C Rod Barajas: Green lights on catchers are relative. Catchers always find a way to miss time with small injuries.
3B Hank Blalock
SS Mike Young
LF David Dellucci: In 2005 Dellucci saw a career high in games played and plate appearances and, unsurprisingly for a guy used to being a part-timer, the exhaustion showed. With Phil Nevin firmly installed as the everyday DH, Dellucci will be asked for even more work in 2006. If the DH job becomes Dellucci’s again this light gets a lot greener.
CF Brad Wilkerson: Wilkerson plays like Lenny Dykstra to cover for his substandard range; he’s always running into walls or diving into the turf, playing at 110%, and worst of all, he never sits out his injuries. The nerve problem in his arm last year was worrisome, but the shoulder injury is what really bothers us. If the shoulder is all better, then this light would be a greener shade of yellow, but all those cortisone shots he had last year don’t bode well.
RF Kevin Mench: Last year he dealt with foot pain, back spasms, a bruised hand, and he missed time after being plunked in the elbow. He always seems to be bothered by something but it’s never something serious.
DH Phil Nevin: Oblique strains in pitchers are a good reason to worry a little. In an old DH, not so much.
SP Kevin Millwood: He took a one-year incentive-laden deal to prove that the elbow issues that ruined his 2004 were no longer an issue, and prove it he did. The three weeks he missed for a groin strain last year don’t worry us much.
SP Adam Eaton: He strained the flexor tendon of his middle finger in early June of last year and we spent the next three months talking about it. A strained finger shouldn’t have taken that long to heal, so color us concerned.
SP Vicente Padilla: The type of pain Padilla had in his triceps last year is sometimes just triceps tendinitis, but sometimes it’s referred pain from a labrum injury. Padilla took too long to get back and he never looked right. Big time red light.
SP Kameron Loe
SP Juan Dominguez: He’s not in very good shape, he’s not well liked by Showalter, and he’s not known for his maturity and work ethic. That’s just barely enough for a yellow light, but add in the fact that he’s still in the pitcher injury nexus–and that the Rangers will be asking for a career high in innings–and there’s no question about his yellow light.
CL – Francisco Cordero
RP – Akinori Otsuka
For many years the problem in Texas has been pitching, and on names alone this staff looks stronger than the ones Texas fielded the last couple of seasons. The risk, though, is health. A groin pull here, a flexor tendon there, maybe a newly diagnosed labrum problem in Padilla, and suddenly this staff is in the toilet. It isn’t a dangerous pitching stuff, but these guys are worrisome enough to set off a bunch of our Team Health Report warning lights.
It’s unclear how much the change in pitching coaches will affect things in 2006. Orel Hershiser moved out of the dugout and out of Arlington to take a job with ESPN, and he’ll be replaced next season by Mark Connor, who served as the Rangers’ Bullpen Coach for the last three seasons. Connor was on Showalter’s staff in both New York and Arizona, so at the very least we can say that there ought to be good communication between Connor and Buck. Dom Chiti is moving out of the front office to become the Bullpen Coach, and one would like to imagine that his player development experience will add the voice that says stuff like, “please don’t torch the arm of our super-prospects,” or “we owe Millwood $60,000,000 on his current contract, so maybe he should be lifted at reasonable pitch counts.”
The medical staff also gives us good reason to be encouraged about the future of this team. Head Trainer Jamie Reed and Team Physician Keith Meister are both very well-regarded in the industry. Reed came up in Baltimore’s system and helped develop Tampa Bay’s medical program. He’s the President of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers’ Society (PBATS) and a leader in the field. Meister is a protege of the legendary Dr. James Andrews, and was lured away from the University of Florida to take the job in Texas. As a team they’re good with pre-hab, they’re good with diagnosis and treatment, and Reed is a noted authority on rehabbing from injury.
The other good news is that Texas probably has the best trio of pitching prospects in the game in Edison Volquez, John Danks and Thomas Diamond. Those guys won’t be ready to go on opening day, but if pitchers do start breaking down it wouldn’t be ridiculous to see one or two of “DVD” in the rotation by the end of the season. That’s not to say that 2006 is a transition year for the Rangers (they should most definitely be competitive in this AL West). It does mean that the team can accept some health risks because they have a deep and talented minor league system, and the hitting side of the roster is solidly set. As an insurance policy, you can’t do much better than Volquez, Danks, and Diamond. And, of course, who knows where Roger Clemens ends up when the music stops playing…