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By: Jared Sandler

The Leadoff

Here’s the latest edition of “Just Hangin'” Rangers power hitting prospect, Joey Gallo.

Speaking of “leading off,” the Rangers led off Shin-Soo Choo today, slotting Delino DeShields last in the order. Jeff Banister said that this was more about getting at-bats for guys who need them–Choo and Odor are hitting first and second and both have missed some games due to injury this Spring–than a harbinger of what’s to come. My guess is that Delino and Choo are hitting first and second when the season opens. With that said, to think the Rangers will have a set-in-stone lineup in the key spots is unwise. Banny has shown a willingness to mix it up throughout the season.

Stat of the Day  

10.2%/20.8%: Percentage chance Fangraphs gives the Rangers of winning the division/making the playoffs.

15.0%/24.7%: Percentage chance Baseball Prospectus gives the Rangers of winning the division/making the playoffs.

100%: How wrong publications were about the Rangers before last year…

Quote of the Day

“I thought the ball came out clean. He looked strong, threw all of his pitches. He looked nice out on the main field. We wanted to get him out and feel what that feels like.” -Rangers manager, Jeff Bansiter, on Yu Darvish, who threw another bullpen today.

Covering the Bases

*Delino DeShields left today’s game with right biceps tendinitis. He’s considered day-to-day and will be reevaluated tomorrow. He said he’s not concerned as he’s dealt with the issue before. Based on past experience, he said he’s confident he’ll be back tomorrow.

*Yu Darvish threw another bullpen today. See the “Quote of the Day” above for Jeff Banister’s thoughts on how it went.

*Matt Bush, the former first overall pick of the Padres in 2004 who has endured significant legal and substance problems, is scheduled to pitch in tomorrow’s Cactus League game for the Rangers. Bush was drafted as a shortstop and has yet to sniff the Majors. The Rangers signed him in the off-season as a pitcher and the righty has reportedly thrown his fastball as hard as 98 mph with a “devastating slider” according to one scout who has seen him. Jon Daniels said this is both an opportunity and a reward for Bush, who, according to Daniels, has been “very good on and off the field.” Bush is not vying for a Major League spot out of camp, but you never know down the road…

*Josh Hamilton told me he expected to engage in “on-field activities” today. We’ll know more tomorrow.

*The Rangers will start RHP Dillon Tate in tomorrow’s prospect game against Cubs’ RHP C.J. Edwards. Edwards, a 48th round selection by the Rangers in 2011, was traded to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal.

Game Notes RANGERS 5 Padres 17

On the Bump

*Colby Lewis didn’t look great (4.2, 9r, 11h, 1k, 0bb), but he didn’t get help with a few “sun balls” leading to hits that might otherwise have been outs. Despite that, he gave up two big home runs and was just overall quite hittable. The leadoff man collected a hit in each of the first four innings. Some will tell you Arizona is a tough place to evaluate him–a fly ball pitcher–which is true, but others will tell you he’s an aging pitcher whose win total was deceiving last year, which also might be true. I’m very curious how his year goes.

Here’s Colby on his performance:

*Nick Tepesch gave up 6 runs on 7 hits in 1.2 innings. His chances of making the team were already very, very slim, but if they weren’t none before, they are now.

At the Dish

*Rougned Odor is really hitting the ball well, which probably means nothing, but since I have gone on record a million times predicting a super breakout year, it excites me. What’s stood out most over the last few games is his line drives to the opposite field/opposite field gap. I like that he’s hitting to both sides of the field.

*Ryan Rua added ANOTHER double, his sixth of the Spring. No other Ranger has more than three.

*Hanser Alberto went deep, so that was fun. He is without a Major League home run in 99 career ABs.

In the Field

*It was a circus when a ball was hit in the air. The sun presents a tough challenge in Arizona, but apparently it is especially tough in Peoria. Fly balls were adventures.

Bracketology

Sweet 16

Chi Chi Gonzalez beats A.J. Griffin

Shawn Tolleson beats Tom Wilhelmsen

Drew Stubbs beats Andrew Faulkner

Hanser Alberto beats Jake Diekman

Minor League Game

Sam Freeman pitched two innings of one hit ball, however, he also walked three hitters. He struck out one and threw 37 pitches.

The Walkoff

Everyone is talking about the Rangers’ puzzle for the fifth starter. I’m pretty sure that’s what President Obama and Raul Castro were discussing today in Cuba. It’s makes up about 75% of the questions I’m asked on social media. But it isn’t the most interested roster decision to me. I’m most interested about how the Rangers construct their bench.

The first question is how they distribute bullpen and bench spots. Do they open the season with seven guys in the pen and four on the bench or eight in the pen and just three on the bench?

