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Over the last five or so years, the Texas Rangers have been known as an offensive powerhouse with questionable pitching. While the former has waned, the latter is still certainly true. Countless offensively talented players have left Texas in recent years. Ivan Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, and Mark Teixeira are just a few examples. While they’ve exported plenty of fine offensive talent, they’ve imported just as much useless pitching. Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, and Jason Jennings all come to mind. There’s a simple equation that can easily determine a team’s success whether it be in fantasy or reality. In the Rangers’ case poor hitting plus poor pitching equals a poor season.

Top Tier:

Michael Young (SS): Perhaps I was a little to hard on the Rangers in my introduction. While it is true that they’re a bottom of the barrel squad, they have retained one elite talent. Michael Young is among the cream of the crop at the shortstop position. His biggest asset is definitely his consistency. There are three things you can count on in life: death, taxes, and Michael Young racking up 200 hits in a season. You can also expect a .315 average as well as nearly a full season of games. Unfortunately, Young’s power numbers seem to be in a bit of a decline. He’s gone from 24 to 14 to 9 in homeruns and his RBI count declined from 103 to 94. Young also struggled scoring runs a bit last season, only tallying 80. This is natural considering the talent or lack thereof around him. Regardless of these trends, Michael Young’s numbers are still good enough for him to be considered an elite shortstop. The Rangers made a few moves in the off-season to help bolster their lineup and protect Young. Regardless of the effectiveness of his supporting cast, Young will put up big numbers again in ‘08.

Second Tier:

Hank Blalock (3B):
Prior to a shoulder injury that cut his season short in ‘07, Blalock was on track to regaining his All-Star form of 2004. In just over 200 AB’s Blalock accumulated a .293 batting average with 10 HR’s and 33 RBI. Projected out to an entire season those totals become 27 HR’s and 92 RBI. The most promising statistics would have to be that .293 average along with his .543 SLG. Those both would have been career highs. While you obviously should approach with caution due to the uncertainty about his shoulder, you should be able to score him fairly cheaply on draft day. Expect modest production but hope for a return to his form of early ‘07.

Third Tier:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia ( C ): After being acquired from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Mark Teixeira at the trade deadline, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or Salty as his teammates call him, was very impressive last season. This is especially true since 2007 was Salty’s rookie campaign. He received plenty of playing time last season, and it would seem as though he’s in store for more of the same. I can’t imagine that Gerald Laird could hold Salty out of the lineup too much. Saltalamacchia put up very solid numbers in a little over half a season. Although many wouldn’t consider a .266 average with 11 HR’s and 33 RBI to be excellent, his numbers projected over a full season would have been well above average for a catcher. I can only imagine Salty getting better, and while it may not be this year, he should eventually move into the upper tier of catchers as he continues to improve. The Rangers will certainly be leaning on him and expecting a lot more from him this season. I don’t think he’ll disappoint. Nab him in the middle to late rounds and you’ll be happy.

Ian Kinsler (2B):
Kinsler’s wildly inconsistent play could have easily landed him in the Question Marks portion of this preview, but regardless of his inconsistencies, his final numbers are good enough to earn him a third tier grade. Kinsler came out of the gates on fire in ‘07, but cooled down considerably a couple months in, and eventually leveled off in the latter stages of the season. Kinsler really looked like three different players last season. An injury partly contributed to some of Kinsler’s struggles. When it was all said and done Kinsler put up nice totals of .263-20-61, and an extremely valuable 23 SB’s. Draft Kinsler in the middle to late rounds, expect his performance in the latter portion of the season, hope for his performance in the first portion, and hope he avoids a performance like he had in the middle of ‘07. No matter what his offensive numbers look like, his steals will be very valuable to your fantasy team.

C.J. Wilson (RP): Every year there are quite a few guys who step up late in the season and help contribute to your fantasy team down the stretch. Wilson was certainly one of those players last season. Following the trade of Eric Gagne to Boston, Wilson unexpectedly took over the closer’s role and performed very well. Wilson was nowhere close to the fantasy radar entering the season, but a lot more will be expected of him in ‘08. Wilson has very little competition for the closer’s role as Joaquin Benoit and newly acquired Eddie Guardado are the only other competent arms. Wilson posted a modest 3.03 ERA, but earned 12 saves and K’ed 63 in 68.1 innings. If Wilson can maintain is strikeout rate, I believe his ERA should come down too. The main problem with Wilson will likely be a lack of save opportunities. But as with any closer, he’ll be worth being owned in 2008.

