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[MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2021]Rangers Midseason Report: The Position Players

2021-08-21

  ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers aren't winning a lot of games this year, which doesn't surprise nearly anyone with a finger on the pulse of a very young team. And when management publicly states that 2021 will not be judged on wins and losses, that is their way of saying, “we're in a rebuild.”

  Figures at the top of the organization like president of baseball operations Jon Daniels and first-time general manager Chris Young have doubled down on 2021 being a year of evaluation. After an 18-18 start in the first 36 games of the season, it was far too early to draw conclusions — and for good reason. The club followed with a 7-28 stretch, giving fans hope the Rangers can cash in on tradable assets and add some impact talent in the 2021 and 2022 MLB Drafts.

  A recent offensive explosion has led the Rangers to a 7-3 record over their last 10 games, but that won't make up for the rough stretch throughout May and June. This team was never built to compete for a playoff spot, but only to see who can be a part of the next contending team in Arlington.

  It's only halfway through the season, but we may be starting to get some answers on who can help the Rangers finally win a World Series, one way or another. We've split this into two parts, looking first at the position players (Part Two on pitchers is coming soon). We did not include prospects like Leody Taveras, Anderson Tejeda, Sherten Apostel, Andy Ibá?ez, Curtis Terry, Sam Huff, or David García since they have had either little or no impact at the big league level this season.

  2021 Stats: 80 G, 1.1 bWAR, .260/.360/.424/.784, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 116 OPS+

  This might be a quick trigger, but I think Nate Lowe is a player. It's only half a season, and if you were to ask me a couple of weeks ago, he might go down into the next crop of players. But we are seeing Lowe make significant adjustments and get results after the league adjusted to him. Sometimes a player can do everything right and not get results. But Lowe is, and ultimately, results dictate who stays and who goes.

  If he stays at the current pace, Lowe would be at least a two-win player, which is a solid season for a first-year regular. Add in the fact that the Rangers have club control over him through the 2026 season, and Nate Lowe could be a solid contributor over at first base, especially if he can improve with the glove.?

  The one trait that is concerning with Lowe is his struggles against high-velocity fastballs in the upper half of the zone. Pitchers are throwing harder than they ever have before, and if Lowe never unlocks that part of his game, his potential will be limited.

  However, since MLB's crackdown on “sticky stuff” was officially put into place, Lowe has been hitting the ball extremely well. That will be something to watch for the remainder of the season.

  2021 Stats:?81 G, 2.9 bWAR, .272/.306/.381/.686, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 88 OPS+

  Even at the end of last season, I wasn't so sure that Isiah Kiner-Falefa could be a starter on a championship team. The defense already spoke for itself, but I was still concerned about offensive production.

  Believe it or not, I love it when players prove me wrong. While Kiner-Falefa has been in a bit of an offensive funk over the past couple of weeks, he's done more than enough to earn a spot hitting in the bottom third of a World Series caliber team. His overall defense is consistently ranked near or at the top of the league, and that provides value on the other side of the ball.

  One part of Kiner-Falefa's game that isn't measured by numbers or analytics is his personality and leadership. Every team needs a player like Kiner-Falefa, who strikes the perfect balance between humility and confidence. He's a natural-born leader, and an ever-growing voice in the clubhouse.

  2021 Stats:?77 G, 2.9 bWAR, .239/.396/.498/.894, 20 HR, 46 RBI, 145 OPS+

  For the first two months of the season, it was a debate whether we were seeing the best version of Joey Gallo we had ever seen. We were definitely seeing the most patient version of him, as he still leads all of baseball with 63 walks. But after a scorching hot month of June where he slashed .263/.434/.671/1.105 with 10 home runs and nearly the same amount of walks and strikeouts, all doubts are cast aside — this is the best we've ever seen from Gallo.

  Joey will eventually level out (meaning he won't hit a home run every day like he's doing now). But with what we are seeing, if the Rangers were to ever seriously entertain trade offers for Gallo, this is the time. His value has never been higher. And whether Jon Daniels and Chris Young like it or not, they're being forced to make a decision sooner rather than later: trade Gallo or extend him.

