With another great 2011 season, the Texas Rangers have cemented themselves as contenders for the coming years. Despite defending their AL crown, the Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series before David Freese ended those dreams. There is also a great minor league system supporting the club with cheap production year after year. The offense has been the strength of the franchise the past 20 years, but the defense and pitching has improved enough to sustain success.
The biggest bat in the lineup is left fielder Josh Hamilton. Entering his contract season, he has a lot to prove outside of production, but his bat is great. He doesn't walk much, but he has extreme power and squares the ball up well, while playing good defense in left field. As long as off-the-field issues and injuries don't destroy his season, he should be about a 5 WAR player. A very similar player to Hamilton, Nelson Cruz mans right field. Cruz strikes out a bit more than Hamilton, but has similar power and defense, along with durability issues. If he can exceed 500 PA, he should provide about 4 WAR. Center field is wide open, with three guys fighting for time. Julio Borbon was last year's Opening Day starter, but had a hamstring and bad ankle injury, not showing much more than a decent batting average when he did play. Craig Gentry is much like Borbon, but as a right-handed hitter. Leonys Martin is the best prospect for the position, but he only played his first professional season last year, hitting well in AA before struggling in AAA. David Murphy is a good backup corner guy, and Conor Jackson could make the squad as a NRI.
Ian Kinsler had a huge 2011 season, with amazing plate discipline and great defense at second base. His flyball tendencies will keep his average down, but the good power and great BB/K ratio should keep him around the 6 WAR level. Last year, Elvis Andrus regained the little bit of power he lost in 2010, while also improving his plate discipline. His defense and baserunning boost his value by at least a win every year, making him at least a 4 WAR player. If he can develop some power, he will become an elite shortstop. NRI's Luis Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez will likely fight for the middle infield bench spot.
Adrian Beltre finally broke his "contract year" stigma, posting nearly 6 WAR in the first year of his big contract. He cut his already career-low K rate, while showing big power and his customary elite defense. He doesn't walk much, but he's still good for 5-6 WAR per season. First base will see a mix of Mitch Moreland, Michael Young, and Mike Napoli. Moreland should see the most time, hoping to improve on very average offensive numbers, which doesn't get it done at first base. His power is the most likely to increase, only posting a .155 ISO this past year. Young is also able to play third and second sparingly.
Napoli should see more playing time after blowing up for a 178 wRC+, only surpassed by Jose Bautista in the league. His K rate dropped and his BABIP was well above expected levels, so expect regression, but he's an elite bat behind the plate. Yorvit Torrealba should still see a lot of time, not impressing anyone but not hurting the team. Young should spend most of his time at designated hitter. Not a conventional big bat, he used a low K rate and high line drive rate to post a 127 wRC+. His power declined again, but if he can maintain the line drive approach, he should provide about 3 WAR this season.
With C.J. Wilson gone, the highest potential among the starters now lies with Japanese import Yu Darvish. A rare power arm from overseas, Darvish has put up insane peripherals the past few seasons. Going from the Japanese Central League to the American League will be a big jump, but he should be able to put up a sub-3.50 ERA. Derek Holland had a very schizophrenic season, throwing four shutouts yet barely getting his ERA below 4.00 for the season. Colby Lewis is the veteran, posting above-average K and BB rates but allowing a lot of flyballs, limiting his effectiveness. Matt Harrison had a great season, only lacking a bit in the strikeout category. Alexi Ogando converted from the bullpen, starting off well before fading late in the season. This year's supposed conversion from the bullpen is Neftali Feliz, but his numbers declined last year in the bullpen, walking a lot more and striking out a lot less hitters. His extreme reliance on the fastball will also have to end, and there are already five established starters, with Lewis being the worst of the bunch.
With Feliz off to the rotation, Joe Nathan was signed to take over the closer's role. Nathan posted a good K/BB rate, but he only induced 35% groundballs, so that will have to get back above 40% to post good numbers. Mike Adams has been an elite setup man the past four years, posting sub-2.00 ERAs the past three seasons. Koji Uehara and Yoshinori Tateyama should also provide good innings in the bullpen.
The Rangers won 96 games last year and there is no drop in talent coming into this year. The Angels are a better team, making the division battle tougher. Injuries play a big part with this team, with elite players like Hamilton, Beltre, and Cruz having past injury issues. If the starting pitching can maintain last year's strong performances, it should be another 95-win season and a great chance to go to their third straight World Series.