Spring training preview: No. 1 starter

Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.

Today's position: No. 1 starter

Yu Darvish enters the 2014 campaign as one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball. He was the runner-up to Max Scherzer for the AL Cy Young Award last season and served notice that the gains he made at the end of the 2012 season were only the beginning.

Darvish led the league with 277 strikeouts and a whopping 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings. While increasing his strikeout totals, Darvish cut down on his walks. He finished with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts (209 2/3 innings) and opponents hit just .194 off him, the lowest average in the AL.

Darvish managed just 13 wins, thanks in part to the fact that his team scored about two fewer runs per game than the Tigers did for Scherzer, who won 21.

Darvish was able to build off a strong finish to the 2012 season. He realized he didn't have to use every single pitch in his toolbox, as pitching coach Mike Maddux likes to call it, to get hitters out. And whenever Darvish took the mound, his teammates believed they had a terrific chance of winning.

But where Darvish didn't succeed was in the close, low-scoring games. Thanks to an offense that wasn't consistent (or consistent about not scoring for Darvish, is perhaps more accurate), Darvish found himself locked in close games late. And too often, he wasn't able to finish them off. It's one more step for Darvish to take in his big league maturation process.

OUTLOOK: Darvish is one of the top pitchers in the game today and gives the Rangers an ace, something they haven't had since Cliff Lee departed after a short second-half stay in 2010. He has a terrific slider and cutter, can change speeds to baffle hitters and works both sides of the plate.

He's also a hard worker and is certainly aware that he could have been better in crunch time in certain games. Darvish has the tools to be a Cy Young winner and now that he has two years under his belt (and now that there's more firepower in the lineup), a monster season could be coming up.