Halfway home, Rangers have some spring cleaning remaining

03/13/2014 10:06 PM

11/12/2014 4:15 PM

Though the 53 remaining players in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse might disagree, the first half of the Cactus League schedule seemingly breezed by them.

They reached the midway point of their 28-game Arizona slate Wednesday, and entered the second half Thursday at 3-9-2. That was good for last in the Cactus League.

Manager Ron Washington, though, doesn’t particularly care about the mark. Most games early on are decided by younger players who have little chance of making the roster while the established big leaguers usually play only three to five innings.

The work of the Rangers’ regulars, at least the healthy ones, has Washington feeling good about the spring.

“I like the progress we’re making,” he said. “It would be much better if I could get everybody healthy and finally get us on the field as the team we’re going to take into the season. But I see us getting better.”

Health is always a primary spring concern, and the Rangers have had to mend Alex Rios, Geovany Soto, Jurickson Profar and Matt Harrison, among others.

Here’s a look at some highlights, concerns and superlatives at the midway point of another spring training:

Top pitcher: Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison

Two players who were medical uncertainties entering camp have cooled many concerns by the way they have performed so far this spring.

Lewis, who is pitching with hardware in his hip after a resurfacing procedure in August, looks as he did when he rejoined the Rangers in 2010 and perhaps better in some aspects. He is comfortable with his velocity, has shown increased mobility on the mound and continues to feel good.

Harrison, meanwhile, has shaken off two back surgeries from last season and an early-spring back scare last month to show club brass that he can be an effective starter again.

“You’re talking about two guys who are coming back from surgeries that aren’t baseball-normal,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “You really can’t even tell.”

Top position player: Michael Choice

The numbers (.310 average, one homer, three RBIs) in 29 at-bats entering Thursday are pretty solid, but don’t tell the story of how hard Choice has been hitting the ball. He has impressed the Rangers with the things they had learned when scouting him four years ago and had heard about him since.

“To see his day-to-day work ethic and the way it pays off on the field has been very encouraging,” assistant general manager Thad Levine said.

To those worried about the rookie rotting away as a bench player, consider this: The Rangers’ fourth outfielder has averaged 398 at-bats the past seven seasons.

Just relax

Jurickson Profar entered big-league camp last year with expectations heaped upon him, but no certainty that he would make the Opening Day roster. A year later, with Ian Kinsler out of the way, Profar is enjoying a calmer spring because he knows he has a job at second base.

“You know your position is there, so you don’t worry about that,” he said. “You work on progressing every day at something. You come here and work on something you want to work on.”

The Rangers continue to have expectations for Profar, baseball’s top prospect entering 2013. They want him to start making his own headlines rather than the club creating headlines for him.

Close the job

The perceived consensus is that Rangers officials want Neftali Feliz to beat out Joakim Soria in the battle to be the club’s closer, but Feliz has lacked the velocity that he flashed before he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Feliz worked hard in the off-season to get himself in better shape and continues to tinker with his mechanics. He touched 94 mph in his last outing and has sat at 92 mph for much of the spring.

“I’m not sure he isn’t where he usually is this time of year,” Daniels said. “Would I like to see him pump 96 or 97 mph? Of course. But I have faith it’s going to be there.”

Still TBD

As is the case every spring, most roster spots and roles on the team are taken as soon as camp opens. The Rangers seem to have a few more battles than normal this year.

Besides the competition at closer between Feliz, Soria and Tanner Scheppers, the Rangers are searching for two starting pitchers among 10 candidates and four bench players among nine candidates.

Lewis and left-hander Joe Saunders look like the favorites to fill out the rotation, though Tommy Hanson has made a nice push. J.P. Arencibia is expected to be the backup catcher, though Washington said there is competition from Robinson Chirinos.

Choice is well ahead to be the fourth outfielder, though Engel Beltre and Jim Adduci are on the radar. Adam Rosales and Brent Lillibridge are leading a four-man pack to be the backups at second and shortstop, and some officials have taken a liking to veteran corner infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Six relievers appear to be locks, leaving a bevy of pitchers fighting for the last bullpen spot.

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