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AJM’s (no doubt wrong) Opening Day roster projection

AJM takes a stab at what the Opening Day roster will look like.

2021 Texas Rangers Photo Day Photo by Ben VanHouten/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I’d been thinking about doing an Opening Day roster projection post for a few days now, and then I saw that both Kennedi Landry and Levi Weaver had done projections today, so I figured I should go ahead and do mine and get it up before I read their projections.

Don’t take this too seriously. This is guesswork. Educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. This also ignores the fact that there will no doubt be injury situations that occur or evolve between now and the end of the month that will impact what the Opening Day roster will actually look like.

So take this with a few grains of salt.

Catchers: Jose Trevino, Jonah Heim

Well, that was pretty easy. Sam Huff wasn’t seen as being a realistic option for Opening Day even with a great camp, and his hamstring issue means he wouldn’t be ready most likely anyway. Heim was acquired in the Elvis Andrus trade with, I think, the expectation he’d be sharing time with Trevino to start the 2021 season. If one of these two gets hurt or there’s some other issue, Drew Butera seems to be the next in line.

Infielders: Nate Lowe, Ronald Guzman, Nick Solak, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Brock Holt, Rougned Odor

Yeah, I know. I’ve been the one of the loudest voices saying Odor wouldn’t be on the Opening Day roster in 2021. And I still think its probably a coin flip as to whether he is or not (barring injury). But he’s playing third base in camp and, apparently, not embarrassing himself there. Josh Jung is expected to be playing third base before the end of the season, but someone has to play it until its determined the 2019 first rounder is ready to take over, and, well, if Odor can play a competent defensive third base (something I’m still not sure will be the case) then he may well get the start of the season to show what he can do there.

I have Holt and Odor on the team here, but I think realistically you’ve got two out of Holt, Odor, Charlie Culberson and Andy Ibanez making the team. Either Holt or Culberson would seemingly have to make the roster, since they are the only two of those four who it would seem can even fake it competently at shortstop, though neither of them played shortstop in 2020 (Culberson barely played at all), leaving Odor and Ibanez (both of whom are limited to second base and third base) battling for either no spots or one spot (depending on if both Holt and Culberson make the team). In discussing 40 man roster juggling I’ve assumed Odor would be dropped, but I also have assumed that the team will need to add both a third baseman and a UIF, and they’d only be adding a UIF if Odor makes the team, so this would still be a roster-spot-neutral outcome in that regard.

Also, I don’t see how both Khris Davis and Ronald Guzman make the team unless a corner outfielder is put on the injured list (opening up the DH spot) or Nate Lowe is sent down or goes on the injured list. I would be very surprised if the Rangers optioned Lowe, and Guzman is having a strong start of camp, so I’m guessing Davis is the guy who gets the axe here.

Outfielders: Willie Calhoun, David Dahl, Leody Taveras, Joey Gallo, Delino DeShields

If everyone is healthy, then the only question here is center field. I think the Rangers signed DeShields to have him on the roster, either as the starter if Leody gets sent down, or as the backup if he makes the team. Regardless, Leody, Delino and Eli White are vying for two spots, with Leody having the inside track on the starting job based on his 2020 performance and generally being viewed as a top prospect who is major league ready or pretty close to it.

That being said, it has not been a good camp for Leody early on, based on the reports we are hearing from the beat writers. The question with Leody is his bat and whether he’s ready to perform at an acceptable level at the plate against major league pitchers. Chris Woodward has said Leody has a good eye and can control the strike zone, with it just being a matter of making enough good contact within the strike zone. The early reviews on that have not been good, and if he continues to struggle we could see him at the Alternate Training Site to start the season, with Delino and White sharing center field duties in the big leagues.

Rotation: Kyle Gibson, Kohei Arihara, Mike Foltynewicz, Dane Dunning, Jordan Lyles/Hyeon-Jong Yang

Six pitchers in a five man rotation? What is this devilry?

So, if you’ve been following things with the Rangers this offseason, you know that the team has a lot of young pitchers who the team thinks can potentially contribute in the majors in a multi-inning role this season, but on top of the shortened 2020 season those pitchers have generally not pitched a lot of innings over the previous few seasons. Joe Palumbo has missed significant time over the past several seasons. Taylor Hearn missed most of 2019. Kyle Cody missed virtually all of 2018 and 2019. Even Dane Dunning, who I have listed in the rotation, missed 2019 due to Tommy John surgery.

The Rangers added, in Kohei Arihara and Hyeon-Jong Yang, two pitchers from Asia who had heavier workloads in 2020 than any pitchers who pitched in the United States last year, due to those seasons running longer. Arihara and Yang are thus potentially in a position to be less affected by the shortened 2020 season in terms of workload going forward. That being said, the rotation also isn’t exactly laden with established options that fill one with confidence that they will be able to provide a bunch of quality innings.

Thus, it does appear the Rangers will be using an opener or a piggy-back or a tandem arrangement for at least one spot in the rotation, possibly two. I’ve got Lyles and Yang paired because reports already indicate that the team isn’t confident in Lyles’ ability to go through the order more than twice, while Yang is an unknown commodity who wasn’t great in the KBO last year (though he has pitched extremely well there in the past). Yang seems to be a near-lock to make the team, despite being here on a minor league deal, so I have Frankensteined the two of them together for one rotation spot.

That being said, I think you’re going to see a lot of fluidity in the rotation this year. Taylor Hearn has impressed early in camp, and is still being viewed as a potential starter candidate, despite having pitched out of the bullpen in 2020. Cody impressed last year. Palumbo has the stuff to be a quality starting pitcher if he can harness his command. Kolby Allard is still around. Luis Ortiz impressed early in camp and is reportedly expected to be in the AAA rotation. It wouldn’t be surprising if all of those guys got looks as either the “starter” or as the “tandem” in the rotation this season.

If you aren’t going to be good, at least be interesting, and the way the rotation will be handled and play out is likely going to be interesting this year, I think.

Bullpen: Jonathan Hernandez, Jose Leclerc, Ian Kennedy, Brett Martin, Joely Rodriguez, Brett de Geus, Taylor Hearn

Man, I don’t even know. Rodriguez may start the year on the injured list, but I put him on there to make things easy on myself. Hernandez, Leclerc, Martin and Joely all seem to be locks to be in the bullpen if they are healthy, and after that its just throwing darts.

de Geus has to be on the roster (or the major league injured list) or else put on waivers and, if he is cleared, offered back to the Los Angeles Dodgers, since he’s a Rule 5 pick. I’m figuring there will be two spots being fought over between him and the various NRIs. Spencer Patton was re-signed and has a good chance of making the team. Kennedy has that veteran presence we know the Rangers want someone in the bullpen to have. Matt Bush is healthy and throwing 95 again, and there’s a lot of traction for him making the Opening Day roster, but given he’s barely pitched the past few seasons due to injuries and that the Rangers can stash him at the Alternate Training Site without taking up a 40 man spot if they wish, I feel like he’s going to be held in reserve for now.

As for Hearn being on there, well, he’s had a good camp, but if not Hearn, it could be Palumbo, or the Rangers could tap Wes Benjamin as a long relief option, or it could be Kyle Cody. At this point I don’t know, I’m just guessing.

So yeah, there’s my projection. It’ll be wrong, of course. But that’s my best guess as of right now.