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Three Rangers Breakout Candidates in 2022

The Texas Rangers rebuilt their middle infield in free agency, but they still have some in-house players that could break out in 2022.

After dropping half a billion dollars on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, the Texas Rangers have arguably the best middle infield in baseball. But as we all know, championship teams can't be built solely on free agency. No club in Major League Baseball has the financial wherewithal to do so.

This is where player development plays a key role. Some teams, like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics, are so good at it they find ways to stay competitive with small payrolls.

The Rangers have spent the past several seasons rebuilding their organization, and now the system is about to produce some of its most exciting talent. However, there are some names that are already at the big league level that can establish themselves as part of the next contending core in Arlington.

While 2022 won't likely be a year where the Rangers compete for a spot in the postseason, they're in a good spot to take a significant step toward that goal. The more in-house players that break out, the quicker the contention window will open.

Here are three names to watch for a potential breakout next season (no particular order):

Nathaniel Lowe

2021 Stats: 157 games, .264/.357/.415/.771, 18 home runs, 72 RBI

All Rangers hitters are primed for improvement in 2022. Many of them gained precious experience in 2021, and the club made two impressive hires in Donnie Ecker as bench coach and offensive coordinator and Tim Hyers as the new hitting coach.

However, Nathaniel Lowe might be the most projectable player returning from last season. He ranked in the 77th percentile in average exit velocity, 91st percentile in maximum exit velocity, 74th percentile in hard-hit percentage, 90th percentile in walk percentage and 82nd percentile in chase rate.

His two largest weaknesses at the plate were velocity—especially up in the zone—and hitting the ball on the ground far too often (his ground ball percentage of 54.5 percent was seventh-highest in MLB). However, he improved in both areas over the final several weeks of the season, registering a .873 OPS and .493 slugging percentage in his final 42 games of the season.

All in all, it wasn't a bad year at all for Lowe. It was his first full season as an everyday first baseman in the big leagues, and he finished with a 2.3 bWAR, which was good enough for third-highest by players who ended the season on the roster.

If Lowe finds a way to hit the ball in the air more often and make better contact with elevated fastballs, he could become a potent hitter in the Rangers lineup.

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Taylor Hearn

2021 Stats: 42 appearances (11 starts), 104 1/3 innings, 6-6 record, 4.66 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

The Rangers' hashtag on social media is #StraightUpTX, and Taylor Hearn straight up seized a job this year. He came into 2021 as the back end of a tandem role and pitched his way into being a full-time starter. Manager Chris Woodward even called Hearn one of the "biggest bright spots" of the season. In addition, the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the BBWAA named Hearn the winner of the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man award.

Hearn's growth included changes on the mound, like pitching exclusively out of the stretch. He also added a sinker that gave him more confidence to attack the strike zone. The 4.82 FIP might scare off some fans, but the drastic improvement in issuing walks was a huge step in the right direction.

Hearn will go into 2022 with not only the experience of an extended look in the rotation, but also having an entire offseason to prepare his body for a starter's full workload. At the end of the day, Hearn's fastball-slider combination has the potential to be dangerous, and he's always believed his changeup is a very underrated pitch.

If Hearn continues to pitch with conviction and attack the strike zone, he has the stuff to become a mainstay in the Rangers rotation.

Josh Jung

2021 Stats (between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock): 78 games, .326/.398/.592/.990, 19 home runs, 61 RBI

It's been quite some time since the Rangers had a prospect at Jung's age put up the kind of numbers he did at the higher levels of the minor leagues—all in his first full season in pro baseball. The No. 8 pick in the 2019 draft has spent the past couple years expanding on his plus hit tool and tapping into his raw power by improving his ability to turn on pitches.

Thus far, Jung has lived up to the hype of a top-10 pick. Barring any injuries, the Texas Tech product will make his big league debut at some point in 2022, though when is not yet clear.

When the lockout concludes and spring training can actually begin, Jung will have a Gold Glove winner ahead of him at third base in Isiah Kiner-Falefa. He's ready for the challenge of competing for a roster spot, and feels he is ready to face big league arms.

Jung has all the tools to hit at the big league level, and the Rangers love his work ethic. Of all the prospects the Rangers have had in recent years, Jung has the best chance to hit the ground running once he makes it to the Show.

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