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2019 AL West Preview: Texas Rangers, 2018 review and position player overview

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Where have you been, deep in the heart of Texas

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers
Stadium (and team) under construction
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Beginning this week, we’ll be previewing the Mariners’ AL West rivals, looking at their 2018 performance, 2019 outlook, pitching staffs and position players. We’re starting with the Texas Rangers this week, because they will probably be the one team in the division worse than the Mariners, and mama likes a soft landing. As the Mariners are taking a step back this year like they’re Richard Simmons sweating to the oldies, we’re compressing this year’s series into two articles. Today we’ll look back at how 2018 treated the organization and into the starting nine the Rangers will run out in 2019; next we’ll look at the pitching staff and how the team is projected to do this year, plus how the farm system sets them up for years to come.

It’s hard to remember that just three years ago the Rangers were the class of the AL West; in 2016 they finished with the best record in the American League, riding a string of improbable one-run victories to an ALDS appearance where they were promptly flattened by the Toronto Blue Jays (they also lost the ALDS to the Blue Jays in 2015). Baseball always feels like it develops slow, and then comes at you fast, as in subsequent years the Rangers finished third in the AL West—tied with the Mariners in 2017! Good times—and then last in the division in 2018. But years of prospect graduations with middling results and a sagging pitching staff have driven the Rangers into the dregs of the AL West.

The Rangers had a top-10 farm system prior to 2015; Baseball Prospects ranked them 4th, enthusing over power-hitting Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara, as well as Jurickson Profar, Dillon Tate, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, and Lewis Brinson. Four years later and Profar, Tate, Brinson, Williams, and Alfaro are all in other farm systems, having been dealt for playoff pushes (or, in Profar’s case, traded this off-season because...ostensibly they didn’t have a place for him to play? Sure, Jan). The remaining prizes of Gallo and Mazara have combined to put up 7.1 fWAR over the past four years, with most of that belonging to Gallo, and most of that (5.6 of it!) belonging to the last two years.

After selling out big but not advancing past the divisional series, the Rangers have entered a period of rebuilding. This offseason, they sent Jurickson Profar to the A’s in a three-team trade that brought them back: polished LHP Brock Burke, who profiles as a 4/5 starter; older but intriguing infielder Eli White, who brings positional flexibility and had a strong year at Double-A; lefty reliever Kyle Bird; hard-throwing reliever Yoel Espinal; and some significant (750k) international cap space. That’s a pretty nice haul for Profar, who will probably develop into a Gold Glove/MVP candidate in Athletics, because that’s how things seem to go. It will be interesting to see what Texas uses all that international money on; they went quantity-big in 2017, signing 50 prospects, but invested more deeply in fewer players in 2018, with their major signings being Ronald Acuña’s little brother, well-regarded Venezuelan catcher Jose Rodriguez, and Cuban standout Julio Pablo Martinez. With advantageous draft picks and spending freely internationally, the Rangers’ system is on the rise, but they still check in at 25 on Baseball America’s organizational talent rankings. With Willie Calhoun being promoted to the majors, the Rangers are about out of fun MLB-adjacent players to promote to the majors when they inevitably begin selling at the trade deadline. Poor resource conservation, that.

The (probable) starting lineup:

Texas Rangers 2019 Starting Lineup

Player ZiPS (fWAR) PECOTA (WARP)
Player ZiPS (fWAR) PECOTA (WARP)
Jeff Mathis -0.2 2.4
Ronald Guzman 0.4 0.1
Rougned Odor 1.3 1.9
Asdrubal Cabrera 1.8 2.8
Elvis Andrus 1.5 2.7
Joey Gallo 2.2 2.1
Delino DeShields 0.2 1
Nomar Mazara 1.1 0.7
Shin-Soo Choo 1.3 1.2

That is...not great. PECOTA and ZiPS most strongly disagree on Mathis, with PECOTA giving him ample credit for being a strong defender and ZiPS dinging him for his noodle bat. Both ZiPS and PECOTA like Joey Gallo’s ability to repeat his 2017-1018 run of posting exactly the same fWAR (2.8), and many a breathless spring training preview has already been written about if THIS will be the YEAR that Joey Gallo FIGURES IT ALL OUT, but color me a disbeliever that a .500 slugging line makes up for a batting average that is Mendoza-adjacent and a K% that is Zunino-adjacent.

Not pictured: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who promises to get plenty of work as the super-est of superutilities who can catch and play every infield position, and probably even throw some pitches if need be. (Need might be; see tomorrow’s conclusion to today’s article.) Also not pictured: Willie “June” Calhoun, who is just the sweetest kid and I wish him the best but where do you play him? At DH, I suppose, once Shin-Soo Choo has been dealt to a contender, as I’m sure this is the last year of his very expensive contract [checks Sportrac]...oh.

The Rangers are in a tough spot, as they don’t really have young, fun, MLB-adjacent minor leaguers they could bring up; all the interesting players, like RHP Hans Crouse, are still lower-level. And with Adrián Beltré retiring, there’s both a talent and leadership vacuum, as well as a league-wide “owning the umpire by dragging the on-deck circle closer” vacuum. Baseball is weird and weird things can happen, but it’s difficult to see this lineup producing a credible threat to the AL West crown already resting upon the Astros’ greasy locks.