Editor's Note: We complete our spring issues series over the next couple of days as pitchers and catchers prepare to report in Surprise, Ariz., for spring training.
Today's issue: Who is the fifth starter?
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- This is clearly one of the biggest questions of the spring. The Texas Rangers come into camp with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando in the rotation. They have one more spot to fill and, at this point, are set to allow some younger pitchers to compete for that job.
There are a handful of candidates, but we'll highlight a few of them here. Let's start with Robbie Ross, the 23-year-old who made a big impression in 2012. He came into spring training as a relative long shot to earn a spot on the club, but he just kept getting outs and pitched with a maturity well beyond his years. By the time camp had finished, Ross was the most consistent left-handed reliever and won a job and stayed in the big leagues the entire season.
Ross posted a 9-4 record and 2.26 ERA with 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 21 games (20 starts) at Class A Myrtle Beach in 2011 and then moved up to Double-A Frisco and was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA in six starts (36 strikeouts, five walks). He rode that momentum into the 2012 regular season, going 6-0 with a 0.95 ERA in the first half. He had more than a few teammates saying they felt he was an All-Star. He ended up with a 2.22 ERA in 65 innings (58 appearances) last year.
Now it's time to see if Ross can come in and win another competition, for the last spot in the rotation. It won't be a difficult transition for Ross, who was a starter his entire minor league career (which wasn't very long) before making the big leagues. He pitched in 69 games and started 68. So he'll be stretched out and ready to go.
But earning the fifth spot won't be easy for Ross. A few other youngsters are hoping to seize the spot, too. Martin Perez, long considered one of the club's top pitching prospects, hopes to break through in 2013. He turns 22 in April and was 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in six starts for Texas last season. He came up to the big leagues after Colby Lewis went on the disabled list in June 26 and made his debut the following night. When Perez wasn't pitching in Texas, he was in Triple-A Round Rock. He went 7-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 22 games (21 starts) in 127 innings. He had 69 strikeouts and 56 walks. Perez was inconsistent and will need to show he can put solid innings together and stay consistent this spring.
Justin Grimm, 24, started twice for the Rangers in 2012. His debut was a good one, but he struggled in his second start and spent most of the rest of the season in Triple-A. He ended up 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in 14 innings with Texas (five total appearances). He was 9-3 with a 1.72 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 14 walks in Double-A Frisco, earning him Texas League South Division All-Star honors. He was 2-3 with a 4.59 ERA in nine starts (51 innings) at Triple-A.
Kyle McClellan, 28, comes to camp healthy and focused on earning a spot on the club. He wants to start, but was quick to admit on Sunday when he arrived that he just wants to make the club and doesn't honestly care if that's as a reliever or starter. In other words: He didn't take the offer from the Rangers because he thought he might have the best shot at making the rotation. He took it because he felt like he could make the team in some capacity.
He's dealt with shoulder issues the past two seasons, but feels good after surgery last July.
There are other pitchers who will arrive stretched out to start, including Cody Buckel, Nick Tepesch and Randy Wells. Others could join the chase as well.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins will have a plan to ramp all of them up and with 38 spring games, not to mention any "B" games or intrasquad games.
But the Rangers must find another starter before camp ends in late March, and all eyes will be on those candidates as they compete for that job.