Who will be the Rangers' 5th starter?

March 24th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers rotation is sorting itself out, but the pitching staff’s depth is becoming the one thing that leaves questions. Mainly, who will be the fifth starter?

Veterans Jon Gray and Martín Pérez are almost guaranteed to lead the top of the rotation, and Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn are more than likely to hold onto the spots they earned in 2021. 

That leaves one rotation spot open with less than three weeks until Opening Day. At the end of 2021, the Rangers saw glimpses of a trio of pitching prospects in A.J. Alexy, Glenn Otto and Spencer Howard. Otto and Howard were both acquired at the Trade Deadline last season. 

Kolby Allard, who spent time as both a starter and a reliever in 2021, also has a chance to compete for a spot. But he would also be useful in long relief. 

Here’s a look at all of the Rangers options' for their last rotation spot:

LHP Kolby Allard
2021 stats (32 games, 17 starts): 124 2/3 IP, 5.41 ERA, 104 K, 31 BB

Allard is the only option with multiple years of big league experience, and he may be best suited for a transition to the bullpen, but he performed well in his first Spring Training start. In the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the D-backs at Salt River Field on Tuesday, the lefty tossed two perfect innings with two strikeouts. 

“We've talked about Kolby in that regard just for his ultimate value,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. “What is his ultimate, best value on a winning team? Is it one time through the lineup, a two- or three-inning guy where he can just come in and the stuff plays a little better? It could be really valuable. But also we saw flashes last year where he started and he actually did a really good job of getting through the lineup two or three times.”

Allard’s ERA was only marginally better as a starter (5.40) than as a reliever (5.45) in 2021. He said he embraced the depth of the pitching staff though and is excited to be part of this competition. He also added that he’s willing to do whatever to help the Rangers win games, whether that’s in the rotation or in the bullpen. 

Allard’s biggest downfall last season was limiting damage when he got into trouble. That was where he mostly focused his attention this offseason. If he can do that, he'll be a vital piece for the Rangers. 

“There were a lot of games where it was very close to being put together and being really good,” Allard. “I think it's just taking that next step in the big leagues and making sure my misses are better. That was the main thing, just being a little finer with my misses on the corners, things like that.”

RHP A.J. Alexy
2021 MLB stats (5 games, 4 starts): 23 IP, 4.70 ERA, 17 K, 17 BB
2021 MiLB stats (16 games, 10 starts): 65 IP, 1.66 ERA, 76 K, 27 BB

Alexy, the club’s 20th-ranked prospect at the end of 2021, made his MLB debut last season after spending time with Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. In his first Cactus League appearance of '22, Alexy followed Allard out of the bullpen on Tuesday to toss two shutout innings, allowing just one hit and one walk.

Woodward called the outing "encouraging," and he noted that he wants Alexy to limit his walks a lot more coming into this season.

“He just doesn't throw enough strikes at times,” Woodward said. “And if he can maintain his stuff and command a little better, throw the ball over the plate, and throw quality strikes, the stuff is good. He's gonna get big hitters out.”

Alexy said he spent most of his offseason “refining and tweaking” but didn’t make any major changes.

RHP Spencer Howard
2021 MLB stats (19 games, 15 starts): 49 2/3 IP, 7.43 ERA, 52 K, 27 BB
2021 MiLB stats (7 games, 7 starts): 23 2/3 IP, 1.52 ERA, 31 K, 9 BB

Howard came to the Rangers in the 2021 Trade Deadline deal that sent Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy to the Phillies. He was a highly touted prospect who was ranked as high as No. 1 in Philadelphia's system in 2020.

But his transition to the big leagues did not go as well as he had hoped. After the trade, he described his mechanical struggles on the mound as “polishing a turd.”

“I think I dispelled the turd successfully,” Howard joked. “I didn't really mean it as a self-deprecating thing. More just how my mechanics felt at that moment. … I’ve been chasing this feeling of a berm front side. Getting there, somehow it morphed into jumping off the mound. I spent a lot of time trying to just get into my legs and get rid of that last little jump. I think it's still in there a little bit, but it's definitely a lot better than it was the last couple years.”

Howard was maybe the player most affected by the lockout, not being able to communicate with Rangers pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara after they worked to revamp his mechanics throughout the final month of last season.

Howard hasn’t pitched in a Cactus League game yet, but Woodward said: “We're going to get better. He looks great right now.”

RHP Glenn Otto
2021 MLB stats (6 games, 6 starts): 23 1/3 IP, 9.26 ERA, 28 K, 8 BB
2021 MiLB stats (17 games, 16 starts): 95 2/3 IP, 3.20 ERA, 134 K, 24 BB

Otto, the Rangers’ No. 23-ranked prospect, was one of four prospects returned for Joey Gallo in the deal with the Yankees at last year’s Trade Deadline. He was the only one of the four to make his MLB debut last season.

Otto was not sharp in his first Cactus League start Wednesday at Surprise Stadium, a 14-5 win over the White Sox. In 1 2/3 innings, he allowed four runs (two earned) on two hits and two walks, a performance he called "unacceptable."

Otto said after the game that he let his emotions get the best of him with his first Spring Training start coming in the midst of the competition for a starting role. He didn’t have control of any of his pitches except his fastball. Despite that, he looked better in the second inning and retired three straight batters after walking the leadoff man.

“He was amped up and excited, and he wants to show off what he can do,” Woodward said of Otto's first inning. “I did like to see the second one though. There was a lot more calm to him, and the delivery was cleaner like I know he’s able to while establishing his pitches.

Woodward noted that Otto, and possibly Howard and Alexy as well, may benefit from more time at Triple-A to continue facing advanced hitters without having to transition to the bullpen at the big league level, but nothing is out of the picture just yet.