3 things to watch as Rangers start spring games

February 25th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are powering through one of their most interesting Spring Trainings in recent memory after two big spending offseasons in a row. With the infield set and a rotation headed by ace Jacob deGrom, the atmosphere in the clubhouse is full of optimism for the first time in years.

The Rangers opened their Cactus League slate with a 6-5 walk-off loss vs. the Royals on Friday afternoon. Here are three things to keep an eye on:

1. What happens with all those starting pitchers?
The Rangers’ depth chart in the rotation may have as many nine players on it, though the five starters are presumably locked in. So what do those other arms need to do in the Cactus League to secure a spot on the roster?

Somebody like veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi is a lock for a multi-inning role out of the bullpen, and would likely be the first man up if one of those five rotation members goes down with an injury. Dane Dunning, entering his third full big league season, is expected to be in the same boat.

But for guys like Glenn Otto and Cole Ragans, a spot on the Opening Day roster is far from guaranteed. Ragans may benefit more from getting quality innings with Triple-A Round Rock, but Otto very well could thrive out of the bullpen.

Otto started against the Royals in Friday’s Cactus League opener, notching five strikeouts in two innings. The lone blemish in his short outing was a four-pitch walk to Bobby Witt Jr. to start the game and a two-run homer by Vinnie Pasquantino three batters later.

“It starts with throwing strikes,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Otto. “That's the obvious. He's got great stuff. But he’s got to pound the strike zone and throw quality strikes. He's got to have a good tempo, obviously, with the clock and everything, be comfortable with it. He’s competing to help out somewhere on this staff. He’s just got to go out there, trust his stuff and go.”

2. Is left field locked up?
This offseason, Bochy noted that he wouldn’t be opposed to a platoon in left field as the Rangers continued to evaluate both their internal and external options at the position. After Texas' acquisition of Robbie Grossman, that outlook may have changed.

“I wouldn’t lock in the platoon right now,” Bochy said.

Grossman impressed in his first game as a Ranger, launching a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole in the Cactus League opener. But it’s worth noting it was off Royals lefty Daniel Lynch. Grossman’s left-handed splits (.320/.436/.443 in 2022) were one thing that appealed to Texas when signing him.

“I know the splits aren't quite as balanced,” Bochy said. “That's going to be part of the competition, too. Grossman does have experience on [the right side], too. I think it's fair to him to look at him from both sides. Now, we will look at other candidates. It’s going to be interesting how that pans out. We'll see [Clint] Frazier in left field, [Josh Smith] will be out there, Bubba [Thompson] is going to be out there to find out. There are good candidates.”

3. Speaking of Josh Smith, how many positions will he play?
The biggest thing that makes Josh Smith special is his versatility. A natural shortstop, Smith is precluded from getting everyday reps there because of Corey Seager. So that versatility may likely be the one thing that earns Smith a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Smith appeared in 73 big league games in his debut MLB season in 2022, playing 36 at third base, 24 in left field, six at shortstop, five as designated hitter and two at second base.

Bochy said he expected Smith to get reps at every infield position, as well as left field, in Cactus League games. Smith, for what it’s worth, is more than confident in his ability to produce at a high level defensively in any position he plays.

“I think he's comfortable moving around,” Bochy said. “He's already done it, so that's always a good thing. It's not easy, especially if you think about making a club. You want to do well in every position you play, and as much as left field is important, I think shortstop has to be a priority too because you got to get Corey his days off. He’ll get plenty of time left field to get acclimated to playing out there. But I'm comfortable with moving him around.”