The Texas Rangers have less than two weeks to finalize their 25-man roster. Most of the spots are spoken for. Five or six spots, however, remain as open as Arizona’s desert sky.
Manager Jeff Banister offers few clues, preferring to keep a poker player’s stance when it comes to certain position battles.
Of course, three of those remain in flux: Left field, the fourth outfielder and two or three arms in middle relief.
And in Banister’s defense, the candidates for the final few spots seem even in some cases and nearly indistinguishable in others.
Left field appeared to be Jake Smolinski’s until about a week ago. That was when Ryan Rua’s bat started to heat up, and as the pre-spring training favorite, Rua seems to be back in the pole position. Banister is intrigued by a player’s upside, and Rua looks to have the brightest. Plus, Rua has the advantage of being able to play third, if necessary. Carlos Peguero has been a “spring training All-Star,” in Banister’s words, and it appears likely the Rangers will keep him around to see if he can carry it into the regular season. His versatility is limited, but he auditioned in center field a few days ago and has history in right and left. Smolinski, although one of the team’s best hitters this spring, could be undone by a lack of versatility in the field. He can play left and right, and will get a shot at center soon.
The fourth outfielder needs versatility to Banister’s liking. Peguero’s power bat could overshadow any limitations he may have defensively. To be fair, he’s looked just fine in right. Smolinski is a solid defender but is likely to get caught in a numbers game. Delino DeShields Jr. is the wild card in the mix. His game-changing speed is inviting for late-inning pinch-running situations. Plus, he was taken in the Rule 5 draft in December from the Astros, which brings its own complications and requirements. The Rangers are obligated to put him on the 25-man roster before the season and can’t option him to the minors. Otherwise, they must offer him back to Houston if he clears waivers.
The bullpen is even more complicated. Although young fireballer Keone Kela has been impressive this spring, his specialty — coming in to shut down an inning with a strikeout — may not be necessary unless closer Neftali Feliz struggles in April. If so, Kela gets called up.
Feliz and Tanner Scheppers are locks. Shawn Tolleson was thought to be a lock but recent arm issues have left that in doubt, leaving a spot for Kela or Roman Mendez. That leaves four spots remaining for long relief and matchup moments. Left-hander Alex Claudio has pitched well and as the lone lefty, has just about cemented a spot by default. The remaining three spots will go to Kyuji Fujikawa, who has a guaranteed contract and has progressed this spring, albeit slowly; Ross Ohlendorf; and Phil Klein. Ohlendorf is scheduled to pitch Thursday to test a nagging groin injury. If he pitches well the final 10 days of camp, he’ll earn a bullpen spot. If he looks especially strong, he could eventually earn the fifth spot in the rotation.
Left-handed Ross Detwiler has quietly nailed down the fourth starter spot. The fifth starter comes down to right-handers Nick Martinez, Ohlendorf and Lisalverto Bonilla. Martinez is healthy and throwing well. The Rangers like his progress since he made 24 starts as a rookie a year ago. Ohlendorf looked strong with a consistent, mid-90s fastball early in camp. If healthy, and he says the groin issue has cleared, Ohlendorf and Martinez could be interchangeable as a fifth starter and in long relief. Bonilla hasn’t so much failed to prove he belongs as much as others have stepped up. He’ll be a candidate for a call-up to the bullpen from the jump.
Rangers’ projected 25-man roster
Leonys Martin (L)
Shin-Soo Choo (L)
Prince Fielder (L)
Mitch Moreland (L)
Rougned Odor (L)
Starting pitchers (5)
Neftali Feliz (closer)
Carlos Peguero (L)
Delino DeShields Jr.
Carlos Corporan (S)
Players likely to just miss the cut
Nate Schierholtz (L)
First called up
These players will be the candidates to get the call from Arlington at first sign of trouble:
Keone Kela (bullpen)
Chi Chi Gonzalez
Shawn Tolleson (bullpen)