Texas Two-Step: Rangers OF Led by Choo & Martin

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

Injuries ravaged the 2014 Rangers top to bottom. They had to use 27 different hitters throughout the season, nine of which played in the outfield at some point. Coming into the season, they were slated to have one of the most fruitful fantasy outfields in the league, but it failed in spectacular fashion. Two of their mainstays remain while Alex Rios has moved on to Kansas City. Let’s take a look at the group that will try and improve upon the horrid 2014 output:

Center Field

Leonys Martin

Delino DeShields

 

Left Field

Ryan Rua

Jake Smolinski

 

Right Field

Shin-Soo Choo

Michael Choice

 

Non-Roster Invitees

Nate Schierholtz

Kyle Blanks

Ryan Ludwick

Martin is a favorite of mine. I discussed him in my recent piece about stark disagreements with the consensus rankings. I think he has set up a solid floor these last two years with back-to- back $20 seasons, but there is also some power upside for the 27-year old. He has the potential to jump into the low-teens with his home run output while continuing to run a ton and maintain a useable batting average. If the power boost comes, he will start to be a net-positive real life player. Right now, he is one of those guys who is much better in fantasy than in real life. His wRC+ the last two seasons is 87 and 89, yet as I mentioned, he has earned $20 bucks each time.

Behind Martin is DeShields, a Rule 5 pickup from the Astros with the pedigree that makes him interesting. Not only is he the son of a former major leaguer, but he was also drafted eighth overall back in 2010. He has tremendous speed, a quality eye at the dish, and a bit of pop, but an ugly .706 OPS in Double-A was enough for the Astros to leave him exposed.

Spending the season as speed off the bench for the Rangers won’t help the 22-year old, though. He clearly needs more seasoning, but don’t let his Rule 5 status lead you to believe there is nothing here. He is still young and has shown promising upside at times throughout his four full seasons as a pro. He isn’t a real threat to Martin, but I’m very interested to see how the Rangers handle him. There is still a strong chance that he returns to the Astros.

Rua had a strong three-level season, repeating Double-A, raking at Triple-A, and ending with a decent 109 PA debut for the Rangers. He rakes lefties and I believe Kiley mentioned in the Texas prospects list that he heard a Steve Pearce comp. A short-side platoon guy has more value than ever these days in the offense-starved era where teams are more open to platooning to maximize their roster.

Smolinski had a splashier 92 PA with the Rangers (154 wRC+), but he had the same path to success as Rua: smoking lefties. He had a shot to put up a half season of work, but he broke his foot 11 games into his MLB career which was par for the course in Texas last season. Smolinski doesn’t have the same stark split in the minors, but he also hasn’t had nearly the success of Rua against either side of the plate.

Both guys are four corners assets (LF, RF, 1B, and 3B) with the chance to actually do something worthwhile with the playing time. The problem is that they could vulture time from one another as the other three corners that they can play aren’t exactly wide open spots, at least not to start the season, with Choo, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Beltre manning those spots.

Choo is looking to bounce back from a nightmarish 2014 that included elbow and ankle injuries that eventually limited him to just 123 games. To give you an idea of how good Choo is, his worst season still yielded a league average effort (100 wRC+) in his 529 PA. He still took his walks and managed nearly a 100-point split in AVG and OBP. I love Choo for a rebound in 2015.

His price has come down, he will still be leading off, and that Texas lineup will be much better just by virtue of improved health (they can’t have that many injuries again, they just can’t). At 32, Choo might not have the 20-20 upside anymore, but more because of the steals than the homers. Even in a full healthy season in 2013, he only had a 65 percent success rate on the base paths, going 20-for-31. I can forgive him a bit for the 3-for-7 last year, but he is probably working with at least a yellow light until we know the ankle is completely fine for base stealing.

Choice had the fourth-worst wRC+ in baseball among batters with at least 280 PA with a 55 in exactly 280. He came up as a legitimate prospect, first with Oakland before being traded to Texas. He showed power and a good approach at the plate coming up through the minors even as recently as his Triple-A stint with the Rangers affiliate: .267/.379/.460 with seven home runs and a 12.6 percent walk rate in 182 PA.

In the majors, the walk rate tanked (7.5%), the contact stayed light (25% K rate), and a .208 BABIP exacerbated the struggles. On their own, a 25 percent strikeout rate and 7.5 percent walk rate aren’t that bad, so even if he doesn’t radically improve those numbers, he can still find more success. An impossibly low line drive rate (13.4%, third-worst in MLB) conspired with too many grounders and a ton of infield flies when he did get some lift to just tank his effort across the board. He is simply not this bad. I actually like him as a late $1 guy in AL-only leagues. He doesn’t have a clear path to a starting route just yet, but he can play all three outfield positions and that Rua/Smolinski combo in left isn’t exactly airtight.

The NRIs are all names we know, but I have a hard time getting too geeked about any of them. Schierholtz had a three-year run of strong side platoon work that yielded 125, 128, and 115 wRC+ totals against righties, but then bottomed out last year with a 54 in 313 PA. Blanks has gotten hurt twice since I started writing this. He has had five DL stints and several other bumps and bruises that have cost him time. The 28-year old has a high of 308 PA in his six MLB seasons. Ludwick is 36 years old with declining power. The Rangers aren’t necessarily in a rebuild, but they shouldn’t have Ludwick taking away time from any of the other guys in this depth chart discussion.

This outfield won’t carry the same acclaim it had coming into the 2014 draft season, but it could be a sneaky source of value. Choo is cheaper, Martin’s upside isn’t seen by all, and left field is wide open. Stay tuned to Spring Training for the Rangers to see how the playing time shakes out and be ready to invest.

Favorite Pick (All Formats): Martin

Deep League Sleeper: Choice





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Ryan Brock
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I think it ends up as Choice in LF, either out of camp or at some point early on when Smolinski/Rua are tanking.