With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at infielder Andy Ibanez.
This coming season is Andy Ibanez’s eighth year with the Rangers’ organization.
Weird, isn’t it?
Ibanez was signed by the Rangers on July 7, 2015. That was before the Cole Hamels trade. Less than a year after Ron Washington resigned. When Yu Darvish was recovering from Tommy John surgery and the Rangers were bobbling around .500, before their unlikely surge to win the division that year, then follow it up with the best record in the A.L. in 2016.
Ibanez was signed as a 22 year old out of Cuba, older than most international free agents, but somewhat polished, a guy with a quality hit tool who could move quickly through the system. He didn’t play any official games in 2015, and started the 2016 season at low-A Hickory, as a way to get his feet wet.
Ibanez raked for the Crawdads, slashing .324/.413/.546, and earning a two level promotion to Frisco a couple of months into the season.
And that’s where Andy Ibanez stalled out. He put up a 708 OPS for Frisco in 2016. He returned to Frisco in 2017 and put up a 723 OPS. Booted upstairs to Round Rock in 2018, he put up a 754 OPS.
By that point, it seemed like the die was cast. Ibanez was a bat-first second baseman who didn’t hit much. He was organizational depth, a guy to plug into the lineup at AAA, but nothing more than that.
There was improvement from Ibanez in 2019, though, as he slashed .300/.375/.497 for Nashville. It was enough to put himself on the team’s radar, get him some attention in the spring of 2020, have him part of the Alternate Training Site that year.
And the payoff for Ibanez came in 2021. He started the year at the Alternate Training Site, and ended up being brought to the majors at the beginning of May, before the minor league season began. After a couple of weeks fill in duty, he was sent back out to Round Rock, put up a very impressive .352/.410/.648 slash line, and earned a promotion back to the bigs in late June. Other than a three game rehab stint at Round Rock after an i.l. trip late in the year, Ibanez was up in the majors for the rest of 2021.
Ibanez finished up the year with a .277/.321/.435 slash line in 272 plate appearances, good for a 107 wRC+, registering a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.0 fWAR (the spread WARs being primarily due to DRS having him graded out as outstanding defensively, UZR as average), and spending about half his time at second base, with the remainder primarily split between DH, 1B and 3B.
Ibanez also got better as he went along — his OPS by month was as follows:
May — 364
June — 591
July — 696
August — 865
September — 895
Ibanez showed enough bat and enough versatility to put him in line for a major league job in 2022, though the addition of Marcus Semien, who will be playing second base, complicates that. Ibanez would currently seem to be the most likely internal candidate to play third base, now that Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been dealt, although his arm at third base is problematic. Of course, the other primary internal option would be Nick Solak, who also isn’t a great defensive fit at third base, and whose struggles offensively resulted in him being supplanted by Ibanez at second base in 2021.
Ibanez will likely be on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster in 2022, either as the starter at third base or in a bench role, but sussing out what the best fit for him going forward is is tricky. The projection systems see him as around a league average bat in 2022, maybe a skosh above, but they are also going off a pretty limited data set, given the lost 2020 season. A lot likely depends on Ibanez’s defense — his only experience at shortstop was for 26 games in Nashville in 2019, and he’s generally been seen as below average at second base and third base. His glovework got better than expected reviews last year, however, and while the DRS grades are likely small sample size noise, if he can provide decent to average defense at the non-shortstop infield positions, that would boost his value.
Ibanez mashed lefties in the majors in 2021, putting up an 898 OPS against them, compared to a 674 OPS against righthanders, though he had reverse splits in AAA in 2019, and fairly normal splits at AAA in 2018. Once again, we are not dealing with a big sample size here, but if Ibanez can put up an 800+ OPS against lefties, and play respectable defense at a few positions, it gives him value in a bench role, even if he isn’t the starter at third base in 2022.
The other thing to keep in mind with Ibanez is his age — he turns 29 right before the season starts, which is in the latter part of the range where a player is expected to be at his peak. While every player is different and development isn’t always linear, one should not expect much growth from Ibanez — a 29 year old player generally is what he is, and the changes going forward are usually going to be age-related decline, rather than additional steps forward.
Regardless, Ibanez will be an interesting case to watch this season. He has a broad range of possible outcomes, and what he does after his breakout 2021 season will be one of the storylines worth following this year.