Positives From The 2018 Rangers Season

Jared Sandler
September 21, 2018 - 4:12 pm
Rougned Odor

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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The 2018 Rangers season is nearing its end. Their reality this year was that it was more about transitioning and developing than competing for a playoff spot. The Rangers have long been out of contention, but that doesn’t mean this season isn’t without its positives. Here are nine that jump out to me (in no particular order of importance).

1. Rougned Odor had a giant spotlight on his performance in 2018. After a very poor 2017 in which he slashed .204/.252/.397, there were questions whether he’d be able to make the big adjustments necessary to hang at the big league level, forget the fact that entering 2017 people considered Odor a building block. He got off to a poor start in 2018 and then an injury interrupted his opportunities for growth, but he came back mid-May and from May 24th onward, he turned thing around in a big way. While a recent skid has knocked his numbers down a peg, he’s still slashing .255/.329/.440, a big improvement, with a career-best 40 walks. He’s still got room to improve, but at 24 years old, the arrow is once again pointing in the right direction. On top of the offensive improvement, Odor has made great strides defensively. Last year he was among the worst defensive second baseman in baseball, inexcusable for something with his arm and athleticism. This year, he’s been among the best. Not only does the eye test suggest that, but he ranks near the top among several defensive metrics among AL 2B. One area in which he can improve is his base running. He’s got wheels, but needs to develop a better degree of discipline committing too many outs on the bases, included a league-high 12 times caught stealing. All in all, this was a step in the right direction for Odor.

2. Jurickson Profar finally got an extended chance to play every day and he delivered offensively. He’s slashing .254/.337/.457 with 57 extra base hits and a K:BB of 76:51. He’s also shown value once again as a switch hitter. Whereas in the past he’d struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, he actually hit .267 vs. LHP this year, while hitting .249 vs. RHP which, surprisingly, is above league average in a world where batting average figures keep getting lower and lower. What jumps out to me about Profar is the competitiveness of his at-bats. Notice the strikeout number above: 76. In addition to lower batting averages, we are seeing a surge in strikeout numbers. Yet, in spite of that, Profar will end the season well below 100 strikeouts and in a lineup with a few strikeout prone guys, his ability to put the ball in play is a huge asset. The one big question surrounding Profar is his defensive fit. He’s capable of playing a number of positions (1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and LF), but where does he fit best? The challenge for Profar hasn’t been fielding balls, it has been throwing balls.  He’s committed 17 throwing errors, most in the majors. That’s got to change, but for a guy who has had arm injuries that kept him from the field for an extended period of time, I’m hopeful he can make great strides this off-season. Depending on Adrian Beltre’s future, it’s possible Jurickson Profar is this team’s everyday third baseman next year.

3. Speaking of Beltre, isn’t he always a positive? Watching Beltre play is one of the greatest parts of being a Rangers fan. This might be his last year and while it certainly hasn’t been his best year, it’s still a joy to see a guy with his ability play the game with such joy. He continues to climb various charts. On Wednesday he hit his 475th career HR, tying him with greats like Willie Stargell and Stan Musial for 30th all-time. On the team’s most recent road trip, Adrian Beltre surpassed George Brett’s 3,154 hits to become the all-time hits leader among primary third baseman in MLB history. Count me as someone who didn’t truly understand Beltre’s greatness when the Rangers signed him but he is easily one of the best free agent signings since the turn of the century in Major League Baseball when you consider bang-for-buck.

4. The biggest free agent signing the Rangers made this off-season was the acquisition of Mike Minor to a 3-year, $28 million deal. Once the 7th overall pick of the 2009 draft, the lefty was coming off a year as a dominant reliever preceded my two years away from the major league level dealing with an arm injury and a hiccup. Would he be able to reacclimate as a starter? Some wondered whether he was best off remaining a reliever like in 2017 and those thoughts didn’t exactly go away when Minor ended May with a 5.76 ERA. But Minor has acquitted himself tremendously since then, posting a 3.10 ERA with a WHIP of less than 1.00. With a 2019 rotation in flux, Minor is the best candidate to serve as the Opening Day Starter among those currently with the organization and he’s absolutely earned it.

