The SANDbox: Rangers' Offensive Approach, Guzman's Injury, Minor's Report, & More

Jared Sandler
April 08, 2019 - 9:55 am
Joey Gallo

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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OPENING STATEMENT

The biggest development from the first week-plus of the regular season is the newfound plate discipline and mature approaches demonstrated up and down this Rangers lineup. Over the last couple years, the Rangers’ free-swinging lineups were defined by their lack of plate discipline and their abundance of strikeouts (4th most in each of the last two seasons). When I asked an opposing pitcher last year about facing the Rangers, he told me “They might be the easiest lineup to face because they swing at everything.” When I asked a pitcher on a different team about that sentiment, he simply agreed and said, “I’d imagine most people around the league would agree with that.” Those are damning statements.

But this year? Yeah, things are different. A.J. Hinch was asked what impressed him about the Rangers after Texas beat Houston on Tuesday, Hinch simply shared that, “They aren’t swinging at balls anymore.” It isn’t as absolute as that statement suggests, but there is a noticeable improvement. Through ten games, the Rangers rank 9th in the league with a chase rate of just 25.3%. Let year, they ranked 20th in MLB with a chase rate of 28.5%. While that improvement is just a few percentage points, it has obviously caught the eye of the opposition and not only made this Rangers lineup very unenjoyable to face, but it has made this Rangers lineup very enjoyable to watch so far (see first note below).

NOTES

*Ten game sample sizes are not nearly close to enough of a sample size to definitively forecast a player or team’s season. These trends, both good and bad, need to continue for a much longer stretch for them to be considered a part of that player or team’s actual identity and more than just one of baseball’s many peaks and valleys. This goes both ways. Joey Gallo’s start is easily the most exciting of all the young players and deserves recognition but before we crown Joey as the 2019 team MVP, we need him to do this for more than just the nine games in which he’s played. On the flip side, if you are worried about Rougie’s start (.171/.238/.211), don’t be just yet. When I ask coaches and evaluators what a fair sample size for beginning-of-the-season evaluation, they’ve always told me approximately 100 at bats. Rougie’s sitting at 38. And for some guys, 100 might not even be enough. Rougie’s start to 2018 was so bad that people wondered if he’d remain the starting second baseman, yet he ended up with above average offensive numbers after a strong final few months. Alas, temper your excitement and calm your nerves for better and for worse. It’s ten games. We’ve got 152 more to go!

*Going through a season without injuries to key players is unrealistic, but it still stinks when it happens. Ronald Guzman strained his right hamstring heading to second on a double in Saturday’s game. He’ll miss 3-4 weeks and hopefully pick up from where he left off thereafter. While he’s hitting just .231, he’s slugging .615 with a .901 OPS and was/is showing signs of true power growth. In the meantime, the Rangers have recalled Patrick Wisdom, a corner infielder who will split time at first base with Logan Forsythe. Wisdom debuted last year with the Cardinals and hit four HR in just 58 plate appearances, but he also struck out 19 times. He’s got power, but needs to show he can hit MLB pitching, particular pitches other than fastballs.

*Joey Gallo is not a first baseman anymore. He is an outfielder. In an emergency, he might play first, but they’ve committed to giving him one defensive responsibility this year and aren’t going to abandon that plan less than two weeks into the season. He’s shared with the staff that he’s open to doing whatever to help the team and I imagine he’d start taking grounders there, but that he’d remain in the outfield unless there is a change of heart. Beyond the consistency aspect of it, he’s their best defensive outfielder and I’d rather leave him there for that reason.

*Random, but I wonder if the Rangers considered giving Choo a crash course at 1B to give Willie Calhoun an opportunity to DH/LF while Guzzy is out…Almost certainly not. Choo doesn’t make a ton of sense at first defensively, but just an outside-the-box thought.

