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2021 Texas Rangers: Four Position Battles to Follow This Spring

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The 2021 Texas Rangers pre-season has begun! Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training, and the rest of the calvary is on its way. Finally, you can see your favorite Rangers back in action. You can evaluate top prospects, learn new faces, and closely follow intense position battles.

Nothing fits the Spring Training theme more than two players fighting for a starting position or even a spot on the 26-man roster. So much is at stake for the men in uniform as they push for glory while bordering extreme disappointment. As for the fans, a little March position drama is an entertaining prelude to game competition beginning Opening Day.

The following outlines four Texas Rangers position battles to monitor this spring.

2021 Texas Rangers: First Base Competition

Candidates: Ronald Guzman and Nate Lowe

Guzman has logged 236 games for the Rangers in the past three years. His season-by-season batting average peaked in 2020 at .244, as did his .314 OBP and .436 SLG. He had his moments in the short season, but with an underwhelming track record, it’s safe to say the lean lefty’s status with the team is hanging by a frail string.

He faces real competition this spring in 25-year-old Nate Lowe, who Texas acquired this offseason via a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Across 71 big league games, the 6’4”, 220-pound first baseman has amassed a .251/.322/.447 slash line and 11 home runs. During his most recent minor league season – 2019 with the Triple-A Durham Bulls – Lowe hit .289 with 16 long balls and recorded a .929 OPS in 93 games.

Comparing Lowe to Guzman is a tall task, as the former player has endured far less major league action than the latter player. Guzman has the superior glove, but the question that haunts him is: “will he ever become an above-average hitter?”.

Coming off an MVP season in the Dominican Winter League in which he slashed .360/.450/.523, Guzman has momentum heading into Spring Training. But will he overcome the pressure brought on by the new guy in town?

The rebuilding Rangers gave up three prospects for Lowe; therefore, they see plenty of potential in him. Lowe has the build and trajectory of a power-hitting first baseman. He hits the ball with authority to all fields, and numerous gaudy minor league statistics precede him.

He is the front-runner ahead of Spring Training. Guzman will have to outplay Lowe by a decent margin to win the Rangers’ favor.

2021 Texas Rangers: Catcher Competition

Candidates: Jonah Heim, Jose Trevino, and Sam Huff

Each Texas catching candidate is distinct from the others. Trevino has been a part of the Rangers organization since 2014. He’s well-reputed as a leader, and what he lacks in ability, he makes up for with effort. The 28-year-old is not considered a coveted talent expected to start long-term, but he is a trustworthy option in the present.

Heim is new to the Rangers, acquired alongside Khris Davis from the Oakland Athletics a couple of weeks ago. A switch-hitter, Heim drives the ball to all fields and limits his strikeouts. He struggled at the plate in 13 games with the A’s in 2020, but his most recent minor league season yielded a .310/.385/.477 slash line. The Rangers anticipate him being major league-ready on offense and defense heading into Spring Training.

Huff, the Texas Rangers number-two prospect according to MLB.com, could be an impressive spring away from further escalating his timeline. The 23-year-old demolished Single-A in 2019, then produced a 1.136 OPS over 33 plate appearances with the Rangers in 2020. He can flat out hit the baseball, but Texas might prefer he refine his defense before becoming an everyday part of the team.

Which backstop edges the position battle? Jonah Heim is the Rangers’ best all-around option. He may platoon with right-handed hitting Jose Trevino, but expect him to earn most of the behind-the-plate action at the start of the season. At some point in 2020, however, Texas will have Huff take over.

2021 Texas Rangers: Third Base Competition

Candidates: Rougned Odor, Brock Holt, Andy Ibanez, Sherten Apostel, Charlie Culberson

The Rangers third base battle will keep everyone on their toes because there is no front-runner. Odor has played 858 career MLB games, but none away from second base. Ibanez has yet to make his big league debut, Culberson played nine games all of last year, and Apostel proved in 2020 that he needs more time to develop in the minors.

