Rangers seek answers to 3 big questions
Fielder's ability to return to form, competition for left-field job among Texas' spring storylines
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Today, it became official. Rangers pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.
The Rangers are a day or two behind many other clubs as far as their reporting date, but that is a technicality. Almost all of their pitchers and catchers were already here working out at their complex.
"It shows we are ready to go," pitcher Derek Holland said. "Everybody is motivated and wanting to get started. Baseball is finally here. It's nice weather, too."
The temperatures were in the low 60s with partly cloudy skies when the Rangers went through their informal morning workout on Thursday. The high for the day was supposed to be 85. That's the kind of weather they can expect for the next 10 days, with no rain or cold temperatures in the forecast.
The complex also helps draw players early. This is the Rangers' 13th season in Surprise and the facility is still one of the best in Arizona, well-maintained by the city.
"We came here in '03, my first year," pitcher Colby Lewis said. "They have definitely left it really nice. They have done some small upgrades, and they're talking about doing some more."
Here is a reminder of the three big questions for the Rangers going into Spring Training.
1. Is Prince Fielder back to his old self?
This is the question that outweighs all others. Fielder played in just 42 games last season before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. He hit .247 with three home runs, 16 RBIs and a .360 slugging percentage. Fielder's numbers in general have declined steadily for four straight years. Texas has him under contract for six more years. The hope is the surgery addressed all underlying causes for the decline.
2. Who will be the fifth starter?
The Rangers acquired left-hander Ross Detwiler from the Nationals with the intent of letting him be a starting pitcher again. He goes into camp as the leading candidate for a spot behind Holland, Yu Darvish, Yovani Gallardo and Lewis. But Detwiler will get competition from right-handers Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, Anthony Ranaudo and Lisalverto Bonilla. If Tepesch masters a changeup, he could be tough competition. Martinez and Bonilla both have relief experience, so they could still make the team even if they're not in the rotation.
3. Who will play left field?
There are actually three prizes in this competition. The gold medal is left field, the silver medal is making the team as the fourth outfielder, while the bronze medal is a job as a reserve utility player that could include being a right-handed platoon with Mitch Moreland at designated hitter.
There are 11 candidates for these roles, with a wide variety of experience and resumes. There are the holdovers from last year: Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski and Michael Choice. All are right-handed hitters.
There are two non-roster veterans, right-handed-swinging Ryan Ludwick and lefty Nate Schierholtz. There are two former big-time prospects in lefty Carlos Peguero and righty Kyle Blanks. There are two speed guys in Delino DeShields -- a Rule 5 Draft pick -- and Antoan Richardson.
There is super underdog Jared Hoying, a lefty. There is also Moreland, who is the likely DH, but could also play some outfield.
There are numerous combinations that could be put together. Rua figures into many of them because of his versatility in being able to play the infield.