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Tocci among Rangers' dark-horse candidates

Rule 5 Draft pick must make roster to stay in organization; Niese, Jepsen, others also fighting for spots
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers open their Cactus League season on Saturday against the Cubs in Mesa. Look for outfielder Carlos Tocci to be on the field for that game and most others before the Rangers leave Arizona.

Tocci is a Rule 5 Draft pick, taken by the White Sox from the Phillies' organization and then traded to the Rangers for cash considerations. Tocci has to make the Rangers' Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Phillies.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers open their Cactus League season on Saturday against the Cubs in Mesa. Look for outfielder Carlos Tocci to be on the field for that game and most others before the Rangers leave Arizona.

Tocci is a Rule 5 Draft pick, taken by the White Sox from the Phillies' organization and then traded to the Rangers for cash considerations. Tocci has to make the Rangers' Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Phillies.

He is a darkhorse candidate to make team. That is the nature of a Rule 5 Draft pick -- otherwise, they would still be on their former team's 40-man roster and in their camp.

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But the Rangers want to take a long, hard look at Tocci while they are in Arizona, just like they did with Delino DeShields three years ago.

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"I've heard this is a premium defensive center fielder," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "He reads the ball off the bat well, uses his speed and glides, in the batter's box good bat to ball (contact hitter), runs the bases well. We [have] to get him as many reps in front of the Major League [staff] as possible and make an evaluation."

DeShields came to camp as a long shot to make the team but did so in 2015. The Rangers felt they could keep him around as an extra outfielder and he ended up working his way into the starting lineup.

"Delino DeShields went through the same process," Banister said. "He played in every game but the off-day. A guy like Carlos Tocci, we know the skill set, our scouts did a great job of grading that out. What we are looking at is what can this guy offer a team in winning games. We are going to put him through all those situations and see how it evolves."

Tocci, 22 and a native of Venezuela, played at Double-A Reading last year and hit .307 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage. He had two home runs and four stolen bases in 113 games, so defense will be what gets him on the team.

Other darkhorses to watch:
LHP Jonathon Niese
Niese pitched in the Mets' rotation from 2010-16 with a career-high 13 wins in 2012. He missed all of last season while recovering from knee surgery but could earn a spot in either the rotation or the bullpen. If he wins a spot in the rotation, it could mean the Rangers are loading up in the bullpen.

Video: Sullivan on Niese's role with the Rangers

RHP Kevin Jepsen
Jepsen was once a top setup reliever for the Angels and has experience as a closer. A strong spring could give the Rangers more confidence to put Matt Bush and/or Mike Minor in the rotation.

RHP Steve Delabar
Same as Jepsen. Delabar is a former All-Star reliever who could work his way into the bullpen and make it easier for Bush and Minor as starters.

RHP Ronald Herrera
Herrera is a young starting pitcher acquired from the Yankees and the Rangers want to take a good look at him.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Carlos Tocci