This post was written exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com by Brian Dunshee.
The Texas Rangers were victims of the injury bug in 2014, and 2015 is starting off much better. Ranger’s players spent more time on disabled than any other team with 2116 days lost, as Hardball Times shows here. The team went into the season with high hopes thanks to new faces Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo. Fielder was one of the most reliable players in baseball when it came to staying healthy, missing only one game from 2009-2013. In 2014, Fielder was limited to 42 games thanks to a neck injury, and his season came to an end in late May. Though the season has yet to start, the Rangers already lost their ace Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery. In an effort to recover from this devastating loss to the rotation, the Rangers acquired Yovani Gallardo from the Milwaukee Brewers, and he will be their opening day starter. The impact to the team of the loss of Darvish cannot be overstated, as he was one of baseball’s very best pitchers the last three seasons. A lot of things need to go right for the Rangers this season as they try to win their first AL West title since 2011.
Top Draft Picks
Adrian Beltre (3B): After posting three straight seasons of 30+ home runs, Adrian Beltre hit 19 in 2014, but was still able to post a stellar .324 batting average. Beltre will be 36 years old this season, but there is room for optimism with the return of the protection that Fielder provides in the batting order. There wasn’t much protection behind Beltre in the lineup last season, which could explain why his home runs dropped the way that they did, or maybe father time has caught up with him. Despite the down season, Beltre was actually able to post a higher wRC+ than he did in 2013. On the other hand, his ISO (isolated power percentage) was down almost thirty points from 2013, so the power fade may be for real. Fangraphs’ fan projections have Beltre hitting 21 home runs with 87 rbis, along with a .305 average. I think that is fair and still makes him a valuable commodity at third base.
High Upside (Sleepers)
Leonys Martin (OF): Leonys Martin is going into his third full season in the majors, and by now we know what kind of production fantasy owners should expect from him. While he doesn’t hit for much power, he is a force on the base paths, stealing 67 bases in his first two seasons. His numbers suggest a poor man’s Jacoby Ellsbury; with an only outside shot at double digit homers, but stealing enough bases and maintaining a healthy enough average to make him attractive enough for fantasy as a reliable source of speed that would hurt your team in other categories.
Rougned Odor (2B): I’m a buyer into Odor being a solid fantasy performer this season given Jurickson Profar’s shoulder surgery. I’ve invested in him in multiple leagues, after waiting the top tier middle infielders are taken. He offers the valuable of speed and power. Although it’s not a ton of power there is reason to believe it will get better as he continues to mature and it is certainly not bad for a second baseman. There’s nothing that jumps out about Odor, which is why he should be available late. His ADP is around the 200th pick in ESPN drafts, and I believe he is a very good value there, especially without the concern of Profar stealing at bats. Odor is 21 years old, and he still has plenty of time to develop. ZiPS projects Odor hitting 17 home runs to go along with 15 steals and a .270 batting average. Given the scarcity of offensive middle infield power and speed, Odor provides you with both relatively late in the draft.
High Downside (Busts)
Prince Fielder (1B): Fielder is coming off a season in which he played a career low 42 games due to neck surgery. Before the surgery, Fielder struggled to find his prodigious power that helped land him the mega contract that he signed with the Detroit Tigers after the 2011 season. After he signed the contract, his home run totals dipped from 38 in 2011, to 25 in 2013. Even with the drop in power, Fielder still managed to drive in over 100 runs for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. It has yet to be seen just how much the surgery is going to sap his power. We remain cautious. Neck surgery for a player whose fantasy value rides on their power is a dicey proposition. As I type this, Fielder has one home run in the spring through 38 plate appearances. It’s a small sample size, but Fielder is getting drafted as a top 10 first baseman. I would feel more comfortable betting on a Chris Davis bounce back before I bet on the same with Fielder.
Injuries have been an annual happenstance for Ranger’s closer Neftali Feliz. The 2010 American League Rookie of the Year underwent Tommy John surgery after the Rangers tried to stretch him into a starter, and missed most of the 213 season. Feliz needed Tommy John surgery and subsequently missed most of the 2013 season. As long as Feliz stays healthy, the closer’s job is his to lose. If, however, he is ineffective, look for hard throwing Tanner Scheppers as the likely option to take over as the ninth inning duties.
Impact Minor Leaguers
Ryan Rau has been pegged to be the starting left fielder come opening day after posting strong numbers across two minor league levels in 2014. At 25, he’s an older prospect, but he could become eligible at multiple positions, including third base and first base, depending on how Texas uses him in his debut year. He offers plus power and has good on base skills, so keep an eye on him throughout the year as he could be a valuable waiver wire pickup. As for the rest of the farm system, we continue to wait and see how top prospects develop, including power hitting catcher Jorge “The Legend” Alfaro.