Inbox: How will Gray's return help pitching staff?

Texas beat writer Kennedi Landry answers fans' questions

April 18th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- Outside expectations were not high coming into 2022 for the Rangers, but a 2-7 start is not at all what anybody within the organization expected or wanted. 

Though the offense is obviously improved, with a team OPS in the top-15 instead of the bottom two like last year, there are still lots of questions facing the Rangers just nine games into the season.

Here’s the first Inbox of the 2022 season:

Which new guy do you see making the most impact through this year? -- @WritingRangers on Twitter

The middle-infield duo of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien is the obvious answer, but I think starting pitcher Jon Gray will end up with a bigger impact down the stretch than originally expected. 

The offense is good, up and down the line. Seager and Semien are just parts of that. The pitching, on the other hand, has not been. The Rangers have the worst ERA in all of baseball at 6.19 with an opponent batting average of .292. Gray made only one start, on Opening Day, before going on the injured list with a blister on his right middle finger, but it’s clear that the Rangers need stability and length if they're going to succeed at all. Both are things a veteran starter like Gray can provide for a young and inexperienced pitching staff. 

Don’t you think we would be better off having kept [Lance] Lynn/[Kyle] Gibson and extending them instead of the return they got? -- @joshuacall96 on Twitter

While we’re on the topic of the pitching staff, this was certain to come up. And hindsight is 20/20. Yeah, maybe they should’ve extended both All-Star pitchers, but the Rangers were very clearly rebuilding at the time of both trades and couldn’t have expected such a large turnaround in offensive production between 2021 and ‘22 to where the pitching would make that much of a difference. Those trades were almost a no-brainers at the time, I think it’s a disservice to act like they weren't.  

Considering both were dealt for young pitchers in Dane Dunning (Lynn trade) and Spencer Howard (Gibson) , we won’t truly know if the trades were worth it until we see them develop a bit more. This year will be important for Dunning to prove himself as a staple in the rotation and for Howard to show he can stick in the big leagues at all.

When do you expect the first pitching call up from the farm? Starting or bullpen? -- @asrobertson12 on Twitter

Who are the young bullpen arms in the farm system we should be looking at that will help this Rangers’ team in the next couple years? -- @AntWon22 on Twitter

I wouldn't expect a starter callup soon unless there's an injury, but a reliever could happen as soon as the next homestand if the bullpen keeps struggling. As to whom that might be, my first answer was going to be Nick Snyder, who was called up earlier this week, albeit because Spencer Howard went on the IL with a blister. Elsewhere in the bullpen, there are a number of options. Jake Latz is the most obvious, having already made one big league appearance last season.

It also remains a possibility that one or both of A.J. Alexy and Glenn Otto could be more serviceable out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation at the big league level. Especially with a number of elite pitching prospects coming behind them like Cole Winn (Rangers’ No.3 prospect), Jack Leiter (No. 1), Owen White (No. 8) and Ricky Vanasco (No. 14).

Down the road, 2021 sixth rounder Chase Lee impressed in big league Spring Training and has logged two saves and no runs with Double-A Frisco so far this season. Hever Bueno is a Triple-A Round Rock reliever who’s only allowed two runs in six innings so far, and Daniel Robert is another Round Rock starter who has gotten high praise from the coaching staff and could easily transition to the bullpen if needed.

However bleak the pitching staff may seem right now, the Rangers are hoping to be set for years down the road.

How far down the list is Cole Winn from being a starting pitcher callup? Behind Alexy and Otto or is it more time related? -- aaron2910 on Twitter

I would think Winn is just behind the two of them. Whether they end up in the rotation or not, Winn would have to be the next callup after that, but I wouldn’t expect it prior.

Winn, the club’s No. 3-ranked prospect, has logged just 16 total innings in Triple-A between the end of 2021 and the start of this season. He no doubt just needs to get consistent innings, but he’s ahead of guys like Round Rock teammate Yerry Rodriguez and Double-A Frisco pitchers Zak Kent and Cody Bradford.

I think 2022 is Winn’s year, but he is most likely a post-All-Star break callup barring some unforeseen circumstances.

Do you think Jung comes straight to the majors to DH once he's back from his injury? -- @AkashP0207 on Twitter

What happens to Andy Ibañez if Jung fulfills the prophecy of being the new franchise 3B? -- @Preston_CT on twitter

I grouped the two Josh Jung related questions together because I feel like they’re intertwined. Jung, the Rangers’ No.2 overall and top hitting prospect, injured his shoulder heading into Minor League camp and is projected to be out until at least August.

Unless he’s fully, 1000% healthy and absolutely raking in Round Rock, I wouldn’t expect to see him in the big leagues this season.

Next year will be interesting. I would be shocked if Jung wasn’t the Opening Day third baseman in 2023, so my thinking is that Ibañez is relegated to a utility role (he’s able to be first, second and third) in the same way Charlie Culberson is being used right now. He’s valuable off the bench and has a solid enough bat to be useful in certain situations.

If that doesn’t work, I can see the Rangers getting a solid return in a trade for Ibañez, who again has a quality bat and has made lots of defensive improvements in the last year.