2008 Texas Rangers’ Preview

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As a director at KSAT, it’s not often that I get the chance to write anything other than scathing discrepancy reports. So when offered the chance to blog about my beloved Texas Rangers on KSAT Broken News, I immediately said yes. First and foremost, San Antonio is a basketball town. This is Spurs country. I’m not naive to that and since moving to SA five years ago I have slowly come to love the Spurs. In close second come the Cowboys, also a fan. In a distant, far off land where elves and fairies grant wishes comes baseball, which is where I live. I love baseball. I love the Texas Rangers. I still remember the first time my dad took me to a game when I was six at old Arlington Stadium, I was so excited and loved every second. The smells of baseball are immaculate. Leather gloves, baseballs, the fresh-cut grass, the dogs and nachos, and of course, beer….mmmm, beer. For me, there is nothing better in the world than sitting in the ballpark and taking in a game. I have been a Rangers’ fan since the first time I stepped foot into Arlington Stadium. I remember watching Kevin Brown, Odibie McDowell, Ruben Sierra, Pudge, Kenny Rogers, Rusty Greer, etc. The list could go on for quite some time. As a child, my favorite player was Odibie McDowell. He wasn’t very good but his number was “00” and that always intrigued me. When I was 13, I could have gotten the autograph of anyone in the dugout through a friend…I chose Odibie. Nolan Ryan? In hindsight, probably not a good idea but at the time I didn’t know any better.

I have been going to Rangers’ games for 25 years. That’s a long time. And it’s a really really long time when your team is really not very good…ever. Being a Rangers’ fan is, at best, an exercise in futility. In the team’s 36-year history, they have been to the playoffs three times and won only one game. We haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999 and Texas is only one of four teams in baseball to never play in the World Series. It seems the team is in a never ending cycle of rebuilding, adding young players then trading them away, signing washed up veterans hoping for a reclamation project and then finding out that they were, in fact, washed up (Richard Hidalgo, Ken Caminiti, John Rocker, etc –i could go on for hours). But this year I am excited! I don’t know if it’s just spring baseball fever or what, for the first time I feel like this team is seriously committed to rebuilding and competing in the near future. Do I have delusions of grandeur? No. Did I drink the Koolaid? Just a little. I hear and read some things about the Rangers being this year’s version of the 2007 Rockies but don’t get too excited, it’s doubtful. At best, if everyone stays healthy, we could have an outside shot at the Wild Card. The team favored to win the Al West is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in California on the West Coast near the Pacific Ocean. Unless California falls into the ocean, I’m pretty sure that’s a safe bet. Joe Ruiz, our evening internet producer is a Mariners fan and so I can safely say, without a doubt, the Mariners will finish dead last in the division. This prediction is based solely on the fact that I want Joe to be sad.

Ok, enough banter. The purpose of this post is to give you, the ever hopeful Rangers’ fan (or casual baseball fan), a preview of the upcoming 2008 season which starts this Monday, March 31st. I’ll give you a rundown of the organization from the owner on down. I’ll lay out my predicted 25-man roster and who may surprise you this season. Then I’ll end this thing with what I think will the final standings in the AL West come playoff time.

Owner – Tom Hicks
Ugh. The mis-management of this organization by the owner seems to never end. Chan-Ho Park anyone? He says there is a commitment to win but never really comes through. Giving bad contracts to bad players is not any sort of way to win. I could talk for hours about this guy but I won’t. If you need another example of how people hate him, see Liverpool FC. I’m pretty sure all of Great Britain and Europe hates Tom Hicks.

Team President – Nolan Ryan
He just got the job last month so not much evidence to give him a thumbs up or down. I liked the deal. For a long time, the team president had been a business guy and not someone who had a baseball background. Having Nolan in there is a great PR move as well as an organizational move. I think he believes in the current rebuilding plan. We’ll see.

