Texas Rangers Wrangle a Future For Their Jung 


We’re on the Tampa Bay Rays in the Top Ten Prospects series (here’s a link to the index), which feels like a nice time to hit a quick pause after 18 straight prospect listicles, partly because the work on a team like that is a little more extensive than, say, the Phillies or Nationals, and partly because the baseball world is going bonkers right now on the free agent market. We’ll get back to the Rays’ riches on Sunday. For now, let’s take a quick look into the future of the Texas Rangers, this winter’s big spender so far after adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray, and Kole Calhoun

Last week, my brother asked me where I’d be taking Rangers RHP Owen White in a Supp draft this winter. The specific context was a very competitive 20-team league with weekly lineups. Pitching gets tight in that league, and minor league eligible starters you might run out there for a favorable two-step have solid value. We’ll get to White a little more extensively in the Rangers’ prospect list, but he’s a 22-year-old 2nd round pick from 2018 who got his first pro experience in 2021 thanks to Tommy John surgery in May of 2019. 

Delayed, abbreviated debuts don’t go much better than White’s. He cruised through A ball with the Down East Wood Ducks then dominated the Arizona Fall League, going 5-0 in six starts with a 1.91 ERA despite being 2.3 years younger and much less experienced than his average competitor. Most impressively, he allowed just 0.3 HR/9. Looks good, right? 

Yes, Inner Voice, it looks very good. 

So I told my brother to snap him up in the draft, right? 

Well, no. I told him I’d probably avoid White altogether. I wouldn’t say I’m anti Fall League, but someone else might if they were expecting every fall star to fly up my rankings. It’s an exhibition league, is my take. Very little opponent scouting or familiarity involved, if any, which makes it a far cry from regular season baseball. 

Anyway, I told my brother it looked like the Rangers might suck forever. I know we’re supposed to ignore the Wins category according to some fantasy stalwarts, but I’ve never played that way, especially in dynasty leagues. If it looks to me like a team might be real bad for a real long time, I’ll devalue their pitchers in a 5×5 league. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. I suppose a statistical argument exists somewhere, but those would feel outdated anyway to me given where baseball is now as a sport, what with a lot of teams trying their best to pay the least and lose the most. 

Baseball wasn’t always this way. If the Rangers had splurged like this in the 90’s or 00’s, media and fans would be fawning over their aggressive approach to roster construction. In 2021, they’re getting panned. Who do they think they are? Those players belong to teams with a chance. This team is going to be dreck for half a decade, so why spend the money? Sorry, I’m jumping around a bit now. The point is I was wrong last Friday when I said their outlook was post-apocalypse-levels of bleak. Or rather, I might’ve been onto something then, but with a few pen strokes, the team has committed to a future of trying. I’m skeptical that adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun puts this team into the playoff picture, at least not for 2022, but remember what we just saw in Atlanta: a team built a four-man, playoff-caliber outfield in a week just by taking the contracts other teams didn’t want anymore after deciding that they needed to hit the gas on their purposeful losing. 

The American League is tougher than the National League right now; nonetheless, the Mariners almost made the playoffs after playing mostly catchers at DH, surviving Jarred Kelenic while he was a zero, ignoring Julio Rodriguez when he was ready, and trading their closer at the deadline then getting another one back a couple days later. I mean to say Seattle didn’t intend to be there, or at least didn’t intend to really try once they found themselves within shouting distance of the playoffs. Why not just hold Kendall Graveman AND trade for Diego Castillo? Well, because that’s now how it’s done in the age of half-trying, which I suppose is also/really the age of tanking. 

The Rangers rushing the market like this is a breath of fresh air for me, is all I’m really trying to say. Sure, the Seager contract (10 years, $325 million) feels dangerous, but it ain’t my money. For the most part, I agree with Grey’s take yesterday in New York Mets Sign A Massive 3-Year Lease in New Scherzy

“Seager’s high in power since 2017 was 22 homers. He’s basically a .300 hitter with 22-homer power and no speed. Does that ignite the nethers? It doesn’t for me. For fantasy (and kinda real baseball), I can’t figure out Seager’s attraction. He has some kinda spell over the world, like David Blaine over Michael Jackson. For 2022, I’ll give Corey Seager projections of 86/22/81/.302/1 in 507 ABs, and that feels optimistic like when Itch thinks he can walk and talk at the same time.”

And that’s me quoting Grey bashing my ped-convo skills. Where I might differ is the value of quality at bats, which matters not to our game but can really grind up a pitching staff, which also helps your own team’s pitchers (longer rests between innings). Seager has a career 18.5 percent strikeout rate across 2710 plate appearances, along with a .367 OBP. They need tough outs in Texas, and a trio of Semien, Seager and Josh Jung would be tough on any opposing starter. The whifftastic ways of Adolis Garcia and Nate Lowe hurt a little less when you’ve got Kole Calhoun’s career 21.7% K-Rate in the mix. That might read like a joke. It works that way, too, I think, but it’s still true. The Rangers have six threats in the lineup right now, four of whom don’t swing and miss a whole lot. Let’s have a look at a hypothetical, Itch-imagined May lineup in Texas.

1. 2B Marcus Semien

2. SS Corey Seager

3. CF Adolis Garcia

4. RF Kole Calhoun

5. 3B Josh Jung 

6. 1B Nate Lowe

7. DH Andy Ibanez / Yonny Hernandez / Isiah Kiner-Falefa

8. LF Willie Calhoun / Zach Reks / Nick Solak

9. C Jonah Heim 

Looking at this makes me think they should’ve signed Starling Marte, assuming they had the chance. Four years for $78 million seems like a reasonable price to send this lineup into the stratosphere. What it needs most is a table setter. Could also use a DH and corner outfielder, which happen to be the cheapest assets on the market. I like Andy Ibanez though. He had a 107 wRC+ in 76 games last year. Maybe he’ll play around the infield and DH and competently cover one of those spots, and Zach Reks is a promising Dodger 40-man runoff with a decent chance to produce at least replacement level offense. Should probably spend whatever they’ve got left on pitching then scoop whoever’s left from the corner bat pile. 

MiLB bats to track for 2022 impact: 

1B Dustin Harris

C Sam Huff

2B Justin Foscue

OF Bubba Thompson

OF Steele Walker

OF Leody Taveras

 

Rotation:

1. RHP Jon Gray

2. LHP Taylor Hearn

3. RHP Dane Dunning

4. RHP AJ Alexy

5. RHP Spencer Howard

 

MiLB pitchers to track for 2022 impact:

RHP Glenn Otto

RHP Cole Winn

RHP Owen White

RHP Jack Leiter

RHP Yerry Rodriguez

RHP Ricky Vanasco

LHP Brock Burke

RHP Kohei Arihara

RHP Ronny Henriquez

LHP Cole Ragans

RHP Tekoah Roby 

I like it, especially the pile of minor league pitchers who might help this season (and beyond). Also like Dustin Harris, who looks like another impact bat in the pipeline. It’s not perfect, but who is? The answers they needed most were of the legitimate hitting kind, and they have a couple of those now. 

Team President Jon Daniels seems to be making way for General Manager Chris Young, which looks good so far from my perspective. Here’s a link to a piece in which Daniels discusses the fans’ doubts heading into the free agency season. As in, the fans didn’t believe the front office really meant what they said about being active on the market. “I don’t blame the fans for taking a we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it type of approach,” said Daniels. Welp, they see it now. Just need some on-field success to really stoke the fan base’s fire at this point. 

Thanks for reading!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.



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