Wyatt Langford Has Forced the Texas Rangers’ Hand

There are multiple reasons why the Texas Rangers have little choice but to place Wyatt Langford on the Opening Day roster.

SURPRISE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 20: Wyatt Langford #82 of the Texas Rangers poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium on February 20, 2024 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Sometimes the best situations call for the hardest of decisions. And then other instances hard choices end up playing out and not being nearly so difficult. The latter is where the Texas Rangers find themselves in regard to where Wyatt Langford should start out the 2024 season.

In years past, it would have been an easy call to start the phenom in Triple-A Round Rock and let him get some more professional experience and at bats under his belt. Including his three games that he played in the Rookie League last season, after being selected fourth overall in the MLB draft, Langford has only 46 professional games under his belt.

The Rangers could keep him down for a few weeks and then when the number of days with the big club was going to be at 171 (172 is the number of days constitute a full season of service time) promote him to Arlington.

That move would guarantee that the Rangers would gain an additional year of control at the back end of Langford’s rookie contract. But that is not how many teams are handling their young, top talent these days and one of the main reasons for that is the Prospect Performance Incentive (PPI).

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Hopefully long gone are the days of the Kris Bryant’s of the baseball world being taken advantage of. The program was part of the new collective bargaining agreement from 2022 and appears to be working just as planned.

Prospect Performance Incentive and Wyatt Langford

The PPI was designed to incentivize MLB teams to have their best prospects that are ready for the grand stage, to start the season on the big league roster. If a player is listed on two of the three top 100 prospects lists from MLB.com, Baseball America, and ESPN.com, then they are eligible.

Prospects that meet the top 100 hurdle and reach the 172 day service time requirement, can help earn their respective teams an additional draft pick if they achieve certain award thresholds.

If a player that is eligible, goes out and wins their league’s Rookie of the Year (ROY) award, their team will be granted an additional draft pick between the first and second round of the next year’s draft.

Winning ROY is no easy task, as Josh Jung proved last season. But with both Evan Carter and Langford battling for the award, perhaps it would be to the Rangers advantage to have two shots at it instead of just one.

The other thing to consider is that if a player ends up in the top two in the ROY standings, they are deemed to have a full year of service time regardless of how many days they are on the big league roster.

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This scenario played out last season with Tanner Bibee of the Cleveland Guardians. He started out the season in Triple-A Columbus and was called up after three starts. Bibee then proceeded to go out and get second in the AL ROY race and thus he was granted a full year of service time despite not quite meeting the 172 day requirement.

Can Langford be Top 3 in MVP Race?

With a player the caliber of Langford there is yet another part of the PPI that could come into play as well. If a player that meets all of the eligibility requirements, but doesn’t win the ROY award, there are still two more seasons in which an additional draft pick could be had.

If a player ends up in the top three in the Cy Young or MVP voting before they become arbitration eligible (rookie year and then the two that follow) a draft pick between the first and second round will be given to their team. There is a real possibility that Langford could finish in the top three in the MVP race over the next few seasons.

If that sounds silly to you, then keep in mind that many MLB experts have Gunnar Henderson as one of their favorites to win the AL MVP award just one year removed from his ROY winning campaign.

There is a limit on picks that a team can earn. No team can acquire more than one pick per year, and a player themselves can only obtain one draft pick for their team. For example, Henderson (2023 AL ROY) and Corbin Carroll (2023 NL ROY) both earned draft picks for their teams and will not be able to do so again, even if they finish in the top three in MVP voting over the next two seasons.

A Top Hitter with an Open Position

After letting Mitch Garver, who signed with the Seattle Mariners, walk during the offseason, there is an opening at the DH position for the Rangers. There are several internal options including Justin Foscue, Jared Walsh, and Ezequiel Duran but some of these players are going to be needed to fill in for the currently injured infielders (Nathaniel Lowe, Corey Seager, and Josh Jung).

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Not only is there an open position up for grabs, but Langford happens to be one of the best hitters in Spring Training this year. And that is not just as one of the top producers for the Rangers, but actually in the entire major leagues.

Through his first 12 games and 39 plate appearances, Langford was slashing .375/.462/.781, and was tied with the most home runs in MLB at four. In that same time frame, he had scored 10 runs, driven in 10, and hit a double. And these numbers come after he was “struggling” through his first few games.

The kid can hit, and the Rangers can’t afford not to have him in the lineup to start the season.

Rangers Need All-Hands-On-Deck for Tough April Slate

The defending World Series champions won’t have time to ease into the 2024 season. Tough home series in March and April include the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, and the Cincinnati Reds. The Rangers will also be on the road to take on the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, and Atlanta Braves.

And those listed above don’t include the fact that the Rangers and their instate rival, Houston Astros, will square off seven times within the first 16 games of the season. The Rangers will host the Astros for a four-game slate April 5-8 before going to Houston for a weekend series April 12-14.

Talk about getting after it early.

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Last season the Rangers got off to a phenomenal start to the season, but with their new schedule that performance will be tough to repeat. There will be no rest for the weary, as the Rangers longest stretch of games without an off day comes early this season. It will be a stretch of 17 games from April 5-21, with the final 10 of those games coming on the road.

With the stout March-April schedule, the Rangers cannot afford to not have their best available players on the field. That includes Langford. His bat needs to be on Bruce Bochy’s lineup card most days to let him do his part to help the Rangers get as many wins early as they can.

Thin Rangers Rotation Requires Best Offense Possible

Along a similar vein, the Rangers rotation has some strong parts to it, but it seems thin going into the season. There are rumors of potential trades with the White Sox for Dylan Cease which would be fantastic, but even if that were to occur, the Rangers will still have substantially less starting pitching early on compared to later in the season.

Max Scherzer (back) is eyeing a possible June return, with Tyler Mahle (Tommy John) shooting for July, and hopefully Jacob deGrom (Tommy John) in August. Talk about some hefty reinforcements. But their additions will only be worthwhile if the Rangers have been able to stay in contention without them.

To do that, the Rangers are going to need to run it back with their potent offense and stingy defense. Putting up crooked numbers is going to be a must on a regular basis. And the best way to do that is to have their top hitters in the lineup.

Insert Wyatt Langford. Top offensives have top players, and Langford has already proven that he is indeed that caliber of hitter. He can jumpstart the offense with his legs, hit one in the gap, or smash the baseball into the stands. The Rangers pitching staff will need ample run support and Langford can help provide just that.

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Wyatt Langford Intangibles

Many young professional baseball players have to learn to have a solid approach at the plate. For Langford, he came straight from the University of Florida with keen plate awareness and yet without sacrificing the power.

Langford plays the game the right way and hustles throughout every play. Just the other day in Spring Training, he was able to beat out a would-be inning ending double play. The next hitter was Duran, and he deposited the ball over the fence for a two-run homer.

Often it is the little things that don’t find themselves into a box score that determine winning and losing baseball games. In Langford, the Rangers have a kid that gives them the best chance to win day in and day out.

Speed was something that was lacking at times with the Rangers last year. Langford’s legs will give Bochy yet another option to steal bases with or simply put pressure on the defense every time the ball is put in play.

At the end of the day, the decision on if Langford will be on the Opening Day roster for the Rangers will be coming down soon. It is not a choice that Chris Young, Bochy, and the entire Rangers staff will be taking lightly. But for the good of the 2024 Rangers, and the organization in the future, Langford should be in Arlington on March 28th against the Cubs.