SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Competitions are heating up across the diamond for the Rangers as Spring Training heads into the home stretch.
After a long winter in which the Rangers added starting-pitching depth and a bit of offense across the field, things are a lot different in 2021 than they were at the end of last season.
A lot of the 26-man roster is still up in the air, but the Rangers are committed to developing their young players and giving them the chance to win positions.
Consider this a working blueprint for more moves to be made.
Catcher (2): Jose Trevino, Jonah Heim
Trevino is the assumed starter thanks to his leadership and defense. He’ll have to adjust to the grind of a full 162-game season, but the spot is his for the taking, especially if his offense continues on an upward trajectory. Heim, who was acquired in the Elvis Andrus-Khris Davis trade, adds additional depth behind Trevino, along with veteran Drew Butera. Sam Huff, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, sustained a left hamstring injury in the first week of Spring Training and will start in the Minors.
First base (1): Ronald Guzmán
President of baseball operations Jon Daniels said the Rangers brought in Nate Lowe specifically to be the starting first baseman, but Guzmán is putting up a fight for the spot. Guzmán is 26 and out of Minor League options, but he's hit .346 with three home runs this spring. Lowe has been slow to heat up, but he looks to be hitting his stride. Following a 2-for-3 days against the Mariners on Saturday, he’s hitting .214 with a home run and eight RBIs in Cactus League play. If Lowe hits to his potential at the plate, he could edge out Guzmán, but the Rangers are still quite a bit away from making that decision.
Second base (1): Nick Solak
The Rangers aren’t shy about their youth movement, but manager Chris Woodward continues to emphasize that spots won’t just be handed to guys just because they’re younger. So, Solak will have to beat out Rougned Odor, who has played second base for Texas since 2014. Solak shuffled a lot between the infield and outfield last season, but the Rangers plan to keep him in one spot in ‘21. Woodward said Solak will need to be more productive than his .268 average and 23 RBIs from 2020, but he’s the best defensive fit for the Rangers at second base.
Third base (1): Rougned Odor
Third base continues to be one of the most interesting positions for the Rangers. The three options -- Odor, Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt -- have all been fighting for roster spots this spring, and all three have shown they should be in the conversion for the starting position. Odor is owed $24.6 million over the next two seasons and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. He’s also never played third base, but he has made several nice stops at the position so far. In the short term, Odor looks to be the best option. But whomever starts there is likely a placeholder for Josh Jung, Texas' No. 1 prospect, who will start the season in the Minors. Jung’s debut may be pushed back due to a left foot fracture, but it still may come in 2021.
Shortstop (1): Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Kiner-Falefa won an American League Gold Glove Award for his impressive defensive abilities at third, then the Rangers made the decision to slide him over to shortstop this offseason, even before trading Andrus. Woodward and the coaching staff are committed to Kiner-Falefa at the position and see him as the best defensive option. He was also solid at the plate in 2020, hitting .280.
Outfield (3): David Dahl, Leody Taveras, Joey Gallo
Gold Glove winner Gallo is obvious here, but the other two spots can go a few ways, depending on the bats. Taveras is not a lock, but the Rangers clearly see him as the center fielder of the future. He’s struggled in the spring, opening the door for Eli White in the conversation, but Woodward is still confident in his abilities. Dahl has come into form both at the plate and in the field following his “graduation” from the prescribed throwing program after offseason shoulder surgery. He’s made a number of starts in left field and has been working on building up his arm strength before Opening Day. He’s improved at the plate, now hitting .346 through 26 at-bats.
Designated hitter (1): Willie Calhoun or Khris Davis
With Willie Calhoun sidelined by a groin strain and looking at potentially starting the season on the injured list, this spot is almost definitely Davis’ to lose. Davis has looked like a former version of himself, like when he whacked 48 homers in 2018. He went 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs against the Reds on Thursday, breaking out of a 2-for-22 spring slump. His batting average now sits at .179 with five RBIs.
Calhoun had injury struggles and seemed poised for a return to his 2019 form, when he hit 21 home runs to go along with 48 RBIs in '20 before his most recent injury.
Bench (3): Charlie Culberson, Nate Lowe, Eli White
White is likely a fourth outfielder, although he's putting up a fight with Taveras for the job in center, and Culberson is perfect for a utility infielder role, with experience at both middle-infield positions and third base. All three are capable of securing a starting spot, and it wouldn't be shocking if any of the three are swapped in at their respective positions.
Starting pitching (5): RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Dane Dunning, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Kohei Arihara, RHP Kyle Cody
Woodward has said that the Rangers plan to “get creative” with the rotation this season following the shortened 2020. The staff scrapped the six-man-rotation idea, but will instead have two sets of “tandem” starter roles, where two guys combine for what would normally be a set amount of pitchers for one pitcher. Woodward said much of how the Rangers deal with the tandem roles will be matchup based.
Gibson, Arihara and Foltynewicz are more or less locked in as traditional starters, but after that it’ll be a bit of a tossup. Dunning and Cody are solid additions for those tandem roles, mostly because they are both building up to a regular amount of innings following Tommy John surgeries in 2019 and the shortened '20 season.
Taylor Hearn is one of the more talented young starters on the 40-man roster, but he also hasn’t pitched a ton of innings at the Major League level. Both Hearn and Cody have performed well so far this Spring, but they’ll need to keep it up to be considered for the starting rotation. Yang pitched 172 1/3 innings in Korea last year and, if nothing else, will be able to provide length for the Rangers, whether that’s out of the bullpen or as a starter.
Bullpen (8): RHP José Leclerc, LHP Joely Rodríguez, LHP Brett Martin, LHP Hyeon-jong Yang, RHP Jordan Lyles, LHP Wes Benjamin, LHP Kolby Allard, RHP Josh Sborz
Righty Jonathan Hernández’s UCL injury is a big blow to the bullpen, as the Rangers lose their expected closer for the time being. Leclerc could slide into the closer's role, as could non-roster righty Hunter Wood, but there are still things to figure out. Add that to both righties Justin Anderson and Demarcus Evans, who are both still rehabbing from surgeries and won’t be ready for Opening Day. Benjamin has no inning restriction and could put in tons of innings as part of one of those tandem roles or as a bullpen arm. Joely Rodríguez could still make the squad, but he hasn’t been able to show much in camp due to an ankle injury.