Five players in Texas Rangers camp received word Tuesday morning that they had made the Opening Day roster and will be at Globe Life Park on April 4.
A sixth player found out late in the afternoon that he would also be on the roster, albeit after a trade home from the Detroit Tigers.
The Rangers acquired former TCU catcher Bryan Holaday, a Fort Worth resident, from the Tigers for fellow catcher Bobby Wilson and right-hander Myles Jaye in a move that is likely to keep Chris Gimenez from making the team.
“Holaday comes highly recommended by our scouts and everyone he’s played with and for,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We think he’s a good fit for our roster and our clubhouse. He’s an athletic catcher with the kind of makeup and work ethic you want.”
Holaday is expected to join the Rangers on Friday in Arlington for exhibition games against Cleveland. Out of options, he was competing with former Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be the Tigers’ backup, and a recent thumb injury wasn’t as serious as originally thought.
He said late Tuesday that he caught four innings of a minor league game without issue. His focus now is getting to Arlington on soon as possible to begin learning a new pitching staff and to begin living the dream of playing for his favorite team growing up.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Holaday, a Dallas native who won the 2010 Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top Division I catcher. “I grew up watching the Rangers, and that’s the team I wanted to play for. It’s an amazing feeling, the fact that I get to come home and play for that team.”
Gimenez has been slowed by an infection in his lower left leg, and there was some concern about how soon he could play. The Rangers spoke with him about the trade, and he said that he will attempt to play Wednesday in an 11th-hour effort to make the team as a utility type who can also play first base and left field.
I’m really excited to get over there and start talking to the guys, getting to know them and getting to work with them. We’ve got some pretty good starting pitching and a pretty good bullpen.
Former TCU catcher Bryan Holaday, acquired by the Rangers in a trade from Detroit
Justin Ruggiano was one of the five who learned his fate earlier in the day, ending weeks of uncertainty and creating simultaneous relief and excitement for the native Texan.
“I wanted to jump across the desk and give those guys a hug,” the Heath resident said.
Also getting hug-worthy news were Ryan Rua, Hanser Alberto, Tony Barnette and Andrew Faulkner in a series of decisions that left the Rangers with only one more spot to determine for their season-opening 25-man roster, assuming the No. 5 starter is A.J. Griffin and he opens in the minors.
That decision could be on hold until as late as Sunday and will be settled between Phil Klein and Cesar Ramos after left-hander Sam Freeman was designated for assignment to fit Holaday on the 40-man roster.
With camp breaking Wednesday, the Rangers’ heavy roster lifting is done.
“I definitely like the where the construction of the club is and our options right now,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’ve been through a lot of different scenarios. We didn’t just sit here and say, ‘This is the scenario.’ So, there were a number of options within that whole process, and one of the options is where we are right now.”
Not everyone received good news. Pedro Ciriaco was assigned to minor league camp after losing out to Alberto as the utility infielder, and right-hander Nick Martinez was optioned to Triple A Round Rock after missing out on the last spot in the rotation.
Ryan Rua opened 2015 as the Rangers’ starting left fielder, but his good fortune quickly turned with an ankle injury five days later in the home opener.
The wheels started turning when Drew Stubbs, the speedy defensive-minded outfielder, exercised the out clause in his minor league deal after being told he didn’t make the team.
Ian Desmond’s ability to play center fielder, while not yet as well as Stubbs can, left the Rangers comfortable to move on with Ruggiano and Rua.
“The other two guys were at this point, with the combination of Desmond being able to play in center field, better construction,” Banister said.
Ruggiano signed with the Rangers in December and entered camp as a leading platoon option with Josh Hamilton in left field and Mitch Moreland at first base after posting strong career numbers against left-handed pitching.
But the Desmond signing Feb. 29 erased Ruggiano’s playing time in left field, and Rua’s emergence as a right-handed-hitting option at first base left Ruggiano’s roster status in the air as he slowly took to first base.
“We had a some changes that happened early in spring training, and you kind of wonder where you fit in the equation,” Ruggiano said. “That’s when I put my focus on first base and just helping this team. That’s all I want to do.”
Rua is likely to play more at first base than Ruggiano, who has more experience coming off the bench and as a pinch-hitter late in games. He has a .258 average (23 for 93) as a pinch-hitter, with two homers.
Rua has barely surpassed his rookie limits, and pinch-hitting is an acquired skill.
23 Career pinch hits, in 93 at-bats, for outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who was told he has made the Rangers’ Opening Day roster
“I takes standing in on bullpens, it takes seeing live pitching when you’re not playing,” Ruggiano said. “Batting practice is important and cage work is important because when it’s time for you to go in and you haven’t seen a live pitch in a game, you need to be able to swing at the first baseball. That’s how I’ve gone about it.”
Rua was the Opening Day left fielder last season, but his season was quickly derailed by a foot and ankle injury in the home opener. He never found a rhythm at the plate and lost his job to the combination of Hamilton, Will Venable and even Mike Napoli.
He entered camp as a long shot, but he took .447 batting average an a 1.161 on-base plus slugging percentage into Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox, a game Griffin started and allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings in what would serve as his final tune-up for the regular season.
Banister declined to name Griffin the winner of the biggest camp competition, but again acknowledged the strong likelihood that the fifth starter won’t begin the season on the Opening Day roster as he won’t be needed until April 8.
That will allow the Rangers to take an eighth reliever, Klein or Ramos. Each can pitch multiple innings. Klein can be optioned to the minors, but Ramos would need to be added to the 40-man roster.
Barnette was signed from Japan after a dominating season as the closer for the Yakult Swallows, and Faulkner, who came on last season as a bullpen lefty, can pitch multiple innings.
That leaves only one Opening Day roster spot left to decide. The Rangers’ heavy roster lifting is done.
Our baseball special section analyzes the Rangers’ chances for a long postseason run and previews the division races.