That leaves Brock Holt, who split time between the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals a season ago. The renowned utility player has played 145 games at the hot corner. He’s scrappy in the field and the batter’s box, plus he’s a team-first player that owns two World Series rings.

The 2021 Texas Rangers signed Holt as a potential stop-gap third baseman, intent on replacing him with top prospect Josh Jung at the appropriate time this season. Whoever assumes the position to begin the campaign will know that it’s not theirs to keep.

Depending on Jung’s progress in the minors, the third base victor out of Spring Training could receive significant playing time. Thus, the upcoming position battle is still worthy of attention.

Here again, is the list of Rangers third base candidates, but this time ordered from most to least eligible to start at the position:

1) Brock Holt
2) Andy Ibanez
3) Rougned Odor
4) Sherten Apostel
5) Charlie Culberson

2021 Texas Rangers: Starting Rotation Competition

The Rangers’ starting pitching situation is both exciting and regrettable. Ideally, a team has a strong feel for at least four rotation spots entering March. A good team might have all five determined, and an excellent team, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, might have an excess of five worthy starting pitchers.

Texas has slots reserved for Kyle Gibson, Dane Dunning, and Kohei Arihara, but the other two are undetermined.

They have veteran options in Jordan Lyles and Mike Foltynewicz. The Rangers signed Lyles after he finished the 2019 season with a 2.45 ERA and 7-1 record as a starter for the Brewers. Unfortunately, the right-hander’s magic completely dissipated in 2020, as he went 1-6 for the Rangers and accumulated a 7.02 ERA.

Foltynewicz was an All-Star as recent as 2018, but he followed his rewarding season with a very pedestrian 4.54 ERA in ’19. Then, after one awful start in ’20, the six-year starter was DFA’d by the Atlanta Braves. His fastball velocity has dropped significantly since his All-Star season, relegating him to a fifth starter competition with the 2021 Texas Rangers.

Transitioning to younger rotation options, Texas will closely evaluate left-handers Kolby Allard, Joe Palumbo, Taylor Hearn, Wes Benjamin, and Hyun-jong Yang, in addition to right-hander Kyle Cody.

Allard has shown promise, albeit sparsely. He pitches to contact and can be very effective when commanding his four pitches. Thus far, however, his walk rates are too high, and opposing hitters have squared him up too often.

Palumbo throws an outstanding curveball, but his inability to manage a third pitch has stunted his growth as a starting pitcher. The Rangers have granted him opportunities each of the past two seasons, though he has not cashed in. How they view him entering Spring Training is a mystery.

Benjamin and Hearn were relievers for the Rangers in 2020, so it will take special commitment this spring to stretch either or both into starters. Hearn had a 3.63 ERA over 17.1 innings last year; Benjamin tallied a 4.84 in 22.1 innings.

Hyun-jong Yang was signed by the Rangers as a non-roster invitee out of the Korean Baseball Organization. The lefty spent 14 seasons in the KBO; his best occurred in 2018 when he went 16-8 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.072 WHIP. If his repertoire checks out against big league hitting, Texas could look to him to consume innings as a member of a wobbly pitching staff.

Finally, Kyle Cody pitched well for Texas during his debut season. He started five games and appeared in eight. In 22.2 innings, the 6’7” right-hander produced a 1.59 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .190 batting average. The question is, can Cody extend considerably beyond the 3.2 innings pitched he averaged as a starting pitcher last season?

The Rangers have plenty to figure out regarding their fourth and fifth starting pitchers. Who knows, they could run with six starters for much of the year. Regardless of the outcome, it will be fun to follow each of these candidates this spring.

Rotation prediction:

1) Kyle Gibson
2) Dane Dunning
3) Kohei Arihara
4) Kolby Allard
5) Kyle Cody

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Travis Koch is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and a lifelong baseball fan. He's covered MLB for Overtime Heroics since January of 2021.