Texas Rangers

It's Never Too Early For Spring Training Knee-Jerk Reactions

You hear it every year around this time: Spring training stats are meaningless. And, sure, while that can be true for guys like Doug Deeds -- the 29-year-old career minor leaguer who's hitting .357 with two homers and four RBI for the Texas Rangers at the moment -- there are plenty of players whose numbers signal what can be expected when they start playing games that count in the standings.

For example, Ian Kinsler's scorching hot bat is worth noticing. He's simply ripping the cover off the ball, while hitting .500 with four home runs and seven RBI in just 14 at-bats. Even though he somehow made his way onto the All-Star team last year, Kinsler was hardly the .319 hitter we saw in 2008 or the 31 homer-31 stolen base threat we saw in 2009. This could be the season he finally reaches his potential if -- let's say it all together -- he can stay healthy for crying out loud.

And let's not forget that malcontent Michael Young has arrived in camp seemingly happy, while hitting .571 with a double and two triples. That's great news any way you look at it.

Newbie Mike Napoli's early stats (.455, one double, one homer) are also encouraging, as are center fielder Julio Borbon's (.500, two double, one triple, two steals). And Mitch Moreland is seizing his opportunity to become the club's full-time first baseman, hitting .421 with two bombs, six RBI and three walks, even though Chris Davis (remember him?) is pushing Moreland for playing time with a .421 average, two home runs and eight RBI of his own.

In short, the offense looks like it could be one of the best in baseball, especially since I haven't even mentioned the middle-of-the-lineup sluggers -- Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre. The pitching, however, is a different story.

It's really early to tell much of anything, but the starting rotation -- again, let's say it together -- is suspect. The team's only offseason acquisition, Brandon Webb, won't be ready for Opening Day. And he might miss the first month of the season. Heck, even when he does take the mound, who knows how effective he'll be? Will he regain his Cy Young form, or will he be this year's version of Rich Harden?

The top two in the rotation -- C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis -- have just one year of success under their belts as bona fide starters. Wilson has surrendered four earned runs in just five innings, and Lewis has four walks in his five innings thus far. Honestly, I'm not terribly concerned about either one performing well once the season begins, but who really thinks these two are No. 1 and No. 2 starters?

Tommy Hunter had a nice outing (two innings, no runs, two strikeouts), but he'd be a solid No. 5 starter -- not a No. 3.

The final two spots are up for grabs, but Neftali Feliz struggled in his first start and really shouldn't be jerked around a la Joba Chamberlain, and Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman have been so-so at this point. Matt Harrison and Dave Bush (a combined 10 innings and two earned runs) have pitched decently, but if either of those two find their way into the rotation, this team is in serious trouble.

The bottom line: Too many things need to happen for the rotation to match up well with other teams in the division. Wilson and Lewis must replicate last year's success. Hunter needs to keep the wheels on for the entire season. Holland and Kirkman need to establish themselves as reliable starters. And Webb needs to come back healthy and pitch like he did before his shoulder problems.

That's a lot to bank on, especially when the club also has to keep its fingers crossed that perennial disabled-listers Kinsler, Hamilton and Cruz can stay healthy.

Yes, it's too early to knee-jerk. But it's hard not to look at a staff full of question marks and feel good about a repeat of last year's World Series berth, especially since the arms that might have been available at this year's trade deadline have already found new homes (Zack Greinke and Matt Garza).

With three weeks and a couple days left until Opening Day, there's definitely time for the rotation to fall into place. But there's also plenty of time for general manager Jon Daniels to work the phones in search of help.

Now might be as good a time as any to test the market for Kinsler. With Chase Utley's status seemingly worsening combined with the Phillies' need for a right-handed bat, it certainly would be worthwhile to find out what it would take to nab Cole Hamels.

*Note: Until this morning, I was unaware that Richie had handed over the keys to Sportatorium to me for the week. Prior commitments to the paper and Unfair Park will make it difficult for me to do so, but I'll be chiming in when I can.

Follow the author on Twitter @SamMerten.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten

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