Baseball fans, rejoice: the Texas Rangers and every other Major League Baseball team took the field in Spring Training this week, signaling the start of the 2019 MLB season.
In fact, Texas is in action Saturday to kick off its slate exhibition games. By itself, that’s exciting, but there’s no way around it: the early games are often dry.
Regular substitutions and lineups that feature players who likely won’t contribute in the regular season create a slow, boring atmosphere of the fans in attendance and watching from home; but that doesn’t mean Texas doesn’t have a lot to figure out.
Here are the three biggest storylines headed into game number one of the 2019 season:
Can the starting rotation stay healthy?
The top five of Texas’ starting rotation headed into the spring features five players who are objectively talented MLB pitchers when healthy.
One could argue it’s less of a question of ‘when,’ and more of a question of ‘if’ they suffer injuries that cause them to miss starts.
Texas acquired Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller to go along with Mike Minor and Edinson Volquez- whom the team acquired last offseason.
Lynn and Smyly have less of an injury history than their fellow rotation members, but Miller was limited to just five games last year with Arizona due to Tommy John Surgery, and Volquez missed the entirety of the 2018 season with Texas, also with TJS.
Minor might be the least concerning of the group- he made 28 starts in his first season with the Rangers- but he missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to repeated arm injuries.
Each one of the players has shown flashes of brilliance early in their careers. Lynn won 15 games with St. Louis in 2014.
Smyly and Miller were both highly-regarded prospects moved in huge trades in 2014 and 2015, respectively- Smyly helped bring David Price to Detroit, and Miller brought Dansby Swanson to Atlanta in 2015.
Volquez threw a no-hitter with Miami in 2017. Minor went 12-8 with a respectable 3.90 ERA in a lost season for Texas last year.
The rotation is talented. But it will only produce if those five can stay healthy.
How do the Rangers replace Adrian Beltre’s offensive production?
Let’s start by saying: they can’t completely.
Beltre’s retirement in November left a gaping hole in not only Texas’ lineup, but its defense and leadership as well. Widely regarded as one of the most entertaining players in the sport, Beltre’s offensive prowess and light-hearted spirit on the diamond will surely be missed by fans.
Still, life goes on for Texas. The Rangers have to face the strange reality of plugging a new glove into the hot corner, and find a way to mend the gap left by where his bat often hit in the cleanup hole.
After spinning its tires early in the offseason and making minor moves, Texas still had many questions about the question: who’s on third?
It answered that with the signing of Adsrubal Cabrera. After long stints with Cleveland, Washington and the New York Mets, Cabrera inked a short-term deal, and is the favorite to start opening day.
As for the cleanup hole, new manager Chris Woodward hasn’t given any indication on how his lineups will shake out, but returning starters Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman are possible replacements.
How will the bullpen look out of camp?
This picture looked much clearer this time last year- Keone Kela emerged as the closer out of Spring Training, paired with Alex Claudio in the back of the ‘pen.
It’s changed drastically since then- Kela was traded to Pittsburgh in July, and Claudio to Milwaukee in December.
Now, the closer job and fate of the back of Texas’ bullpen rests on the right arm of young Jose Leclerc. He impressed in 59 games last year, recording 12 saves on his way to a 1.56 ERA in 2018.
Still, there are few faces returning with him. Chris Martin was injured for most of the second half of 2018, and Jesse Chavez resigned with the team after a July trade to the Chicago Cubs. Jeffrey Springs saw limited innings going up-and-down from Triple-A Round Rock.
That likely means three new faces in the Rangers bullpen. The team signed Shawn Kelley to a major league contract, and along with him, Nick Gardenwine and free agent signee Zach McAllister are the favorites, with Spring Training performance being the ultimate determining factor.
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