If the general manager of the Texas Rangers is acknowledging that his club has questions as it readies for the first full-squad workout of spring training Friday, the rest of the baseball world probably has some doubts, too.
“If you’re on the outside looking in, ‘Is Prince healthy?’” Daniels said last weekend. “‘Where’s Elvis?’ ‘A 20-year old at second base.’ ‘The health of some other guys …’ ”
That’s not all of the questions for a team with a new manager, one who wasn’t exactly given a bevy of high-priced free agents or established star players as welcome gifts.
Jeff Banister eventually got one, right-hander Yovani Gallardo. But others who could have filled in some blanks weren’t a fit — i.e., they were too expensive.
So, add questions about left field and the bullpen and the fifth spot in the rotation to Daniels’ list. Here’s a look at the biggest questions for the Rangers now that the gang has arrived at the Surprise Recreation Campus:
1How will Prince Fielder bounce back?
The first baseman was supposed to be a power source last season but was limited to only three homers before he underwent season-ending neck surgery. Fielder entered 2014 off a down year in Detroit, and his shortened season made some wonder if his big body was breaking down.
Fielder, though, said that he is 100 percent and that the ball is jumping off his bat as it did during his heyday. Instead of beating balls into infield shifts as he did last season, he expects to be hitting balls over the shifts. If he stays healthy, the Rangers’ offense will be better.
“He’s the anchor of the offense,” Banister said. “Everybody in that lineup is going to benefit from having Prince Fielder in the lineup.”
2Will Skinny Elvis be better?
Elvis Andrus isn’t skinny, but he is far more lean than he was when he checked in last spring at 216 pounds. That hardly made him Fat Elvis, but the extra weight he carried hampered him during the season.
He heard all about it late last season during exit interviews and as the club designed his off-season program. Andrus listened, and is motivated to show that he can be the kind of player worth the $118 million the Rangers agreed to invest into him.
“I feel really good, and when you’re feeling that way you want to start as soon as possible,” Andrus said.
3Who will play left field?
The assumption all off-season was that Shin-Soo Choo would be the Rangers’ starting right fielder, his old position, after a difficult 2014 in left. That’s his understanding, too, though he hasn’t been told that for sure.
So, left field is vacant, though there is a line of candidates outside the door. Ryan Rua was the first name to slip out of Daniels’ and Banister’s mouths this off-season, but Arlington resident Michael Choice and Jake Smolinski will get a look. So will veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Schierholtz. Even Mitch Moreland is in the mix, along with five others.
“You guys know the names and can see who the candidates are,” Banister said. “I think there’s something to be said about competition and you creating a competitive atmosphere.”
4Is Derek Holland ready for the next step?
The September showing by Derek Holland led some to suggest that he will be the Rangers’ starting pitcher on Opening Day. He was great in his first month back from knee surgery, but the left-hander has previously flashed greatness and been unable to sustain it.
He says that this is the year when the Holland roller coaster will be closed for business. Holland has prepared as well as any other player for the season, and has also tried to rally the troops for a big 2015.
If Holland is as good as he wants to be, if Gallardo is as good as he has been, if Colby Lewis is as good as he was after the 2014 All-Star break, and if Yu Darvish is as good as he can be, the Rangers’ rotation could be stout.
5Can Neftali Feliz close things down?
Neftali Feliz was a lock-down closer in his first two full seasons, but then came a failed experiment as a starter, 18 months lost to Tommy John surgery, and another five months in the minors trying to recapture his form.
He finally did over the last six weeks of 2014, trusting that his arm would stand up to the rigors of throwing in the upper 90s. He also answered a lingering question this off-season by showing a kind of work ethic that he had been lacking.
He says the closer’s job is all his. If not, Tanner Scheppers or Kyuji Fujikawa will take it.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760