*With Edinson Volquez on the IL due to a right elbow strain (and possibly out for the year), Adrian Sampson will get the first crack to fill his spot in the rotation. With off-days Monday and Thursday, Sampson will start on Saturday. Sampson worked on his slider this off-season in hopes of getting more swings-and-misses. Next in line on the starting depth chart, in no particular order, would likely be Ariel Jurado, Taylor Hearn, Jonathan Hernandez with both Brock Burke and Joe Palumbo likely becoming candidates in the next 6-8 weeks as they get a little more work under their belt.

*Many have asked about Dallas Keuchel and whether or not he’s an option. Unless he’s willing to take a one-year deal, it isn’t even a possibility. In reality, it doesn’t seem like a possibility unless it would occur after the draft when the loss of a draft pick would no longer be a part of the cost. That just doesn’t fit what the Rangers are doing and where they are in their movement. Philosophically, he doesn’t fit them either as they’re making a strong effort to improve their K-rates in the rotation. At his best, Keuchel was around average in that department but sunk below average last year in a season that indicated strong signs of a decline. He’s a recognizable name who has won a Cy Young, but that was in 2015 and a lot has changed since.

*If Volquez does indeed need TJ, he’s indicated that his career is done. More on that in our “Quotes of the Week” section, but I want to share a quick story. When asking about Volquez and what he’s like this off-season, everyone told me that I’d love him. In a short time, they were proven correct. And his teammates love him, too. He’s got a great combination of goofiness and a sagacious disposition. Prior to the season start, most of the big league club went to Nashville for an exhibition. Volquez stayed back in Arizona while lower-level minor leaguers got a chance to participate in the two Cactus League games. Volquez had no reason to be at those Cactus League games but he spent all nine innings of each game in the bullpen hanging out with guys who would be going to either Hickory (A) or Down East (Hi-A). It was a pretty cool gesture from Volquez who, knowing him, probably got as much joy out of hanging with those guys as they did hanging with him.

*Rougned Odor has come a long way over the last year. He was the team’s best player in the second half of the season and went from being one of the worst defensive players in the league to a Gold Glove finalist…and deservedly so. One area where he can improve greatly—and has the potential to do so—is base stealing. He’s just 12-for-his-last-26, an unacceptable number for anyone, especially someone with Rougie’s speed. I asked Chris Woodward what he can do better and he said that his leads have been about two feet shorter than they’d like and that Rougie can benefit from better knowing the tendencies and pacing of pitchers in the way of anticipation. A scout told me that sometimes Rougie takes a false step as he begins his dash. Both parties, and several teammates, agreed Rougie has the speed to be a base-stealing force.

*Some people knock Jon Daniels for wanting to sign bargains. News flash, pretty much every team does this. That aside, maybe we give him some credit? For a combined $15.25 million, JD and co. signed Asdrúbal Cabrera, Shawn Kelley, Hunter Pence, and Shelby Miller. Then, for just under a combined $20 million, the Rangers have their top two starters—Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. That’s not bad. Wish my wife took some notes ;-).

*When Shelby Miller went to Arizona, that tried to tweak his release point. Not sure why, considering he was an All-Star (and deservedly so) the year before his desert arrival. Those changes only created more problems in the vein of mechanical inconsistency. Seems like Miller, who has been encouraged by the Rangers to do what’s comfortable—the opposite approach of the Diamondbacks—is still trying to redevelop the consistency in his release point necessary to command his pitches with effectiveness.

*The Rangers have bunted some, but none called by Chris Woodward. He’s not a huge fan of the sacrifice bunt.

MAILBAG

Every week I’ll take a few of YOUR questions for our mailbag. I’ll usually solicit them during the week on twitter (@jaredsandler) but you can always send them my way using #SANDbox if you’d like.

Matt (@UL_GRO): If [the Rangers> continue to win, would we be buyers at the deadline? I want Willie on the team, but what is his value right now?

