It's hard to imagine a baseball team going on a more successful yet disappointing three-year run than the one that unfolded in Arlington from 2010-12. The Texas Rangers went 279-207 in the regular season, a .574 winning percentage, and made the playoffs all three years, winning the American League pennant in '10 and '11. But they suffered a heartbreaking collapse in Game 6 of the '11 World Series against the Cardinals, twice being one strike away from taking the crown. After looking like the best team in the majors for a broad swath of the '12 season, the Rangers went 15-16 in September, blowing a four-game AL West lead to the A's before ultimately losing to the Orioles in the AL's inaugural coin-flip game. So excuse the Rangers and their fans if they aren't exactly thrilled about their three consecutive playoff appearances.
You know who has been thrilled over the past three seasons, though? Pretty much any fantasy owner who invested resources in a Ranger or two. From current Rangers Yu Darvish, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz to former Rangers Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, the Rangers have been a source of fantasy gold even while falling short of the real-life championship. That song should remain the same this year, even with Hamilton now suiting up for the rival Angels. The talent might not be as abundant as it once was, but with Kinsler, Darvish, Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Nathan, many of the Rangers' fantasy-worthy guys are top-end players. Throw in starting pitchers Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando, and Texas has four starters who should all be owned in mixed leagues. And remember, shortstop Jurickson Profar, the top-rated prospect in all of baseball, will be heard from sooner rather than later. More on him in a bit.
1. Elvis Andrus, SS 2. Ian Kinsler, 2B 3. Lance Berkman, DH 4. Adrian Beltre, 3B 5. Nelson Cruz, RF 6. A.J. Pierzynski, C 7. Mitch Moreland, 1B 8. David Murphy, LF 9. Leonys Martin, CF
1. Yu Darvish 2. Matt Harrison 3. Derek Holland 4. Alexi Ogando 5. Martin Perez
Darvish's propensity for issuing the free pass is what kept him from being a truly elite fantasy option as a rookie. Walks drove his WHIP up to 1.28 and were often the cause of his struggles. That he still managed to dominate hitters says a lot about his stuff. He racked up those 221 whiffs in 191.1 innings, good for a 10.4 K/9. He had a 3.29 FIP and a below average 70.5-percent strand rate, which tells us that he pitched even better than his surface stats indicate. His .295 BABIP is about league average, and completely sustainable for a strikeout pitcher. In fact, most strikeout pitchers tend to have better-than-average BABIPs, so there's room for improvement there, too. The key will be Darvish's control, and the good news is that he began improving as last season progressed, cutting his walk rate from 11.9 percent in the first half to 9.8 percent in the second. If Darvish reduces his walk rate, he'll stay out of trouble and in games, making a 3.30-ERA, 1.20-WHIP, 250-strikeout season is entirely possible.
No one could blame Daniels if he chose to ridicule Towers after the latter insisted on receiving Profar when the two teams discussed a possible trade for Justin Upton. Profar was recently named the top prospect in all of baseball, and with good reason. At age 19, he hit .281/.368/.452 with 14 homers, 26 doubles and 16 steals for Double-A Frisco last year while playing all-world defense at the most demanding position in baseball. When you have a guy who looks like a sure-thing shortstop at age 19, you need to be given a Godfather offer if you're going to trade him. The Rangers already have a very good shortstop in Andrus, so they might choose to have Profar start the year at Triple-A Round Rock. But if he proves that he's ready for The Show, they might not be able to keep him down there for long. But could he and Andrus, two natural shortstops, really co-exist? They could both get in the lineup with one of them DHing and Berkman spelling Moreland at first, but that is not an ideal situation. So could Andrus be on the block?
Andrus' current deal with the Rangers goes through '14, and he's owed $6.475 million next year, according to the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts. He's also coming off two years in which he posted wOBAs of .319 and .322. Profar's ceiling might be higher, but Andrus has proven to be rock solid on both sides of the ball. And can we even say for sure that Profar's ceiling is higher? At just 24, Andrus still has plenty of room to grow. With the Rangers likely back among the AL's best, Profar will either have to dazzle at Triple-A, or someone will have to come to Texas with a no-brainer offer for Andrus. Either way, these are two guys to keep an eye on come draft day. Just be careful with Andrus if you're in an AL-only league.
Pierzynski actually struck out more last year than he ever had in his career, but he also hit the smallest share of ground balls -- 42 percent -- in his 13 years in the league. With the increase in line drives and fly balls came a huge spike in HR/FB rate, as 18.6 percent of Pierzynski's fly balls left the yard.
Expecting Pierzynski to duplicate his outlier season as he enters the twilight of his career would be foolish, but there's good reason to believe he can hit about 20-22 bombs. His former home, U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago's South Side, was the second-best run-scoring and fourth-best home run park in '12, according to park factors. The Ballpark at Arlington is a bit of a downgrade, but no slouch either at fourth and seventh in those categories, respectively. Even with that, though, I'm going to stay away from Pierzynski on draft day. His career year will likely drive his price up, and I'm not willing to bet that he's a markedly different player at age 36.
AL-only players to know