Texas once again was full of fantasy goodies for fantasy owners, both with the bats and on the mound. Another solid year with the bat from Adrian Beltre anchored a team that helped fantasy owners in power, but also in stolen bases with Leonys Martin joining Elvis Andrus in the 30-plus-steal department. The pitching staff was, of course, anchored by Yu Darvish, who solidified himself as a fantasy ace, if not a real-life one (yes, he’s a real life ace, too). Behind him, Matt Harrison (when healthy), Derek Holland, and Martin Perez (when healthy) filled in as viable fantasy options, with Holland coming through with a very strong first half setting up a solid full season. In the bullpen we saw Joe Nathan with a dominant season, and he’ll join those who depart the team via free agency as he declined a player option already. As we look toward 2014, we see a very different Rangers lineup (pre-free agency) with former stalwart Nelson Cruz testing the free agent waters. With him will go catcher A.J. Pierzynski and outfielder David Murphy. As a reminder, we’ve limited ourselves to filling holes in the lineup and pitching staff with internal options only. With that in mind, here is what we can expect from Texas heading in 2014, as currently constructed.

Projected Lineup

  1. 1B Ian Kinsler
  2. SS Elvis Andrus
  3. RF Alex Rios
  4. 3B Adrian Beltre
  5. C Geovany Soto
  6. CF Leonys Martin
  7. DH Mitch Moreland
  8. 2B Jurickson Profar
  9. LF Craig Gentry

It’s important to note a few things here. As with other teams, but especially so for Texas, free agency is going to wreak havoc on this projected lineup, as it should. It’s highly likely that the Rangers bring in at least one bat, and it is also unknown how willing Kinsler is in moving to first base (or left field). That said, given that we’re filling in with only internal options, it was a necessity that Profar made it into the lineup. There’s a ton of value to be had in the lineup even without the boost of a free agent, especially up the middle. Kinsler (still 2B eligible of course), Profar, and Andrus should all be well known commodities, though it’s important not to overrate Andrus who is essentially worth targeting for stolen bases only, as he is a detriment in the power categories. Rios performed well and after a few up and down years earlier in his career has been a steady source of production for a couple years now. When mentioning up the middle talent, we shouldn’t ignore Martin in the equation, as the centerfielder is still young and pilfered 36 stolen bases last season. He was mostly a zero in the power categories as well, but at 25 could come into a few more extra-base hits. Given the lineup and ballpark environment, Soto could be a nice add at a relatively low cost as well, presuming the Rangers don’t supplant him in the free agent market.

Projected Bench

Yuck. This is a thin bench that will receive plenty of bolstering based on the free agent market. As deep as Texas is in prospects, there aren’t a ton on the verge of the big leagues, at least in positions that could get playing time. I’d imagine there’s another infielder on this bench before the season starts, but there’s not an obvious choice with Jeff Baker a free agent and Lance Berkman in retirement limbo. It’s hard to bother with any advice here, as I expect at least 75 percent of these names to be different. Engel Beltre is somewhat interesting but his true value to any team comes on defense, which doesn’t help us in fantasy for the most part.

Projected Rotation

  • RHP Yu Darvish
  • LHP Derek Holland
  • LHP Matt Harrison
  • LHP Martin Perez
  • RHP Alexi Ogando

Every one of these guys is worth owning depending on the format. Darvish is obviously a stud and could well be deserving of the second pitcher off the board, behind Kershaw (though if your league weights strikeouts heavily, one could make a case for Darvish at no. 1). Holland and Harrison both fall into the third or fourth fantasy starter level for me, with Perez’s upside a little higher than Harrison’s but his floor a few grades lower. Ogando is more of a deep league type, and would have to be taken with the understanding that it’s unlikely he makes even 20 starts, with anything beyond that considered a bonus. Free agency could cause some chaos here as well, with Ogando being the likely candidate to get the boot. The name not mentioned above who could got some play is Nick Tepesch, who saw action in 2013. He’s not a great option and my guess is Texas will be happy not to use him if they can.

