Rangers head to camp with unique mission

Rangers head to camp with unique mission

Rangers head to camp with unique mission
ARLINGTON -- The story of Spring Training for the Rangers should have been how they were going to defend their American League championship.

They went to the World Series in 2010 for the first time in club history and Spring Training should have been a celebration of that. But that's not the Rangers way.

The Rangers go into Spring Training with three big questions hanging over the club and Michael Young is No. 1 on the list.

Young was the Rangers' starting third baseman the past two seasons, but that changed when the club could not convince pitcher Cliff Lee to return and signed Adrian Beltre instead. The plan was for Beltre to be the Rangers' third baseman and Young to fill the role of designated hitter and "super utility" infielder.

But Young doesn't appear to be satisfied with that role and there is a possibility he could be traded before or during Spring Training. That situation continues to hang over the Rangers.

The other two issues also remain unresolved. The Rangers haven't decided if reliever Neftali Feliz, who was the American League Rookie of the Year, will remain as closer or move to the rotation, and it's still unclear if the club will be able to sign American League MVP Josh Hamilton to a long-term contract.

The Rangers could go to Spring Training with much intrigue remaining to be cleared up.

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All of this and more will be determined in six-plus weeks in the desert. It is the next big step in their title defense.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 16

Full squad reports

Feb. 19

First Spring Training game

2:05 p.m. (CT) Sunday, Feb. 27 vs. Royals

Opening Day

3:05 p.m. (CT) Friday, April 1 vs. Red Sox

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Will Neftali Feliz be moved into the rotation?
Feliz saved 40 games for the Rangers as their closer in 2010, but both he and reliever Alexi Ogando will be stretched out as possible starters this spring. That is only a first step and doesn't mean either one will actually be in the rotation. The Rangers know that Wilson made a successful transition from the bullpen to the rotation last year but that doesn't automatically mean Feliz will do the same.

The Rangers know Feliz can throw hard but they also want to see him command his secondary pitches for strikes as well. They also need to feel comfortable with a potential alternative as far as a closer. Ogando would be one strong candidate. Mark Lowe and Darren O'Day are the other two setup relievers who might be considered.

2. Who will get the most playing time at first base?
Moreland, a left-handed hitter, is expected to be the Rangers' primary first baseman, especially against right-handed pitchers. Young and Mike Napoli could see time there against left-handed pitching.

But Moreland still has to earn the position and manager Ron Washington wants to see some improvement defensively. The Rangers are unlikely to just hand Moreland the job and Chris Davis, the Opening Day first baseman the past two years, remains on the roster. The position is not set in concrete.

3. How will the outfield be configured?
Washington said he wants to move Josh Hamilton back to left field. If that turns out to be the case, then Julio Borbon will be back in center field and David Murphy will end up being the fourth outfielder again. Nelson Cruz will be in right field.

During the playoffs, Hamilton played center with Murphy in left and Borbon mainly off the bench. They also used Cruz in left when they faced a left-hander because they had Jeff Francoeur in right field. Francoeur is no longer with the Rangers.

2010 record

90-72, first place, AL West

Projected batting order

1. SS Elvis Andrus:
 .265 BA, .342 OBP, .301 SLG, 0 HR, 35 RBI in 2010
2. DH Michael Young:
 .284 BA, .330 OBP, .444 SLG, 21 HR, 91 RBI in 2010
3. LF Josh Hamilton:
 .359 BA, .411 OBP, .633 SLG, 32 HR, 100 RBI in 2010
4. 3B Adrian Beltre:
 .321 BA, .365 OBP, .553 SLG, 28 HR, 102 RBI in 2010
5. 2B Ian Kinsler:
 .286 BA, .382 OBP, .412 SLG, 9 HR, 45 RBI in 2010
6. RF Nelson Cruz:
 .318 BA, .374 OBP, .576 SLG, 22 HR, 78 RBI in 2010
7. 1B Mitch Moreland:
 .255 BA, .364 OBP, .469 SLG, 9 HR, 25 RBI in 2010
8. C Yorvit Torrealba:
 .271 BA, .343 OBP, .378 SLG, 7 HR, 37 RBI in 2010
9. CF Julio Borbon:
 .276 BA, .309 OBP, .340 SLG, 3 HR, 42 RBI in 2010

Projected rotation

1. C.J. Wilson, 15-8, 3.35 ERA in 2010
2. Colby Lewis, 12-13, 3.72 ERA in 2010
3. Brandon Webb, Did not pitch in 2010
4. Tommy Hunter, 13-4, 3.73 ERA in 2010
5. Derek Holland, 3-4, 4.08 ERA in 2010

Projected bullpen

Closer: Neftali Feliz, 40/43 in save opp. 2.73 ERA
RH setup man: Darren O'Day, 2.03 ERA
RH setup man: Alexi Ogando, 1.30 ERA
LH setup man: Darren Oliver, 2.48 ERA
LH setup man: Arthur Rhodes, 2.29 ERA

The new guys

3B Adrian Beltre The Rangers, unable to re-sign Cliff Lee, signed Beltre to a six-year, $96 million contract to help fortify their defense as well as be their cleanup hitter. He was an All-Star in 2010 while having one of his best offensive seasons.

