Old Cleveland nemesis Shin-Soo Choo was given 130 million good reasons to rejoin the American League following his career year in Cincinnati. Choo's tremendous overall 2013 numbers masked the concerning issue that his platoon split expanded for the third straight season. It's now to the point that his OPS against lefties is 400 points lower than his OPS against righties, as he only mustered a .265 slugging percentage off of same-handed pitchers. His ability to draw walks and play a great left field will keep him playable against southpaws, but at 31, I'd bet against that being the case for the duration of his contract.
Slick-fielding shortstop Elvis Andrus remains one of the more underrated players in the game. He just has an average bat for his position, but when you play shortstop as well as Andrus does, the average bat should be considered a bonus. He's always been a great baserunner, but last season it actually showed up in the stolen base column as Andrus swiped 42 bags in just 50 attempts.
As White Sox fans are all too aware, Alex Rios' play has varied wildly between awful and great since 2008, so it's tough to predict what he'll do this time around. The best-case scenario is that Rios gives the Rangers great defense in right field, efficient base-stealing, a good batting average, and 50-some extra base hits. The worst case scenario is that Rios becomes branded as a lazy supervillain hell bent on sucking all baseball enthusiasm out of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex by tapping countless weak grounders at opposing third basemen. 2011 was not a fun year.
Texas pulled off one of the biggest moves of the winter, acquiring Prince Fielder in exchange for Ian Kinsler. Even in a down year, the stocky first baseman was a plenty productive hitter in 2013 and is still a decent bet to bounce back for another 30 home run season. His build doesn't make you think "ironman", but Prince has only failed to be in the starting lineup once in the past 5 seasons. Unfortunately, he appeared on the White Sox schedule just a bit too late to resurrect Donnie Veal's season.
The White Sox are catching the Rangers while Adrian Beltre is sidelined with a quad injury, so Kevin Kouzmanoff will be filling in for him. Kouzmanoff hasn't played in the majors since 2011 because his ability to hit completely disappeared after a few respectable seasons with the Padres in his youth. Even his minor league numbers have been unimpressive the last two seasons, so it's surprising and fortunate (for him) that he's getting a shot. Kouzmanoff could hit for good power in his better days, but it'd be unwise to expect much from him now.
Mitch Moreland has been hanging around the Rangers for a few years now, never doing anything all that notable and always kind of feeling like "Plan B." With most of Texas' 2013 DH options out of the picture and Prince Fielder starting at the cold corner, the DH slot is Moreland's to lose. However, 20-homer power, modest plate discipline, and sub-par contact skills aren't exactly exciting for the gloveless.
Due to a torn meniscus, Geovany Soto is currently on the disabled list. The Rangers are using the contact-challenged J.P. Arencibia in his place for the time being. Arencibia's ability to hit home runs is what keeps him employed, but his career-high batting average is .233 and his career-high on-base percentage is .282. On defense, he's awful at pitch-blocking and sub-par at throwing out base thieves. Arencibia is living proof that even if Tyler Flowers goes ice cold at the plate again, the Sox could still do worse.
Cuban defector Leonys Martin is the third excellent base thief in the Texas lineup. One gets the sense that this group isn't going to let opposing batteries rest easy. Martin is a slightly below-average hitter who isn't great at making contact, drawing walks, or hitting for power, but is passable enough at all three to make the total package an asset due to his excellent baserunning and his defense in center field. An eye-popping batting line in a half season at Round Rock in 2012 gives hope that the 26-year-old will have more to offer at the plate in 2014.
Jurickson Profar is out with a muscle tear in his shoulder, so Josh Wilson is getting the majority of the reps at second base for the Rangers. Wilson is a journeyman utility infielder serving as a roster yo-yo for his eighth organization. He can play anywhere in the infield but owns a career .227/.279/.318 batting line, so he's pretty much harmless. He'll have to continue to fend off Donnie Murphy to keep getting playing time, which is a lot harder than it sounds when you are Josh Wilson.
The Texas starting rotation is gradually inching its way back to full health, but there's still a couple placeholders here as Matt Harrison and Derek Holland recover from injuries. Yu Darvish is a true ace and one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. He led baseball in strikeouts last season with 277, 37 more than runner-up Max Scherzer. Darvish has a fastball that sits in the low-mid 90's, but his best pitch is a filthy slider that makes hitters look silly. He's only allowed two runs through his first three starts this season, so he's out to an early lead in the Cy Young race.
Tanner Scheppers did some nice high-leverage work in the Texas bullpen last season as a two-pitch pitcher that didn't have a great strikeout rate, but kept runs off the board. It therefore registered as a huge surprise when he wound up on the mound as the Opening Day starter for the Rangers. Scheppers converted to starting during spring training, a move that seemed somewhat questionable given that he didn't exactly overwhelm hitters last season when only facing them once in a game. Sure enough, he's getting burned on his second trip through the opposing batting order to the tune of .500/.514/.750. This is a tiny sample, of course, but there were already plenty of reasons to think that Scheppers shouldn't face guys twice.
Young lefty Martin Perez established himself in the major leagues last year by posting a 3.62 ERA over 20 starts. It's tough to piece together how he achieved that mark. Perez didn't strike out many hitters, allowed his fair share of homers, and isn't particularly a ground ball pitcher. A look at the splits shows that his opponents' slugging percentage was .354 with runners on base and .454 with the bases empty. Sure enough, 16 of the 18 home runs he allowed were solo shots. This season should help clarify whether that was just dumb luck or a manifestation of his ability to bear down when pitching from the stretch. Though Perez hasn't struck out many hitters, his best way to do so is by use of his very good changeup. We'd best brace ourselves to re-learn the worst five words you can say to a hitter.
Like Scheppers, Robbie Ross is a reliever that the Rangers converted to starting but unlike Scheppers, he's had some success thus far in the form of a 1.00 ERA through three starts. The lefty's walks are up and his strikeouts are down from what he had posted in the bullpen, so there's likely plenty of regression on the horizon. Ross has a bizarre reverse platoon split; for his career, right-handed hitters own a .578 OPS against him. If the Sox don't think this is an aberration, they might rest Paul Konerko, Ross' first career strikeout victim.
Oft-injured Colby Lewis is strangely one of the Rangers' healthy arms at the moment, so he gets himself an honorary entry in this preview. Lewis is a late bloomer that failed his way out of the majors in his late 20's and got a second chance after a successful stint in Japan. He missed the entirety of the 2013 season due to elbow surgery followed by hip resurfacing surgery. Prior to this recent slate of missed time, Lewis was a league-average innings muncher with a swing-and-miss slider and good control. His major flaw is that he's a flyball pitcher with just a high-80's fastball, so his mistakes tend to get hit a long way. Lewis will be looking to continue his comeback story and set himself up for a major league contract next season.
Ex-Royal Joakim Soria had Tommy John surgery and missed a season and a half before returning last July for the Rangers. He hasn't had good control since his return and now walks enough hitters to fit in with the White Sox bullpen. Soria still has a good fastball / slider combo, but he's no longer the monster of a closer that he was in his early 20's.
Outlook & Prediction: The Rangers have a plethora of injury problems and might struggle to tread water in the coming months while they wait to get their team on the field. The White Sox are catching them at the right time. Predicted record and finish: 83-79, third place, AL West