The Texas Rangers have come out swinging these past two off-seasons. Last year, they added infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, as well as Jon Gray, a decent pitcher that had been stuck in Coors. In the last few months, Texas added Jake Odorizzi via trade, brought back Martín Pérez via the qualifying offer, signed Andrew Heaney, and made a huge splash by signing Jacob deGrom for five years.
On top of free agents, their top prospect, Josh Jung, made his debut in 2022 as well as third base prospect Ezequiel Duran and shortstop prospect Josh Smith. They have elite pitching prospect Jack Leiter poised to debut this season, possibly alongside Cole Winn and Owen White. The Rangers are a young team with some impact veterans all poised to make a positive fantasy impact. With such a surprisingly wide selection of notable players, some will certainly outperform while others underperform in this upcoming season.
2022 stats (127.1 IP): 3.96 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 134 K, 7 W, 0 SV
Jon Gray threw 127.1 innings over 24 starts in his first season outside of Coors with the Texas Rangers. He pitched into the second inning in a game on August 1 then left with an oblique injury that kept him sidelined until mid-September. He didn’t throw more than five innings again until the last game of the season, which was his fifth start back.
This injury is overshadowing a lot of good that came out of what many were hoping to be Gray’s big break. He added more swing and miss, especially with his slider. The swinging strike rate on the slider is up a couple of percentage points to 21.1% above previous seasons. He also got hitters to chase on that pitch way more often than in 2021, with an O-Swing up 10 points to 42.2%. He used his fastball over 50% of the time and also saw an uptick in velocity (1 MPH) as well as in swinging strikes and O-Swing. Notably, he keeps the ball on the ground as well at a rate above 50% with that fastball.
That’s a solid pitcher, but not necessarily a sleeper pick. What makes him a sleeper to me is the expectations and hope coming into 2022 that were not fulfilled. He saw better velocity and has a great slider. As Nick noted in his List, Gray had an excellent middle of the season with a 2.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 28% K rate in 70.1 IP. This is the season that lines up for Gray with a clean bill of health and a better roster surrounding him leading to a much better season than many expect.
2022 stats(341 PA): .261 AVG, 39 R, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB
There are some major rule changes for this upcoming season that could have a significant effect on stolen bases. Notably, the bases are slightly bigger so the path between bases has shortened. Additionally, a 20-second pitch clock will be in place with runners on, and pick-offs are limited to two per plate appearance. Keen runners may use these to their advantage timing their jump right and lengthening their lead after two pick-off attempts.
That’s a whole lot of words without mentioning Leody Taveras‘s name. Leody Taveras has played 181 games in the majors and has stolen 29 bases. That’s a decent total, but it could be plenty more. According to Baseball Savant, his sprint speed is in the 96th percentile. He also plays for the Texas Rangers, the team that led all MLB with 128 steals in 2022. He came up to the bigs in June and stole 11 bases after stealing seven in the minors. He’s been a lock for around 20 stolen bases each season since 2017 across levels. He should see plenty of playing time in 2023 as well. His defensive metrics show his worth in the field.
With these rule changes, Texas’ proclivity to run, and more chances for Taveras, this speedster could push 30 bases easily. And he won’t drag down too many other categories. He may hit 15 or so home runs in a full season while batting .250. Nothing else will necessarily stand out but he won’t drag the rest of the stats down as much as other stolen base-focused players.
2022 stats (657 PA): .250 AVG, 88 R, 27 HR, 101 RBI, 25 SB
I feel like Adolis García was probably everyone’s favorite bust pick last year and now here he is again after another season defying the odds. He at least had a wRC+ above 100 this time. Regardless, I still have qualms about García and drafting him too high.
First, García is what you want out of a fantasy player. He hits homers, steals bases, and gets plenty of RBI and runs scored. At the top of the Rangers lineup, runs and RBI are going to be there. And that’s why he’s getting drafted highly. He has done that two years in a row, the first two full seasons in the majors. However, in both seasons he had K rates close to 30% and OBPs not higher than .300. Getting on base is crucial for stolen base opportunities. García improved his stolen base success rate while the Rangers stole as much as seemed possible. These opportunities still present themselves with the rule changes, but high teens may be more likely than the 25 he saw last year.
