The Rangers outfield is in flux. Can Leody Taveras or Bubba Thompson stabilize him?

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The Rangers roster was going to be revamped over the weekend no matter what. This year’s rules offered teams a roster of 28 players for the first month, with required reductions to 26 by May 2. A pair of moves were guaranteed to go down once the calendar passed May. One of them turned out to be a stunner.

Outfielder Willie Calhoun is missing – both from the major league roster and, possibly, eventually, from the organization, as he asked the Rangers to send him to a new team. But Texas didn’t choose the 27-year-old to make room for a younger player who is edging his way into (or back into) the picture. His replacement on the roster, at least from an outfield depth/southpaw DH/pinch hitter perspective, is fellow ex-Dodger Zach Reks, who is actually older than Calhoun by a year and had all the 10 major leagues (no hit) at-bats to his name.

For all the buzz their next wave of pitching prospects are generating, not to mention the varying progress that young starters Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn and Glenn Otto have made in Arlington, the Rangers, for once, aren’t doing a lot of development noise on the side of the strike. Top prospect Josh Jung will be missing most of 2022. Players like Josh Smith, Davis Wendzel, Justin Foscue and Ezequiel Duran are doing promising things at the higher levels of the system, but given the state of the big indoor league, he there is hardly a Foscue Watch on foot.

The outfield image, however, is much less tuned. The biggest story on the Rangers farm so far centers around the long-awaited escape of a 23-year-old. So why isn’t Leody Taveras in Texas?

“I think Leody will be here soon,” manager Chris Woodward told Levi Weaver of Athleticism during the weekend. “I won’t tell you how soon, but we’re definitely keeping an eye on him; I watch every game on my computer, I watch the swings, the batting qualities, and he will be there at some point.

What Woodward sees is more than just results. Through his work this spring with Rangers bench coach and offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker and minor league batting manager Cody Atkinson, Taveras has adjusted his swing mechanics. He now stands taller and settles lower with his hands, maintaining better balance as he lowers his foot to initiate contact. It didn’t take long for the changes to set in: it hit 0.539 a week into the season and hasn’t slipped yet.

“All of those physical adjustments have definitely led to more confidence,” Atkinson said. “By far the best state of mind I’ve ever seen him in.”

Taveras, in a second season with Triple-A Round Rock and seeking a third season with Rangers, hits a Pacific Coast League-leading .374. His 1.034 OPS ranks fourth, he’s second in the league in total goals and, as always, he’s a defensive weapon. He’s nothing like the career minor leaguer with .258 (or big leaguer with .188) whose power has always been an idea but never a reality.

“Leody trusts himself more than I’ve ever seen him,” said Round Rock bench coach Chase Lambin, who was also Taveras’ minor league hitting coach in 2021 and 2019. knows he has power, but doesn’t force it. He takes what is given to him. He uses all the ground on both sides of the plate.

As usual, Taveras was better as a left-handed hitter, but when you put a .988 OPS on your weaker side, no one is going to complain.

Long a darling of the Rangers system despite ordinary production at the lower levels of the farming system, Taveras had an extended look at Texas during the abbreviated 2020 season. He showed flashes of production in his 33-game debut (four home runs, eight stolen bases on eight downs, outstanding center field defense) but his approach to plate spoke of a player who wasn’t quite ready. He had two of 32 starts with no strikeouts and was generally easy to pitch.

His 2021 has been significantly worse, at least in the majors. After hitting .227/.308/.395 in his debut for the Rangers in 2020, the line has dropped to .161/.207/.270 in 2021, with a ratio of 60 strikeouts for nine walks in 49 games. He was completely passed by Texas, which meant his subsequent Triple-A stint — 17 homers in 87 games in his first run at Round Rock after hitting 19 in his first 470 minor league games — got less fanfare than he probably deserved.

When Taveras showed up for camp in March, there was hardly ever any talk of him returning to the farm to start the year. He had eight Cactus League at-bats – the same number as Meibrys Viloria and less than Nick Tanielu – although his relatively calm Dominican Winter League OPS of .742 obscured a massive development: he had amassed more than walks than strikeouts in his 40 winter games. .

The spring training plan was clear: return to Round Rock and take advantage of the best winter, without pressure for an opening day roster spot on the line. His answer ? Taveras has done a lot more this spring than just building a strong off-season performance. It gives Rangers something much more intriguing to think about.

Yet when the Rangers moved to starting pitcher Spencer Howard at Round Rock on Saturday, they replaced him with Reks, whose Triple-A numbers with the Express were solid but nothing to do with the pinball line that Taveras has. establishment. Except Reks wasn’t going to bump anyone in the lineup. He got a start and entered another game as a hitter. Woodward hinted that another outfielder’s job security could be in jeopardy when the 28-year-old arrives – that outfielder turned out to be Calhoun – but as for Reks, his opportunity in limited places to auditioning for an extended opportunity in the league, here or elsewhere, is just that.

It’s not a role Rangers want Taveras to fill. When he does show up again, it will come with the challenge of a day-to-day role. For now, Adolis Garcia is the only outfield player, with veterans Kole Calhoun and Brad Miller sharing the bulk of the remaining reps with Nick Solak. At some point, the organization could very well decide to move on from the old Calhoun (.356 OPS) or Miller (.545 OPS), even though Miller is under contract until 2023 and Calhoun has an option to team for 2023 (although there is no buyout cost to Texas if the club chooses to cut ties).

But for now, it seems clear that Rangers have a plan in place for how long they want to see Taveras produce on the farm before they come down to look for him. Even though it will have one last minor league option next year, Texas is surely hoping Taveras’ current breakout at Round Rock, now nearing 100 batters, is the prelude to a one-way ticket, once and for all. . all in Arlington. Make center field his own, slide Garcia to right field and go from there.

Could the picture be completed by another 23-year-old outfielder at Round Rock amid his own breakout? Bubba Thompson pleads his case. Rangers left him on the 40-man roster last winter, exposing him to his first Rule 5 draft even though he’s exactly the positional type of player – speed, late-inning defense, a little noise – teams keep shortlists for the winter draft. Then the league canceled the draft this year due to the lockout, saving Rangers a sweat on whether the 2017 first-round pick could have been picked up by another club willing to bench him straight away. big league.

Bubba Thompson pleads to be in Arlington before the end of the summer. Andy Nietupski / TTL Sports Media

They’re glad they escaped the risk because, at this rate, they won’t take it when the Rule 5 Draft returns this winter. Thompson is impacting games with his bat, feet and glove, batting .349 and sitting at an .878 OPS after posting a career-best mark of .808 last year at Double-A Frisco. As the competition improved, so did he.

If the Rangers plan to add Thompson to the offseason roster, they could look to eliminate his major league acclimatization later this summer. For now, there are clearly things to work on. For one, he hasn’t reduced his strikeout rate and has only walked one in 18 games. He’s struggled to relocate his rhythm at home plate since returning from an eyeball that cost him five days late last month.

Although he’s trying to redefine his cap, Thompson projects himself as a starter on a team that isn’t very good (like the Rangers right now) or as a fourth-outfield weapon on a contender (which the Rangers plan to ditch). to be in a few years). If and when he does show up, it will likely be in a situation that offers him more than just emergency duties and gives him a chance to work his way into the 2023 plans. But it’s not imminent.

Besides, Taveras will almost surely get the call first. Sooner or later. And ideally, this time, to stay.

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Jamey Newberg

Jamey Newberg

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Jamey Newberg covers Rangers for StrongSide. He’s lived in Dallas all his life, with the exception of a…

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