2013 Preview: Texas Rangers


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Texas Rangers.

The Big Question: Can the Rangers overcome the loss of Josh Hamilton to free agency?

Hamilton was, by most accounts, the Rangers’ best hitter last season as the lefty finished the 2012 campaign with 43 home runs and 128 RBI, threatening to derail Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown campaign to the very end. The Rangers weren’t willing to commit to Hamilton long-term, which allowed him to sign with the L.A. Angels.

Hamilton spent most of his time in center field last season and will be replaced by Craig Gentry, a 29-year-old with 476 career plate appearances in the big leagues. He is matched by few defensively, but leaves a lot to be desired with the bat as he has no power and is heavily reliant on posting a high batting average (it was .304 last year in 269 PA).

The other big change the Rangers made was handing the everyday job at first base to Mitch Moreland after trading Michael Young to the Phillies. Young had started 40 games at first base while also taking on DH responsibilities. Moreland, 27 years old, hit 15 home runs in 327 plate appearances last year. Their hope is that Moreland is able to consistently hit for power (around 30 home runs in a full season) while continuing to improve his pitch selection, which would help his on-base percentage.

Otherwise, the Rangers are opening up 2013 with more or less the same crew that won 93 games last year.

What else is going on?  

  • Third baseman Adrian Beltre will attempt to defy the aging process once again in 2013. 34 years old in April, has posted an aggregate .912 OPS over the last three seasons. Only  Miguel Cabrera (1.025) beats that mark, but only if you count him despite playing exclusively at first base in 2010-11. Beltre finished third in AL MVP voting last year.
  • The Rangers have been linked to starter Kyle Lohse (yep, still a free agent) for a while, but nothing has happened yet. Colby Lewis (elbow) and prospect Martin Perez (forearm) are both on the disabled list, opening up the door for Robbie Ross, Justin Grimm, Randy Wells, or Nick Tepesch to win the #5 spot in the rotation.
  • A.J. Pierzynski, coming off of the best offensive season of his career at the age of 35, is moving from one hitter-friendly park in the south side of Chicago to another one in Arlington. Pierzynski hit 27 home runs last year, joining Carlton Fisk (1983, ’85) as the only two catchers in baseball history to hit at least 25 home runs as a catcher at the age of 35 or older.
  • Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar are two of the more highly-anticipated prospects in baseball, but both are road-blocked at the moment. Olt is waiting patiently behind Beltre at third base, while Profar is behind shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. This has led to their inclusion in many trade rumors, but the Rangers have steadfastly chosen to hold onto their prized prospects. 

Prediction: Second place, American League West.

Mike Trout has yet to strike out this spring

Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Everyone is well aware of how good Angels outfielder Mike Trout is at the game of baseball. The 26-year-old is already an all-time great, having won two MVP awards — and arguably deserving of two others — and the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award. He has accrued 54.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference, which is right around the threshold for a Hall of Fame career. Trout does it all: he draws walks, he hits for average, he hits for power, he steals bases, he plays good defense.

But here’s an achievement that is amazing even for a player like Trout: he has yet to strike out this spring. In 41 Cactus League plate appearances, he has 10 hits (including a triple and two homers) and six walks with zero strikeouts. Across his career, Trout has a 21.5 percent strikeout rate, right around the league average. He isn’t usually such a stickler for avoiding the punch-out, but this spring he is.

To put this in perspective, 134 players this spring have struck out at least 10 times, according to MLB.com. 938 players have struck out at least once. The only other players to have taken at least 10 at-bats without striking out this spring are Humberto Arteaga (Royals, 23 AB), Tony Cruz (Reds, 18 AB), Oscar Hernandez (Red Sox, 10 AB), and Jacob Stallings (Pirates, 18 AB).

According to Angels assistant hitting coach Paul Sorrento, the lack of strikeouts hasn’t been a conscious effort from Trout, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Ho hum. The best player in baseball is apparently getting even better.