Rangers keeping open mind on young players
GM Daniels says Profar, Olt could make team manning different positions
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers aren't sure what's going to happen to Nelson Cruz, and they aren't sure what kind of offense they'll have without Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli.
In a reverse of so many offseasons in the past, Texas actually goes into Spring Training feeling better about its starting rotation than perhaps any other part of the ballclub.
But the Rangers also feel good about some of their young players, and when they convene in Arizona next week for Spring Training, they are going to give those top young prospects every chance to make the team. General manager Jon Daniels said that includes the possibility of infielders Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt playing the outfield if that is what's best for the team.
Daniels said the Rangers aren't necessarily trying to make up for the loss of Hamilton and others. Instead they are just trying to find ways to allow some talented young players to have an impact on a ballclub that still expects to contend for a division title and more this coming season.
"We're looking at the versatility, athleticism and depth of our young players and some of our established big leaguers," Daniels said. "We see that as an asset. We're excited about the team we've got, and chances are you're going to see guys play different spots. It's by design."
Daniels said Texas has told Olt, Profar and others to be "ready for anything" when they come to Spring Training next week.
"Our message with these guys is, 'You're a baseball player,'" Daniels said. "Whether you're a middle infielder or a corner infielder, you may play some in the outfield. Be prepared. If you want to be a Major League player, be ready to be versatile."
The Rangers' outfield already took a hit when Hamilton left to sign a five-year deal with the Angels. Cruz's situation creates some more uncertainty. He is under investigation by Major League Baseball for possible links to a Miami clinic that was allegedly selling performance-enhancing drugs.
Cruz, through a law firm, has denied any allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Daniels said Cruz is expected to be in camp on time, and the outfielder is still planning to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. The Rangers still have to brace for the possibility Cruz could be subjected to disciplinary measures by the Commissioner's Office, which could include a 50-game suspension even without a failed drug test.
Beyond that, Daniels said Texas' goal is just to put the best team possible out on the field. That could include some of the Rangers' young players if they prove versatile enough to play multiple positions.
"The bottom line is we've got the best third baseman in the game [Adrian Beltre] on our ballclub," Daniels said. "Barring injury, Mike is not going to play much third base. But we believe in the talent, and there may be other ways to get him out there."
Daniels said earlier in the offseason that the Rangers did not want Olt or Profar sitting on the bench if there wasn't a regular spot in the lineup for them. That still may be the case, but Texas intends to be more open to possible ways for Olt and Profar to make the team, even with a set infield of Beltre at third, Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Ian Kinsler at second and Mitch Moreland at first.
"Our stance with Jurickson is if he demonstrates he's one of our best 25 and maybe one of our best nine, if we're convinced he can make an impact on the team and continue his progress, we'll be open-minded," Daniels said. "We see him long-term as a shortstop and a middle infielder, but he may take some balls [in the outfield].
"We don't want guys to take a step backward, but there may be roles carved out for those guys. They may not be seven-days-a-week jobs, but they can still impact the ballclub."
Rangers pitchers and catchers report next Tuesday, with position players due in on Feb. 15. Texas is taking 63 players to camp and appears to be done as far as offseason acquisitions.
Pitcher Kyle Lohse and outfielder Michael Bourn remain free agents, but Daniels does not expect to get involved with either one. The Rangers showed some interest in both earlier in the offseason, but they have held back as Spring Training approaches.
"You never 100 percent close the door on everything," Daniels said. "Our job is to stay open-minded. But we are fully prepared and expecting to go to camp with the team we have."
The Rangers' main targets in free agency were Hamilton and pitcher Zack Greinke, and both signed elsewhere. The team was also unsuccessful in trying to trade for pitcher James Shields and outfielder Justin Upton. Instead the Rays traded Shields to the Royals, and the D-backs traded Upton to the Braves.
The Rangers' biggest offseason acquisitions have been designated hitter Lance Berkman, catcher A.J. Pierzynski and relievers Joakim Soria, Josh Lindblom and Jason Frasor. That has left the perception that this has not been a good offseason for Texas as far as trying to improve a team that won 93 games last season, but finished second behind the Athletics in the American League West.
Daniels is aware of the perception, but still maintains his optimism about putting a winning team on the field.
"I'm excited about our team," Daniels said. "I'm excited about the core group that we have, the guys we were able to fit in and the young players we have. We need guys to perform like they are capable of and we need to be healthy. But we like what we have. There were a couple of guys we identified early on that went elsewhere, but that's part of the deal.
"In a couple of cases, it was our decision not to finalize the deal. A couple of cases went beyond what we were willing to do. But we like our club and the possibilities ahead of us."
• Daniels said the Rangers are talking to former All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez about coming into camp as a special instructor, at least in a part-time role.
• Pitchers Colby Lewis, Roman Mendez, Neftali Feliz, Soria and Matt West will all be limited at the start of camp, and they are not expected to be ready for Opening Day. Lewis is coming back from flexor tendon surgery, Mendez had a small fracture in his elbow, and Feliz, Soria and West are all coming back from Tommy John surgery.
• As far as position players, Berkman is the only one who could be limited at the beginning of camp. He is coming back from two operations on his right knee last year, and the Rangers will let him go slowly at the beginning of camp.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.