Offense, 'pen emerging as Texas' strengths
4 takeaways from past week at Rangers' Spring Training camp
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are less than two weeks out from Opening Day and are entering the 2022 season with an overhauled lineup and roster.
After a week and a half of Spring Training games, Texas is getting acclimated with new additions on the field -- like Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Mitch Garver -- and off of it, such as offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker and hitting coach Tim Hyers.
Here are four takeaways from another week of Cactus League play following the Rangers’ 13-0 win over the D-backs at Surprise Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The offense is for real
Yes, it’s Spring Training. And yes, balls fly in Arizona. But it’s hard to ignore the Rangers' bolstered offense through nine Cactus League games. Texas leads all MLB teams this spring in runs scored (81), OPS (.984) and slugging percentage (.596), while outscoring opponents, 81-49. The Rangers are also second in home runs (21) in the Cactus League.
Although it's only Spring Training, it’s already a step up for an offense that last season ranked last in MLB in OPS (.669) and on-base percentage (.294) and 29th in batting average (.232).
Manager Chris Woodward acknowledged that Spring Training stats sometimes need to be taken with a grain of salt, while also pointing out that the entire offensive process looks better across the board. Ecker and Hyers put together a game plan that has been translating throughout the organization.
“It’s decision making and making good swings,” Woodward said. “It’s the swings and the swings at strikes that we’re looking for. That’s what shows up in April when we get in a real game. Things change when we get out of Arizona, but we're making good decisions. We're going in with a game plan to make those decisions.”
Bullpen a strength
All eyes have been on the Rangers’ rotation and the competition for the final spot, but the bullpen may sneakily be the club’s greatest strength this season.
“It probably doesn't get a lot of credit, just because there's a lot of youth and inexperience,” Woodward said. “But I think with the arms we have, the guys are starting to understand their stuff and our ability to put them in good positions.”
Veteran right-hander Garrett Richards, who threw one inning against the Royals in a “B” game on Sunday, is likely to be a middle-relief arm, and Brett Martin, Dennis Santana and Josh Sborz will continue in similar roles.
When it comes to high-leverage situations, Texas has a number of options. Joe Barlow posted a 1.55 ERA and went 11-for-12 in save situations as a rookie last season, but Woodward said he doesn’t want to put the right-hander back in the closer's role right away with expectations raised for the club in 2022. Spencer Patton could slide into that role, or even a non-roster veteran pitcher like Matt Bush or Greg Hollard, each of whom has closing experience.
Both pitched in the Rangers' win on Sunday. Holland tossed a clean inning with one strikeout, and Bush allowed one hit in a scoreless frame.
“I mean, I think we were a pretty good bright spot in the bullpen last year,” Patton said. “I thought we did pretty well for as young and inexperienced as we were at that time, especially late in the season. So I think this bullpen could be really good the longer they have to be more experienced in the big leagues and get more innings under their belts.”
White will be ready for Opening Day, but will he make roster?
Eli White’s rehab from right UCL surgery went quicker than expected, as he was cleared for all baseball activity two weeks before his scheduled date. He was originally expected to start the season on the 10-day injured list, but he's now playing consistently on both sides of the ball.
When healthy, White is one of the best defensive outfielders in the Rangers’ organization, but his offense has been the only speed bump in his development at the big league level. So far this spring, he’s hit .333/.385/.917 with two home runs through four Cactus League games while showcasing a reworked swing.
Now that White is back on both sides of the field, his chance to make the Opening Day roster -- most likely as a fourth outfielder -- increases tremendously. He’ll have to hit to earn it, but he’s proved it so far in camp. In Sunday's win, he went 1-for-3 with a third-inning leadoff single.
“His first at-bat was really good,” Woodward said. “It was a 2-0 fastball he drove. The other at-bats, he took some decent swings, but punched out a couple of times. But overall, his work has been better and his at-bat quality has been pretty good. He’s just got to maintain that.”
Smith may push the third-base matter
Josh H. Smith won’t be on the Opening Day roster, as he was one of seven Rangers players reassigned to Minor League camp on Sunday. But the club's No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline could press matters at third base this season.
Andy Ibáñez has all but been confirmed to be the Opening Day third baseman, but things happen. Midseason slumps and injuries could always occur, opening roster spots.
While it was always a long shot for Smith to make the Opening Day roster, he went 6-for-9 with three walks, two home runs and five RBIs in Cactus League play to at least make the Rangers’ staff think about the decision.
Smith, who was one of four players the Rangers got in return for Joey Gallo from the Yankees at the 2021 Trade Deadline, has yet to play above Double-A, but he will play all over the infield and in center field with Triple-A Round Rock to start 2022.
“He fits our system, just in everything that he does,” Woodward said. “He fits our offensive system in the way that Donnie and Tim want it to run. He’s an unbelievable game-planner, he's well prepared. He's obviously got elite talent.”