Rangers 40-Man Roster Preview

The Texas 40-man roster currently lists 34 players, and that includes Austin Hedges, who is or should be a free agent, plus reliever Matt Bush (arbitration-eligible but surely not receiving an MLB contract) and a small handful of others whose holds on their spots are tenuous. There is no roster crunch. Within reason, the Rangers can add whom they like. The deadline is Tuesday at 5pm CST.

At the same time, 2023 is the first Rule 5 period incorporating the covid-shortened five-round 2020 draft. College and JuCo picks from that draft are eligible. Texas picked only one of that type in 2020: IF Justin Foscue. Comparatively, Texas has eight 2021 picks who’ll be eligible in 2024. By my count, Texas has only 18 first-time eligibles, a plurality of them 2019 high-school picks, plus five international free agents and some trade acquisitions. The Rangers also have another roughly 30 players still under control who were previously eligible. My unofficial list is here under the ‘Rule 5’ tab.

So Texas has an unusually large number of available spots but a relatively small pool. The Rangers added six last year: pitchers Zak Kent, Owen White, and Cole Winn, infielder Luisangel Acuna, and IF/OFs Dustin Harris and Jonathan Ornelas. I would be surprised to see six this time. An especially thrifty approach might include only two.

I’ve had a tough time with several players, even though I’ve seen a few of them frequently. Some are close calls, some have no path to a role with the Rangers, and some are relievers, a group always loaded with potential additions depending on your mood. Also, as you might have heard, the Texas Rangers won the World Series. Ordinarily, I’ve pondered offseason moves intermittently for weeks, letting my thoughts coalesce, such that my annual 40-man preview largely writes itself at deadline. This time, I didn’t give any serious thought 40/R5 issues until Saturday morning, so I’m more wishy-washy than usual and more willing to just watch the results than set down a marker.

2B/3B/1B Justin Foscue
Yes. Foscue walked more than he struck out and banged 18 homers and 35 other extra-base hits. His plate appearances are as consistent and composed as any you’ll see. In a way, he resembles Marcus Semien, who actually doesn’t possess great exit velo but generates a huge number of reasonably well-hit balls. (I am not claiming he will match Semien’s production, although I suppose that is the hope.) Foscue does not resemble Semien in the field, however, and any club employing him at second or third is going to have to avert its collective eyes occasionally.

RHP Jose Corniell
Good enough to pitch in MLB now? No. Good enough to require protection anyway? Yes.

LHP Antoine Kelly
The gap between MLB ad AAA isn’t shrinking, but at the same time, the number of AAA relievers who look MLB-worthy sometimes has never been higher. Protecting every reliever you can dream on a little would result in a bevy of prospects clogging the 40 and a panic any time a non-reliever on the big-league club required replacement. A potential relief addition should either be extremely close MLB-readiness or have closer potential. Kelly’s progression toward the Majors has been unusually deliberate given his role. I wouldn’t say he’s ready this minute, and I wouldn’t necessarily pin “future closer” on him, but I think there’s enough going on to add him.

RHP Marc Church
I saw Church in person in high-A 18 months ago. He looked like he’d be in the bigs by now. Unfortunately, his once-terrific control was frankly terrible in AAA, and he veered wildly between having the most dominating stuff on the squad to struggling mightily to complete an inning. The slider is an absolute beast and makes a resounding case for addition by itself, but his fastball was alarmingly hittable. In September, when the Rangers badly needed another trustworthy reliever, they re-rostered Ian Kennedy and Jake Latz and Matt Bush rather than take a chance on Church. Still, he could be an above-average MLB reliever, and a competing club would be very tempted to take a look. 

RHP Dane Acker
I just never got a great look at Acker this season and have very little confidence in my evaluation of him. Covid, elbow surgery and a shoulder malady have limited him to 99 professional innings in four seasons. He sports a full repertoire. I’ve heard up to 96 on the fastball, although I saw 90-94 in his final start. A good strikeout rate (26%) but poor swinging strike rate (10%). Hard to hit (.198 average, .329 slugging in AA) but below-average control (15% BB/HBP). In conclusion, Dane Acker is a land of contrasts. I can make an argument either way and am going to cop out by saying the only relevant opinions are in within the organization. My hunch is their opinions are fonder than my description.

