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The Rangers’ Future in Review

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The Rangers had a lot of future pieces get a part of the action in 2018. Which story lines could give us a glimpse into their future impact?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Almost a full season is in the books for the Rangers and it’s been a tough one overall. There were bright spots where the young bats looked like they could be world beaters, but the flashes where they were firing on all cylinders were short and rare. There doesn’t need to be anything written about the starting pitching that each Rangers’ fan doesn’t inherently understand at this point, but at least the bullpen was nice for the most part.

All in all it was a lost season that was unspectacular in almost every way outside of a few individual players, but it was not without importance. There were some key developments (or non-developments) that happened in 2018 that could shape the future Rangers for better or worse. Let’s dive into the 2018 storylines that will impact the 2019 season and beyond.

Jurickson Profar

It always comes back to talking about Jurickson Profar, but at least this season it’s an undoubted positive. Profar will end the season with around a 110 wRC+ despite a .265 BABIP, around 20 bombos and 35 doubles, a 9% walk rate against a 14% K rate, and a positive outlook on his future. Even better, Profar currently has an identical wRC+ from both sides of the plate and the concerns surrounding his switch hitting appear to be in the past. Profar showed that he’s likely not a long term fit at SS anymore, but otherwise this is the player everyone expected when Profar was the #1 ranked prospect in baseball. There are many possibilities here; a trade, an extension with a long future as the Rangers 3B, and maybe even just playing out the contract. Regardless, Profar outperformed even my pre-season projection as an MLB average 2B and everyone is better off for it.

Jose Leclerc

Jose Leclerc isn’t just one of the best rookie relievers in baseball; he’s launched himself into the spotlight as one of the best relievers in the MLB.

Here are the relievers with a higher fWAR: Blake Treinen, Edwin Diaz, and Josh Hader.

Here are the relievers with a better FIP-: Edwin Diaz

Leclerc uses a high spin rate upper 90’s fastball that keeps hitters off the center of the ball, plus changeup with tumble and arm-side action, a “cut change” that acts like a plus slider with dive and glove-side action, and a mix in curveball to show a third velocity and keep hitters off balance. Leclerc’s command is still below average, but it doesn’t keep his elite pitch mix from playing at the highest of high levels. A closer for the next half decade or a massive deadline trade piece, Leclerc should provide the Rangers with tremendous value moving forward.

Joey Gallo

Gallo’s 2018 season looked suspiciously like his 2017 season and that is definitely a good thing. One of the concerns with Gallo’s profile is that consistency could be hard to come by due to the cat and mouse nature of his adjusting to pitchers’ newest tactic to keeping the ball in the park. Gallo is on pace to finish the season with a 115 wRC+ while playing solid defense in a corner OF position, good for 3 fWAR.

That sounds pretty uninteresting until you remember he did it by hitting 40 home runs, striking out 25.7% of the time, and batting .210. He’s the anti-Tony Gwynn and he’s probably the most interesting hitter in the world to me. If we zone in on the second half, it gets even more interesting because it answers the question, “what would Joey Gallo do if he hit .250 for a season?” Gallo has had close to 200 PAs with a .254/.357/.639 line, a .301 BABIP, and a .385 ISO. Your dad’s least favorite Ranger is providing the value that evaluators thought he would, but he’s doing in in an even more extreme way than expected.

Mike Minor

#3 starter under cheapish team control through 2020? Mike Minor was the only bright spot for the 2018 rotation as he went 157 innings with a 20.6% K rate against a 5.9% BB rate. Minor is a good option for the 2019 rotation and could be a valuable trade piece come July if the season goes down in flames early.

This was the best signing for the Front Office in the offseason and I’d look for JD and crew to make more of it’s like this winter.

Rougned Odor

Honestly this is the toughest season to gauge because Odor has been absolutely abysmal outside of June, July, and August.

wRC+ by month:

Mar/Apr – 53

May – 36

Jun – 103

Jul – 173

Aug – 135

Sept – 44

All in all he’s currently sitting at a 101 wRC+ while playing above average defense at 2B, which is good for a better than 2 win player per 600 PAs, but September’s slip still warrants a bit of attention. His O-swing jumped back up towards his 2017 average and his walk rate dropped back down as well. If you ignore all context then 2018 just looks like a massive improvement over 2017 and regardless of context it is a better outlook than before. Hopefully September was a bad look at the end of a non-important season and Rougie will be back to a more patient approach in 2019.

Nomar Mazara

Mazara shares something in common with Mitch Moreland in that both of them can flash a huge month and then drop off the cliff for the rest of the year. Mazara has easily been the biggest disappointment for me in 2018 after his third season in a row of below average production with the bat.

There are notable places you look for regular improvement that comes with physical developments and they are there; Maz posted a career high hard hit rate, a career low soft hit rate, and a career high HR/FB. He’s getting stronger and improving his contact exactly like you’d hope for, but he’s cancelling out the improvements by deteriorating in other aspects of hitting. The most noticeable is that he hit the ball on the ground at a huge 55%, which is 8 points higher than in 2017. It’s easy to point at Christian Yelich’s 52% ground ball rate and be hopeful, but that brings us to the other main non-adjustment for Mazara. Yelich has a career O-Swing% of 22.3% while Mazara’s has been rock steady around 33.2% for three seasons in a row.

It’s just been a complete lack of evolution as a hitter for the third year in a row and while the physical tools are still there for Mazara to be a monster at the plate, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain optimism about it. On the bright side, Mazara was pretty decent in RF when he was healthy according to OOA and UZR.

Elvis Andrus

I’ll keep this one brief, but it is important. Andrus had a lost season where he looked to be a world beater until a high and tight pitch broke a bone around his elbow. He came back too early (his own words) and seemingly out of baseball shape and never caught the magic again. He progressively got worse over the season and he’s ending the year on a low note with a 47 wRC+ in September.

One thing I found interesting is that in an interview Elvis mentioned that he can’t help but internally flinch a bit on pitches that get close to him up and in on his elbow and that likely has some impact. Even ignoring that, arm injuries often have lasting impacts on hitters during the season the injury occurs so a poor season isn’t unusual in this situation. As it is Andrus is unlikely to opt out of his contract after the season so he’ll have 2019 to show the baseball world what he can do when again healthy.

The Others

Ronald Guzman has been around replacement level for the season as a 91 wRC+ 1B, but he’s shown flashes of more. His 16 home runs represent a shift in approach, which is significant for his future outlook as an MLB hitter. A long swing and average bat speed will likely limit his upside, but he still has a good chance of one day providing cheap league average production at 1B due to his approach shift and his defense.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa made a lot of people fans after his hot start to his MLB career. He impressed the front office and coaching staff enough that they kept him up even after he started to cool down and he continued to provide a good glove in a time of need. Then IKF got to show off his catching abilities and got to stay up as the full time back-up catcher. Kiner-Falefa’s exact future remains a bit of a mystery, but he looks a very good bet to provide utility for this team one way or another.

Willie Calhoun should forget 2018 happened. He made contact like he usually does, but his power fell off a cliff and his HR/FB rate plummeted with it. Calhoun needs to be well-above average with the bat to stick on an MLB team and I still think he will, but his season wasn’t fun for anyone.

Final Thoughts

The bright side is that when you have multiple players take a step forward, you need that many less players to take that step the next year in order to impact the future outlook. The glass half-empty way to see it is that only three-four future pieces on the Rangers provided league average value and only Leclerc provided tremendous impact from his position. The youth movement is upon us and that brings uncertainty and plenty of potential paths for this team. That fact and an impressively deep farm system promise to make the next few years very interesting for Ranger fans regardless of MLB game outcomes.