In a lot of ways, the identity of the 2017 Rangers appears set. If they are going to win the American League West for the third consecutive season, this year's Rangers will do it with a dominant front end of the rotation, an experienced middle of the order and a power bullpen with five guys capable of throwing 95-plus.
Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli, Sam Dyson and Matt Bush are all known quantities with defined rolls, capable of leading the Rangers back to the playoffs. The Rangers aren't perfect though, and, as spring training begins, there are issues on the periphery of the roster that will determine whether the team will merely compete for the division title, or coast the pennant like they did in 2016.
Over the weekend, the Rangers played their first two spring training games. While the outcomes of the games, a 7-5 loss Saturday and a 6-4 win on Sunday, both against the Royals are meaningless, there are several developments over the weekend that are worthy of attention.
1. The rebirth of Yu Darvish's splitter. — During his start Sunday, Rangers ace Yu Darvish threw about a half dozen split-fingered fastballs, according to reports in Surprise, Arizona. It was the first time Darvish has featured the pitch since 2014, the year before he underwent reconstructive surgery on his elbow. His split wasn't sharp, but if Darvish can get the feel back for the pitch, it will give him another, potentially devastating, offering with which to put batters away with two strikes.
2. Josh Hamilton's never-ending story. — The idea, at least, was that Josh Hamilton, the mercurial avatar of the Rangers sad history, might be able to contribute one last time, giving Napoli an occasional rest at first base when the Rangers face tough right-handed starters. Saturday, for the second time already this spring, Hamilton returned to Texas from Arizona to seek treatment for his injured knee in Houston. Hamilton, fan favorite that he is, can't be counted on for anything at this point.
3. The battle for left field. — Left field is probably the least settled spot in the Rangers' starting lineup and the weekend did very little to help clear up the picture. Saturday, Joey Gallo started in left field. It's not his natural position, third base is, but the slugging Rangers prospect has shown a willingness to play any role necessary to stay on the big club during his short professional career. Despite a dismal 2016, Gallo's light-tower power is always worth another chance. If he puts things together even a little, left field is his. If he doesn't, Ryan Rua showed last year that he is deserving of big league at-bats. He helped his cause Sunday with a two-run home run off Royals starter Kyle Zimmer.
4. Delino Deshields shines. — After a lost 2016, Rangers outfielder Delino Deshields needs to start quickly if he is to have any chance of making the Rangers 25-man roster as a bench player. So far, he's done just that. Saturday, he walked twice, something he didn't do in 49 games last season. Sunday, he stole a base in the first inning and successfully executed a safety-squeeze in the second. If Deshields proves that he can run and handle the bat this spring, he'll have a leg up for a spot on the big club, thanks to his ability to play center field.
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