RHP Brandon Webb: He was the 2006 National League Cy Young winner but has missed almost two complete seasons with a right shoulder injury. He is expected to be at full strength and ready to go at the start of Spring Training.

RHP Arthur Rhodes: He was also an All-Star in 2010 for the Reds and has been one of the top left-handed setup relievers in the game for the past 16 years. He combines with Darren Oliver to give the Rangers two effective left-handed setup relievers.

C Yorvit Torrealba: He takes over as the Rangers' No. 1 catcher, a 10-year veteran who has earned a reputation for being solid defensively and able to work well with his pitchers. Matt Treanor is back as the backup catcher.

C/1B Mike Napoli: The Rangers gave up reliever Frank Francisco to acquire a versatile right-handed hitter who can play both first base and catcher. He has hit 66 home runs over the past three seasons. He has a career .928 OPS against left-handed pitchers.

RHP David Bush: He was 8-13 with a 4.54 ERA in 31 starts and one relief appearance for the Brewers last year. He gives the Rangers veteran insurance for the rotation and could be a long reliever/spot starter coming out of the bullpen.

RHP Yoshinori Tateyama: He is a side-arming right-handed pitcher who had significant success as a setup reliever in Japan. He gives the Rangers some depth in case they want to move Feliz or Ogando into the rotation.

Prospects to watch

RHP Tanner Scheppers The right-hander was 1-3 with a 4.84 ERA in seven starts and 29 relief appearances last season at Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was ranked 43rd on MLB.Com's Top 50 prospects.

RHP Omar Beltre: He made two starts for the Rangers last year while going 3-9 with a 2.65 ERA in 14 starts and 10 relief appearances at Triple-A Oklahoma City. In 85 innings, he allowed 69 hits and 38 walks while striking out 85.

OF Engel Beltre: He was the Rangers' Minor League Player of the Year in 2010, hitting .300 with 52 runs scored, six home runs, 49 RBIs and 18 stolen bases at Frisco and Class A Bakersfield. He could be a year away from breaking into the Rangers outfield.

LHP Michael Kirkman: He made 14 relief appearances for the Rangers at the end of last season but was also their Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 13-3 with a 3.09 ERA at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He has a chance to pitch his way into a prominent role on the pitching staff.

C Jose Felix Considered an outstanding defensive catcher, Felix was the Rangers' Minor League Defender of the Year in 2010. He is still developing offensively but is their best catching prospect at the upper levels of their farm system.

On the rebound

RHP Mark Lowe: Known as the second player acquired from the Mariners in the Lee trade, Lowe missed almost five months after undergoing back surgery. He pitched in three games at the end and was on the World Series roster. Now the Rangers are counting on him having a major impact on their bullpen this spring.

RHP Scott Feldman: The Rangers' 17-game winner and Pitcher of the Year in 2009 struggled much of last season and ended up having knee surgery in the offseason. He is not expected to be ready for Opening Day but he could be a viable option for either the rotation or the bullpen by late April or early May.

RHP Eric Hurley: A former first-round Draft pick in 2004, Hurley has missed all of the past two seasons with a torn right rotator cuff and a broken left wrist. But he pitched well in the Arizona Fall League and will be at full strength in Spring Training.

OF Craig Gentry: He could have been a part of the Rangers' postseason team but had his year cut short because of a broken wrist. In 69 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City, he hit .309 with a .393 on-base percentage and 12 stolen bases. He can still run, play defense and has a strong throwing arm.

Long gone

LHP Cliff Lee: The Rangers' No. 1 starter in the second half of the season and the playoffs ended up signing with the Phillies rather than returning to Texas. Webb has the best chance of replacing him in the rotation.

OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero: The Rangers made an attempt to re-sign him but that came to a close when Beltre came aboard. Young will likely be the Rangers' designated hitter, with Beltre likely to replace Guerrero as the cleanup hitter.

C Bengie Molina: He talked about retiring, then told people that he wanted to play one more year. But the Rangers went in another direction at catcher.

RHP Frank Francisco: The veteran right-hander and former closer was the Rangers' No. 1 setup reliever for much of last season until he went down with a strained muscle in his right ribcage. He missed the entire playoffs and then was traded to the Blue Jays for Napoli.

OF Jeff Francoeur: The Rangers' right-handed-hitting right fielder for the playoffs ended up signing with the Royals and will be on the other side of the Spring Training complex.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.