5. The bullpen is the unit within a team that is most volatile because, well, the performance of relievers from year-to-year is most volatile. Despite the Rangers dealing with that volatility in performance as well as injuries, they’ve had a very competitive bullpen thanks to young arms. Jose Leclerc ranks among the best relievers in the game this season. His 2.5 WAR ranks 4th among relievers in 2018. He’s really blossomed into a force out of the bullpen and appears to be the closer for the near future. In addition to Leclerc, it seems like the Rangers have really found something in Jeffrey Springs. The lefty has been up for around a month and, save for one bad outing in San Diego, has been very tough to hit. His changeup and deception are the keys for his success. The question is whether or not Springs, who has starting experience within the last two years, sticks as a reliever or goes back to the rotation. Either way, count him as a young and promising arm. Another one is C.D. Pelham. The lefty might not start next year in the bigs, but his September call-up has given us the opportunity to see how nasty he can be. He’s young and needs some seasoning, but he’s a lefty who throws in the high-90s with a really nice slider. It’s only a matter of time before he makes his mark in a big way.

6. Right around the same time early in the season, the Rangers called up Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman. Those two made their MLB debuts within a few days of each other in mid-April and they’ve remained with the big club since. Kiner-Falefa has shown the ability to play multiple positions and play them really well. While he spends most of his time catching these days, his recent opportunities at third base have reminded us how well he can play on the infield dirt behind the pitcher, not just in front of the pitcher. He’s still developing as a catcher, a position that isn’t easy to learn, but has certainly looked the part in less than 100 career games at all levels behind the dish. Offensively, he’s not a big slug guy but his .265 batting average in his rookie year is really good, especially when you consider he’s had to split his focus between that and playing multiple positions, including the most taxing and time-consuming: catcher. Ronald Guzman is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman whose continued development as a hitter offers excitement. His 15 HR are one shy of his career high over the course of a season at any level (he hit 16 HR in 2016 split between AA and AAA). What jumps out about Guzy is that he’s able and willing to hit the ball the other way, a great sign for a young hitter. Even though neither guy has produced numbers that just jump off the page in their rookie years, they’ve shown that they belong and that they’re pieces to the puzzle moving forward.

7. Joey Gallo got off to a rough start this year. Much like last year, his All-Star Break numbers this year were underwhelming with a paltry .187 batting average. Since the All-Star Break, however, he’s hitting .256 with a .356 OBP and a SLG of .615. His approach in the second half has been much better and that’s lended to those results. His numbers this year will be an improvement upon last year’s numbers, but he still has room to grow. One more year of a Jekyll-and-hyde All-Star Break split and that’s got to be taken care of, but I’m going to roll the dice once more in believing that he’s figured something out that will carry over to next year.

8. The Rangers have acknowledged a pitching deficit and this year gained ground in their pursuit to get to where they need to do with pitching talent organizationally. Are they there yet? Not even close. But it takes time and they’ve done a good job in making progress. Via the various avenues of acquiring players, the Rangers have added more than 10 pitchers into the organization, highlighted by the addition of Taylor Hearn from Pittsburgh in the Keone Kela trade. You want quality over quantity—and the Rangers did get quality—but quantity is important, too.

9. One area the Rangers wanted to see improvement this year was in the walk department—both on the pitching side and the hitting side. In 2017, Rangers pitchers ranked among the worst in the league issuing 3.5 BB/9 innings. This year their 3.0 BB/9 rate is tied for 6th best in baseball. They made improvements at the plate, too. Last year they walked in 8.9% of their plate appearances, tied for 12th in MLB. While that certainly wasn’t a bad figure, it isn’t as good as this year’s walk rate of 9.3%, 5th best in MLB.