General Manager – Jon Daniels (aka JD, aka Boy Wonder)
I think I’m older than JD, I’m 31. He’s a smart baseball guy. He made an awful, awful trade a couple of years ago when he traded Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. If that trade had not been made, we wouldn’t be depending on Ben Broussard at 1st this season. Hindsight is 20/20 and I still think JD is a good GM. Time will tell.

Manager – Ron Washington (aka Wash)
Former third-base coach for the Oakland A’s, he came in last season and the first two months were horrendous. I used to love Wash, now I’m on the fence. Some of the decisions he has made since he came here have perplexed me, mostly ones concerning the line-up. I’m willing to give him until the end of the season to swing me to his side but we’ll see.

Pitching Coach – Mark Connor
No bad words to say about this man. Has done a good job with the talent he’s been given and has a great reputation throughout baseball.

Now to the team itself. Most of the positions have been set but there are still a couple of decisions regarding the roster to be made. So a couple of these will be educated guesses on my part.

Catcher – Gerald Laird
During the winter months, JD stated that Jarrod Saltalamacchia (from here on out referred to as Salty) would be the starting catcher. Salty was the centerpiece of the Tex trade last summer, along with about half of Atlanta’s farm system. JD backed off that statement right before spring training started and now it looks like Gerald Laird will break camp as the starting catcher. Meh. Laird is a good defensive back-stop but his hitting was atrocious last season. There are two schools of thought on Salty. The predominating one is that he starts the season at AAA so he can catch every day. The only problem with this is what to do with uber-catching prospect Taylor Teagarden? The other idea is that Salty breaks camp with team and backs up Laird as well as DH’ing so that he can play everyday, or almost everyday. The prevailing criticism of Salty is his defense but I don’t see it as a problem and he was worked hard to become better. The ONLY thing Laird does better than him is throw out runners. Laird has a cannon for an arm and is very accurate, throwing runners out at almost a 50% clip. Too bad his batting average is barely above the Mendoza Line. A decision on Salty should be made by this weekend, don’t be surprised to see him start the season in OKC. My dark-horse prediction is that Laird gets traded but it’s not a huge possibility.

Mike’s Prediction:
.240 and Salty is starting before July

First Base – Ben Broussard
Ben Broussard, a native Texan and terrible musician, was traded to the Rangers this past December from the Mariners. Ben has a good glove but his offense is lacking for a first baseman. He doesn’t hit lefties very well but Ron Washington says he’ll give Ben a chance to play against them to see if he can come through. I don’t particularly like or dislike Broussard. He is what he is, a serviceable first baseman with a good glove. In a perfect world, you’d like to see more offense from this position.

Mike’s Prediction:
.265/14 HR’s/75 RBI

Second Base – Ian Kinsler
I love Ian Kinsler and so do the Rangers. He just signed a 5-year deal worth $22 million. Despite having a stress fracture in his left foot that kept him out part of last season (he played in 130 games), he still hit 20 homeruns and stole 23 bases. The Rangers see him as a potential 30-30 guy and I think he can do it. He’s an exciting kid to watch and he plays baseball the way it was meant to be played. He’ll be hitting lead-off this season.

Mike’s Prediction:
.303/24 HR’s/110 runs scored/32 stolen bases

Shortstop – Michael Young
What can I say about Michael Young that hasn’t already been said? The guy is consummate professional. With Mike you’ll get two guaranteed things: a .300 batting average and good defense. One thing to watch out for this season is a little added power, Young has stated he has been working on adding some pop to his bat and hitting for more power. We’ll see if that affects his average. He’ll be hitting in the 2-hole this season after Kinsler.

Mike’s Prediction:
.310/21 HR’s/100 Runs Scored

Third Base – Hank Blalock
I love Hank, always have. He’s a gritty ball player. 2008 is a huge year for Hank, he was out a majority of the 2007 season because of surgery to have a rib removed due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Count me among the people who think Hank is due for a return to his early career numbers. His best seasons were ’03 & ’04. If he can hit around .280 with 25-30 HR’s I think it will have been a good year for him.

