Here's how Rangers set their Opening Day roster
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Thanks to a flurry of free agency moves and trades, the Rangers' starting lineup is almost set in stone at this point, including the top three hitters in Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Mitch Garver.
But the Rangers’ depth turned into the club's biggest challenge down the stretch in camp. One name left off the roster due to the crunch was Joe McCarthy, who had a .571 batting average and 2.041 OPS in 10 Spring Training games.
MLB announced last week clubs will be allowed to start the season with 28-man rosters (29 for doubleheaders). However, rosters will revert to 26 players with a 13-pitcher maximum on May 2. That made some bullpen decisions for Texas easier, but the rest of the bench came down to a roster crunch. There is no limit on the amount of pitchers a team may carry, so the Rangers went with 15 due to the lack of build up with a shortened Spring Training.
With José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández continuing to recover from Tommy John surgery that caused them to miss the entire 2021 season, the Rangers bullpen looks to get even better midway through the season.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward emphasized that while some guys didn’t make the roster due to a roster crunch, the club has a lot more depth than in previous years and is confident in whoever get a callup due to injury or performance reasons.
“Depth in all aspects is critical, but especially on the pitching side,” Woodward said. “These guys [in Triple-A] have really good arms and so the one who's pitching the best thing that we feel like is ready, we're going to need starters, we're going to need relievers. That’s just the way that this game goes. When you have quality that can step in and fill those shoes, sometimes even better, it just makes everybody better.”
Here is a position-by-position look at how the Rangers stack up on Opening Day:
Catchers (2): Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim
The Rangers traded for Garver to be their starting catcher. That much is obvious. The battle for backup catcher between Jonah Heim and Jose Trevino came down to the wire, but Texas ultimately shipped Trevino off to the Yankees in return for Albert Abreu and Minor Leaguer Robby Ahlstrom. Heim, like Trevino, was one of the best defensive and framing catchers in the game last year. Even so, he’ll need to bring more production at the plate with the Rangers' depth at the position throughout the farm system.
First base (1): Nathaniel Lowe
After spending last spring in a competition with Ronald Guzmán, Lowe enters 2022 as the club’s solidified first baseman. He had a solid first full year in the big leagues, but Woodward hopes and expects him to take a step forward offensively. His defense, while not a liability, is also a point of improvement going into 2022.
Second base (1): Marcus Semien
The Rangers no doubt upgraded mightily at second base by signing Semien to a seven-year deal back in December. In 2021, Semien won a Gold Glove and finished third in American League MVP voting in his first year playing the position.
Third base (1): Andy Ibáñez
With top hitting prospect Josh Jung out following shoulder surgery, Woodward said he’s giving Ibáñez some “runway” at third base to start the season. He’ll still have to earn it, but if he can hit consistently and be serviceable on defense, there is no reason he shouldn’t hold down the position.
Shortstop (1): Corey Seager
The Rangers are paying Seager $325 million to play shortstop for the next 10 years, so he’ll do exactly that starting in 2022. While he’s not the best defensive shortstop in MLB, he’s put in a lot of work in camp and no doubt bolsters the offensive production at the position.
Outfield (3): Kole Calhoun, Adolis García, Brad Miller
García was the Rangers' breakout player in 2021, earning an All-Star appearance and finishing fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. While an elite right fielder, García is the best option of the three to play center until Eli White or Leody Taveras is ready. Calhoun, who signed a one-year deal with the Rangers, is best suited defensively at a corner spot. Miller isn’t as defensively advanced as the other two, but had a .842 OPS against right-handed pitching in '21 and will most likely platoon in left field with someone Nick Solak.
Designated hitter (1): Willie Calhoun
If Calhoun can rake like he did in 2019 -- his most productive big league season with a .269/.323/.524 slash line -- then this is a no-brainer. But his last two seasons have been marred by injuries and he’ll need to prove that he can stick around long term. He’s had a solid spring so far, going 4-for-13 with two doubles and three RBIs.
Utility (3): Nick Solak, Eli White, Charlie Culberson
Solak is set to platoon with Miller in left field, with Eli White beating out Jake Marisnick for the fourth outfielder spot. It wasn't certain that White would be ready for Opening Day, but the training staff has cleared him for field work earlier than expected. He’s one of the Rangers’ best defensive outfielders and could slide into the starting lineup if his new swing is the real deal. Solak was the Opening Day second baseman in 2021, but struggled offensively throughout the season. He’ll more likely platoon with Miller in left field.
The final bench spot came down to Culberson and Matt Carpenter, but with how Culberson hits lefties (.346/.376/.556 slash line in 2021) and his versatility in the field, he’s a valuable asset off the bench.
Starting pitching (5): Jon Gray, Martín Pérez, Taylor Hearn, Dane Dunning, Spencer Howard
Texas brought in veterans like Gray and Pérez to anchor the rotation alongside young pitchers like Dunning and Hearn, but that last rotation spot was filled with question marks all spring. Four young pitchers -- two of which are still prospects -- were competing all camp for that last rotation spot: Howard, Kolby Allard, A.J. Alexy and Glenn Otto. Howard came out on top, with Allard moving to a multi-inning role out of the bullpen.
In camp, Howard has looked like a former version of himself and feels more comfortable on the mound. If he can be consistent, he’ll prove why trading for him at the 2021 Trade Deadline was worth it. Otto and Alexy will head to Triple-A Round Rock to start the season and get a bit more polishing while staying ready if a starter goes down with injury.
Bullpen (10): Brett Martin, Kolby Allard, Josh Sborz, Garrett Richards, Joe Barlow, John King, Dennis Santana, Matt Bush, Greg Holland, Brock Burke, Albert Abreu
The final bullpen spots ultimately went to MLB veterans Matt Bush and Greg Holland, with Garrett Richards opening the season on the injured list with a blister and Spencer Patton getting optioned to Triple-A Round Rock. Burke was one surprise addition. A lefty who made his MLB debut in 2019, Burke missed all of ‘20 after shoulder surgery. He spent all of ‘21 with Triple-A Round Rock, starting 20 games with a 5.68 ERA.
Abreu was one of two pitchers the Rangers got in return from the Yankees in the trade for Jose Trevino. He figures to be a multi-inning option out of the bullpen.
The Rangers haven’t named a closer yet, but Holland, Bush, Barlow and Sborz could all be possibilities. Barlow went 11-for-12 in save opportunities last season. Holland has experience as a closer and as recently as 2020 was thriving in that role. That year with Kansas City, he went 3-0 with six saves and a 1.91 ERA. He posted a 4.85 ERA over 55 2/3 innings in ‘21. Bush also has experience in high-leverage situations, most notably posting a 2.48 ERA over 61 2/3 innings of relief for a Rangers team that had the best record in the American League in 2016.