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The Texas Rangers are currently in the most successful period in the organization’s 50-plus year history. After making three playoff appearances with zero series wins through 2009, the team has won the American League West in consecutive years and gone to the World Series both times before falling to the San Francisco Giants in 2010 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. In 2012, the Rangers return a strong group of players that is more than capable of making another run to the World Series with a chance to win it. At the same time winning the AL West will be tougher than it has been the past two years with an improved Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team lurking and looking to overtake the Rangers. It will be far from easy, but the Rangers have the talent to claim Major League Baseball’s ultimate prize.

(To see an explanation of 2012 MLB team previews and release dates click here)

The Rangers throw out one of the most dynamic starting nines in baseball. Top-to-bottom the lineup is about as dangerous as they come. At the top of the lineup is second basemen Ian Kinsler. He has had issues staying healthy during his career but last season he played in 155 games, the most of his career. Kinsler is one of the best all-around second basemen in baseball and has a big bat, especially for the position. He has 30/30 potential at the top of the lineup (*) and walks almost as much as he strikes out. The solid Elvis Andrus occupies the number two spot in the lineup. He doesn’t have any considerable power, but has tremendous speed stealing at least 30 bases in each of his first three seasons in the big leagues. With a strong glove, Andrus has developed into one of the best all-around shortstops in the league. A player that will be watched closely this season is outfielder Josh Hamilton. He has MVP ceiling (he won the award in 2010) but has had a long battle with alcoholism and drug addiction and admitted that he had a brief relapse over the offseason; this will always be monitored. Hamilton has also had trouble staying healthy in his five seasons, playing over 133 games only one time. He is also coming up on free agency as well which plays a factor. When Hamilton is on the field he delivers. He is a gifted athlete and carries with him huge power at the plate. He has the ability of a top-tier all-around player. It appears all Adrian Beltre needed to do was leave Seattle; in his last two seasons, one with the Boston Red Sox, the other with Texas he has exploded offensively (**). He is a big bat in the middle of Texas’ dangerous lineup. Beltre is also probably the best defensive third basemen in baseball. Longtime Ranger Michael Young will see the bulk of the time as the team’s designated hitter. Young has proven over his 12-year career to be a pure hitter. At the age of 35 that should continue. Like Kinsler and Hamilton, Nelson Cruz has problems staying on the field. He has never played in more than 128 games in his seven year big league career – he has only been a full-time regular for three seasons. Cruz, when he is in the lineup, is another dangerous hitter in the with good power and decent speed. The breakout player last season for Texas was then newcomer Mike Napoli (***). Napoli has always been able to hit, but had trouble staying in the lineup because of his defense. It was deep into the season before Napoli was handed full-time duty as he hit off the charts, especially in the second half of the season. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, Napoli posted the highest isolated power (ISO) in baseball at .312 – ISO measures a hitter’s raw power by placing weights on extra base hits; Napoli has ridiculous power. From the seven spot in the lineup that is scary. The last two spots in the lineup go to first basemen Mitch Moreland, a modest hitter, and a combination of Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry filling in an outfield spot. The team is hoping for stability and some defense out of the Borbon/Gentry spot. When the Rangers lineup is healthy it features perhaps the most dangerous 1-7 of any lineup in baseball. This is a tremendously talented offensive team.

(*) Kinsler had 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 2011. 

(**) Boston’s Fenway Park and Texas’ Rangers Ballpark are top five offensive ballparks. Seattle’s Safeco Field is a bottom five offensive ballpark.

(***) Sort of amazingly, Napoli was traded twice after the 2010 season. First from his original team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the trade that sent Vernon Wells to Anaheim – the Angels, a team that has sorely lacked offense from the position – then a few days later from Toronto in a deal for reliever Frank Francisco.