Mike’s Prediction:
.290/32 HR’s/100 RBI

Outfield

The outfield for the 2008 Texas Rangers has some very interesting people. There’s Milton Bradley, the guy named after a toy company who has the temper of a child. There’s Josh Hamilton, former 1st round draft pick and crack addict. You have David Murphy who was added last summer in the Gagne trade with Boston. And last, but not least, Marlon Byrd who kind of came out of nowhere to have a decent 2007. I think he’s on the downslope of a mediocre career but apparently he’s a team leader and a very positive clubhouse guy. Let’s begin with my favorite Ranger, David Murphy.

David Murphy
I love David Murphy. David Murphy is my favorite Ranger. There are rumors that David Murphy’s tears could cure cancer but he doesn’t cry so we may never know. Before being traded to Texas last season, David was hitting .500!!! Granted, that was in 2 AB’s. In 103 AB’s with Texas, the guy hit .340 and ran all over the outfield at Rangers Ballpark (aka Ameriquest Field, aka The Ballpark in Arlington, aka The Ballpark, aka TBIA). He’s had a monster spring and deserves to start. He’ll probably get the chance since it looks Milton Bradley will start the season at DH.

Mike’s Prediction:
.999/100 HR’s/600 RBI (league MVP of course)

Milton Bradley
If you know about baseball, you know about Milton Bradley. He’s a very intense individual, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call him crazy. Here’s an example of his intensity, breaking a bat over his knee. I’m pretty sure you can’t do that.

Bradley also tore his ACL at the end of last season after trying to fight an umpire. Intense? Sort of. He’ll start the season DH’ing because his knee is not completely healed. When it gets better, he will see time in the outfield. Bradley is a good player when not going insane. He’s a lifetime .273 hitter with a little pop in his bat. He’ll be a nice gap filler for the 2008 season if he doesn’t stab a bat boy.

Mike’s Prediction:
.285/11 HR’s/2 Mildly Crazy Episodes

Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton has an amazing story. Drafted by the Devil Rays in 1999 as the number one overall pick, Josh was a true 5-tool player. He got injured and then fell into a deep, dark faze of his life that involved lots of crack and very little baseball. He’s been sober two years and had an amazing comeback season with the Reds last season. The Rangers traded for him in the off-season and have high hopes. One of the many problems the Rangers have faced over the years is the lack of consistency in centerfield. If Josh can stay off drugs and stay healthy, he might be the answer. This guy is a beast and a freakin’ talented baseball player. I hope he does well for his sake and the Rangers’.

Mike’s Prediction:
.320/42 HR’s/120 RBI/0 Crack Pipe Hits

Marlon Byrd
I really want to like Marlon Byrd, I do. I hear he’s a great team leader and super nice guy. He hit .307 last year, but only .268 after the break. There have been rumors swirling all spring that the Cubs are interested in him but aren’t offering enough. I’d be hesitant to trade him if only for the fact we are thin in the outfield ranks. But hey, the guy is a heck of an outfielder. So here’s hoping he has a decent season.

Mike’s Prediction:
.265/12 HR’s

Starting Pitchers
Ugh. Have we ever had decent starting pitching? Right off the bat, names like Jenkins, Blyleven, Ryan, and Rogers pop into my mind but we’ve never had a consistent staff. This team will live and die by the starting pitching. The pitching in 2008 could be good but it could also be terrible like it was last season. For this team to have any sort of chance, it needs 15 wins from at least three starters.

Kevin Millwood
Solid career numbers. I was excited when they signed him and had high hopes. So far the results have been meh. Last season he was terrible. He posted a dismal 5.16 ERA and 10-14 record. He’s better than that. He spent this past off-season working hard and came into camp looking better than ever. In his one spring start he was great, going 5 innings, striking out 5, and giving up zero runs. For this team to be successful, Millwood needs to win 15 games and post an ERA lower than 4.5. I think he can do it and so does he. Let’s cross our fingers.

