Rangers players reported for their first full-squad workout on Monday feeling confident heading into the 2021 season. Manager Chris Woodward has a full team Zoom scheduled for Sunday to mark the start of Spring Training.
“The No. 1 thing for me is obviously the culture,” Woodward said about his message to the team. “So much depends on the culture and creating the mindset, the mentality that we need moving forward. We've tried to do it for two years, and we've got a ton of buy-in to that. But culture is one thing that's organic. We have a tremendous group of players here in this camp.”
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is one of the most important players for the Rangers heading into this year’s camp. Kiner-Falefa said he’s spent the last few years “faking his confidence” as a utility infielder for the Rangers.
Now, coming into his first Spring Training as the starting shortstop, he doesn’t have to fake the confidence anymore.
“I had to show the guys that I could [play other positions] and I was willing to do it,” Kiner-Falefa said. “But then, back in my mind, I knew I was always a shortstop. Now that I'm back here, I feel like I could express myself and do what I need to do, because I'm confident in the product and what I can do out there as well.”
Being a leader in the infield now that longtime shortstop Elvis Andrus has been traded to Oakland, Kiner-Falefa has taken the challenge head on. Woodward said that Kiner-Falefa is exactly the type of guy he wants to build a culture around within the organization.
“He's our most in-tune player on the field; he's our most dedicated on a pitch-by-pitch basis,” Woodward said. “That's what you want your shortstop to be, and I think that's what he represents. Obviously, he's gonna take the challenge.”
As Woodward -- in his third season as Rangers manager -- and first-year general manager Chris Young try to build a roster in Spring Training, they continue to emphasize the competition across the field, whether the player is a veteran or a rookie.
The additions of multiple veteran pitchers -- like Ian Kennedy and Josh Sborz -- who are expected to compete for bullpen spots illustrates that point perfectly.
“[Roster management] is a complex puzzle,” Young said. “I think that we've seen a lot of good things from our roster guys, and we certainly have some very good non-roster guys who are in and have a lot to prove. I think it's great to have competition. Over the course of the season, we're going to need as much depth as possible. I think every team will.”
• Young gave a number of injury updates on Tuesday, including a significant development for Rangers No. 2 prospect Sam Huff. The 23-year-old catcher suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain running the bases over the weekend. Young said Huff is rehabbing and will be reevaluated in two weeks after a follow-up MRI exam.
Huff will start the 2021 season in Triple-A after making his MLB debut last year. Woodward said his setback doesn’t affect their timeline for calling Huff back to the big leagues, and Young emphasized that the club won’t rush him back to the field.
Huff’s injury moreso just minimizes the number of at-bats he’ll get before the Minor League season begins in April.
“We want to be very careful here,” Young said. “I think Sam has a great future ahead of him, and we want to make sure that we rehab this and get it 100 percent fully right. When Sam is right and healthy, he'll be a contributing member of our organization.”
• Outfielder David Dahl is still rehabbing from right-shoulder surgery he underwent in the offseason. Young said Dahl is continuing to progress well and is in the final stages of the throwing program. He has no hitting restrictions.
• Three Rangers pitchers are also progressing with injuries. Demarcus Evans is continuing to rehab a right lat strain, but he will not be ready to open the season. Young said Evans was progressing well through his throwing program.
Both Jharel Cotton and Joely Rodríguez are taking it slow to start camp. Cotton experienced arm soreness during his first few throwing sessions and is behind the other pitchers, while Rodríguez is continuing to work through an ankle sprain that delayed his offseason throwing program. Neither has thrown off the mound yet.