Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective concludes today with the Texas Rangers. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Rangers players, scheduled to post later today.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
After reaching the World Series and losing in 5 games in 2010, many assumed that the Texas Rangers' chances of recapturing the pennant were dependent on whether or not they could keep Cliff Lee. After a bit of manufactured drama, Lee bolted for Philadelphia and it seemed that Texas might just be a one-hit wonder. Indeed, thanks largely to a mess of a bullpen and an early season injury to Josh Hamilton, the Rangers were only 3 games above .500 at 44-41 on July 3 before they ripped off a 12-game winning streak that coincided nicely with Seattle's 17-game skid. After holding off a late charge from the Angels, Texas finished 96-66, 10 games clear of their rivals. They were the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs, and they were able to ride that momentum to another pennant and a considerably more gut-wrenching loss in the World Series, where they came 1 strike away from winning it all twice. I don't want to talk about it.
Heading into 2012, the Rangers are one of a handful of teams that can legitimately say that their goal is to win it all, but they'll have quite a fight within the division as they attempt to hold off the new-look Angels. They made a free agent splash of their own, signing the highly sought-after Yu Darvish in an attempt to replace the departed C.J. Wilson. If they can avoid major injuries and overcome regression at the plate from Mike Napoli and Michael Young, they'll be in a great position to return to the playoffs for a third straight year.
Fly balls hit at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington are often carried out of the field of play by a jet stream thought to be caused by the installation of the "Cuervo Club," a suite of sorts, behind home plate. Balls hit to left field are especially prone to leaving the park, but the jet stream has a mind of its own and is capable of pushing any ball out. It's not just the wind that makes RBiA an extreme hitter's park; summers in Texas are no joke, and the air is very warm and thin, even during night games. Add in a sparse foul territory, especially down the right field line, and you've got the park that gave up the most home runs in 2011.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Ron Washington will often frustrate fans with his insistence on playing small ball with a lineup that scored 855 runs last year, but by all accounts, he is a dependable manager of men. He's no stranger to creating his own controversy, but he's capable of pushing that down and forging on. His teams have won back-to-back pennants while dealing with a myriad of off-the-field distractions, including an in-season bankruptcy and ownership auction, Michael Young's incessant trade demands despite his cult hero status, Josh Hamilton's substance abuse problems, and C.J. Wilson being C.J. Wilson. He's incredibly loyal to his veterans, so if you have an aging Ranger player who is scuffling a bit, continue to start him on your fantasy team with confidence. Wash will ride him until his legs fall off.
Expected Position Battles
Center field was a point of contention this spring, with Leonys Martin expected to challenge Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry for playing time. It looks like Borbon and Gentry will platoon, but don't rule out an external addition. GM Jon Daniels has recently stated publicly that the team's priority is finding a right-handed bat to play center field (which would rule Gentry out; you're not using him in fantasy anyway unless your league counts defense for some reason). There's always the possibility that Josh Hamilton will slide to center field and David Murphy will take over for him in left, but the organization seems committed to helping Josh stay healthy by keeping him in the corner.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Ian Kinsler - 2B
Elvis Andrus - SS
Josh Hamilton - LF
Adrian Beltre - 3B
Michael Young - DH
Nelson Cruz - RF
Mike Napoli - C
Mitch Moreland - 1B
Borbon/Gentry - CF
Napoli will also play plenty of first base, with Yorvit Torrealba taking over for him at catcher. Washington likes to move Michael Young around the infield to give his regulars a day off.
Colby Lewis | Derek Holland | Yu Darvish | Matt Harrison | Neftali Feliz
The Rangers have an incredibly deep rotation, as Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando wait in the wings to make spot starts. Feliz moves from the bullpen and has been hitting 96 with his fastball in spring training starts.
Joe Nathan takes over for Neftali Feliz at closer, and there may still be some residual questions about his surgically-repaired elbow. He could end up being a bargain in fantasy, since he plays for a team that will give him plenty of save opportunities. Mike Adams is among the elite setup men in the league, as he contributes to three categories while logging plenty of innings. He may vulture a few saves if the 37 year-old Nathan is forced to work several days in a row. Elsewhere, Robbie Ross is an intriguing name for those in keeper leagues. Ross is a highly regarded prospect as a starter, but he has pitched himself into the conversation about who the Rangers' LOOGY should be.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
I've been beating the Derek Holland drum all off-season, but let me try to convince you once more:
No negative regression from 2011 numbers expected, a very favorable GB/FB ratio (1.38, which is great for the ballpark he pitches in, and he also has the benefit of pitching in front of a great defensive infield), and some fantastic second-half numbers to build on (3.08 K/BB, .241 BAA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.06 ERA). Oh, and he's only 25. Breakout.
Spring Storylines to Watch
Spring is almost over, but I've been monitoring the velocity reports on Neftali Feliz (good) and Colby Lewis (not so good) while watching to see if Koji Uehara will be moving on or not. I believe he will be traded at some point, and if he goes to the right team, he could be in line to get some saves.
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: T.R. Sullivan (Blog | Twitter)
Dallas Morning News beat reporter: Evan Grant (Blog | Twitter)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram beat reporter: Jeff Wilson (Blog | Twitter)
ESPNDallas.com beat reporter: Richard Durrett (Blog | Twitter)
Fox Sports Southwest beat reporter: Anthony Andro (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Lone Star Ball (Blog | Twitter)
Notable: Baseball Time in Arlington (Blog | Twitter)
Notable: The Newberg Report (Blog | Twitter)