The World Series Champions have a few things to figure out heading into their title-defense season, but some of them aren’t really concerns, they are just nice problems to have.
Texas enters 2024 with the deepest and arguably most potent lineup of talent in Major League Baseball. Despite losing starting designated hitter Mitch Garver, the Rangers have players entering the season on their bench who could be starting on various teams around the league.
The most intriguing positional battle within the organization features two players with an excellent shot to take home the American League Rookie of the Year in 2024.
Who Starts in the Rangers Outfield?
The Rangers have four legitimate starters in the outfield and will need to determine what their lineup looks like come Opening Day.
Evan Carter took the league by storm down the stretch and was one of the playoff heroes for the Rangers at just 21 years old. Meanwhile, superstar Adolis Garcia had one of the greatest playoff power surges of all time in the ALCS against Houston. Meanwhile, Leody Taveres is coming off a career-year at the plate, while being an excellent defender in center field.
It may seem like those three would make up a clear-cut starting outfield, but 2023 fourth overall pick and consensus top-10 prospect in baseball Wyatt Langford took the minor leagues by storm last season and is waiting in the wings.
Furthermore, utilityman Ezequiel Duran is capable of playing a solid corner outfield and prospect Dustin Harris has proved essentially all he needs to in the lower levels.
This is obviously a great problem for any team to have, but it remains to be seen how this outfield will shake out come April.
At the onset of the winter, it seemed like the Rangers were likely to bring in an option to fill their designated hitter role whether it be Garver or a new acquisition. However, they could opt to just roll with a platoon of outfielders and/or young hitters at that spot.
However, Carter has yet to prove he can hit left-handers at the MLB level, Taveres cooled off a lot in the second half last year, and Langford has yet to debut. This could lead to a fascinating platoon style rotation in Texas, which incorporates each of these players in a regular role without them having to be fully everyday starters.
Whether it be in right field or at DH, we can safely pencil in Garcia for an everyday spot in the heart of the lineup. From there, it’s a bit more complicated.
If the Rangers choose to protect Carter from lefties to a degree in his first professional season, that could lead to a couple days a week where the outfield features Langford in left, Taveres in center, and Garcia rounding it in right field.
With that said, Taveres was much more successful last season against right-handed pitching as well, which could mean that him and Carter switch off days where they sit against left-handers.
The sample is too short to put too much stock into, but Carter did not record a hit against left-handed pitchers in his 11 regular season plate appearances, while posting a 225 wRC+ in his at-bats against righties. Taveres was an everyday starter last season, where he put up a solid 106 wRC+ against right-handers compared to just a 74 wRC+ against the other side.
While the last thing the organization wants to do is stunt the growth of a top five prospect in baseball like Wyatt Langford, he may be their second-best option in the outfield against southpaws heading into the season. This means that Carter and Taveres would share the work in center field, where they are both more than capable, while Langford and Garcia would man the corners.
Against right-handed pitching, it feels like Carter is a safe bet to start the majority of games given his huge playoff performance and impressive plate approach that will ease the pressure on the veteran stars of the lineup.
Taveres was succesful much of 2023 when facing righties as noted, but the immense upside and talent of Langford could quickly push him into a platoon or even fourth outfielder role on these days. For the first half of the season, it feels like Langford and Taveres would split playing time against right-handed starters with Langford starting in left, with Carter in center, when he starts and Carter shifting over to left when Taveres is in the lineup.
In reality, this is a problem that every team wishes they had to figure out. Having an established superstar, two top-10 prospects in the game, and an elite defensive center fielder making up an outfield core is a dream.
This may not even become much of an issue at all if the Rangers decide to utilize the designated hitter spot for one of these four players on a regular basis. Especially if Leody Taveres performs like he did in the first half of 2023.
In the worst case scenario where he regressed further, an outfield of Langford, Carter, and Garcia is still one of the most exciting in baseball.
I think with the designated hitter factored in here, the situation shakes out with Garcia playing nearly every game, Carter on the bench once or twice a week, and Langford and Taveres on the bench two or three times a week, at least in the early going.
Texas is positioned well to defend their crown this season and getting full seasons out of Carter and Langford is only going to make this lineup even harder to face day in and day out. Watch out American League pitchers, especially right-handers, this lineup is going to be your worst enemy.