Projecting the Rangers' 2023 Opening Day roster
Thanks to a very active free agency market, the Rangers have a fully set rotation and lineup, perhaps for the first time in years. This winter, Texas faced its biggest problem headfirst by adding four starting pitchers to compete for rotation spots, including an ace in Jacob deGrom.
Combine that with last year's additions -- via trade and free agency -- of Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Mitch Garver and Brad Miller -- and the Rangers are in a good place going forward.
“You look at what we've done yet, the improvements that we have made, we've become more pitcher-centric,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I'm a big believer in, and especially in that starting rotation, and so I like the fact that every guy we're going to start is going to give us a chance to win. To me, that’s the recipe for success for a Major League team, and these players know that. I couldn't be more excited about what we have here.”
With a little less than two weeks left in Cactus League play, here's the latest projection on Bochy’s first roster as Rangers manager.
Catcher (2): Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim
Garver is coming off a season-ending flexor tendon surgery in his right arm, but he is expected to be a full go come Opening Day, while Heim impressed by taking over the No. 1 role in Garver’s absence last season.
Heim is one of the best defensive and framing catchers in the game, but he will need to consistently produce at the plate in order to surpass Garver. The two will mostly likely split the reps evenly behind the plate to start the season.
First baseman (1): Nathaniel Lowe
The 2022 American League Silver Slugger Award winner at first base, Lowe is looking for a similarly strong season in the middle of the Rangers' lineup. After slashing .302/.358/.492 last year, Lowe is hoping to continue to improve upon his defense and to become a more well-rounded player for Texas.
Second baseman (1): Marcus Semien
A finalist for both an AL Gold Glove Award and an AL Silver Slugger Award in 2022, Semien will no doubt continue to lead off for the Rangers as a major contributor on both sides of the ball.
Shortstop (1): Corey Seager
Seager is coming off one of his worst seasons offensively, but he also logged a career high in home runs. With the elimination of defensive shifts, his batting average should return to his career norm and he should continue to be a consistent contributor in the middle of the order.
Third baseman (1): Josh Jung
The Rangers’ top prospect, Jung is finally healthy, and he's expected to be the Opening Day third baseman in 2023 and for the foreseeable future. He made his MLB debut in September, hitting just .204 in 26 games. With a fully healthy offseason and some at-bats against big league pitching under his belt, Jung should be a solid contributor in the upcoming season.
Outfielders (4): Leody Taveras, Adolis García, Robbie Grossman, Bubba Thompson
The Rangers are in a solid place in the outfield when healthy. Grossman was added with the intention of platooning him in left field, but improvement at the plate will likely earn him the everyday role, at least at the beginning of the season. Taveras is currently down with an oblique injury, and there are questions whether he’ll open the season on the IL, but the starting center-field spot is his to lose when he's healthy. Thompson's best role may be as a fourth outfielder or a defensive replacement because of his speed and glove, but with Taveras’ injury, he’s leading the pack of contenders to fill in for him.
DH (1): Brad Miller
The most likely option for DH is whichever of Garver and Heim isn’t catching that day, and after Mark Mathias was DFA’d last week, there’s even more room for somebody to be an everyday DH. Bochy said he’ll likely “ride the hot hand” or go with the favorable matchup when it comes to the position, but things can change throughout camp.
Miller is coming off an injury-riddled 2022, but he’s still valuable in a platoon situation, with a career .765 OPS against right-handed pitching.
Bench/Utility (2): Josh H. Smith, Ezequiel Duran
Smith had a roller-coaster rookie season last year, but the Rangers' staff likes him in a super-utility role, since he's able to play second, third, short, center and left at an average to above-average level. Duran’s path to making the Opening Day roster opened when the club DFA’d Mathias, as he’s younger with a similar skill set. The Rangers will have to decide if the 23-year-old needs more outfield reps at Triple-A Round Rock to start the season, or if his bat is too valuable to keep out of the big leagues.
Starting pitchers (5): Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Martín Pérez, Andrew Heaney
Ace deGrom will highlight the rotation with newcomers Eovaldi and Heaney joining returnees Gray and Pérez in one of baseball’s most high-risk, high-reward staffs.
Relief pitchers (8): Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn, Jonathan Hernández, José Leclerc, Joe Barlow, Brock Burke, Will Smith, Cole Ragans
Texas has more than a few spots in the bullpen up for grabs at this point in camp, and nobody has really set himself apart just yet. Bochy said that Jake Odorizzi is unlikely to start the season on the active roster, as he is still experiencing arm fatigue and has yet to pitch in a Cactus League game. That leaves a multi-inning role open for the taking, which will likely come down to Dunning, Glenn Otto or Ragans alongside Hearn from the left side. Ragans, the second-year lefty, could earn a spot in the bullpen with his uptick in velocity, but he would also benefit from more Triple-A innings. It wouldn’t be a shock to any of the three to start the season in Round Rock.
Closer will likely come down to a healthy Hernández or Leclerc, but Smith was recently signed and Burke could also slot into high-leverage situations. Ian Kennedy has the chance to make it as an NRI for the second time in three years.