Mailbag: What can Leiter do to get the call in '24?

March 3rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With about a month left until Opening Day, it’s time for a Rangers inbox to answer your questions as the club prepares for its title defense.

What does [Jack] Leiter have to do this year to get the call? -- @DannySamet

The No. 1 thing Leiter needs to do is throw strikes. What’s gotten him into trouble the most throughout his professional career is an inability to throw quality strikes, as his walk rate increased and he got hit hard. If his command and control get reined in -- like they seemed to when he returned from the Developmental List last summer -- then he may hopefully be able to return to his college form, where he was one of the best pitchers in the game at Vanderbilt.

Leiter tweaked his mechanics while on the Developmental List, and it yielded positive results in a small sample size. He’ll have to do more of that if he wants to make this his debut in 2024.

"What we want Jack to do is come in here and be himself," manager Bruce Bochy said earlier in camp. "Just let his natural talent surface. We're not looking for him to change anything. It's more important for him to just go out there and compete and be himself."

With [Max] Scherzer, [Jacob] deGrom and [Tyler] Mahle hitting the 60 day IL, that will open three 40-man spots. Are there 3 NRIs you can see taking those spots? -- @KevinParsley75

There are a number of ways this could end up going, including Wyatt Langford hitting his way to the Opening Day roster, but I'm going to go a little bit off the beaten path and say a trio of relievers may end up making the team: Danny Duffy, Diego Castillo and Adrian Sampson.

Duffy and Sampson can both start and relieve, and Bochy has said that he would like to have two long-relief options out of the bullpen if possible. The Rangers are obviously in need of starting-pitching depth, and both those guys could slot into the rotation if necessary as well.

Castillo has also thrown well in his two Cactus League appearances as he looks to re-establish himself as a quality big league reliever. If he’s anywhere close to his 2022 form, when he posted a 3.64 ERA and went 7-for-7 on save opportunities with the Mariners, then he may be a significant boost to the Rangers’ bullpen.

Will they sign a true DH before opening day? Who besides [Ezequiel] Duran will DH? Will Foscue make the Opening Day roster, and be one of the DHs? -- @stevedenney

I do not foresee the Rangers signing a pure designated hitter before Opening Day. Bochy seems like he would prefer to rotate guys in and out of that role, depending on the health of stars like Adolis García and Corey Seager, who could always use DH days. In the time around Opening Day, when the entire lineup would hopefully be healthy, I would expect either Duran or Justin Foscue to slide into the role, and obviously Langford can still do enough to make the roster.

In my most recent roster projection, I had Foscue making the Opening Day squad. At this point in camp, I don’t think that changes. But it wouldn’t shock me if Langford did as well, and if somebody like utilityman Josh Smith got left off the roster.

Player(s) you’ve been the most impressed with this spring? -- @Tyler_Lennon

I wrote about Marc Church’s strange and fun path to pitching earlier this week, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his performance in Cactus League games. He’s got three scoreless innings so far, and while he’s walked a few batters, he’s getting good swing and miss on the fastball-slider combo while also impressing the coaching staff.

Andrew Knizner is another guy who has impressed me more than expected, and I believe his signing went a bit under the radar. Nathan Eovaldi praised Knizner’s game-calling behind the plate after facing the Brewers earlier in the week. The bat has also played well against quality pitchers. Knizner will be a solid backup to Jonah Heim behind the plate this season.

How has Langford handled his 1-for-10 start in the spring? Has it changed his approach or is he just working through some things? -- @NoelC_Adam

This question was asked on Thursday, and how quickly things change. Since this question was posed, Langford has hit three home runs in two games, moving his Cactus League slash line to .353/.450/.882.

But in all seriousness, the Rangers' coaches and Langford were never worried about a bit of a slow start to the 22-year-old's first Spring Training. Langford has got a good head on his shoulders and doesn’t get phased by a couple of 0-fers.