Top prospect Langford gets his chance in Cactus League opener

February 23rd, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Baseball is back. The reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers are set to open their Cactus League slate against the Royals on Friday at Surprise Stadium.

"It's always good to get the games going," Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. "These guys are working hard on the fundamentals and facing live BP, but why we do what we do is to play the game, and tomorrow is just the start."

The Rangers' roster primarily features returners on both sides of the field, meaning there won't be many position battles to watch throughout Spring Training. But that doesn't mean there aren't things to focus on throughout camp, even if they're not as high profile as Jacob deGrom's Rangers debut in 2023 or Corey Seager and Marcus Semien the year before.

Here are three storylines to watch as Cactus League play begins on Friday.

How much plays

Bochy said Langford would start the Cactus League opener on Friday, but how often will the big league staff see baseball's No. 6 overall prospect?

"He's gonna get his time," Bochy said. "You'll see him. He needs reps in the outfield. That's how you get better. He is early in his professional career here, but it is critical for him to get play out there."

It's no secret that Langford has a chance to make the Opening Day roster. Whether as a DH or everyday outfielder is still up for debate. With little evaluation needed for the big league regulars, he figures to get a ton of reps in the outfield throughout Cactus League play.

Langford, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft out of the University of Florida, hit .360/.480/.677 across four levels of the Minors in his debut professional season, putting him on a clear fast track to the Majors. The 22-year-old has a lot of eyes on him in Spring Training, but he’s mostly just trying to soak up all the information he can while accepting that he can only control what he can control.

“I’m just playing my game,” Langford said. “Just doing what I need to do and continuing to work hard. It's really cool to be a part of and to have an opportunity to do something like [make the big league club].”

Will the Rangers end up carrying three catchers on the Opening Day roster?

Bochy said this week that deciding how many catchers to carry could be one of the final roster decisions going into Opening Day. and are guaranteed to be at the top of the depth chart, but could make the roster and provide further depth.

Bochy carried three catchers at the end of the 2023 season and into the postseason with Heim, Mitch Garver and Austin Hedges, who signed with Seattle and Cleveland, respectively, this offseason.

The 26-year-old Huff has hit .262/.314/.462 in 75 big league games between 2020-23, but he has never gotten consistent at-bats in the Majors. In 68 games at Triple-A Round Rock in 2023, Huff hit .298 with a .947 OPS.

"We're comfortable with our coaching situation," Bochy said. "We're gonna get a look at all these guys, give them a chance to show what they're able to do. … We're not ruling out anything. It gives us some options toward the end of games with pinch running. It makes you less vulnerable towards the end of games."

Duran + Smith + Foscue in the infield

With Corey Seager (sports hernia) and Josh Jung (calf) down for most of Spring Training, a group of infielders -- , and -- will all get more reps than anticipated throughout Cactus League play.

Duran and Smith both filled in at shortstop and third base in 2023 when Seager and Jung went down at separate times, and Foscue -- a natural second baseman -- is still awaiting his big league debut.

Bochy and the big league coaching staff have valued versatility above many other things, putting these three guys on track to make the Opening Day roster. But where they get the majority of their reps will be notable.

Duran and Smith spent time in the outfield last season, while Foscue is mainly limited to second base and the two corner infield spots.

"It does force you to get a look at other guys at that position when your starting player goes down," Bochy said. "I guess you can't say it is a silver lining ending up like this. You hate to see it. But those guys, they'll all get playing time there. We'll find enough playing time for all of them."