Note: This week, we're running a series titled "Ranger Resolutions" as we look at some things the Texas Rangers hope to do better in 2014.
Today's resolution: Young players continuing to grow up
While the offseason focus for the Rangers has been on some big names, like Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, bolstering the lineup, the key to the club's short-term and long-term success is how some of its young core does in 2014.
Last season was an opportunity for some of them to get playing time and be thrust into different roles. Now, they'll be counted on even more. Let's start with Jurickson Profar, a player talked about so much that it seems like he's been in the league for years. Profar, who turns 21 years old just as spring training gets going, was a big part of the club's offseason plans. With a logjam at middle infield, Texas decided to trade All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Fielder. But now only did that put a power, left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup, but it freed up second base for Profar.
Instead of roaming around various positions as a super-utility player, Profar can now focus on second base. A few scouts I talked to believe that's going to really help Profar's entire game, because he won't have to worry about where he's playing or whether he's adjusting to another position. Manager Ron Washington has some options about where to put Profar in the lineup, but he's likely to be at the bottom of the order to give that area some offense and help it turn the lineup over to Choo at the top. Profar hit .234 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 324 plate appearances (85 games). A lot more will be expected of Profar this year.
Leonys Martin, 23, took advantage of an opportunity to play more in 2013 and comes into the 2014 season as this team's center fielder. He hit .260 last season with eight homers, 49 RBIs and 36 stolen bases. Before the Choo signing, Martin was penciled in as the leadoff hitter. Now, he could utilize that speed near the bottom of the order, giving Washington more options. Long-term, the lineup would get deeper if Martin could grow into the leadoff spot, allowing Washington to move Choo down in the order and take advantage of his production as the No. 5 or No. 6 hitter, for example. But that's down the line. What the Rangers want to see is continued improvement from Martin.
While those are the two big, young names in the lineup, there are others that must step up. Engel Beltre, 24, is out of options and vying to be one of the club's bench outfielders. Neftali Feliz is just 25 and could be the club's closer in 2014. Martin Perez, fresh of a contract extension, needs to build off a strong season and is only 22 (more on Perez and the rotation later this week). And Tanner Scheppers, who turns 27 in January, is a candidate to close as well or at the very least continue in his role as a critical, late-inning setup man.
But growing up from the young players, especially to every day starters in Profar and Martin, will have a direct impact on how well this team does in 2014.