated subject: Remember just two weeks ago, when everyone was wondering whether Nolan Ryan was unhappy and ready to walk away from the Rangers? Not only has there been little reported on the situation in the past week plus, but I noticed a tweet today saying Ryan will throw out the first pitch at the second of the Rangers’ two exhibition games at the Alamodome in San Antonio this week. Does that sound like something someone whose departure is imminent would do? I said it when the story first cropped up and I’ll say it again. I think this has been a non-story all along. Does Nolan have less power in the Rangers organization? Yep. But I think this whole unhappiness thing has been more about Nolan just wanting to feel useful in Texas than it’s been about the amount of power he wields.

March 25th. Just a few more days before Texas and Houston in front of a nationwide audience Sunday night. It can’t get here soon enough.

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