Even as the Texas Rangers work through the myriad ways they can improve the club, they know some of that improvement must take place from players currently on the roster.
With that in mind, our Monday morning musing is which player must take the a biggest step forward to help this club in 2013. Which player, who perhaps didn't perform as well as expected, needs to make his mark now or risk falling behind others or not becoming part of the club's long-term core? With that in mind, we focused on younger players, not veterans nearly done with their contracts or free agents. Here are some candidates:
Derek Holland: Game 4 of the 2011 World Series was supposed to be a springboard. Nolan Ryan called it the most important start in club history after Holland baffled the Cardinals' bats into the ninth inning, helping tie the Fall Classic at 2 games each. Holland's second half also aided in earning him a long-term contract that included two club options. It's s club-friendly deal, as long as Holland pitches to his potential. He didn't do that in 2012. Shoulder fatigue and a brief illness didn't help. But when he was healthy, Holland didn't get the job done consistently enough. You can tell by how manager Ron Washington handles Holland that the skipper knows how good Holland can be. It's time to show it.
Alexi Ogando: He was a real weapon in the 2010 and 2011 postseason with his versatility and electric fastball. But we didn't see that Ogando as much this past season. Batters keyed in on that fastball at times and he wasn't consistent with his other pitches. Toward the end of the year, Ogando was throwing his slider better and working on a changeup. He was an All-Star starter in 2011 before spending 2012 in the pen. I believe he can start and perform well. He'll get his chance.
Mike Olt: It might seem odd to find his name on this list, but he rocketed up the minor-league ranks and then provided some big hits shortly after he was called up. While Jurickson Profar seems to garner praise from various parts of the league, there are more questions about Olt. Plantar fasciitis kept him off the field and since Adrian Beltre is at third, Olt must contribute at first or a corner outfield spot. He's on the list because the Rangers need him to show a little more at the plate if given the chance, which would also help his value. Profar also has something to prove, but I feel like there's a little more urgency for Olt.
Ian Kinsler: Like Holland, Kinsler signed up for the long haul with Texas and didn't play up to his standards. He scored runs, which was his chief objective at the lead off spot, but he wasn't on base as consistently as needed and struggled to find his rhythm at the plate. It also wasn't a great year defensively. More is expected and, depending on the offseason and what happens with Profar, Kinsler could be learning a new position. We'll see.
Nelson Cruz: Texas has two years to figure out if Cruz is part of its future plans. He's a streaky hitter who blasted the ball at critical times in 2010 and 2011. That Cruz wasn't around much in 2012, despite staying healthy and playing an entire season for the first time in his career. The month-long or even two-week stretch never really materialized. Changes are on the horizon in the outfield and, if Cruz isn't dealt, we'll see if he makes himself irreplaceable or if he doesn't provide enough production to get signed to another deal here.
Robbie Ross: He had a great rookie year, posting a ridiculous first-half ERA and becoming a critical late-inning piece. But he slowed down toward the end of the season, which was to be expected with the workload and adjusting to the big leagues. Ross must now adjust again and show he has staying power. The bullpen has holes and a lack of lefties. It's an opportunity for him to step into a big role.
Leonys Martin: Texas made a big investment in Martin to be in CF. Martin may be called upon to play that spot if Josh Hamilton isn't there and a CF isn't signed or dealt for this offseason. Can he go from prospect to player now?
There are more we could have tossed out, but we'll stick to those candidates for now. So who is the one I think the club needs to step up the most? Derek Holland. The lefty has shown he is capable of being an upper-rotation starter, but he hasn't been consistent enough. The time for patience is over. He's got the long-term deal and he has to earn it. If that doesn't happen in 2013, you'll have to wonder if it will ever happen and whether the team will look at other options. You could argue the contract means there's less pressure on Holland, but I disagree. He knows he must perform. And for this club to reach its goals in 2013, the homegrown talent must step up on the mound. Holland is an important member of that group.
Who do you think needs to step up the most? Did we leave off some names that you'd include?