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The Texas Rangers didn't open spring training as the team expected to win the American League West for a third straight year. No, despite the Rangers' pedigree, that honor goes to the Houston Astros or the Seattle Mariners.
However, the Rangers got out of spring training exactly what they wanted. With the exception of a sore right biceps to expected starter Andrew Cashner, a deep Texas team will open the season healthy and with what it thinks is enough depth to win the West again.
"It's been a unique spring, with the (World Baseball Classic) and a handful of smaller injuries keeping us from seeing everyone on the field together," Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. "That makes for a little bit of a challenge in evaluating the club, as well as giving the group time to play as a unit. That said, we feel our roster is strong. The division is going to be very competitive every club has a case to be improved from last year. It's going to be a fun season. We've got high expectations of ourselves."
Those expectations are helped by the fact the Rangers have arguably the best front three of any rotation in the West. Yu Darvish, who is a free agent after the season, will make his first Opening Day start in his free-agent season. Veteran Cole Hamels is also healthy and lefty Martin Perez is primed for a breakout season after winning 10 games last season and making a career-high 33 starts.
As good as the top of the rotation is, the Rangers need Cashner and Tyson Ross to help soon. Cashner, who signed a one-year deal, could join the rotation in mid-April. Ross made just one start for San Diego last year before going down with a shoulder injury. He had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome and the club hopes he can make an impact in May.
While there may be concerns about the rotation, there are none about a bullpen filled with power arms and a deep lineup. Right-hander Sam Dyson starred in the World Baseball Classic and is coming off 38 saves in his first year as closer. There are power arms setting him up in righties Keone Kela and Matt Bush. The club could use more from the left side, with Alex Claudio the only proven commodity.
The Rangers added to their offense by bringing back first baseman Mike Napoli for a third-straight year. He'll give Texas four players in the infield with 30-homer ability in Napoli, second baseman Rougned Odor, third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Texas needs Shin-Soo Choo to stay healthy after he played in just 48 games last season. He will spend time at DH to try to stay healthy. Outfielder Nomar Mazara is poised for a breakout season after hitting 20 homers and driving in 64 as a 21-year-old rookie.
The good thing for Texas in its bid to win the West once again is the depth it has. Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua and Delino DeShields give the club options in the infield and outfield and all had huge springs. They just need their opportunity.
Regardless, Daniels feels like his club once again will be in the mix.
"There's very good balance on this team," he said. "No one unit has to carry it we've got a good catching tandem, a strong infield, and a number of athletic outfielders that each brings a little something different. And our pitching staff may be as talented as any we've had, top to bottom."