Mike’s Prediction:
4.24 ERA/16 Wins

Vicente Padilla
Padilla was acquired from the Phillies a couple of years ago. He’s insane. He likes to throw at guys. His temper was his downfall last season. He posted a horrendous 5.76 ERA and a 6-10 record. He was also injured for part of the season and only pitched in 23 games. If he can stay calm and not kill anyone, he could have a solid year. He’s been pretty good this spring, let’s hope those numbers transition into the season.

Mike’s Prediction:
4.65 ERA/14 Wins/0 murders

Jason Jennings
Jason Jennings is a native Texan and Baylor alumni. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2002 with the Colorado Rockies. He played for the Astros last season and posted less than decent numbers with a 6.46 ERA. However, he only appeared in 19 games because of an elbow injury. He’s coming off surgery and has had a very nice spring, the best among Rangers’ pitchers. This is a rebound year for Jason and I hope he can return to form. He doesn’t bring devastating heat or a nasty curve but he knows how to pitch. I would like to think he could post Kenny Rogers-esque numbers this season. We’ll see, he’s one of the huge questions marks going in to 2008. If he stays healthy, he could return to form and be a nice number three starter. Of course, this is all predicated on his health.

Mike’s Prediction:
4.20 ERA/ 14 Wins

Kason Gabbard
Acquired from the Red Sox in the Gagne trade, there are a lot of questions surrounding Gabbard. Mainly, can he stay healthy? (noticing a trend yet?) He’s a lefty and lefties tend to have success at Ameriquest Rangers Ballpark Field in Arlington. Gabby has a devastating curve that’s considered his “strike-out pitch,” especially against left-handed hitters. He won 6 games with the Rangers after being acquired last July but had to be shut down in September with arm fatigue. This season will be a true test for him, we’ll see if he has the stamina.

Mike’s Prediction:
5.50 ERA/out of the rotation by August 1st

Luis Mendoza
Luis Mendoza is considered by many to be a “back of the rotation” kinda guy. He’s got a nasty sinking fastball along with a changeup and two-seamer to throw off hitters. Think of him as Kam Loe but with more than one pitch. He made 6 appeances last season in September, 3 of them starts, and posted a 2.25 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP. Nice numbers for pretty much any pitcher. He’s getting a shot in the rotation because Brandon McCarthy is hurt. I would project B-Mac but he’s kind of fragile. He’s supposed to be back in early May but we’ll see. Mendoza has a good shot to be pretty decent, if nothing else he’ll be serviceable. He’ll start the season in AAA OKC because the Rangers don’t need a fifth start until April 12th. In the meantime, the Rangers will carry an extra bullpen arm.

Mike’s Prediction:
5.20 ERA

Bullpen
The Rangers’ bullpen has been a strength for the past few years and they’ve certainly gotten tons of work. You know, because the rotation generally sucks. This year, there are still questions surrounding a couple of spots. Here are the definites:

CJ Wilson – Closer
I love CJ Wilson. I love his fire, his grit, and his determination. The guy is a competitor. He needs to capitalize on the things he accomplished last season in his short audition in the closer’s role and be lights out. Hopefully he’s learned from his mistakes, we’ll see.

Mike’s Prediction:
3.25 ERA/25 Saves

Joaquin Benoit – Setup
The other candidate for closer was the Rangers’ pitcher of the year last season. Benoit has electric stuff and I’m not so sure he and CJ might not be switching spots sometime this season. In 2007, he posted a 2.85 ERA, a .225 Opponents Batting Average, and 1.17 WHIP. I have no doubt he will continue to bring the filth this season.

Mike’s Prediction:
2.65 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10 Saves

Eddie Guardado
I got the chance to see Everyday Eddie pitch in his heyday up in Minnesota years ago. I always liked the way he approached the game. He’s getting along in years but has a chance to revive his career after surgery last season. I don’t think he’ll be that good but I think he will be serviceable because, if nothing else, he’s a smart pitcher.