A lot rests on Josh Hamilton in 2012 (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Rangers may have as many as seven pitchers capable of starting on the Opening Day roster giving the team depth and flexibility. The rotation will be made up of Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz. Alexi Ogando, a member of last year’s rotation, is moving back to the bullpen. Scott Feldman, past experience as a starter, will be serving as the long reliever. Both are capable of stepping in if need be (****). The rotation does not necessarily possess a front of the line starting pitcher. The team’s best starting pitcher a year ago, C.J. Wilson, is no longer with the team moving on to the rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. None of the starters have a long track record starting in the Major Leagues. Really, one could argue that the projected rotation has five full-time seasons as a starting pitcher combined – one each from Holland, Lewis and Harrison from last year and an additional two from Lewis. This is not to say they are wildly inexperienced as each of those pitchers spent time as starters before getting full-time duty in 2011. The 25-year old Holland is probably the best starter of the three returners. Lewis and Harrison have the ability to be above average starting pitchers. The big addition to the team in the offseason was Yu Darvish, who comes over from Japan. It is unknown exactly what he will deliver as he transitions to a new league but all reports indicate the 25-year old has huge talent. The Rangers certainly believe in him as they invested $51.7 million in a posting fee and agreed to a six-year, $56 million contract. Darvish could come to be one of the best starters in baseball. The last spot in the rotation is set to go to Neftali Feliz, who is transitioning from the closer role. Feliz has big tools but will have to adjust his approach to pitch deep into games. The talent is there but there will likely be an adjustment period for the soon to be 24-year old. The Rangers starting rotation doesn’t have a pitcher that is a proven front of the line starter, but there is potential for multiple pitchers to fill the role. The Rangers could have five solid starting pitchers. With a dominant offense, the team does not necessarily need dominance on this side of the ball. Still, Texas should be fine in the starting pitching department.

(****) Though the team may choose to go down a different route, possibly bringing a player up from the minors.

The relief corps has the potential to be an effective unit. With Feliz moving to the rotation Joe Nathan, an offseason acquisition, steps in as the closer. Nathan was coming off Tommy John surgery a year ago and struggled. At age 35 he’ll look to regain his status as a reliable closer, but he may have lost some of his stuff as his fastball velocity fell more than a full MPH from his 2009 average. After Nathan, the Rangers potentially have three top setup men in Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, and Koji Uehara. Adams and Uehara have been two of the game’s best the last few years and Ogando in his one season as a reliever was solid. The rest of the bullpen includes Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, and long reliever Scott Feldman, a group that should perform adequately. There may be concerns at the back end of the bullpen, but overall Texas has a solid group.

The Rangers are one of the most talented teams in Major League Baseball. Built on a terrifying offense and a balanced pitching staff, Texas has a chance to make a third consecutive run to the World Series in 2012. But the road to the playoffs will be more difficult than the last couple years. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are a vastly improved team and if it comes down to a Wild Card battle there are at least three teams in the AL East that will be in the playoff hunt – even with an extra Wild Card team starting this season at least one very good team is going to miss out on the playoffs. The Rangers are a very well put together baseball team.

Offseason Moves:

Additions:

  • Yu Darvish (RHP) – free agent
  • Joe Nathan (RHP) – free agent
  • Brad Hawpe (1B/OF) – free agent
  • Alberto Gonzalez (IF) – free agent
  • Luis Martinez (C) – trade with San Diego Padres
  • Brandon Snyder (1B) – trade with Baltimore Orioles

Subtractions:

  • C.J. Wilson (LHP) – signed with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  • Endy Chavez (OF) – signed with Baltimore Orioles
  • Matt Treanor (C) – signed with Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Taylor Teagarden (C) – trade with Baltimore Orioles
  • Darren Oliver (LHP) – signed with Toronto Blue Jays
  • Darren O’Day (LHP) – lost off waivers to Baltimore Orioles
  • Chad Tracy (1B/OF) – trade with Colorado Rockies
  • Andres Blanco (IF) – signed with Baltimore Orioles
  • Mike Gonzalez (LHP) – unsigned
  • Brandon Webb (RHP) – unsigned

Projected Starting Lineup:

1. Ian Kinsler – 2B

2. Elvis Andrus – SS

3. Josh Hamilton – LF

4. Adrian Beltre – 3B

5. Michael Young – DH

6. Nelson Cruz – RF

7. Mike Napoli – C

8. Mitch Moreland – 1B

9. Julio Borbon – CF

Projected Starting Rotation:

1. Colby Lewis – RH

2. Derek Holland – LH

3. Yu Darvish – RH

4. Matt Harrison – LH

5. Neftali Feliz – RH

Projected Bullpen:

  • Joe Nathan – RH
  • Mike Adams – RH
  • Alexi Ogando – RH
  • Koji Uehara – RH
  • Mark Lowe – RH
  • Yoshinori Tateyama – RH
  • Scott Feldman – RH

Projected Bench:

  • Yorvit Torrealba – C
  • Alberto Gonzalez – IF
  • Craig Gentry – OF
  • David Murphy – OF

Variables:

