'It's a Beautiful Thing'; Rangers' Players All Feel They Have Something to Prove
SURPRISE, Ariz. – There's a common theme growing among the clubhouse in Surprise. It's a common thread that helps bind the younger players to the veterans. It's not just a belief in each other that they can win. It's deeper than that. There's a number of players that have openly said they feel the need to prove something.
It's one thing for the younger guys to feel this way. It's expected for the younger guys to come into camp with a chip on their shoulder. The Rangers have plenty of those guys. Willie Calhoun told me yesterday in the clubhouse that he wants to play as much as he can in spring training. Guys like Nick Solak are fighting for at-bats on the team, while guys like Ronald Guzman are out to prove they can take the next step in their development at the Major League level.
The next logical candidates are the aging veterans coming in on Minor League deals. They want to stay in the show and are doing everything they can to earn a spot on the roster. The Rangers have plenty of that in camp with the likes of Matt Duffy, Cody Allen, and Greg Bird.
The established veterans are usually a bit more rigid. Usually as players age, especially if they've been successful, they can stay set in their ways. It's not an uncommon practice. Even the average nine-to-fiver can be this way about their profession. Not every baseball player is this way, but enough of them are to allow us to think that's a realistic, or even expected, possibility.
This group of veterans the Rangers have in camp are not like this. As we've had a chance to talk to these players and to manager Chris Woodward, there's an ever-growing notion that this group of veteran ballplayers are out to prove something in 2020.
"It's amazing," manager Chris Woodward said. "We're lucky to have those situations. To get a guy like [Corey] Kluber who could clearly come in and be like 'Eh, I'm just going to pitch a few more years, I'm good, I've been an elite pitcher' – I've been around plenty of guys like that...this guy is laser-focused in his workouts and everything he does. He's got a pretty heavy chip on his shoulder to prove to the one person who says he's not going to be an elite pitcher still."
When a two-time Cy Young winning pitcher comes in with that kind of focus and that kind of attitude, it can trickle down throughout the clubhouse. Woodward said he has already seen the effect of the veterans playing with some extra motivation.
"A guy like Willie [Calhoun] comes out, obviously Joey [Gallo], [Nick] Solak, a ton of guys. Rougie [Odor] has taken on that mentality," Woodward said. "It's awesome to hear the conversations. I'm not getting too ahead of ourselves, we've got a lot of work to do and a lot to prove as a team, but I love hearing the conversations that I'm already hearing."
Woodward has also encouraged this to his team from the get-go. He hasn't wasted any time. When pitchers and catchers reported, he urged his younger players to seek out the veteran guys.
“Learn from these guys, pick their brains, make them tired of seeing you around," Woodward said. "Don’t be intimidated by Corey Kluber. Go up and talk to him. Annoy him, almost.”
After a bounce-back season in 2018, Rougned Odor's 2019 season was another let down – nearly a carbon copy of his 2017 season. Last week, we talked about Odor and him having to prove that he can become a more consistent player.
Two more veterans on the roster are now being vocal about having a similar attitude.
"I look at [Shin-Soo] Choo, he's always looking over his shoulder," Woodward said. "He's made a lot of money, he's had a ton of success in the big leagues, but he still feels like he has something to prove everyday."
Elvis Andrus is another veteran who is looking to bounce back after a couple of disappointing seasons. His coaches and management alike have praised Elvis for his openness to new ideas, which as we mentioned before, is not something a lot of veterans like to do."
"If Elvis [Andrus] and your best players take on that mentality in a positive way...it's a beautiful thing," Woodward said. "When you've got a hungry ball club that loves each other, that comes prepared every day, they're trying to find a way to beat that team that day in any way possible, what more could you ask? I hope that's the case every day."
Whether you're a casual or diehard fan of the Rangers or just a baseball aficionado, there aren't high expectations for the Rangers. BetOnline has their over/under win total set at 79.5 wins. Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections for the season, projecting a -5 win regression for the Rangers at 73 wins.
If you were to step in that clubhouse, you would not sense any indication this team is on the way for a regression, a losing season, or even a .500 season for that matter. Any player you talk to has the belief they can be a contending team.
There are hurdles in the way, with the Oakland A's and the Houston Astros sans trash cans at the forefront. But this team believes in itself from the top to the bottom. A common ideal based on merit is a characteristic of a championship team. We haven't even had game action yet, but the Rangers are building the right kind of foundation for a team with championship aspirations.
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