Mike’s Prediction:
4.65 ERA

Kazuo Fukumori
Fukumori is a Japanese import and this will be his first year playing in America. He has a weird Japanese delivery so no doubt he’ll have a little success for awhile, although it’s not as pronounced as some others. He had an inconsistent career in Japanese ball but he has looked good this spring. He’s coming off surgery too, so no telling what may happen.

Mike’s Prediction:
4.50 ERA/out with an injury by August

Jamey Wright
Jamey Wright is pretty much a baseball journeyman. He mostly started last season with mediocre success. Jamey really shined in the long relief role late in the season which is where he’ll be in 2008. He posted a 2.18 ERA over 20 innings in September. I don’t like the way he pitches and I know a lot of Rangers’ fans that feel the same way but if he can be successful I have no problem with him being on the roster.

Mike’s Prediction:
4.25 ERA

The next three arms are based on my predictions. And one of them will be gone when Mendoza gets called up on April 12th.

Franklyn German
Another journeyman, this guy throws about 97-98mph. He’s got gas, the problem with German is he has no control. Word out of Surprise is that he may have found the ever-elusive control and is a strong candidate to make the bullpen out of spring training.

Robinson Tejeda
Highly touted, highly disappointing. After destroying opposing batters in September 2006, he was given a starting job last season and did his best to blow it. He’s out of options and hasn’t had a very good spring. His only redeeming quality seems to be that he throws the ball really freakin’ hard. I don’t see the Rangers giving up on him just yet.

Wes Littleton
Of the remaining candidates for the bullpen, I had a hard time choosing between Littleton, Josh Rupe, and Kameron Loe. I chose Wes because they all pitch about the same but he fields the position better than any of the others. And as a ground-ball pitcher, great fielding skills are a must.

Bench

Jason Botts -Last chance to make it with the Rangers. Destroyed the ball in the minors but hasn’t found his stroke. Will get an extended audition when the season starts.

Frank Catalanatto – Cat is Cat. He’ll play about 4-5 positions, hit .280-.300. Nice backup.

Ramon Vasquez – Came through in a huge way last year as the utility man. Has had a great spring, no reason for him not to be on the team.

Adam Melhuse – Serviceable back-up catcher. I think he backs up Laird and Salty starts the season at AAA.

 

So that’s it for the roster. As you can see, a lot of the Rangers’ success this season will be predicated on health. If many players go down, it won’t be a pretty site. Here’s my AL West prediction:

AL West

LAAA 94-68 (division winner)

Rangers 86-76 (wildcard???)

A’s 76-86

Mariners 0-162

Names to Remember

-Matt Harrison

-Chris Davis

-Eric Hurley

-Taylor Teagarden

 

 

That’s all I have for now. I’d love to hear your opinions on the 2008 Rangers or baseball in general.

-Mike

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3 Comments on “2008 Texas Rangers’ Preview”

  1. nwsportsblogg Says:

    “Mariners 0-162” ?

    I think you will be surprised this year with the Mariners and their pitching staff. They have had a productive off season and a lot people see them in a close race with the Angeles. Lets see if your Rangers can even post a winning record this season, you might be getting a little ahead of your self. The race between the Mariners and Angles will be tight for this division, I can see the A’s landing some punches too. You can’t argue with history, the Rangers have been in either last place or second to last in the AL West for the past 8 years.

  2. directormike Says:

    On the realistic side, I know the Rangers don’t have much of a shot. I would be ecstatic with a winning record. I’ll take the small victories any day. Here’s a more realistic prediction

    Angels
    Mariners
    Rangers
    A’s

    But hey, as of this morning we’re tied for first. And I think the Mariners are a tad overhyped at this point. I could see the Rangers and Mariners flip-flopping all season long.

  3. nwsportsblogg Says:

    I just want to see someone take down the Angeles. I am sick of watching Vladimir swing at every single pitch! They do have a dangerous set of hitters, I will give them that.

    -bk
    http://nwsport.wordpress.com/


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