3 in-house utility options for the Rangers

January 10th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- Ever since the Rangers signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to long-term deals in December 2021, it’s been clear that a farm system loaded with middle infield talent would eventually either reach the Majors or be used as trade leverage.

Two middle infield prospects -- Thomas Saggese and Luisangel Acuña -- were already shipped off to the Cardinals and Mets at last year’s Trade Deadline, while Josh H. Smith and Ezequiel Duran joined the big league club in 2022.

It’s no secret that the Rangers’ infield is set for the foreseeable future with Seager, Semien, third baseman Josh Jung and first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. So how do a trio of middle infielders fit into the Rangers plans in 2024? Let’s evaluate.

Smith came up as a shortstop, but with college experience at third base at LSU, he became a utility infielder during his big league debut season in 2022. When Jung became the everyday third baseman, Smith began taking reps in the outfield.

In 2023, Smith made appearances at shortstop (33), third base (25), left field (20), designated hitter (eight) and second base (three). He’s proven to be above average at pretty much any position in the field, but he hit just .185 with a .633 OPS in his sophomore season.

Smith is no doubt a tool off the bench, especially with his ability to draw walks and play shortstop to fill in when Seager needs a blow, but his lack of offensive power may see him move down the depth chart in 2024. The Rangers' front office and coaching staff have loved his worth ethic and he would continue to be a good clubhouse asset regardless of his offensive production.

Like Smith, Duran became more of a utility player in 2023 with the infield set. The 24-year-old came up through the Yankees' system as a second baseman before being traded to the Rangers -- along with Smith -- in the Joey Gallo deal at the 2021 Trade Deadline.

Like Smith, when he made his debut in 2022, it was at third base, though by ‘23 he played all over the field. Last season, he logged appearances at shortstop (37), left field (34), third base (22), designated hitter (22), second base (nine), first base (two) and right field (one).

Duran is arguably more versatile than Smith, but Smith is clearly the better defender of the two at each position. On the other hand, Duran has been more consistent at the plate at the big league level.

In 2023, Duran was a vital part of the Rangers’ offense down the stretch as Seager landed on the IL on two separate occasions. He more than delivered before the All-Star Game, slashing .308/.344/.526 in 70 games. He struggled with a decrease of playing time after Seager’s return in the second half. In 52 games after the break, he hit .226/.295/.314.

Duran seemed like a much better asset in 2023 when he was getting consistent playing time in the field, something that can be hard to come by in ‘24.

Of the three, Foscue has the least amount of defensive versatility, but may also be best suited to rotate through the designated hitter role in 2023. He’s also the only one that hasn’t made his MLB debut yet, though he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. 

The Rangers’ No. 6 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Foscue was the club’s first-round pick in the COVID-shortened 2020 MLB Draft. In his first season with Triple-A Round Rock in 2023, he hit .266 with an .862 OPS. 

Foscue has an elite feel of the strike zone, drawing more walks (85) than strikeouts (70) in 2023, and has enough power to provide production somewhere within the Rangers’ lineup. Unless Texas signs another big league veteran at designated hitter, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Foscue on the Opening Day roster.