My guess is that the Rangers spend a majority of the season with a four-man bench, but we put up such a fuss about Opening Day, I guess that’s what we’ll discuss here.

With 14 straight games to begin the season without an off-day, a uniquely long stretch for a team kicking off regular season play, it might make sense for the Rangers to use an extra reliever out the gate. This can help protect arms, especially as the starters continue to build their durability. So, let’s sort through the bench assuming the Rangers use a three-man bench.

Jeff Banister, when discussing considerations for his bench, acknowledged that the defensive piece is “paramount” and that, among the candidates, he considered Hanser Alberto and Drew Stubbs premium defenders. He also said that having a defensive option at the shortstop spot is more important than the centerfield spot because of his confidence in Desmond as a backup option there. And, of course, defense isn’t the only priority, even if it’s the manager’s highest.

If the Rangers go with a three-man bench, versatility is key in order to cover as many positions as possible with backup options.

No matter the construction, they’ll have a backup catcher and I still think that’s Chris Gimenez despite his struggles offensively this Spring and in controlling the running game, in general. It’s unconventional to consider a backup catcher’s versatility due to their importance behind the plate because of how unique of a position it us, but Banister continues to bring up that, besides catching, Gimenez can play both corner infield spots as well as left field. But that’s not his biggest notch. His biggest notch is that he was Cole Hamels’ preferred catcher last year and he was Yu Darvish’s preferred guy when Yu was healthy.

The question is, who else?

Well, they’ll need a backup utility infielder. Hanser Alberto and Pedro Ciriaco are the two candidates. Alberto can play 2B, SS, and 3B really well, while learning to play 1B–and doing so quite well thus far. Ciriaco can play 2B, SS, and 3B, though not as well defensively as Alberto. Ciriaco, however, has also limited experience in the outfield, including centerfield. Alberto has no outfield experience, though Jeff Banister said he is a good enough athlete to play there in a pinch.

The biggest factor for this spot might be how the view Alberto, who is just 23-years old. If they feel like he’s never going to be much more than a utility infielder, then giving him everyday at-bats to continue to develop offensively might not be as important. If, however, they feel like he can blossom into an everyday player eventually, getting everyday at-bats becomes more important for a guy who has shown offensive aptitude, but had an OPS of just .500 in 104 plate appearances with the Rangers in 2015.

Ciriaco is 30-years old and, at this point, “is what he is” and that’s a utility infielder so no one is losing sleep over whether or not he continues to get everyday at-bats or not.

I think Alberto is going to be a great utility player at the Major League level, but not necessarily one that holds down an everyday spot at one position, With that said, I think he has the edge in this battle.

Then, of course, there is the consideration where neither of these guys get spots and Ian Desmond is considered the team’s backup short stop and that brings us to the outfield…

If Ian Desmond, who will start, is also considered a backup option for the short stop position, the Rangers’ three-man bench might include two outfielders and not just one. Let’s entertain that thought first, even though I think it is an underdog scenario among the options.

One of those two spots would go to Drew Stubbs or James Jones, outfield-only guys. My guess is Stubbs, who Banister considers a premium defender and, despite his recent offensive struggles (.665 OPS in 2015), he’s still a better offensive player than Jones (career .564 OPS).

The other spot goes to either Ryan Rua or Justin Ruggiano. In theory, both could double as outfield backups and 1B platoon partners with Mitch Moreland, who struggles against left-handed pitching. Rua has experience at first (nine MLB starts and 30 in the minors), while Ruggiano’s orientation to the position has perhaps been slower than expected.

At the plate, Ruggiano is nothing more than a platoon guy (career .856 OPS vs. LHP, career .695 OPS vs. RHP), while Rua is considered a young, improving bat who has torn up the Cactus League and just an injury-plagued year removed from being the team’s guy in left field. The upside that exists for Rua just doesn’t for Ruggiano. One notch Ruggiano has is that he’s had proven success not being an everyday player, which is a skill. Some guys, particularly young guys, struggle if they aren’t getting everday at-bats so that’s something to consider.

Now, the more likely scenario is that Desmond, who Jeff Banister considers a capable backup option in centerfield, is not considered their best option as the primary backup at short. Thus, they’d go catcher, utility infielder, and one of Stubbs, Jones, Rua, or Ruggiano.

Let’s eliminate Jones and Ruggiano, both in second place in their respective pairings, in my opinion. That leaves a question of strategy in Rua or Stubbs. My guess is they go with Rua because of their confidence in Desmond as a centerfield backup. Rua allows them a quality bat off the bench or to give someone a day off as well as a platoon partner with Mitch Moreland.

My three: Gimenez, Alberto, and Rua.

My four: Gimenez, Alberto, Rua, and Stubbs.

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