Q: The departures of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli seemed to be the dominant stories in Texas's offseason. However, here we are, with the Rangers 11 games over .500 and sporting the 3rd best run differential in the Majors. Who has stepped up to fill the void left by those hitters? And, as a follow-up, what are Lone Star Ball's thoughts on the departed Michael Young - did/do you see him as the Captain/Face/Favorite who is beloved by players and hometown fans, or do you see the declining hitter who was worth up to two wins below replacement in 2012?
A: Josh Hamilton's spot in the outfield has been primarily filled by a Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry platoon, which isn't going to hit as much as Hamilton did last year, but which provides more defense. One of the biggest upgrades, though, has been replacing Michael Young at DH with Lance Berkman. Young was one of the worst everyday players in baseball last season, while Berkman has put up a .298/.425/.471 line on the year. His addition has been huge for the team. As far as Young's departure, I think most folks on Lone Star Ball were ready to see him go...he was awful in 2012, and there was simply no way that, if he was back in 2013, that Ron Washington wasn't going to use him every day, which would have been counter-productive.
Q: While the offense has been holding its own, the real story has been Texas's pitching - the Rangers have allowed the 2nd fewest runs in the Majors (2nd only to St. Louis). Yu Darvish and Derek Holland have been lights out, but the surprise seems to have come from the back of the rotation, where Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have filled in admirably for the injured Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz. What are your thoughts on these two pitchers - especially Grimm, who Oakland will face in the opener on Monday?
A: Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have definitely been pleasant surprises. Tepesch won a job in the rotation this spring largely by virtue of being the last man standing...there were seven pitchers in contention for the last spot in the rotation (which was really just a temp spot, since Colby Lewis was expected back by the start of June), and Martin Perez and Grimm were the favorites to win the job. But Perez got hurt, Grimm had an awful spring, and the other competitors either were held back by injury or didn't perform until it was just Tepesch and Robbie Ross left standing. The Rangers decided Ross was more useful in the bullpen, so Tepesch ended up as the #5 starter, with the Rangers hoping he'd not embarrass himself. He's done much more than that, impressing everyone with his composure and ability to pound the zone and challenge hitters. Grimm, meanwhile, was brought up to replace Matt Harrison after Harrison needed back surgery, and fans were in a bit of a panic about having him and Tepesch both in the rotation. But Grimm, who has better stuff than Tepesch, has been great so far this season, and has shown he has learned from him short stint in the majors last season. Grimm throws hard and has a good curveball that is a swing-and-miss pitch, and has so far this season shown why the Rangers went way above slot to sign him as a 5th round pick out of college in 2010. Both have been very pleasant surprises this year.
Q: Three big Texas prospects: Leonys Martin, Jurickson Profar, and Mike Olt. Martin is making an impact in the Majors with his glove, Profar is treading water in AAA while the newly-extended Elvis Andrus blocks him from the bigs, and Olt is struggling mightily in AAA. Where do see these three guys at the end of 2013; specifically, what (if any) impact do you see them having on the MLB team?
A: I think Leonys ends the 2013 season getting the bulk of the playing time in centerfield...the Rangers want him to seize that job, and there is a dearth of other internal options for center, so he and Craig Gentry are going to get to sink or swim in a pseudo-platoon role out there. Jurickson Profar isn't going to get a regular job in the majors unless Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler get hurt, and with Elvis signing a long-term extension at the start of the season, there is some thought Profar will end up in the state of Florida by season's end, either in Miami as part of a Giancarlo Stanton deal or in Tampa as part of a David Price deal. If he isn't traded, he'll be up at season's end in a utility role. Olt is a mystery...he's on the DL and seeing an eye specialist, and there's some concern he's still suffering from the after-effects of being hit in the head with a ball in winter ball. There was some thought he could challenge Mitch Moreland for the first base job, but right now, the main concern is to figure out what is ailing Olt. If he gets back on track, he could be part of a summer trade, or up in Texas in a 4C role. (4 Corners - 1B/3B/LF/RF)
Q: On a human interest level, we are curious about the family of the firefighter who passed away at the Rangers/A's game last year - has there been any news about how his family has done in the wake of that tragedy?
A: As far as the tragedy in 2011 at TBIA (The Ballpark In Arlington) goes, the Rangers reached out to the family of Shannon Stone, the firefighter who fell from the stands and died from the injuries from that fall, and ended up putting a statue of him and his son at TBIA at the start of last season.
First pitch is tonight at 7:05pm. A.J. Griffin takes the hill against Justin Grimm. Cup will have your Thread, and BBG will have your Recap.