My guess is their approach my mirror their approach in 2015. I think the Rangers would be willing to “buy” to help fill some minor holes in moves that didn’t cost them a lot in the way of assets. For instance, in 2015 they acquired Sam Dyson to help patch up the bullpen and they traded away catcher Tomas Telis, who wasn’t really in their future plans. As far as bigger moves are concerned, the only way I’d see them engaging in something like that is if the player they acquired was under their control for multiple years and not just for 2019. Again, harken back to 2015 when the Rangers acquired Hamels. It ended up helping them win the division that season, but the move was more about the subsequent seasons. I do not foresee the Rangers getting suckered into a move that would compromise their future just because of some “ahead-of-schedule” success this year.

As far as Willie, it’s really tough to know. But it is all about leverage and whether a team believes in his value or not, they’ve got plenty of ammunition to downplay his value in trade conversations and will likely continue to do so until he starts hitting at the big league level. He also likely only fits on an American League roster for the time being until he proves he can be an everyday defensive player.

Young Water Operator (MT_Swatt_18): What is/are the best move(s) the Rangers can make this year to help keep leads deep into ballgames?

If the Rangers are to go outside of their current big league roster composition to aid their bullpen, they have some internal options. Depending on how the following guys perform, that list includes, but is not limited to LHP CD Pelham (AAA), LHP Brett Martin (AAA), RHP Yoel Espinal (AA), RHP Wei-Chieh Huang (AA), Demarcus Evans (A), and RHP Emmanuel Clase (A)

If they go externally, I’d expect a move that wouldn’t cost them a ton. That doesn’t mean it can’t be an impact player. As I indicated above, if you remember, the Rangers gave up nothing of value for Sam Dyson in 2015.

Kindess is the new cool (delvecko74): So what will happen with Calhoun this year? Do you think he will come up?

Yes. He will come up. I’m sure he was considered an option with the Guzman injury (Not to play 1B). I’m not sure when he’ll be up, however. He’ll certainly have to earn it by performing well and there will need to be an opportunity that’s created based on injury or poor performance or a roster move. Unfortunately, he is limited to just left field or DH which does make the maneuvering a little more challenging.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK

*The punctuation mark from this opening stretch of games highlighted by the Rangers’ much-improved plate discipline was when they wore out Justin Verlander and forced his exit without a recording an out in the fifth inning. Doing that against a guy like Verlander, one of the best pitchers of his generation and someone who has regularly frazzled the Rangers, is very uncommon. It wasn’t just that the Rangers strung together some hits and scored some runs. Nuh-uh. They clinically wore him down with lengthy at-bat after lengthy at-bat.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“We’re chasing the process, we aren’t chasing results.” -Gallo after the team’s 8-6 W over the Cubs for their first win of the season.

“Our identity is being resilient.” -Gallo after the same game.

“Obviously Verlander is one of the best in the game, if not the best, but we had a plan against him. We are not going to fear anybody. He could go out and throw a shutout against us, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to fear him. We made him work tonight. We made him work for everything. He knew right away we were coming after him. That’s the only thing you can do against a great pitcher, you have to attack him back.” -Rangers manager Chris Woodward

“It’s better to be down 0-1 than to be 0-for-1.” -Rangers hitting coach Luis Ortiz on batters being willing to take strikes instead of swinging at pitches that, though strikes, often result in outs for that hitter based on their strengths and weaknesses.

“If it is, I will go home and watch my daughter grow up. No complaints about what I’ve done in baseball” -Edinson Volquez on what he’d do if a third Tommy John surgery is necessary for his sprained right UCL. Volquez coming back from a second TJ at his age (35) was something others might not do considering he had already won a World Series, earned an All-Star nod, thrown a no-hitter, and made nearly $50 million. It’d be disappointing if he had to go out like this and not on his own terms, but Volquez has certainly made his mark on this game.

STATS OF THE WEEK

*The Rangers rank 9th in MLB with a chase rate of 25.3%. Individually, the Rangers have three players in the league’s Top 20 (in chase rate. The biggest surprise in that list is that Joey Gallo’s chase rate (16.0%) is 12th best in MLB one year after he ranked 87th out of 142 (29.3%). Joining Gallo in the top 20 is Choo (4th, 12.3%) and DeShields (17.2%).