  Either way, Gallo should bring a ton of value to the Rangers. If Daniels and Young pull the trigger on a trade, it should be a haul. No, it may not be the same kind of return Daniels brought in with the Mark Teixeira trade, but it could give the Rangers potential players for future contending teams.

  However, if management feels they can contend in the next couple of years, maybe Gallo can be a central piece of that team. With all signs pointing to adding more talent via free agency over the next couple of winters, maybe the Rangers can figure out a way to work out a contract extension with Scott Boras (Gallo's agent). But that's no east feat.

  2021 Stats:?71 G, 2.4 bWAR, .269/.307/.531/.838, 20 HR, 55 RBI, 125 OPS+

  Adolis García has obviously been the surprise of the season thus far. After the Rangers designated him for assignment and outrighted him to Triple-A Round Rock in January, García's future with the Rangers — and in the big leagues — looked bleak. Fast forward six months, and now García has made himself a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate and a potential piece to build around.

  Before you ask the question whether the Rangers will possibly trade García at the deadline, it would have to be a haul like no other. The Rangers have club control over García through the 2026 season. Unless the Rangers are getting several controllable assets back, there isn't another deal that makes any kind of sense.

  Of course, García isn't a proven commodity just yet. He's shown the ability to adjust as the league adjusts to him this season, which is a very positive sign. But García wouldn't be the first rookie to breakout right away, then fail to live up to expectations in the following years.?

  For now, the Rangers seem to have robbed the St. Louis Cardinals of yet another uber-talented outfielder.?

  2021 Stats:?54 G, -0.4 bWAR, .230/.244/.309/.553, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 52 OPS+

  Jose Trevino checks off a lot of boxes when finding players worth building around. He's a great leader. He has an infectious attitude in the clubhouse. He is very good defensively, and one of the best pitch-framers in all of baseball (98th percentile). The one thing missing right now is the bat.

  Not unlike many of his teammates, Trevino is in his first full season as the No. 1 guy at his position. Seldom does a player figure it all out in half of a season. We've seen Trevino make more than one change to his batting stance over the past year while he searches for a way to tap into the next level at the plate. If he can ever hit consistently, Trevino automatically gets moved up to the group above.

  In all likelihood, the Rangers don't want to part ways with Trevino. He's a fan favorite and a well respected player in the clubhouse. If Sam Huff or another catcher comes along and takes the No. 1 job away from Trevino, he already fits the mold of a very solid backup.

  2021 Stats:?38 G, -0.1 bWAR, .224/.276/.383/.659, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 80 OPS+

  Heim shows more pop in the bat than Trevino thus far, and also ranks among the league leaders in pitch-framing. The one flaw we've really seen with Heim is blocking pitches.?

  Heim is a young catcher and, like most of his teammates, will go through growing pains this season. He has definitely shown than he's an intriguing piece moving forward. He could even be a piece the Rangers use in a trade this month if they try to acquire more controllable assets.

  It may not be this year, but eventually the Rangers will have to make a decision. Sam Huff is coming. While Huff won't catch this year due to his knee injury, the Rangers still plan for him to catch in the future.?

  2021 Stats:?79 G, 0.4 bWAR, .233/.302/.372/.673, 9 HR, 33 RBI, 85 OPS+

  Earlier this season, it looked like Nick Solak was the answer the Rangers needed at second base after years of inconsistency from Rougned Odor. But after posting a .910 OPS and hitting seven of his nine home runs in April, Solak has not looked like the same hitter.?

  Since May 1, Solak has a .553 OPS, which is far below league average. His defense at second base was a question coming into the season, and as of July 2, his defensive bWAR is -0.4. However, he has shown improvement in some areas, which means could could play replacement-level defense there soon.

