2018 MLB preview: Texas Rangers

2017: 78-84

Last Postseason Appearance: 2016

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES TITLE

2017 Recap

In 2016, Texas won 95 games and finished first in the AL West, but folded in the playoffs, getting swept in three games by the Toronto Blue Jays. With the same main core of players, the Rangers won just 78 games in 2017, and had a losing record, head-to-head, against Houston, Seattle and Oakland.

Elvis Andrus finished fourth in doubles, and sixth in hits in 2017. (Dallas Morning News)

In one-run games, Texas was 13-24. They had a losing record in both the first, and second half, and never led the division at any point of the season. The pitching staff finished last in the AL in strikeouts, 11th in runs, and 13th in walks allowed. The offense finished 26th in the MLB in runs, and 27th in hits.  However, Texas finished fifth in the AL in runs, mainly because they were third in the MLB in home runs. They also finished fourth in steals, which shows this team has plenty of power and speed.

Elvis Andrus had a career year, finishing fourth in doubles, and sixth in hits. He also hit a career high 20 home runs (Previous high was 8), scored 100 runs, and drove in 88 (previous RBI high was 69). Andrus also added 25 steals and joined Jose Altuve, Mike Trout, and Tommy Pham as the only four players to hit .290/20HR/20SB.

Although he finished second in strikeouts and hit just .209, Joey Gallo had solid 2017. In his first full-season, Gallo came in fourth in at-bats per home run, clubbing 41 bombs, which was fifth in the MLB. Yes, the average is low and he strikes out too much, but the .333 OBP isn’t terrible, and he draws a lot of walks (9th in MLB at 14.1% in BB%).

2018: Around the Diamond

Texas will be sending out virtually the same lineup as they did in 2016. Robinson Chirinos, who hit 17 home runs with a .360 OBP in just 88 games, will remain behind the plate. Around the infield will be Gallo, Rougned Odor, Andrus, and Adrian Beltre.

The Rangers will need Odor to bounce-back from last year’s blunder, as he hit just .204 with a .252 OBP, and struck out 24.9 percent of the time. He walked less than 5 percent and showed no discipline at the plate, as his .224 BABIP was the worst among qualified hitters. Fortunately, Odor hit 30 home runs, which was the third-most by a second basemen.

Although he battled injuries most of the year, the 38-year-old Adrian Beltre continues to perform at an elite level. In just 94 games, the 4x All-Star hit .312, and 17 home runs with a .383 OBP. He is in the last year of his deal, so expect Beltre to continue to play his heart out and be one of the best personalities in baseball.

Nomar Mazara has a bright future ahead of him. (Sporting News)

Left to right, the Rangers will showcase Willie Calhoun, Delino DeShields, and Nomar Mazara. Calhoun was acquired from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish trade last July. He played in 13 games last year for Texas, and hit .265 with one home run and four RBIs. The 23-year-old has shown some power in the minors, hitting 27 HR in AA in 2016, and 31 HR in AAA last season. DeShields had 29 steals, which was tied for seventh in the bigs, and posted a .347 OBP in 120 games.

Nomar Mazara hit 20 home runs for the second straight season, and posted his first 100 RBI year. Mazara is just 22 years of age, and looks like he will have a long career in this league. Shin-Soo Choo hit 22 home runs with a .357 OBP in 2017, and will play the majority of the games at DH. Choo has a career .378 OBP, and has always been a solid talent.

On the Bump

The Rangers starters finished seventh in baseball in terms of WAR. The first four spots in the rotation look to be set. Cole Hamels had a down year in 2017, posting a 3.20 ERA, which was his highest since 2009. His walks have been up ever since he joined Texas, but he is still a great option for a number-one starter.

The Rangers will need Martin Perez to take a big step forward in 2018. (Sporting News)

Hamels will be followed by Martin Perez, Doug Fister, and Matt Moore. In 2017, Perez allowed the third most hits, and 10th most runs in the MLB. He needs to lower his ERA, but he is a reliable arm, throwing 185+ innings in back-to-back seasons. The veteran Fister showed glimpses of his younger self in 2017, but he will need to start games better if he hopes to remain in the rotation for the full-season. Last year, first time through the order, Fister had a 8.16 ERA.

Matt Moore is probably the biggest wild card. He was acquired this past December in a trade, after being one of the worst pitchers in 2017. Moore had a 5.52 ERA (7.22 on the road), 1.532 WHIP, and had the third-highest OPS against among qualified starters. He lost velocity on his fastball and has really never been the same since his Tommy John surgery in 2014. Before the surgery, Moore was 29-17 with a 3.53 ERA, and an opp. SLG of 3.65. Since, he is 22-31 with an ERA of 4.85, and an opp. SLG of .438.

