3 questions Rangers face before '22 season
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers made a plethora of moves in free agency before the lockout, but they’re not finished.
Though Texas upgraded at arguably the most important position by signing shortstop Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325 million deal, there are still positions to be filled and questions to be answered ahead of the 2022 season.
Here are three big questions that the Rangers face heading into Spring Training:
1. When will Josh Jung debut?
Josh Jung has long been seen as the Rangers' third baseman of the future. And before a shoulder injury derailed the most important spring of Jung's professional career, the club's No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, was expected to be in Arlington sooner rather than later to assume that role.
This is the second time an injury has derailed Jung's debut. He was expected to make his MLB debut last season, but he sustained a foot fracture during Spring Training and he didn’t appear in a Minor League game until June 15.
This year's labrum injury was sustained while lifting weights prior to Minor League camp and he underwent surgery on Feb. 23. He's expected to be out for six months before he can return to hitting in August, though it is still unclear when he can return to the field.
The silver lining is that following the Rangers’ two big middle-infield signings of Seager and Marcus Semien, there is now no need to rush Jung before he’s ready.
Jung was almost certainly going to make his MLB debut by midseason, but his rehab and injury timeline will dictate if it happens in this season or Opening Day 2023.
“Josh wants to be as good as he possibly can be, and he will reach his full potential,” general manger Chris Young said. “But our hope is that you get these out of the way early in his career and there's nothing that can prevent him from being injury-free for the next 15 years of his career. When he's out on the field, he's performed to the expectations that we had hoped and it's been fun to watch them.”
2. How will the rotation shake out?
The Rangers will certainly be shopping for more arms, especially when it comes to starting pitchers. Jon Gray, while a solid, veteran addition to the rotation, is not an ace and will not likely carry a pitching staff.
Texas has multiple young options behind Gray, including Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn,
No. 21 prospect A.J. Alexy, Kolby Allard and two 2021 Trade Deadline acquisitions in Spencer Howard and No. 23 prospect Glenn Otto. The club could look to add another starting pitcher or two, but there are limited veteran options.
Otto and Alexy both made late-season MLB debuts in 2021 and experienced their ups and downs throughout the last month, while Dunning and Hearn both showed potential to be solid big league starters and posted ERAs of 4.51 and 4.66, respectively. Allard and Howard could use some polishing heading into 2022, but both showed flashes of what they could contribute.
Texas had the third-worst starters’ ERA (5.33) in MLB last season, so with an extra veteran arm (or two) and significant growth from a few of the young starters, there is reason to believe the rotation will be better in 2022.
As of now, the five-man rotation on Opening Day will likely be an additional starter acquired by trade or free agency, Gray, Dunning, Hearn and one of Otto or Alexy.
3. What are they going to do with Willie Calhoun? What about the rest of the outfield?
Willie Calhoun was the biggest piece of the Yu Darvish deal with the Dodgers at the 2017 Trade Deadline, but his career in Arlington has been plagued by injuries ever since.
He has never played more than 83 games in a season, which he achieved in 2019, and he only appeared in 29 games during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. It’s been more bad luck than poor shape on Calhoun’s part. He was hit in the face by a pitch during Spring Training 2020 before the COVID-19 shutdown, and he got hit by a pitch again on June 26, 2021, suffering a forearm fracture that required surgery.
Calhoun survived the tender deadline before the lockout, but the Rangers’ outfield is already crowded following the addition of Kole Calhoun in free agency. Kole Calhoun and 2021 All-Star Adolis García will likely man two of the outfield spots, leaving one open.
Here are the remaining outfield options on the roster, along with their 2021 slash lines:
• Willie Calhoun (75 games): .250/.310/.381
• Leody Taveras (49 games): .161/.207/.270
• Eli White (64 games): .177/.259/.308
• Zack Reks (87 games in Triple-A): .280/.382/.539
Willie Calhoun is more likely to slot in as the designated hitter than at either corner outfield position. The remaining three options all have less than two years of big league service time.
Taveras and White competed for the Opening Day center-field spot last Spring Training. While both are elite defenders, they both struggled against big league pitching throughout the season. Reks made his MLB debut in 2021 with the Dodgers, but went 0-for-10 over six games before being sent back down to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Texas purchased his contract from Los Angeles on Nov. 22, 2021.
Nick Solak, who was the Rangers’ Opening Day second baseman last year, was sent down to Triple-A Round Rock after some struggles at the plate but remains on the 40-man roster. He played 36 games in the outfield during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and very well could slide back to left field if necessary.
Because of the uncertainty, the Rangers will still need outfield help and are expected to remain active on the free agent market. Nick Castellanos and free agent Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki will likely continue to be the main targets, both of whom would be significant upgrades.