ARLINGTON -- The time has come to begin the final countdown to Spring Training as Rangers pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 19.
The usual storylines are in play going into camp concerning position battles, top prospects, new players and those on the rebound. The last one is always crucial for a team as internal improvements have the potential of having the biggest impact.
That holds true for the Rangers, as there are five players to watch carefully this spring who could have a much bigger impact this season than they did a year ago.
RHP Yu Darvish
The Rangers won the 2015 American League West title even though their most talented pitcher missed the entire season while recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He underwent the surgery on March 17, and the normal recovery time is 12 months. The Rangers have built an extra two months into Darvish's rehabilitation program in the hopes of increasing his effectiveness when he returns in mid-to-late May.
LHP Derek Holland
The star-crossed left-hander is the Rangers' biggest unknown, a talented pitcher who has missed most of the last two seasons because of injury. He missed 4 1/2 months last year with a strained muscle in his left shoulder, went 4-3 with a 4.91 ERA in 10 starts and lasted just two innings in his postseason start against the Blue Jays. The Rangers dream of 32 starts from Holland at his best.
OF Josh Hamilton
The story is well-known. He was with the Angels at the beginning of last season but recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and isolated from the team because of an addiction relapse. The Angels gave him away to the Rangers on April 27, but multiple health issues limited him to just 50 games, during which he only sporadically showed flashes of his former self. The Rangers are putting a lot of stock in Hamilton having a full offseason and Spring Training to get ready, but his surgically repaired left knee is still a concern. The Rangers will have to be careful to coax maximum production out of him
OF Ryan Rua
The Rangers had high hopes for Rua last year after he won the starting left field job in Spring Training. But he fractured his right heel in the first week of the season, and 2015 ended up being a lost year for him. He could still end up being an important part of the Rangers because of his versatility and Hamilton's fragile health. Rua has shown he can swing the bat.
IF Jurickson Profar
Once considered the Rangers best Minor League prospect, Profar has missed almost two complete seasons because of a torn muscle in his right shoulder. He should be at full strength in Spring Training, but he will likely need to start the season at Triple-A Round Rock to make up for lost time. The plan is for Profar to play shortstop.