Projected Bullpen

The bullpen is one of Texas’ strong suits even with the departure of Joe Nathan. It’s hard to know who the Rangers will side with when it comes to closing duties, but I have Joakim Soria as top dog right now, as he has the experience and is a bit further removed from his injury woes than Neftali Feliz. The wildcard here is Scheppers who has shown flashes of brilliance at the major league level while also experiencing the struggles that every young pitcher goes through now and then. He’s got the stuff to close though, and if Soria or Feliz falter or suffer injuries, Texas’ closing situation would still be in capable hands. The last name on this list is not here for reasons related to Jerome Holtzman’s abomination of a creation, but instead as a viable option for AL-Only and deep mixed leaguers. In leagues where starters thin out rather quickly, a middle relief arm who can rack up innings while maintaining solid peripherals hold value. Don’t overlook Ross in that type of role. —Craig Goldstein

Player to Target: Leonys Martin
Martin had the classic good fantasy season/unspectacular real season in 2013 as his 698 OPS netted a meager 89 OPS+, but his .260 AVG-66 R-8 HR-49 RBI-36 SB line was 31st among outfielders on ESPN’s Player Rater, just behind Yasiel Puig. Left-handers are his kryptonite right now (.573 OPS in 2013) and improvement against them would greatly improve the chances of a breakout, but the play here is a bet on his skills improving against righties.

With just 128 games across three levels in the minors, he is essentially learning on the job at the big league level and he showed glimpses of potential stardom throughout the 2013 season. He had a 932 OPS in 403 PA against righties as a minor leaguer including a 10 percent walk rate and 11 percent strikeout rate. Those were at six and 20 percent as a big leaguer in 2013. Even minor improvements can yield big fantasy production, especially considering how successful he was on the fantasy landscape despite spending the final three months with OPS totals south of .660.

Player to Avoid: Ian Kinsler
The one-time star has descended into the “better in fantasy” realm the last two years as his core skills continue to erode. There is a strong chance he doesn’t make it through the winter as a Ranger, but even if he does stay and transition to first base, he’s not someone I’d chase next March. He is still a top 10 second baseman, but current trends put that status in doubt as both his power and speed dwindle rapidly.

In his heyday he not only delivered big stolen base totals, but he was so efficient that Ron Washington had no choice but to keep Kinsler’s light bright green on the base paths. He spent his first six seasons between 75 and 93 percent with four of them north of 85 percent in success rate. He lost nine stolen bases off of his 2011 total, down to 21, but more alarmingly he dropped his success rate from 88 to 70 percent. Last year was even worse as he fell to just 15 stolen bases along with being caught a career-high 11 times, yielding a hideous 58 percent rate.

The power was on a nice incline for his first four seasons peaking at an excellent .235 ISO in 2009, but then it tumbled to .126 in an injury-addled 2010 campaign. When he rebounded to .222 in 2011, it looked like he would have a graceful descent into his 30s, but he took major steps down to .167 in 2012 and then just .136 a season ago. While his 2013 mark was actually better on the road at .155 compared to a paltry .116 at home, a move out of Arlington would still be awful as his career rates tell a more complete story: .207 ISO at home in 2,399 PA, .157 ISO on the road in 2,392 PA.

Deep Sleeper: Robbie Ross
The diminutive southpaw actually carried a reverse split in 2013 after handling all comers in 2012 regardless of handedness. Some of it could’ve been BABIP-fueled as southpaws notched a .444 mark against him, but 12 of the 31 hits went for extra bases so it wasn’t just a bunch of lightly-hit bleeders, either. Despite that egregious BABIP that led to a .344/.416/.544 line for lefties, he still had a 3.4 K/BB ratio against them as well as a 24 percent strikeout rate and seven percent walk rate in 101 PA.

The departure of Joe Nathan (and rumored talks with the Detroit Tigers) has opened up the closer’s role and Ross should be considered a legitimate candidate. He does an excellent job keeping the ball down and he showed some heightened bat-missing capability in 2013. Most importantly, he limits walks or home runs which are both Closer Killers. Obviously the deep sleeper tag evaporates if he is anointed as the closer at some point this winter, but if it’s an open tryout in Spring Training with no clear options ahead of him, I like his chances to make some noise. —Paul Sporer

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What does Neal Cotts have to do to get just a bit of respect for his outstanding year last year? I know he isn't going to close but he was extremely effective out of the Rangers bullpen last year-actually among the most effective non closer relievers in mlb.
That's an oversight on my part. I meant to add him to the relief list as a guy who could get saves versus lefty heavy 9th innings and straight up forgot.
Do you foresee Moreland platooning, being a full time DH, etc? Seems to have solid power but got into a platoon situation last year and was a dicey start in my 16 team points league at 1B. Thoughts?
I think ultimately he sees reduced playing time similar to last year, as he's just not good enough to be a full time player without being over-exposed.