The fifth starter spot will be a battle between Mike Minor, Matt Bush, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Ronald Herrera, and Yohander Mendez. Minor, who was a starter with Atlanta, posting a 2.55 ERA as a reliever in 2017 for Kansas City, probably has the best shot at earning the final spot in the rotation.

Alex Claudio will start out as the closer. In his career, over 162 innings, Claudio is 9-4 with a 2.66 ERA and a 1.152 WHIP. He had 11 saves last season, which was the most among all Texas relievers.

The Future

Joining Willie Calhoun on MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects’ list is Leody Taveras, who checks in at No. 34 on the list. Just 19 years of age, the switch-hitting outfielder is cousins with the 2008 MLB stolen-base leader, Willy Taveras. Speed runs in the family, as Leody stole 20 bases in 134 games in A-ball. He has the ability to play all outfield positons and, last season, hit eight home runs with seven triples as a member of the Hickory Crawdads.

2018 Prediction: 77-85

Texas has plenty of power and speed in the lineup, but the lack of pitching depth in a tough division is a glaring issue. Besides for Hamels, it is hard to rely on anyone in this staff, so expect more of the same for the Rangers.

Featured image by MLB.com

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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)

In this weekly segment, I intend to inform fantasy owners about who’s hot and who’s cold during a specific week, and whether or not I believe they will continue to trend in that direction.

Who’s Hot?

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Veteran Mark Reynolds is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

Mark Reynolds, First Basemen, Colorado Rockies

 

  • 9 for 22 with 4 runs scored, 3 HR, and 8 RBI

 

Reynolds has taken over for an injured Ian Desmond as the Rockies first basemen to start 2017. The 33-year-old veteran has been incredibly productive over the first week, as he is tied with Brandon Belt as the National League home run leader. Reynolds has been a prototypical home run or bust player over the years, as he has hit over 250 career home runs, while also leading the league in strikeouts four consecutive times. On the contrary to Reynolds perennial struggles at the plate, he batted .282 with 14 home runs in 393 at bats during the 2016 season. His playing time is sure to become sparse once Desmond returns, but until then, Reynolds will remain a comfortable source of production as he will continue to be an everyday player in the middle of the Rockies lineup.

 

Yasiel Puig, Right Fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

  • 7 for 19 with 5 runs scored, 3 HR, 5 RBI, and 1 SB

 

Puig has been one of the biggest teases in recent fantasy baseball history, as he batted .319 with 66 runs scored, 42 RBI, 19 HR, and 11 SB over a 104-game span in 2013. After dealing with nagging injuries and on and off the field issues in 2015 and 2016, he is finally showing his potential once again. The 26-year-old has begun the year batting in multiple positions in the order including fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth. It is a bit concerning that he is batting .000 in the four and five spots, although on the bright side, he may have found a home at the bottom of the lineup as he is batting over .500 as the seven or eight hitter.

Puig will continue to be a tantalizing fantasy option, but be aware of possible struggles. His plate discipline is league average, as he swings at about 30 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which could be a cause for concern as he will begin to see more off-speed pitches when batting in the heart of the order.

 

J.T. Realmuto, Catcher, Miami Marlins

Fantasy Baseball 2017

J.T. Realmuto is off to red hot start. (Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel)

  • 10 for 18 with 6 runs scored, 2 HR, and 6 RBI

 

The Marlins catcher is flat out on fire. Realmuto has begun the year batting primarily in the two-hole, which has worked great so far as he is currently batting over .500.  I wasn’t expecting this to type of success to happen to Realmuto, nor am I expecting it to continue.

The 26-year-old has a career ISO of .141, which suggests that his home run totals will not spike any time soon. This paired with his atrocious career walk rate of 4.7 percent makes me uneasy when thinking about Realmuto going forward.

 

Nomar Mazara, Right Fielder, Texas Rangers

 

  • 10 for 21 with 5 runs scored, 2 HR, and 9 RBI

 

The Rangers outfielder is off to a hot start in his second major league season. He has already mustered up nine RBI along with two home runs, all while batting just under .500. The 22-year-old has been a highly touted prospect since he was signed in 2012, and for good reason. He has hit 20 home runs twice, once at the minor-league level, and the other time being last season in 145 at bats in the majors. He is also a career .271 hitter at all levels, which is very respectable. In a full season, Mazara should have no problem hitting 20 bombs and batting .270 plus.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Dallas Keuchel is looking to return to Cy Young form in 2017 now that he is healthy. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

  • 1-0 allowing 1 ER, 4 H, and 3 BB over 14 IP with 8 Ks

 

The 2015 Cy Young struggled last season as he dealt with nagging shoulder and back injuries throughout the year. He has come into 2017 at 100 percent, and is ready for the season, which has shown in his first two appearances. Keuchel’s two starts have resulted in one win, and only one earned run over 14 innings pitched. The Astro’s are beginning to look like one of the American League’s most dangerous teams, which along with Keuchel’s improved health, gives him good chances of becoming the Cy Young once again.

