Rangers 2021 Season Preview: Who's On First?

We continue our Texas Rangers season preview by taking an in-depth look at yet another competition at first base. Can the Rangers finally find some stability there?
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Here we go again with another year the Texas Rangers are seeking an everyday first baseman.

The Rangers have not had a regular first baseman since Mitch Moreland won a Gold Glove there in 2016. Since then, the list of players who have made at least one appearance at first base for the Rangers is a little too lengthy:

  • Ronald Guzmán (222 appearances)
  • Mike Napoli (95)
  • Joey Gallo (94)
  • Danny Santana (53)
  • Logan Forsythe (46)
  • Ryan Rua (30)
  • Jurickson Profar (26)
  • Todd Frazier (16)
  • Derek Dietrich (6)
  • Sherten Apostel (5)
  • Scott Heineman (5)
  • Patrick Wisdom (5)
  • Pete Kozma (4)
  • Rob Refsnyder (4)
  • Jonathan Lucroy (1)
  • Will Middlebrooks (1)
  • Yadiel Rivera (1)
  • Nick Solak (1)
  • Jose Trevino (1)

First base appearances according to Baseball Reference

In a total of 546 games over four seasons, 19 different players have grabbed their first base mitt before trotting out onto the diamond. Needless to say, it's been a revolving door.

Despite logging significantly more time there than anyone else, Ronald Guzmán is still fighting to win the job. Ideally, this would be the year for Ronald Guzmán to figure everything out. 

The potential has always been there with the bat and the defense has been more than capable at the big league level for multiple seasons. He’s a likable guy with a big smile. He loves the game of baseball and works hard at what he does. He’s an easy guy to root for, especially if everything finally clicked for him.

After an offseason working out with former Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz, Guzmán failed to grab the job by the horns during either version of spring training in 2020, which led the Rangers to exercise their final minor league option on him shortly after he was named to the 2020 Opening Day roster. 

Guzmán put in enough work at the alternate training site to warrant a call up in August and came back red hot at the plate. However, he came crashing back down to Earth, finishing a tick above a replacement-level player, despite posting a career-high .750 OPS.

Enter Nate Lowe.

In December, the Rangers made a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that brought the 25-year-old first baseman to Arlington. Lowe doesn’t boast Guzmán’s defensive prowess, but profiles as a potentially better, more consistent hitter with enough pop to provide offense at first base. Lowe was also a top-10 prospect in the Rays’ deeper farm system in 2019.

More importantly, the trade signaled that the Rangers were in the beginning stages of moving on from Guzmán. This wasn't bringing in a reclamation project to compete with Guzmán. They're bringing in a talented young player with minimal major league service time.

Lowe’s performance at the major league level has yet to raise any eyebrows. He has a career slash line of .251/.322/.447 in a small sample size of 71 big league games, but the Rangers believe he could become a reliable hitter at first base — something the Rangers have needed since 2017. That, along with Guzmán’s missed chances in previous years, gives Lowe the upper-hand at the start of spring training.

However, Guzmán complicated things when he went to the Dominican Winter League during the offseason and tore the cover off the ball. He slashed .360/.450/.523 with five home runs, 13 RBI, and 17 walks in 111 at-bats over 30 games. He was also named MVP of the league.

"He's like a celebrity in the clubhouse," joked Rangers teammate Joey Gallo. "A lot of guys getting his autograph and taking pictures with him.

"He's in a good spot. I think it helped him a lot, going and playing winter ball. He found his stroke. He found his groove. He looks great. In [batting practice], he's hitting line drives off the batter's eye. You can tell he has a different confidence about him. I'm excited for him. I think he could be a great player. It's just about figuring it out, locking it in, getting to play everyday, and see where it goes from there. He's in a good spot mentally. I'm really happy for him."

Now, the Dominican Winter League isn’t the Cactus League, nor is it Major League Baseball. However, folks in the Rangers’ front office like where Guzmán is as camp continues to ramp up, and hope he can make amends for last year and force them to make a tough decision.

Guzmán is certainly out of chances, having no remaining minor league options. If the Rangers don’t keep him on the major league roster come April 1 in Kansas City, he must go through waivers if he is to be sent down to the minors. Needless to say, trading him to recoup value seems like the only option.

Ultimately, the Rangers will have to choose between Lowe and Guzmán, barring any injuries. There is no room on the roster for two left-handed hitting first baseman, especially when you consider the Rangers have to somehow split enough at-bats between David Dahl, Willie Calhoun, and Khris Davis among two positions (left field and designated hitter).

In addition, Rangers manager Chris Woodward said it's difficult to keep any bench player on the roster who is limited to one position unless they are tearing the cover off the ball. He also confirmed that Khris Davis may get some looks at first base as a way to get him more at-bats, so that takes away any need to keep two true first basemen on the roster.

Photo of Khris Davis & Nate Lowe by Kelly Gavin / Courtesy of the Texas Rangers

Photo of Khris Davis & Nate Lowe by Kelly Gavin / Courtesy of the Texas Rangers

Could Ronald Guzmán take after his 2020 workout partner in Nelson Cruz and be a late-bloomer? It would certainly help kickstart this rebuild in a bright way for Texas moving forward. Or maybe Nate Lowe comes in and spoils Guzmán’s last chance with the Rangers. 

Ultimately, the Rangers need one or the other to happen. They can’t have another Guzmán/Bird repeat from 2020. Otherwise, it’s down the pipeline we go.

Rangers 2021 Season Preview Series

Previously: Starting Rotation
Coming up next: Second Base (coming this weekend)

READ MORE: Rangers Add Vet to Bullpen - Report

READ MORE: Rangers Opening-Day Roster Projection 1.0

READ MORE: 'My Quality of Life Was Not the Best': Ranger Palumbo Details Battle With Disease

Chris Halicke covers the Texas Rangers for InsideTheRangers.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisHalicke.
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