Additionally, his ground ball, line drive, and fly ball rates are all about league average, but his HR/FB rate has been 20% in both seasons. The MLB average is 12.8%. His barrel rate has been about 12% with a hard hit rate of 47% too but that won’t necessarily translate to a 20% HR/FB every year.
Ultimately, he’s a swing and miss guy that hits the ball very hard. That can produce inconsistent results but he’s been consistently great so far in his career. I do not see another .250 average with close to 30 homers and over 20 steals though. I see him closer to .220 this season with 25 homers and 15 steals. That’s fine but is closer to Daulton Varsho‘s season last year, without that catcher eligibility bump.
2022 stats (724 PA): .248 AVG, 101 R, 26 HR, 83 RBI, 25 SB
Outside of 2020, Marcus Semien has had more than 700 plate appearances each season since 2018. He’s a stalwart player that gets on the field day in and day out, producing big fantasy numbers across the board. He started 2022 struggling, post-signing his big contract in Texas after his best season in 2021. Through the end of May, he had a wRC+ below 80. But each month on he had a wRC+ above 130, except in August, which was just 103. He wrapped the year with excellent numbers worthy of a draft pick in the first few rounds.
Much of Semien’s value in 2022 was bolstered by his surprising stolen base total. 25 was his best total by 10 bases. He stole 15 in 2021. He’s consistently stolen between 10 and 15 bags a year so 25 is quite the jump. As noted before, Texas is a steal-happy team and Semien can keep stealing at a similar pace with the rule changes and his elite sprint speed. However, Semien is now 32 and plays a ton. Wear and tear at that age can come back to bite him and aggressiveness on the bases may need to take a step back. Stealing 15 again makes sense but I doubt he’ll eclipse 20.
Semien also took a slight step back in the hitting department in 2022 after his outrageously strong 2021. This was helped by the weak beginning to the season. Much of his plate discipline remained the same (he swung at pitches out of the zone slightly more often in 2022), despite cutting his K rate by a few percentage points. Additionally, his hard contact rate dropped three percentage points from the previous season. He was still hitting the ball in the air but his HR/FB rate was cut in half.
Certain aspects of 2021 and 2022 seem like outliers for Semien. 2021’s HRs and 2022’s K rate and SB totals all do not seem replicable. And with his age and extreme playing time, I expect a step back in volume. 25 home runs with 15 steals while batting .250 again seems reasonable with 90/70 runs and RBI. That matches pretty strongly with Steamer’s current projections (I swear I didn’t look at them before writing the previous sentence!). But I may be more pessimistic about total playing time, so his counting stats may even be lower. Am I going to compare that output to 2022 Daulton Varsho again? Fine. More like 2022 Gleyber Torres. But still, just look at Semien’s and García’s 2021 stats. They are remarkably close.
2022 stats (196.1 IP): 3.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 169 K, 12 W, 0 SV
I know this is an obvious selection, but I want to lean into this a bit. Martín Pérez had an excellent 2022 with 196.1 innings and a 2.89 ERA. But there are a few things that stand out pointing to major regression. His left-on-base percentage was in the high 70s, six points higher than last season. His HR/FB was 10 points lower than last year and had been 12% or above each season since 2017, but it was 6.5% in 2022. Because of this, his SIERA was 4.08, over a whole run higher than his ERA.
Lastly, he pitched nearly 200 innings basically as the Rangers’ ace. He has only pitched more than 130 innings four times in the 11 seasons he has pitched. And now that the Rangers have filled out their rotation with respectable pitchers and young prospects will begin making their debuts, the need for Pérez to be pushed as deep should be lessened. In addition to his excellent ERA, a lot of his value came from his volume. With that likely diminished I find it hard to consider Pérez in any reliable fashion in 2023.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)