Everything is bigger in Texas?
Hmm… No wonder they signed Prince Fielder.
Okay, all kidding aside, Prince is awesome and would kill me with a flick of the wrist. But the Texas Rangers are an extremely intriguing team to watch in terms of fantasy prospects for the upcoming campaign. They have lost players, but brought in a couple of big time fantasy performers, once again figuring to be one of the favorites to come out of the American League. But we don’t care about that.
We care about fantasy.
You see it right away. The Rangers brought in elite leadoff batter, Shin-Soo Choo, making for one of the biggest free agent signings this entire offseason. In 2013 with the Reds, Choo was the 15th-best outfielder in fantasy, according to ESPN’s Player Rater. He finished the season with a .285 batting average, 21 home runs, 54 RBI and 20 stolen bases. However, his biggest impact came from the runs department, where he posted 104, largely due to his ability to get on base and the lineup around him. Choo posted the fourth-highest on-base percentage last season (.423), while the talented bats behind him drove him in frequently. The Reds hitter-friendly ballpark benefited Choo, as he belted 21 dingers (2nd-most in career), but even though he is leaving Great American, he goes to yet another hitter-friendly park in Arlington.
The Rangers ballpark has seen top-seven home run per game averages in two of the last three seasons, so Choo, with arguably better talent behind him, should easily flirt with 100 more runs during his inaugural campaign with the Rangers. Consider him a top-40 player, at least.
Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest splash in free agency was the cannonball that is, Prince Fielder. Prince left Detroit to join a Rangers team that continues to flirt with a ring, and he may be on the top of my love list for 2014. While his home run totals have dipped in each of the last three seasons and 2013 was a “down” year to most people, Fielder still hit 25 homers and drive in a healthy 106 runs, finishing as the number nine fantasy first baseman. I think this is the year he returns to his 30-home run range, especially in Arlington where teams have been averaging 1.5 home runs per game (most), 1.16 (7th-most and .903 (17th-most) over the last three seasons. And as Tristan Cockroft points out, left-handed hitters are averaging a healthy home run/fly ball ratio of 12.8, which is well above the league average of 9.9 during that span. And, with Choo leading off, Fielder should have plenty of RBI potential, as only three players in baseball were on base more often than him last year.
Finally, I want to talk about Adrian Beltre, who, for some reason, is vastly underappreciated in fantasy circles. I mean, at age 34, conventional wisdom suggests that Beltre is about to vastly tail off, but it seems we say that every year and are left waiting… and waiting… and waiting. Last season, he showed no signs of slowing down, leading the American League in hits (199) while adding 30 home runs (8th), batted .315 (4th) and slugged .509 (8th). The guy is literally a lock for 30 home runs and at least a .300 batting average, seeing as he’s virtually done it in for four consecutive seasons. He has given us no reason to believe he won’t be one of the top fifteen or 20 players in fantasy once again.
Obviously, Yu Darvish is the major storyline here. 2013′s number five pitcher on ESPN’s Player Rater, Darvish would have taken home a Cy Young award if Max Scherzer hadn’t been so dominant. In just his second year in the majors, Darvish posted stellar numbers, including a league-leading 277 strikeouts, a league-low .194 opponent batting average and a healthy 13 wins. Darvish vastly improved his walk rate (which hurt his value last year), cutting it from 4.19 to 3.43. That allowed him to strikeout nearly 50 more batters. He improved his breaking stuff, as he struck out batters over 32 percent of the time. He’s probably the safest bet to lead the majors in whiffs again in 2014, but assuming he improves on that 13-win campaign, we could not only be looking at a top tier fantasy asset, but also an AL Cy Young winner.
As for the closers, it’s certainly worth nothing that Joe Nathan, two-time Rangers closer who has posted 80 saves during his tenure, is off to Detroit to join the Tigers. Look for Neftali Feliz, who returned to the rotation late last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, to man the closer role for the 2014 campaign.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.