With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rangers squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?
ARLINGTON -- Manager Jeff Banister has identified the potentially biggest difference between this year's Rangers club and the 2016 club that won the American League West.
The Rangers relish the opportunity to have outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Gomez, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, in their lineup for a full season. Lucroy and Gomez were acquired in August last season, and Choo was limited to 48 games because of injuries.
This season, all three are expected to be in the Opening Day lineup and be lineup fixtures all season. If so, that will be a difference-maker for the Rangers, even if they don't end up signing free-agent slugger Mike Napoli.
"Coming over here, it was an easy transition," Lucroy said. "It's a cool feeling to come into Spring Training and everybody is on the same page. I'm looking forward to a full year here."
Pitchers and catchers participating in the World Baseball Classic will report on Feb. 14 and work out for the first time the following day. The reporting date for the remainder of the pitchers as well as any position players participating in the World Baseball Classic is Feb. 17. The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 21. Texas begins its Spring Training schedule on Feb. 25 vs. the Royals at Surprise Stadium.
Lucroy played in 47 games for the Rangers, which is about a third of the season for a frontline catcher, and hit .276 with 11 home runs, 31 RBIs and a .539 slugging percentage. That comes out to 33 home runs and 93 RBIs for a full season.
Gomez played in 33 games with the Rangers, hitting .284 with eight home runs, 24 RBIs and a .543 slugging percentage. Over 150 games, that would put him at 36 home runs and 109 RBIs.
It would also represent career years for both Lucroy and Gomez. That's probably too much to expect, but the Rangers will take full seasons from both and see what happens.
"It's exciting to be able to go into Spring Training and into so something special," Gomez said. "I'm in the best shape of my life, so I'm ready to do my best."
The Rangers have not been able to get a full season out of Choo in the three years he has been in Texas. He was on the disabled list four times last year, but the production is still there when he is healthy.
Over his last 162 games between all the injuries, Choo is hitting .275 with 107 runs scored, 30 doubles, 23 home runs, 82 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, a .382 on-base percentage and a .447 slugging percentage. That's everything the Rangers expected when they signed him to a seven-year contract.
Choo is healthy and has been working in out in Arlington this offseason. He is tired of answering questions about his health but understands the situation. It's all about staying in the lineup every day and doing what he normally does.
"We didn't play most of the year with a lot of these guys," Banister said. "I feel comfortable and confident with the guys we are able to put in the lineup."
Oh yeah, there is also Josh Hamilton. The former AL MVP Award winner didn't play at all last season while recovering from left knee surgery. Hamilton has also been healthy this offseason and will be in camp on a Minor League contract, trying to prove there is still something left in his bat.
Now that would truly be a difference-maker.
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.