Texas Rangers full squad workouts began on Monday in Surprise, beginning an almost six-week battle among many spots on the roster. The Rangers have more open spots than any teams in recent memory, and it's not too absurd given the organization's transition toward its youth.
However, that does make predicting the Opening Day roster a rather difficult endeavor, especially at the outset of camp. Even the Rangers are waiting to see how this plays out during full squad workouts this week and when Cactus League games begin on Sunday.
Know that my stances might change on a few of these players as spring training progresses. With where we are now, here's what the Rangers Opening Day roster could look like come April 1.
Jose Trevino, Jonah Heim
The job as the primary receiver behind the plate is Jose Trevino's to lose. He vastly improved with the bat last season and is ready to take on a leadership role in the clubhouse with Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo gone. Trevino has all the intangibles and many of the tangibles to be a good major league catcher. I believe he'll get every opportunity to prove that once the season begins.
With Trevino locked in as the No. 1 catcher, that could pave the way for Jonah Heim to back him up. Heim was acquired in the Andrus trade and the Rangers are excited about what the switch-hitting catcher can provide both at and behind the plate.
It is very possible, however, that Drew Butera earns the back up job as well. His leadership and ability to mentor Trevino could be something the Rangers want from the start of the season. Heim has two minor league options remaining, so the Rangers aren't married to a duo of Trevino and Heim.
Butera is a non-roster invitee, so if he is added, the Rangers would have to remove someone from the 40-man roster.
First Base (1)
This is one battle to watch in camp (we'll get further into that later this week in our season preview series). Nate Lowe was acquired by the Rangers this offseason after Ronald Guzmán has had multiple chances to seize the everyday spot at first base.
However, Guzmán responded by winning the MVP of the Dominican winter league, and is ready to compete one last time for the starting job at first base. Guzmán is out of minor league options. In other words, the Rangers would have to be 100 percent convinced Guzmán has finally gone to that next level in order to hand him the job. Otherwise, they are ready to move on. If they weren't, they would have acquired Lowe.
Chris Woodward has publicly said that versatility is required for players who aren't regulars, unless they are crushing the ball. Based off of that, the chances of both Lowe and Guzmán making the team seems slim-to-none.
Right now, I'm leaning towards Lowe. How Guzmán looks in camp is something I'm interested to watch.
Second Base (1)
Rangers manager Chris Woodward has identified that Solak's best defensive position is second base and is competing with incumbent Rougned Odor for the everyday spot here.
The Rangers said as early as last September that Odor was not guaranteed his spot on the roster come 2021, and here's where we'll see exactly what that looks like. Ultimately, if Solak can field his position and hit closer to the 2019 version of himself, it's his spot to lose.
It would not be surprising if Odor came into camp and tore it up. Again. It would not be the first, second, or even the third time. What the Rangers are looking from with Odor is a willingness to learn other positions, primarily third base. Even Chris Woodward said the Rangers can't keep him on the roster if he loses the battle with Solak and can only play second base.
Third Base (2)
Rougned Odor, Charlie Culberson*
* - non-roster invitee
As of now, I'm going with a platoon of Odor and Charlie Culberson at third base. Woodward praises Culberson's versatility, which helps his cause in winning a roster spot.
From the outset, I could see Odor and Culberson share the load at third base. The lack of exposure for both could help them both, especially if the Rangers can dictate their pitching matchups.
It's difficult to envision this team without Odor unless they pull off a trade. He won't be designated for assignment. He has enough service time to deny an option to the minor leagues. So, the Rangers are stuck with him. This is where the two parties could get the most out of each other.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove at third base last season, and could make a run at a Gold Glove at shortstop. With Andrus now in Oakland, this is Kiner's job.
What we should look for is continued improvement with the bat. He displayed an uptick in power last spring, but it didn't translate to the field once the season began several months later. His contact improved (.280 batting average in 2020), but he needs to round out the rest of his game at the plate in order to keep this position beyond 2021 (.699 OPS in 2020).
David Dahl, Leody Taveras, Joey Gallo
From left to right, this is a very good defensive outfield. Dahl can hold his own in left while Taveras and Gallo compete for Gold Gloves in center field and right field, respectively.
There is a lot of competition in camp, including Delino DeShields Jr. to push Taveras in center field. The questions with this trio are:
- Can Dahl stay healthy? If he can, it's his job to lose.
- Can Taveras grab the job by the horns and take his game to the next level?
- Will we see the 2019 Joey Gallo at the plate? Or was that a fluke?
Designated Hitter (2)
Willie Calhoun, Khris Davis
Chris Woodward has challenged Willie Calhoun to not settle for being a DH, but to improve his defense in left field. Calhoun will surely see at-bats at both positions in 2021 after a forgettable 2020.
Khris Davis could give Texas power from the right side if he finds his previous form that terrorized Rangers pitching for years. Woodward has also mentioned the possibility of getting Davis reps at first base, which would give him a better shot at making the roster.
* - non-roster invitee
Versatility seems key to making the roster, and Brock Holt provides it for the Rangers. It's tough for players like Guzmán to make the roster if they are limited to one position. Holt could give the Rangers at-bats from several positions, which makes him an ideal candidate to make the roster.
However, it is possible to see Delino DeShields Jr. making the Opening Day roster. If the Rangers are comfortable with Odor holding down third base and having Culberson as the utility man, then they could afford to carry six outfielders. DeShields gives the Rangers speed and outfield defense, which are two characteristics Woodward would love to have at his disposal off the bench.
Starting Pitching (6)
RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Kohei Arihara, RHP Jordan Lyles, RHP Dane Dunning, RHP Kyle Cody
The Rangers have not announced whether they will utilize a six-man rotation, but they have admitted they are at least considering it as an option.
With the combination of pitchers that can give the Rangers innings and the number of guys whose innings will be limited, I foresee a six-man rotation, or at least a piggy back situation, at the beginning of the season.
Gibson, Foltynewicz, and Arihara are locks. Lyles is close to a lock, but the Rangers need to see improvement from his fastball-curveball usage. The Rangers love both Dunning and Cody, but both will be on innings limits this season. Spreading out their starts early on could keep them available in August and September.
RHP, José Leclerc, RHP Jonathan Hernández, LHP Joely Rodríguez, LHP Brett Martin, RHP Brett de Geus**, RHP Josh Sborz, LHP Taylor Hearn
** - Rule 5 draft pick
The bullpen is wide open. José Leclerc is an ideal candidate to fill the traditional closer's role, but Chris Woodward has expressed a desire to use him in multiple innings. Jonathan Hernández may be the most dominant arm out of the bullpen, and could end up pitching the most high-leverage innings on the team.
Brett de Geus is a Rule 5 draft pick, so he'll earn a roster spot unless the Rangers are comfortable putting him through outright waivers and/or offering him back to the Dodgers.
The Rangers need at least one arm in the bullpen that can provide more than two innings at a time, which gives the inside track to either Taylor Hearn or Wes Benjamin. I'm going with Hearn because of his stuff and versatility. He can pitch one inning, piggy back, or start if needed.
If the Rangers feel it would be best to start Cody at Triple-A Round Rock, then Wes Benjamin could give the Rangers another long relief option.
Promo photo: Kelly Gavin / Courtesy of the Texas Rangers