3 big questions for Rangers with spring near

February 11th, 2021

With less than a week to go until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, the Rangers still have questions across the field ahead of the 2021 season.

In his first season as Texas’ general manager, Chris Young traded for outfielder and pitcher while signing pitchers and Kohei Arihara, hoping to add a mix of experience to a young roster.

Manager Chris Woodward said the organization is focused on 2022 and beyond, but the club is still prepared to put a good product on the field this season.

“We want a group of young players -- obviously, we have some older guys as well -- that are going to set the tone,” Woodward said. “That's what we want. That's what we want from a cultural standpoint, to kind of move this thing forward, not only only this year, but as I said, into the future.”

Competition across the field
Outside of at shortstop and in right field, almost every position is up for grabs in Spring Training. Those two players have solidified their positions with Gold Glove Awards in 2020 -- though Kiner-Falefa’s win was at third base -- and the Rangers want to give everybody the chance to earn a starting spot as well.

The Rangers want to create a healthy and highly competitive culture within the organization's youth movement. This spring is the beginning of that.

President of baseball operations Jon Daniels said that the performances in camp won’t be the be-all, end-all for those competitions, though.

“There's a lot more to it as far as the individual improvement we see from guys, the work that they're putting in, their commitment to reaching the next step and then their overall buy-in,” Daniels said. “It’s competitive, but it's not exclusively stat-based.”

at catcher is also one of the more locked-in positions, as he moves to be the everyday catcher in 2021. The depth behind him includes No. 2 prospect Sam Huff, who is expected to start the season in the Minors, and the recently acquired .

“I'd love to come in and be the guy and be the No. 1 guy, but we just don't know what the team has in store for us,” Heim said. “I'm just going to go into Spring Training, showing what I can do behind the plate and offensively, and try to win a job that way. And if I win the job, great. If I don't, then I'll just keep working harder.”

Too many outfielders, not enough spots
Gallo in right field is a lock. But there’s a plethora of other options for Woodward to pick from for the other two positions.

The Rangers acquired Davis in a five-player trade with the A’s on Feb. 6 and signed free agent on Dec. 15, both to compete for starting spots. But and are also expected to figure their way into the lineup at some point.

Woodward said Dahl, Taveras and Gallo will make a stunning defensive outfield, but getting Calhoun and Davis at-bats will be the hard part in that situation. Both had down years in 2020, as Calhoun struggled with injuries and Davis worked to make adjustments throughout the season.

Hitting left-handed pitching will also be an emphasis for whoever gets the start in the outfield. Woodward said he challenged Calhoun to be able to play the outfield instead of DH if it comes down to that.

“Obviously, Willie we love, and he's been here,” Woodward said. “Khris Davis, we know what he can do with the bat in his hand, so to get these guys at-bats, it's gonna be a little bit on them.

“When it comes to it, these solutions will present themselves, I think, as we get through Spring Training. These guys will earn it, and the solutions will kind of appear by the way they perform.”

What does the rotation look like after offseason shakeups?
The starting rotation looks a lot different than it did just a year ago, when Corey Kluber and Lance Lynn were getting starts on the mound on Opening Weekend.

Woodward said righties , Foltynewicz and Arihara are more or less locked in as starters, and the rest will fall in behind them. and Dunning both have innings under their belt to contribute in the rotation, too.

The rotation struggled mightily in 2020, with posting the only sub-2 ERA (1.59). Lynn -- the club's top pitcher with a team-leading 2.2 bWAR -- was traded in the offseason for Dunning. Dunning made his Major League debut on Aug. 19 and posted a 3.97 ERA over 34 innings.

Gibson and Lyles, the two returning starters with the most innings pitched in 2020, had ERAs of 5.35 and 7.02, respectively. Woodward said he expects with Gibson at the top of the rotation this season and that they expect him to bounce back.

“Both guys, honestly, have done a ton to understand what went wrong and what they have to do to be good this year,” Woodward said. “I think our pitching coach did a really good job of communicating those ideas to them. Both were very open and honest about what they have to do to improve and their work in the offseason. I was really impressed with the communication.”