SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez has formidable challenges ahead of him.First of all, Gonzalez's next outing is Thursday against Team Venezuela and a lineup that could include Jose Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez and Odubel Herrera. He's also trying to win a spot in the Rangers' rotation.Finally,
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez has formidable challenges ahead of him.
First of all, Gonzalez's next outing is Thursday against Team Venezuela and a lineup that could include Jose Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez and Odubel Herrera. He's also trying to win a spot in the Rangers' rotation.
Finally, Gonzalez is also trying to help show Texas can draft, develop, promote and finish off young pitching from its own system. That may be the most daunting challenge of all.
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It could also be the most important story of Spring Training and 2017 for an organization with the avowed goal of developing starting pitching from within.
"I'm going to keep attacking the strike zone," Gonzalez said. "Keep doing the same thing, fill up the zone and get them in a swing mode."
A day of reckoning awaits the Rangers. Their top six starting pitchers in camp are eligible for free agency within the next two years.
Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross can all be free agents after this season. Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin are eligible after the 2018 season. Texas does have an option for Hamels in '19 and Perez for the next three seasons.
Still, the Rangers need to either start developing their own starting pitching or be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of money to fill the rotation. That's why Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado are crucial to the club's immediate future.
"They told me I have a chance to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to make that decision as tough as I can for whoever they chose."
Trades over the past two years have depleted Texas' starting pitching depth in the farm system. The Rangers have given up five top pitching prospects in deals for Hamels, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Gonzalez, Martinez, Mendez and Jurado are the best of what's left.
Gonzalez is prominent among that group because he was Texas' No. 1 Draft pick in 2013. Pushed quickly to the big leagues, he is 4-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 13 starts and four relief appearances with the Rangers while being shuttled between Triple-A Round Rock and Arlington.
The past is prologue. Gonzalez is off to a strong start this spring, allowing one run in five innings in his first two outings. He has struck out five without a walk, which is significant considering he has walked 41 and struck out 37 in 77 1/3 Major League innings. Gonzalez is throwing his sinker for strikes and mixing in both the curve and changeup.
The bid for the fifth-starter spot may be irrelevant. Whether in the big leagues or Triple-A, Gonzalez needs to re-establish himself as a relative part of Texas' immediate future.
The Rangers' day of reckoning is approaching.
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.