Question Marks:

Milton Bradley (OF): Few players have wasted their talent like Milton Bradley. Bradley has shown plenty of flashes over the last few seasons, but inconsistent play and an explosive temper have made for many disappointing seasons. Bradley, however, could make for an excellent sleeper pick in the ‘08 season. After being acquired by the Padres from Oakland, Bradley became an integral part of the San Diego offense, putting up a .313 average with 11 HR’s and 30 RBI before a ridiculous injury while arguing with an umpire ended his season. Bradley’s numbers were particularly impressive due to his playing in the pitcher’s paradise known as Petco Park. Bradley has never been asked to play a main role offensively, but he’ll have to step up in order for the Rangers to be successful. If Bradley is able to recover fully from his ACL tear, I could see him having a career year as his move Texas is certainly an advantageous one. There is no more schizophrenic player in major league baseball than Milton Bradley, however. It’s anyone’s guess which Milton Bradley we’ll see in ‘08, but he’s definitely worth a late round flier as a low risk high reward player.

Kevin Millwood (SP): There are few more enigmatic pitchers in baseball than Kevin Millwood. At times during his career he’s looked like one of the best in baseball, but at other times he’s looked like he belongs in the minor leagues. Millwood’s 2007 season was certainly closer to the latter than the former. Millwood posted an atrocious 5.16 ERA and probably didn’t even deserve to have a record as good as 10-14. As if those numbers weren’t disgusting enough, Millwood K’ed just 123 batters in 172.2 innings. He was completely useless last season and wasn’t worth owning in any fantasy format, unless it was an extremely deep AL only league. Even after this type of season, Millwood is still on the fantasy radar due to his past performances. And the fact remains that he is the de-facto “ace” of the staff, so he’ll get his opportunities to win games. Millwood is just 2 years removed from a 16 win season, and 3 years removed from a 2.86 ERA. He undoubtedly has the talent to succeed, but I would stay away until he proves that he’s back.

Jason Jennings (SP):
Jason Jennings is one of the most frustrating fantasy players to own. Every year, no matter how his final numbers look, he has an impressive stretch that causes some poor owner to add him to their roster. More often than not, that experiment ends no more than a week into it. It’s possible that owners are enthralled with Jennings because of his past “success” in Colorado, when in actuality his numbers were always just average. After posting a solid 3.78 ERA in ‘06, Jennings got a nice contract from the Astros, and he was tagged as a sleeper pick in 2007. He got injured, and even when he did pitch, he was a total bust. A 2-9 record with a 6.45 ERA definitely won’t cut it. While I wouldn’t expect Jennings to be that inept again, I also don’t expect him to be worth owning in fantasy.

Brandon McCarthy (SP): McCarthy has all the tools to be a successful big league pitcher. He’s got great velocity and he’s got great size. Okay so maybe he doesn’t have all the tools, just the ones that people in baseball are obsessed with. It seems as though McCarthy has always been grossly overrated. I know he’s only been in the big leagues for 3 years, but he regressed greatly in the ‘07 season. In a little over half a season of starts he posted a 5-10 record with a 4.87 ERA and 59/48 K/BB ratio. It’s a fairly obvious assessment that none of those numbers are impressive. His K/BB ratio is especially troubling because he too often puts himself in a bad spot by conceding base runners. There his, however, one positive thing to note about McCarthy’s 2007 season. Over his last 10 starts, McCarthy improved his ERA from 5.70 to 4.87. Then again, that shows just how horrible he was for the majority of the season. My advice: don’t take him unless you’re in a deep AL only league, and if you do, pray for his late season form to resurface in ‘08.

Great Debate:

Josh Hamilton (OF):
The story of Josh Hamilton was undoubtedly one of the best in baseball during the 2007 season. A former 1st overall selection by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton battled back from drug and alcohol addiction, and became a major league regular in Cincinnati. Hamilton was one of the most added players in fantasy leagues over the first month of the season as he came out of nowhere. A couple of injuries curtailed his production over the course of the season, but he still put up a solid .292-19-47 clip in a little over half a season. It’s quite apparent that Hamilton has limitless talent and potential, but his past can’t simply be ignored. It’s certainly possible that he’s now an upstanding citizen, but it’s impossible to know whether or not he’s completely out of the woods. Trading away Hamilton was a curious thing for the Reds to do as well. It makes me wonder if they are particularly worried about a certain aspect of his game or character. Hamilton showed a propensity for getting injured last season, so I’d keep his durability issues in mind when considering spending a pick on him. If he can stay healthy and stay on the straight and narrow, I feel like Hamilton has 30 HR and 100 RBI potential in the Ranger lineup.

Prospect Watch:

Kason Gabbard (SP): While Gabbard is no longer a prospect per se, he’s certainly a youngster who could surprise this season. After being acquired from Boston in exchange for Eric Gagne at the trade deadline, Gabbard was inserted into the Texas rotation, and he was very effective. Gabbard posted an excellent 6-1 record while maintaining a so-so 4.65 ERA. The most troublesome statistic of Gabbard’s was his 55/41 K/BB ratio. He’ll need to clean that up in order to thrive this season. Over the past two seasons Gabbard has shown flashes of great talent in limited opportunities. It seems as though he may already be the best pitcher on the Rangers’ staff. He’ll likely start the season at the back of the rotation, but I’d expect him to play a much more profound role as the season progresses.