  Solak was always thought to be a hitter first, regardless of what position he plays. But the Rangers need to see if Solak can turn his adjustments into results like some of his other teammates. If he can't, it's hard to see him as part of the future. The infield could get very crowded with next winter's shortstop free agent class on the horizon, along with the Rangers No. 1 prospect Josh Jung set to make his big league debut near the end of this season or at the beginning of 2022.

  2021 Stats: 59 G, 0.0 bWAR, .254/.323/.385/.708, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 95 OPS+

  If Willie Calhoun could ever get some good luck, we may finally get to see what this guy can do over a full 162-game season. However, Lady Luck apparently has a bone to pick with Calhoun, as a forearm fracture will force him to miss a sizable chunk of the remainder of the season.

  Until the injury, we have seen flashes of why Calhoun was such an intriguing prospect in the Yu Darvish trade. He has very fast hands and has shown a great ability to hit the ball to all fields. Other than luck, consistency has been Calhoun's biggest issue this season.

  I still think it's too early to give up on Calhoun. The Rangers likely won't contend in 2022, so there may be one more year for Calhoun to prove himself before the front office truly puts their foot on the gas and turns toward contention mode.

  2021 Stats: 41 G, 0.1 bWAR, .216/.285/.336/.621, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 71 OPS+

  Speed and defense are always going to be valuable in baseball, and Eli White has both. He also has defensive versatility, which makes him more valuable than bWAR or fWAR can measure.

  The one question that remains is his bat. After failing to produce without consistent at-bats at the beginning of the season?(.127/.200/.164 slash line in 22 games), White got the necessary at-bats at Triple-A Round Rock and found his timing and confidence. Since being recalled nearly a month ago, White is slashing .286/.351/.471/.822 in 19 games.

  It's still too small of a sample size to consider him to be a player in the future. However, if he can stay consistent at the plate, the Rangers definitely have something in Eli White. Manager Chris Woodward compared him to the Dodgers' Chris Taylor, which the Rangers could definitely use on their team once they contend again.

  2021 Stats: 7 G, -0.2 bWAR, .063/.118/.250/.368, 1 HR, 1 RBI, -2 OPS+

  Lady Luck might have an issue with Ronald Guzmán as well. We didn't get to see how he would play after a strong offseason where he was named the MVP of the Dominican Winter League.

  If the Rangers decide they have something in Nate Lowe, and with Guzmán out of options, it could mean the end of Guzmán's tenure in Texas. Guzmán never truly won the first base job in multiple chances, and he might have lost out on the last chance without getting a chance to truly compete for it. It's unfair, but it's the truth.

  This November will be worth watching to see if the Rangers outright release him or non-tender him. Guzmán will also be eligible for arbitration after this season, which is something else for the front office to consider.

  2021 Stats: 52 G, 0.8 bWAR, .233/.296/.370/.665, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 82 OPS+

  The Rangers have a need for a guy like Charlie Culberson this season, but he isn't a part of the future. Once the Rangers add more talent either via free agency or as more prospects become Major League ready, guys like Charlie Culberson won't be needed.

  If anything, the Rangers could potentially flip a guy like Culberson at the trade deadline for a low-level prospect. Contending teams often like to add character players to help lengthen their bench and Culberson fits the bill.?

  2021 Stats: 42 G, -0.2 bWAR, .213/.310/.299/.610, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 70 OPS+

  See Charlie Culberson.

  2021 Stats: 43 G, -0.8 bWAR, .207/.240/.338/.578, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 57 OPS+

  This one seems tough and unfair. However, looking down the pipeline, I'm seeing Leody Taveras, Bubba Thompson, Steele Walker, and Josh Stowers all doing good things in the minor leagues. The Rangers will eventually need to get looks at those players, and 2022 will be a year where you could see all of them in Arlington at some point.

  David Dahl hasn't been able to stay healthy this year, as frustrating as it is for him and the team alike. When he has played, he hasn't hit consistently. The move was absolutely worth making last winter, and Dahl could go on a tear in the second half of the season and make the Rangers think twice about cutting ties.

  Dahl does have two more years of club control remaining after this season, which is something the Rangers will consider as well before deciding whether he is part of the future or not.

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