Texas Rangers

Five internal candidates who could make Rangers’ 2018 rotation

Nick Martinez had surgery last week to repair a sports hernia and is expected to be ready for spring training.
Nick Martinez had surgery last week to repair a sports hernia and is expected to be ready for spring training. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

For the second time this off-season, news of another surgery for another Texas Rangers rotation candidate was delivered Monday afternoon well after the actual procedure.

This time, it was right-hander Nick Martinez, who had surgery Thursday in Philadelphia to have a sports hernia fixed. The Rangers said that he will be 100 percent by the start of spring training in mid-February.

Matt Bush underwent surgery late last month to clean up the AC joint in his right shoulder that has been bothersome in the past. The Rangers haven’t decided if they want to give the hard-throwing reliever a shot at starting, but the surgery won’t prevent the move.

As the Rangers look to fill three vacancies in their rotation for 2018, with work being done this week at the annual general manager meetings, one is likely to come from inside the organization to fill the fifth spot.

That means Martinez or Bush or someone else who wore a Rangers uniform, or was in the organization, in 2017.

Here’s a look at the five best internal candidates for a starting role, a list that doesn’t include Austin Bibens-Dirkx.

Bibens-Dirkx became elected to become a free agent last week after being designated for assignment, but the Rangers have interest in bringing him back. 

Nick Martinez

Sports hernia be damned. Martinez could be viewed as the front-runner among those currently employed by the Rangers for a few reasons.

He was better in 2017, though the numbers don’t necessarily show it, and should continue to get better. How much better? Good question, but he probably will never be Max Scherzer.

Martinez is also out of options, meaning that the Rangers just can’t send him to Triple A Round Rock were he not to make the club. He would have to pass through waivers before the Rangers could outright him to the minors.

Matt Bush

The Rangers threw the idea of moving Bush into the rotation last off-season after his rookie campaign. He throws hard with pretty good off-speed stuff, and that mix would play well in the rotation.

The shoulder issues are a concern, as would be the workload. Instead of throwing 62 1/3 innings a season — his career-high — he would be asked to log 150-180. Bush also wasn’t nearly as effective in 2017 as he was in 2016, but maybe the shoulder is to blame.

The Rangers still like the stuff and the mix and the cost (he’ll make the league minimum). If the shoulder is fine and if Bush is committed to putting in the work, he could get a look.

A.J. Griffin

He can be really good at times and really not good at times. He can also be hurt at times. Griffin spent two stints on the disabled list in 2017 and was used sparingly late in the season. His final appearances were out of the bullpen.

Here’s another thing Griffin has working against him: He’s a candidate to not be tendered a contract next month. Though he doesn’t project to make a pile of money, the Rangers might feel they can use that money in other areas.

Yohander Mendez

The left-hander is the Rangers’ prospect closest to the majors, after two consecutive good seasons in the minors and two consecutive September call-ups.

But he has had only a small taste of Triple A, and that was in 2016, and seems destined to open the season there. He worked on fastball command in 2017 at Double A Frisco to go with his plus-changeup, and still needs time to work on things.

Clayton Blackburn

A long shot, but he has one thing in his favor: He’s on the 40-man roster.

Acquired last season on a waiver claim, he was fair at Round Rock. The Rangers promoted him once, but he didn’t pitch. Yet, he’s still around, which is something.

There’s also this: The Rangers have a long history of naming a long shot to the roster out of spring training. Nick Tepesch, Robbie Ross, Mason Tobin and Martinez are among the group of past camp spring pitching surprises.