*Joey Gallo has TIED THE MAJOR LEAGUE RECORD for consecutive games with at least one of all three true outcomes (HR, BB, K) with three straight such games. This is the 29th instance of this particular streak and first by a Ranger.

*The Rangers drew 12 walks vs. the Cubs on March 30th. The last time the Rangers drew 12 walks in a game? 2011 at KC in an 11-inning game.

Last time in a 9-inning game? 1996. That was their 26-7 win over the Orioles that featured a 16-run 8th inning. They walked 13 times that night. Box.

*Maz’s 4-walk game on March 30th was the 23rd instance of a Rangers player walking 4 or more times in team history. The last guy to do it? Rougned Odor, who walked a franchise record-tying 5 times in a game on August 2, 2018.

*Delino DeShields hit his first career Grand Slam on Sunday in a wild 11-10 W over the Cubs. What’s crazy is that Delino’s Grand Slam was the first by a Rangers CFer since Marlon Byrd in 2009.

*Elvis Andrus leads all right-handed hitters with eight opposite field hits so far this season. He trails only Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, a left-handed hitter, for the most in MLB regardless of hitter handedness.

*Rougie needs to better attack and capitalize on fastballs. He’s just 4-for-18 (.222) on fastballs in the strike zone this year with a slugging of just .333. In 2018, Major League hitters posted a .292 BA and a .496 SLG on those pitches.

*Rangers starting pitchers are averaging just 4.4 IP/GS (approx. 4.1 IP on the .1,.2,.0 scale), barely ahead of Baltimore (4.3) for lowest in MLB.

*In his first week-plus as a big league manager, Chris Woodward is 3-for-3 in manager challenges.

MINOR LEAGUE

*Minor League Baseball Opening Night was Thursday. The four starting pitchers for the Rangers’ full-season affiliates are all names to follow with plenty of promise. The best part of that night is that that quartet of Taylor Hearn (AAA), Brock Burke (AA), Tyler Phillips (Hi-A), and Hans Crouse combined for a grand total of ZERO walks.

*The best prospect—and my favorite infield prospect in the organzation—who not enough folks are talking about is Chris Seise, a 1st round pick in 2017 out of high school. Through his first four games, Seise is 9-for-17 (.529) with 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 stolen bases. Seise’s size more closely resembles something in between Elvis and A-Rod but his speed numbers virtually mirror Delino’s. Quite the combination.

*This is a big year for Leody Taveras. He’s repeated Hi-A Down East after hitting below .250 with an OPS of below .700 last year. So far so good for Leody, who is just 20 years old, and is 9-for-16 (.563) to start the year with 1 double and 1 triple.

*Don’t forget the name Emmanuel Clase. He’s a 21-year old RHP who throws 100 mph consistently and does so with cut. He pitched a scoreless Cactus League inning and baffled MLB hitters. I expect him to do the same for Hi-A Down East. In his first appearance, he pitched a perfect inning with a pair of strikeouts. The Rangers acquired Clase from San Diego last year in a deal that sent C Brett Nicholas westward.

*DeMarcus Evans is the reigning Rangers Minor League Reliever of the Year. He’s also pitching for the Down East Wood Ducks and could move quickly. He struck out the side in order on just 12 pitches in his 2019 debut Saturday.

A/V DEPARTMENT

*Shawn Kelley discussed with me his love for college basketball.

*Kyle Dowdy shared his road-tripping journey from Florida to Texas in advance of his MLB debut.

*Jon Daniels with the Ben & Skin Show for his weekly appearance:

*Ronald Guzman joined the Ben & Skin Show:

*Mike Bacsik and I do a weekly video chat—the Hello, Win Column Conversation—and this week’s edition discussed the season-opening homestand.