IF Davis Wendzel
Wendzel stayed healthy all season and significantly improved his production. The batted-ball data backs him up; the improvement is genuine. Is it enough? Despite tying for the league lead in homers with 30, Wendzel’s exit velocity still doesn’t jump off the page. What he does really well, better than anyone in the Pacific Coast League, is hit the ball skyward. On the down side, he also hits a bunch of flies exceeding 45 degrees, which are almost always caught. He’d hit for more power than Josh Smith in the Majors but wouldn’t defend or run as well and doesn’t play in the outfield. What he needs more than a 40 spot on the Rangers is a trade.

1B Blaine Crim
Crim’s 90th-percentile exit velocity is nearly equal to Nathaniel Lowe and better than Josh Jung, Leody Taveras, and Evan Carter. He’s more liner-oriented than Wendzel, muting his power a bit but creating plenty of firm doubles and singles. He’s moonlighted at third and the outfield corners, but I seriously doubt he’d ever play there in the bigs. Thus, the problem. Unless he really hits, what’s his role? Weak-side platoon mate for Lowe if the latter’s problems against lefties persist? Occasional DH? Bench bat for a team that rarely needs one? Crim would have gotten a shot Texas this season had the team been playing like it was in 2021-2022, but the situation on the parent club has changed drastically.

RHP Justin Slaten
Slaten’s walk and K rates improved substantially in 2023. In the weeks prior to his promotion to AAA, he was fanning 46% of opponents. Results in AAA and the subsequent Arizona Fall League weren’t quite so enthralling. It’s hard to see Texas adding more than two relievers, but with room to spare, maybe the Rangers will. How unusual would keeping three or more be? During the previous ten seasons, Texas has selected a total of four relievers: Demarcus Evans, Wei-Chieh Huang, Lisalverto Bonilla, and Ben Rowen. That does not include folks who were starters when protected but seemed headed to eventual relief duty (Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez, Luke Jackson, to name a few).

RHP Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa
Limited to 24 regular-season innings by injury, AHT tossed an additional 9.2 in the Arizona Fall League and earned solid reviews (albeit not at the level of the ineligible Emiliano Teodo) with his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider. He fanned two in a clean inning in the Fall Stars game, but unfortunately he saved his worst appearance of the season for the AFL finals: four batters faced, three walks. I think there’s enough pitchers of his ilk that he’ll slide through this process, but I can’t guarantee it.

RHP Daniel Robert
Robert’s fastball averaged 96 and touched 99, and his sweeper generated twice as many called strikes as whiffs because AAA batters just don’t want to offer at it. Opponents hit a modest .239/.342/.350, but his ERA was 4.40 because the bad days included a flurry of walks and extra-hard contact. Vaguely blaming inconsistency for a pitcher’s lack of progression feels lazy, but with many relievers, that’s truly the issue. Big leaguers have fewer bad days.

LHP Grant Wolfram
So… many… relievers. The bad news is Wolfram was knocked around when promoted to AAA (28 runners and 16 runs in 13.1 innings). The good is he resumed dealing upon return to AA (2.08 ERA, 8 BB, 45 SO in 34.2 IP). Has a shot, but not this time.

1B/OF Trevor Hauver
The one player in the Joey Gallo trade yet to reach the Majors, Hauver had a another decent, walk-filled season at the plate and improved defensively. He should reach AAA next year, but not as a 40-man member.

MIF Max Acosta
Showed some pop and got by as a 20-year-old in high-A (.260/.312/.390), but I don’t think there’s any way he’d last a full MLB season, and better options for MIF-curious clubs will be available. 

RHP Winston Santos
Unfortunately, Santos’s season didn’t live up to the buzz generated in Spring Training. Maybe next year.

Elsewhere
I’ve got some Arizona Fall League and free agency news, but it’s not pressing, so I’ll probably have that tomorrow when additions are announced.