Who’s cold?

 

Sam Dyson, Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers

 

  • 0-2 allowing 8 ER, 7 H, and 2 BB over 1 IP with 0 Ks

 

Dyson has gotten shelled in his first two appearances this season, pitching a total of one inning, allowing eight runs, walking two, and striking out none. Of course, his first two outings are disconcerting, but manager Jeff Banister has said he is not ready to move Dyson out of the closer role yet.

Dyson had a very successful 2016, pitching a total of 70 1/3 innings, resulting in a 2.43 ERA and 55 strike outs. I have confidence in Dyson retaining the closer job for the long-term future, as he has had enough success in the past to warrant a longer leash than most closers.

 

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Masahiro Tanaka is off to a shaky start in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • 0-1 allowing 10 ER, 14 H, and 6 BB over 7 2/3 IP

 

After allowing 10 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings over his first two starts, Yankees’ ace Tanaka will take the mound Thursday, April 13th, at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. His first two appearances came away against American League East foes, which are commonly the toughest starts this pitcher will make all season. Yes, he has struggled mightily this year, although I’m confident he will turn it around.

The 28-year-old has a career 3.26 ERA over 497 2/3 innings pitched. He has no chance of losing his job, although his injury history is a bit unnerving. A partially torn UCL brought up talks of tommy john surgery last season, although he opted to forgo the surgery in order to avoid a long and tedious recovery process. Tanaka will remain an injury risk all year, but his numbers should return to form.

 

Byron Buxton, Center Fielder, Minnesota Twins

 

  • 1 for 22 with 0 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

Unfortunately for baseball fans, Buxton is off to a brutal start. With only one hit in his first 22 at bats, once touted as the next Mike Trout, Buxton has consistently disappointed. He has batted an underwhelming .214 over 449 at bats at the major-league level.

The 23-year-old still has untapped potential, as he batted .322 with 15 home runs, 119 runs scored, 85 RBI, and 57 steals in 2013 at multiple minor league levels. In keeper leagues, he is definitely worth holding on to. Although, in redraft leagues, it may be time to go in another direction.

 

D.J. Lemahieu, Second Basemen, Colorado Rockies

Fantasy Baseball 2017

D.J. Lemahieu has only one hit in his first 22 at bats, although it is too early to give up on the 2016 NL Batting Champ. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

  • 1 for 23 with 2 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

The 2016 National League Batting Champion is off to an ice-cold start this season. He has only one hit in his first 23 at bats, which has resulted in him receiving a day off this Sunday. Lemahieu will remain atop the Rockies lineup for the time being, but a move to the bottom half of the order could help rejuvenate the All-Star. The 28-year-old is a career .298 hitter who should have no problem getting back on track.

 

Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Texas Rangers

 

  • 1 for 15 with 1 run scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

The Rangers backstop also has only one hit to start this season, although once again, I’m not worried about the future production of All-Star. Lucroy is a career .283 hitter, who hit 24 homers just a year ago. He is also in a contract year, so he has more to prove then most players. There is no reason to worry about arguably the best two-way catcher in baseball.

 

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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

I will begin my outfield rankings with one of the more intriguing positions in 2017: left field. This position hasn’t been this deep since the early and mid 2000s when we witnessed Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun dominate fantasy as perennial top ten picks.

Many left fielders, young and old, have begun to emerge and make the position much deeper than many people originally anticipated.

The top 30 left fielders have been grouped into five tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Alex Gordon (KC), Brandon Drury (ARI), Roman Quinn (PHI), and Matt Holliday (NYY).

Exceptions include: Ian Desmond (COL), who will miss six to eight weeks, approximately 50 games, after undergoing hand surgery, and Yasmany Tomas (ARI), who may start on DL with an oblique injury, and currently no time table for return.  

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

Kris Bryant is the lone man in tier 1 of left fielders in 2017. He exploded onto the scene in 2015 to smash 26 home runs and drive in 99 RBIs. That was good enough to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant continued to improve in 2016 with 39 home runs, 121 runs scored and 102 RBIs. That resulted in him winning the NL MVP award.

The 25-year-old is a career .284 hitter and has stolen 21 bases in two years. Bryant will be the first left fielder selected in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

  • Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  • Ryan Braun (MIL)
  • Starling Marte (PIT)
  • Christian Yelich (MIA)

Yoenis Cespedes is once again an elite fantasy option in all formats heading into 2017. The three-time MVP candidate has been on pace for 100 RBIs per 162 games in four of his five MLB seasons.

