The Rangers could carry righty Dane Dunning and left-hander Cole Ragans in the big league bullpen to open the season, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Both pitchers were squeezed out of the initial rotation mix by Texas’ busy offseason. Jacob deGrom, Andrew Heaney and Nathan Eovaldi were all brought in to join Martín Pérez and Jon Gray in the starting five. Even with trade pickup Jake Odorizzi headed to the injured list, there’s no room in the season-opening five for Dunning or Ragans.
Rather than option either to Triple-A Round Rock to start the year, the Rangers might prefer to keep them stretched out as multi-inning options at the MLB level. The Rangers plan to be cautious with early-season workloads for deGrom and Eovaldi after each had minor soreness that slightly delayed them in camp. Dunning and Ragans could handle bulk work in relief. The former was second on the team with 153 1/3 innings over 29 starts last year; the latter worked 40 frames over nine big league starts after tallying 94 2/3 innings in the upper minors.
There are also some roster questions on the position player side, perhaps none bigger than in center field. Adolis García and Robbie Grossman are ticketed for most of the corner outfield work. Leody Taveras should get first crack up the middle if healthy, but his status for Opening Day is still up in the air owing to an oblique strain earlier this month.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Texas has begun to get Josh Smith some work in center field, as Grant writes in a separate piece. The 25-year-old didn’t see any big league time there last year, instead splitting his rookie campaign between third base, shortstop and left field. Texas gave Smith 131 innings in center in Triple-A. They were apparently sufficiently impressed to consider him a potential part-time option there at the highest level. He’s a slightly above-average runner who has plenty of experience in the middle infield, so it’s not out of the question he’s athletic enough to handle the outfield’s toughest position.
Smith doesn’t have a path to everyday playing time at any one spot after hitting .197/.307/.249 over his first 253 MLB plate appearances. An ability to take on tough defensive assignments would increase his utility off the bench. The Rangers have Bubba Thompson and non-roster invitee Travis Jankowski — neither of whom is hitting this spring — as the most straightforward center field replacements for Taveras. Smith might have the most offensive upside of that trio in spite of his slow start against big league pitching. He’d hit .290/.395/.466 in 55 games in Triple-A.
The efforts to broaden versatility aren’t limited to the MLB level. As part of a reader mailbag earlier this week, The Athletic’s Jamey Newberg noted that Texas is planning to get prospect Justin Foscue more work on the corner infield this year in Round Rock. Texas’ first-round draftee in 2020, Foscue has mostly played second base as a professional. He logged 106 innings at the hot corner with Double-A Frisco last year and played there regularly during his first couple collegiate seasons at Mississippi State. He has virtually no experience at first base.
Foscue will continue to get time at second base as well, though finding comfort at multiple positions could aid him in getting to the majors as a bat-first utility player. Marcus Semien should have the keystone secure for years to come. Foscue isn’t far off the majors from an offensive perspective after hitting .288/.367/.483 with 15 homers and a meager 14.3% strikeout rate in Round Rock last year.