Will Rangers end their playoff drought in 2023?
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are finally coming out of the other side of their rebuild after six straight losing seasons. Two big-spending offseasons in a row have them in perfect position for a breakout year.
Texas has the misfortune of sharing a division with two of the best players in baseball in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros and a Mariners team that won 90 games in 2022. But improvements all around have put the club in a perfect position to compete for the first time in almost a decade.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on with Opening Day less than a week out:
What needs to go right?: Rotation health
The Rangers’ rotation is deep and flush with experience, but it also features more than one pitcher with significant injury concerns. Texas’ season may not hinge on ace Jacob deGrom’s health, but it’s pretty close, and the rest of the starters have injuries of their own to monitor.
Of the five starters -- deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Martín Pérez -- only Pérez didn’t endure at least one IL stint last season. If all goes right, the Rangers can have the best rotation in the American League. But if things go just a little off script, anywhere between two and four of those starters will end up on the IL, and Dane Dunning, Cole Ragans and/or Glenn Otto will be called to the mound.
Great unknown: Will Josh Jung live up to the hype?
The Rangers’ top prospect, Jung is finally healthy. He's expected to be the Opening Day third baseman in 2023 and for the foreseeable future, something that has been expected since the third baseman was selected in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2019 MLB Draft.
Jung made his MLB debut in September, hitting just .204 in 26 games coming off a shoulder injury that delayed his season until August. With a fully healthy offseason and a cup of coffee against big league pitching under his belt, Jung should be a solid contributor in the upcoming season. He has looked the part this spring with a .314/.347/.682 slash line through Thursday’s games, and he has more than improved his defensive abilities in camp.
Team MVP will be ... Corey Seager
Seager has looked like himself this spring after coming off one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. In 2022, he logged career lows in batting average and on-base percentage, but 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. Entering his second season with Texas, Seager said his comfort level coming into camp this year has played a big part in his performance on the field.
Seager has also been on fire this spring, with a 15-game hitting streak through Friday and a 1.255 OPS in 18 Cactus League games.
“It's been an impressive spring,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It really has. I saw him from the other side [when I was with the Giants], you saw this with him. But it's nice to be in the same dugout with him, and he's just in a good place right now. He's got to feel good where he's at right now. He's one of our guys, and he’s where he wants to be. I'm sure a couple of guys are still getting their at-bats in and hoping to get to that place, too.”
Team Cy Young will be … deGrom
This isn’t a revelation, but when healthy, deGrom is the best pitcher in the world. After a small hiccup with “left side tightness” delayed his start to Spring Training, the Rangers’ ace returned to the mound pumping triple digits in his first Cactus League start on March 19. deGrom is a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, and he very well could give Texas its first Cy winner in club history.
Entering his age-35 season, deGrom has not pitched a full Major League season since 2019, but when he’s on the mound, he has been dominant. From 2018-21 with the Mets, the right-hander posted a 1.94 ERA with an average of 12 strikeouts per nine innings. In '22, the season before he entered free agency, deGrom suffered a stress reaction in his right scapula in Spring Training, which sidelined him until early August. He eased back into a regular workload as New York made a push in the NL East, finishing with a 3.08 ERA over 11 starts.
DeGrom is looking to prove he’s healthy this season and provide the Rangers with their first bona fide ace in a decade.
Bold prediction: Marcus Semien, Adolis García have 30-30 seasons
Both Semien and García logged their first career 25-25 seasons in 2022 and are primed for big years at the plate and on the basepaths in ‘23.
A 40-40 season feels a little too bold considering Semien has hit 40 or more homers only once in his career (45 in 2021 with the Blue Jays). But 30-30 or even 35-35 feels well within reach. The second baseman hit 26 homers with a career-high 25 stolen bases in his first season with Texas in ‘22, and both numbers should improve with the bigger bases and the assumption that he hits his first homer before May 28 this year.
García hit 32 home runs in his 2021 rookie season. With improved plate discipline, he should be able to get on base more to make his speed a big factor.