Inbox: Will an ace emerge for Rangers?

Beat reporter Kennedi Landry answers questions from fans

April 8th, 2021

One week and two series down for the Rangers in the 2021 season, and things are off to a solid start. With a 3-3 record before facing the Padres to continue the home stand, Texas still has a couple of things to work through.

So this seems like a perfect time for an Inbox.

Who’s the team's ace on the mound?
-- Kenny M., via Twitter

I’m not sure the Rangers have a set-in-stone ace yet. Though looked like the best pitcher on the team throughout the first two series, was close behind. bounced back from his Opening Day start with a six-inning scoreless outing against the Blue Jays. If Gibson plays to his ceiling, he could hang onto that No. 1 position in the rotation.

Another pitcher I’ve been really high on and who also delivered in his debut is . The Rangers’ No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline was the main return in the Lance Lynn trade and has such potential that I believe he’ll be the ace on this staff at some point in his career. It won’t be this year, mostly because he’s working as a tandem starter to protect his arm in the long term, but his Rangers debut -- five innings, three hits, six strikeouts, no runs or walks against the Blue Jays -- was very encouraging.

Is Ian Kennedy expected to assume the closer role? Who are the potential bullpen callups if our current relievers continue to struggle?
-- Parker J., via Twitter

Ian Kennedy and Matt Bush are pretty securely the eighth- and ninth-innings relievers. Kennedy notched saves in both wins over the Blue Jays. He’s only pitched three total innings so far this season, giving up one earned run in the Royals series. I would expect to continue seeing him in the ninth inning of close games.

In terms of relievers who could make the jump, Brett Martin could be back as soon as this weekend. He opened the season on the 10-day injured list with a back injury, but president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said Martin pitched in the alternate site game against the Astros on Tuesday. He went one inning with three strikeouts in the Rangers’ loss.

Joely Rodríguez is also close to being ready from what Daniels said on Zoom, though not as soon as Martin. He also started the season on the 10-day IL and continues to progress from a sprained ankle that kept him sidelined for most of the spring.

Korean pitcher Hyeon-jong Yang, who also pitched at the alternate site earlier this week -- two innings, no runs and three strikeouts --could be a callup candidate if the current bullpen pieces struggle for too long.

Does Leody look like he’s out of his league? Or you think it’s just minor adjustments?
-- @RupertMLB, via Twitter

Outfielder Leody Taveras is 2-for-19 at the plate six games into the season. Manager Chris Woodward said he’s not worried about Taveras in the long term, but we saw him struggle like this in the spring, too, which is why Isiah Kiner-Falefa is batting leadoff right now.

“All of our guys are, you know, they don't have a ton of experience in the big leagues, so these are all things that we got to kind of navigate through while keeping an eye on them,” Woodward said on Wednesday. “Evaluating these guys to see if they can handle it and get themselves out of it. Like Leo, I don't think Leo has ever struggled like he feels like he is right now. It's good for these young guys to have to endure this and figure out how to get out of it.”

Taveras’ walk during the Rangers’ three-run fourth inning against the Royals was vital in clinching that victory. I think that he just needs to settle in at the plate and try not to force things as we get deeper into the season.

Do teams not care about the order of handedness in the lineup anymore in this the age of sabermetrics? [For Tuesday’s game, Nos.] 2-3-4 are all lefties in the starting lineup. Wouldn’t alternating L-R-L-R be better when there’s a three-batter minimum for pitchers?
-- @WoolCorp, via Twitter

I think it matters, but Woodward has pointed out that he believes those left-handed hitters -- David Dahl, Joey Gallo and Nate Lowe -- all hit left- and right-handed hitters well enough for it to not be a concern. But that’s also why he’s working so hard to get Nick Solak settled into batting in the No. 4 spot.

It’s undeniable that the three best hitters at this point -- outside of Kiner-Falefa, who is vital at the leadoff spot -- are those three lefties. Getting protection for Gallo in Dahl and Lowe was clearly an offseason priority, and it’s worked out well so far. But yes, I think you’ll see Lowe and Solak alternate between the Nos. 4 and 5 spots throughout the first month or so of the season.

Do you think Texas will load up on college pitchers this Draft? Just wondering, because most of the top talent are skill players. Also, if the Rangers don't draft a Vandy pitcher this year at No. 2, can I cry?
-- Mickey D., via email

I’ve touched on this in a couple of Inboxes, but that first pick at No. 2 overall in this year’s Draft has to be one of those Vanderbilt pitchers. Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker are both proving just two weeks into SEC play why they’re considered Top 10 talent in this year’s Draft.

The Rangers have typically focused on high school talent in the last decade, despite the Justin Foscue pick in the first round in 2020. I don't think they’ll load up on college pitchers per se, but I would expect two or three polished college arms to add to the farm system.