2020 Season in Focus for the Texas Rangers
The upcoming 2020 season is going to be an interesting one for the Texas Rangers. After finishing the first half of last season with a record over .500 (48-42), the Rangers went on to finish the second half with a 30-42 record. Cumulatively, that was good enough for a 78-84 record overall, putting the team third in the American League West.
With a 60-game schedule this year, the Rangers may very well make some noise in the division. After all, the overall landscape of the division is beginning to shift. The Oakland Athletics are a young, talented team who always surprises, while the Houston Astros will continue to make noise even if they face starting pitching questions and pressure from last year’s sign-stealing scandal. Additionally, the Los Angeles Angels are on the rise, especially after signing Anthony Rendon this past offseason. Finally, the Seattle Mariners will be in another rebuilding season but are starting to assemble their core group for the future.
Therefore, with that being said, it would not be a surprise to see the Rangers exceed expectations this coming season. For Texas, there are a few reasons why that should be the case.
Starting Rotation Success
When looking at the Texas Rangers roster, the biggest selling point is the starting rotation. Last season, the Rangers had their rotation anchored by Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. In the offseason, the Rangers added to that depth with the acquisition of former Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber. Now Texas is poised to be in a better position this season with those three at the top.
As a unit in 2019, Minor and Lynn were both in the conversation for the American League Cy Young Award. Lynn finished fifth in voting while Minor finished eighth. Combined, both starters threw the exact same amount of innings (208 1/3) and concluded the regular season with a combined 446 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Kluber only made seven starts for the Indians, posting a 5.80 ERA over that span with a 1.654 WHIP.
Last season, Kluber faced a nagging right ulna fracture that caused him to miss a significant amount of time. Looking ahead to this season, Texas is hoping for good health from Kluber and the high-impact starter that he was for the Indians as recently as 2018.
Following the three starters mentioned above, the Rangers have Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. While the surface-level numbers aren’t the most attractive for either Gibson or Lyles, they are both durable. Over his seven-year big league career, Gibson has made at least 25 starts every season besides his rookie year in 2013. Furthermore, Lyles is coming off a really good second half with the Milwaukee Brewers. After being traded to Milwaukee from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Lyles posted a 2.45 ERA over 11 starts with a .202 Opponent Batting Average Against (OBAA) and 56 strikeouts.
Offense Led by Joey Gallo
On the offensive side of things, the Rangers become an intriguing team. Easily the biggest selling point in the lineup is right fielder Joey Gallo. Gallo had a solid season for the Rangers last year and it was the first year that he earned an All-Star nod. The 26-year-old finished the regular season hitting .253/.389/.598 with 22 home runs, 49 RBI, 52 walks, and 114 strikeouts.
Gallo would have likely provided a lot more impact if it weren’t for right wrist surgery that ended his season towards the end of June. If Gallo had stayed healthy, he likely could have put up numbers that would have put him in the conversation for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
After Gallo, there is some uncertainty that starts to enter the picture. Both left fielder Willie Calhoun and center fielder Danny Santana had breakout seasons in 2019. Calhoun, 24, is young and Santana had never played in more than 101 games until last season, when he played in 130. Therefore, there’s some uncertainty regarding how they will both perform at the plate.
Another big question mark is going to be second baseman Rougned Odor. Odor is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high 178 strikeouts over 581 plate appearances or 145 games. Considering that this will be his age-26 season, Texas hopes that Odor is able to develop into the hitter they have always expected him to be. If that happens, then it will only benefit the Rangers.
Another slight area of uncertainty is in the bullpen. On paper, the only true lock is closer Jose LeClerc, although LeClerc had a completely different 2018 season compared to what he did last year. In 2018, LeClerc finished the regular season with a 1.56 ERA in 57 2/3 innings with 85 strikeouts and a .126 OBAA. Meanwhile, last season the right-hander had an ERA nearly triple that (4.33 in 68 2/3 innings) with 100 strikeouts and a .209 OBAA.
Besides LeClerc, the Rangers bullpen features pitchers who could be considered hybrid guys. The Rangers have Jesse Chavez, Edinson Volquez, and Juan Nicasio. All three have been both relievers and starters throughout their big league careers. Therefore, with a 60-game season, the Rangers have depth options should they need it in their rotation.
In addition, a reliever to watch is right-hander Nick Goody. Goody spent the last three seasons with the aforementioned Cleveland Indians. Last season alone, the 29-year-old posted a 3.54 ERA over 39 games. In that span, he posted an 11.07 K/9 rate. For the Rangers, having someone like that pitch in the seventh or eighth inning could be extremely valuable.
Prospects to Watch This Season
One of the top names to watch this year for the Texas Rangers is third base prospect Josh Jung. Jung ranks as the team’s number one overall prospect according to MLB.com. While he is only 22 years old and was slated to play in Single-A this year, the overall hit tools and arm strength are notable. On the scouting scale, Jung received a grade of 60 and 50 in both of those categories. Jung is part of the team’s 60-man player pool for the coming season.
Another name to monitor this season is left-hander Joe Palumbo. Palumbo is a member of the Rangers 40-man roster. Additionally, the lefty ranks as the Rangers ninth-best prospect. Palumbo is known most for his curveball, which usually sits between 78-82 miles per hour with a very good amount of depth. If the Rangers need a middle-to-back of the starting rotation pitcher at some point, Palumbo could be a good option.
Finally, a potential under-the-radar prospect to watch is right-hander Demarcus Evans. Evans finished last season pitching in Double-A and has developed the reputation of being a high-strike thrower. Last season, Evans finished the year with 100 strikeouts over 47 games. Looking ahead to the future, the one thing scouts want him to focus on is his overall walk rate. If Evans can get that out of control, Evans could be a late-inning weapon for the Rangers.
In the end, there is some uncertainty regarding the Texas Rangers. However, there is also a really good chance that the team exceeds expectations and makes some serious noise in the AL West. If the Rangers are able to get the same production from their starting rotation and the lineup performs the way it is capable of, then they should be a good team.
The 60-game schedule will likely benefit Texas in a couple of different ways. It will allow some of the team’s younger position players to gain more experience at the big league level over a shorter period of time. Additionally, the schedule might allow the Rangers to overcome some of their question marks in the bullpen because they won’t need to ensure that all of their relievers stay healthy for an entire 162-game season.
Regardless, a new window is getting ready to open in Arlington and with a new ballpark, there is plenty of excitement around the team. 2020 might be the year the Rangers take that next step forward and start to open the window for the foreseeable future.
Embed from Getty Images