The 31-year-old, who is batting .277 since 2014, remains an integral producer in the New York Mets lineup and is sure to be a top 25 overall hitter if healthy.

Christian Yelich had his first breakout year in 2016 with career highs of 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. The 25-year-old has a career .293 batting average and is averaging about 19 steals per 162 games.

Yelich is a perennial 20 home run and 20 steal candidate. He could be a menacing 30/30 threat for years to come should he continue to improve. The Marlins three hitter will be selected within the top 50 picks in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Michael Brantley is poised for a bounce back in 2017. (Courtesy of TLA Worldwide)

  • Gregory Polanco (PIT)
  • Kyle Schwarber (CHC)
  • Justin Upton (DET)
  • Matt Kemp (ATL)
  • Khris Davis (OAK)
  • Michael Brantley (CLE)

Like Yelich, Gregory Polanco was another left fielder who broke out in 2016. The 24-year-old managed to reach career highs in home runs with 22 and RBIs with 86 in only 144 games.

Polanco has averaged 25 steals per 162 games, which shows his five-category potential. The 6-foot-5 230-pounder is also bound to increase his power numbers as he continues to grow into his frame. A 30/30 season isn’t out of the realm for Polanco, which warrants him as a top 60 pick in all formats.

Michael Brantley is arguably the most overlooked player in 2017. He is healthy and ready to bounce back. The 29-year-old has been battling a chronic shoulder injury since the end of 2015. He is now officially ready to go for opening day.

The third-place finisher in the AL MVP in 2014 will rejoin the most talented Cleveland Indians lineup since the late 1990s. With the emergence of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley should have no problem producing. He is currently being selected as the 140th player on ESPN according to fantasypros.com. I believe he is well worth a top 120 pick.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Andrew Benintendi intends to take home the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017. (Photos via Getty Images)

  • Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
  • Jose Ramirez (CLE)
  • Willson Contreras (CHC)
  • Marcel Ozuna (MIA)
  • Carlos Gomez (TEX)
  • Adam Duval (CIN)
  • Ben Zobrist (CHC)
  • David Dahl (COL)
  • Nomar Mazara (TEX)

My selection for AL Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi, has an uncertain potential. His MLB sample size is a mere 118 plate appearances. The former Golden Spikes award winner is a five-tool player who has batted .313, .312, and .295 in three seasons at five different levels, including the MLB.

The 22-year-old may begin the year at the bottom half of the order. However, he will find his way to the top in no time. Batting ahead or directly behind of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez will allow him to be an extremely productive player.

He is currently being selected as the 111th player on ESPN, and certainly warrants a pick this early.

Nomar Mazara has seen his draft stock fall as of late. Word of a possible platoon against lefties has concerned owners about his at bat totals in 2017. I’m a full believer in Mazara’s ability to be an everyday player in this league, He has continuously improved his batting average throughout his minor-league career.

The 21-year-old has shown he has the potential to be a .280 hitter with 20 or more home runs over a full season. If an injury or poor performance were to occur to his platoon partner, Mazara could take the everyday spot and run with it.

He is being selected as the 260th player on ESPN, which makes him a sleeper in the majority of leagues. I wouldn’t hesitate selecting him top 200, especially in keeper leagues and dynasty leagues.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, is this a sign of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

  • Corey Dickerson (TB)
  • Jayson Werth (WSH)
  • Eric Thames (MIL)
  • Melky Cabrera (CWS)
  • Jorge Soler (KC)
  • Curtis Granderson (NYM)
  • Michael Saunders (PHI)
  • Rajai Davis (OAK)
  • Brett Gardner (NYY)
  • Jarrod Dyson (SEA)
  • Ender Enciarte (ATL)

People tend to forget about Corey Dickerson’s success in Colorado. He batted .312 and .304 in consecutive seasons. The 27-year-old has dropped 25 pounds in order to obtain the starting left field spot as opposed to being the designated hitter, which is where he spent the majority of his time in 2016.

Either way, Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and is a threat for 30 home runs and solid RBI production. His current ADP on ESPN is 276, which is very low for someone with .300/80/30/80 potential.

Ender Inciarte has quietly been a career .292 hitter while averaging about 24 steals per 162 games. Inciarte will be the leadoff hitter once again for a young but talented Atlanta Braves lineup that commonly goes under the radar.

Although there is a lack of power, it isn’t out of his realm to sport a stat line of .300 100/10/50/20. The 25-year-old is currently being selected as the 196th player on ESPN, putting him just outside the top 50 outfielders, which I believe he is.

 

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