Rangers finalize Opening Day roster

April 1st, 2021

After a long competition-heavy spring, the Rangers' Opening Day roster is set. Following a winter in which the club added starting-pitching depth and a bit of offense across the field, things are a lot different in 2021 than they were at the end of last season.

A lot of the 26-man roster is still up in the air, but the Rangers are committed to developing their young players and giving them the chance to win positions.

Consider this a working blueprint for more moves to be made.

Catcher (2): ,
Trevino came into spring as the assumed starter thanks to his leadership and defense, and he enters the regular season with the spot. He’ll have to adjust to the grind of a full 162-game season, but the spot is his for the taking, especially if his offense continues on an upward trajectory. Heim, who was acquired in the Elvis Andrus-Khris Davis trade, adds additional depth behind Trevino, along with veteran . Sam Huff, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, sustained a left hamstring injury in the first week of Spring Training and will start in the Minors.

First base (1):
President of baseball operations Jon Daniels said the Rangers brought in Lowe from Tampa Bay specifically to be the starting first baseman, but did put up a fight for the spot. Guzmán is 26 and out of Minor League options, but he hit .346 with three home runs this spring.

Lowe was slow to come up this spring, but he hit his stride at the end to secure the starting spot thanks to his unique approach at the plate. If Lowe hits his ceiling at the plate, he’ll be more than worth the winter trade.

Second base (1):
The Rangers aren’t shy about their youth movement, but manager Chris Woodward continues to emphasize that spots won’t just be handed to guys just because they’re younger. But Solak beat out Rougned Odor, who has played second base for Texas since 2014 and did not make the team this year.  Solak shuffled a lot between the infield and outfield last season, but the Rangers plan to keep him in one spot in ‘21. Woodward said Solak will need to be more productive than his .268 average and 23 RBIs from 2020, but he’s the best defensive fit for the Rangers at second base.

Third base (1):
The organization informed Rougned Odor that he would not make the Opening Day roster and he was designated for assignment on Thursday. Instead, the Rangers will go with a quasi-platoon option with veteran infielders Brock Holt and Charlie Culberson at third base. Holt hit .241/.371/.379 this spring and played multiple infield spots. The two of them could play at the position all season, but they’re likely just placeholders for No. 1 prospect Josh Jung, who will start the season in the Minors. Jung’s debut may be pushed back due to a left foot fracture and subsequent surgery, but it still may come in 2021. Other prospects like Anderson Tejeda and Sherten Apostel may be called up at the position if they prove they’re ready at any point in the season.

Shortstop (1):
Kiner-Falefa won an American League Gold Glove Award for his impressive defensive abilities at third, then the Rangers made the decision to slide him over to shortstop this offseason, even before trading long-time shortstop and clubhouse leader Elvis Andrus. Woodward and the coaching staff are committed to Kiner-Falefa at the position and see him as the best defensive option. He was also solid at the plate in 2020, hitting .280. He showed all spring why he earned the spot on both the offensive and defensive ends, slashing .333/.412/.489. 

He’s no doubt ready to contribute both on and off the field following the departure of Andrus. He’s taken up that leadership role and is ready to help develop the team’s identity through this rebuild.

Outfield (3): , ,
Gold Glove winner Gallo is obvious here, but the other two spots can go a few ways. Taveras is not a lock, but the Rangers clearly see him as their center fielder of the future. He struggled at the plate in the spring, opening the door for Eli White in the conversation, but Woodward is still confident in his abilities. Both made the Opening Day roster, and either can slot in at the position. Dahl has rounded into form both at the plate and in the field following his “graduation” from his prescribed throwing program after offseason shoulder surgery. He made a number of starts in left field and worked on building up his arm strength before Opening Day. He improved at the plate throughout the spring, finishing at .284. If he and Gallo can stay healthy, they may be the Rangers’ most valuable players.

Designated hitter (1):
Both Khris Davis (quad) and Willie Calhoun (groin) are sidelined by injuries, leaving the Rangers scrambling for options in the final days of Spring Training. While Woodward has said he’s likely to employ a rotation at the position, Guzmán is the most likely option early in the season considering both he and Nate Lowe made the Opening Day roster following a spring-long first-base competition.

Bench (2): ,
White is a fourth outfielder and provides little (if any) drop-off in defensive abilities in any of the three positions. Culberson is perfect for a utility-infielder role, with experience at both middle-infield positions and at third base. He’ll likely platoon at third base with Holt early in the season. Guzman can serve as the DH early in the season.

Starting pitching (5): RHP , RHP , RHP , RHP , RHP
Woodward has said that the Rangers plan to “get creative” with the rotation this season following the shortened 2020. The staff scrapped the six-man-rotation idea but will instead have two sets of “tandem” starter roles in which two hurlers combine for what would normally be a set amount of pitches for one pitcher. Woodward said much of how the Rangers deal with the tandem roles will be based on matchups.

Gibson, Arihara and Foltynewicz are locked in as traditional starters, while Dunning and Lyles will line up as the first half of the tandem roles, likely matched up with their lefty counterparts, Taylor Hearn and Wes Benjamin. 

Dunning and Kyle Cody, who will pitch out of the bullpen this season, are both building up to a regular amount of innings following Tommy John surgeries in 2019 and the shortened '20 season. Hearn is one of the more talented young starters on the 40-man roster, but he also hasn’t pitched a ton of innings at the Major League level.

Bullpen (9): LHP , RHP Brett de Geus, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Matt Bush, RHP Kyle Cody, RHP John King, LHP Wes Benjamin, LHP Kolby Allard, RHP
Hearn and Benjamin, as mentioned above, will be part of those tandem roles and could even start ahead of Dunning and Lyles, depending on the matchup situation. 

Righty Jonathan Hernández’s UCL injury is a big blow to the bullpen, as is José Leclerc’s elbow injury. The Rangers lose their expected closer for the time being, as well as a high-leverage arm, in those two. Both have been moved to the 60-day injured list, joining Justin Anderson and Demarcus Evans, who are both still rehabbing from surgeries and weren’t ready for Opening Day. 

Matt Bush and Ian Kennedy -- both non-roster invitees who man the roster -- have earned themselves bullpen spots. Woodward said they will be used in high-leverage situations, much like Hernández and Leclerc would have.

The rest of the bullpen is a collection of arms who can throw a ton of innings with no limit throughout the season as Texas continues to build up the young pitchers to carry more innings.