  • Injuries – Kinsler, Hamilton, and Cruz are all great players when healthy but each has had his issues staying healthy over the course of a full season. If the three players are able to be in the lineup consistently, this could be the best offense in baseball. If multiple players miss, the lineup will lose depth.
  • Transitions – Neftali Feliz moves from the bullpen to the rotation. Alexi Ogando moves from the rotation back to the bullpen. Yu Darvish moves from Japan to Texas. The three pitchers are all talented but some adjustments will likely need to be made on the fly.
  • Step up starter – The rotation is more balanced than top heavy. Any one of the starting pitchers could step up and be the best in the staff. Each pitcher should at least be above average with upside.
  • Nathan – Age, injury, and an erratic 2011 season are concerns for Nathan at the back of the bullpen. If he can regain his previous form he may be among the best closers in baseball.
  • Regression – There is a possibility that some players, most namely Mike Napoli, could have a weaker 2012 than 2011. It is almost a certainty that Napoli will hit for a lower average this season after hitting 47 points higher than any other time in his career last year.

Fantasy Implications:

  • Easily the third ranked second basemen and a second round fantasy draft pick is Ian Kinsler. If you fail to draft Cano, Pedroia or Kinsler you’ll have to wait a couple rounds before realistically looking at the position again. There is a premium to be paid for top second basemen. Kinsler has 30/30 upside to go with a whole bunch of runs and decent RBI numbers for a leadoff hitter. If he hits somewhere in the .270s the rest of his fantasy profile will earn his value. The concern with him, as always, is injuries. If healthy, he is a great player to have on a fantasy team.
  • After struggling in his time in Seattle, Adrian Beltre has turned into a big time fantasy player the last two seasons. A repeat should be on the way. The soon to be 33-year old hasn’t run the past two years but has been productive otherwise. He’s the consensus third 3rd basemen to take and would be a nice pick up somewhere in the third round. Expect another productive year in the middle of this high run scoring offense.
  • One of fantasy baseball’s most interesting players in recent years has been Josh Hamilton. There is always a risk of injury with him, but he puts up incredible numbers when he is healthy. He is ranked as a 10-15 type fantasy outfielder. If he is healthy he should safely be in the top 10 giving fantasy owners great value. It depends on the makeup of your roster through your first three picks and how risk averse you are when considering drafting Hamilton.
  • Another talented but oft-injured player is Nelson Cruz. The right fielder is productive when he is in the lineup and a threat to go 20/20. But Cruz has never played in over 80% of his team’s games in his career. He’s a big talent, but a big risk as well especially considering he is being drafted as a top 15 outfielder.
  • Mike Napoli went undrafted in a lot of leagues last season, but was picked up in every league as the season went on and he started getting regular playing time. Napoli hit for a high average and clubbed 30 home runs. He is now thought of as one of the top two catchers in fantasy baseball for this season and has a pre-draft ranking of a fifth or sixth rounder. If you think he’ll match last year’s numbers, by all means go ahead and draft him. I think his average will come down, though, with likely added playing time the production may be similar.
  • If your team is in need of runs, stolen bases and a shortstop, Elvis Andrus can fill that void. He’ll be batting towards the top of a high powered offense and he has great speed. Shortstop is probably the shallowest position this season, so you want to grab one of the top six players at the position, which includes Andrus.
  • Position eligibility plays a big factor in Michael Young’s fantasy value. He is likely eligible at first and third base (you’ll play him at third) but he may have second base eligibility, pushing his fantasy value. Young is a great hitter but he’s not a big home run hitter or runner. He’s a definite fantasy starter but he’s a tier or two down from the top players at first and third.
  • The fantasy rankings for Yu Darvish are unsurprisingly all over the map. Yahoo! ranks him as the 20th best starting pitcher (84th overall player) while ESPN fantasy ranks him as the 35th best starting pitcher (121st overall player). It’s difficult to know what to expect from Darvish considering he hasn’t played in a big league game yet. He is talented for sure but there is a lot at play.
  • There are three other Texas starting pitchers that will get a look in standard fantasy leagues: Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Neftali Feliz. There is a bit of personal preference here. Feliz and Holland have the biggest skill sets, but lack a track record. Lewis is the safer option. I’d rank them Holland, Feliz, Lewis. They’re decent fantasy options but I’m not necessarily going out of my way to have them on my team.
  • There is reason to worry about Joe Nathan. Age, injury and ineffectiveness are all concerns. Nathan used to be one of the most reliable closers in baseball. Now, I wouldn’t want to invest a ton in him. He should get plenty of chances though.
  • In a deep league or super late in a draft you may want to take a shot at Mitch Moreland. He can hit at times and is a member of a great offense.
  • Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, and Koji Uehara are all interesting setup pitchers if you are looking for that sort of thing.
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