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Rangers Spring Training quick hits

Rangers Spring Training quick hits

2006 record
80-82, third place, American League West

Projected batting order
1. CF Kenny Lofton:
  .301 BA, 79 R, 32 SB with Dodgers in 2006
2. LF Frank Catalanotto:
  .300 BA, 7 HR, 56 RBI with the Blue Jays in 2006
3. SS Michael Young:
  .314 BA, 14 HR 103 RBI in 2006
4. 1B Mark Teixeira:
  .305 BA, 33 HR, 108 RBI in 2006
5. DH Sammy Sosa:
  Did not play in 2006.
6. 3B Hank Blalock:
  .266 BA, 16 HR, 89 RBI in 2006
7. RF Nelson Cruz:
  .223 BA, 6 HR, 23 RBI in 2006
8. C Gerald Laird:
  .296 BA, 7 HR, 22 RBI in 2006
9. 2B Ian Kinsler:
  .286 BA, 14 HR, 55 RBI in 2006

Projected rotation
1. Kevin Millwood, 16-12, 4.52 ERA in 2006
2. Vicente Padilla, 15-10, 4.50 ERA in 2006
3. Brandon McCarthy, 4-7, 4.68 ERA for the White Sox in 2006
4. Robinson Tejeda, 5-5, 4.28 ERA in 2006
5. Josh Rupe, 0-1, 3.41 ERA in 2006

Projected bullpen
Closer: Eric Gagne, 1 save, 0.00 ERA in 2006
RH setup man: Akinori Otsuka, 32 saves, 2.11 ERA in 2006
LH setup man: C.J. Wilson, 4.06 ERA in 2006

The new guys
Marlon Byrd: Former Phillies center fielder, he gives the Rangers a right-handed platoon option in CF with Lofton.

Catalanotto: Could play LF or DH. Average defender at best, but gives the Rangers an on-base guy at the top of the lineup but will likely sit against lefties.

Lofton: The Rangers are looking for speed and defense in center at the top of the order, but he is also 39. The Rangers will likely limit him to 100-120 games to keep him fresh.

McCarthy: Rangers traded three Minor League pitchers for a guy who was a reliever for the White Sox, but is expected to be a front-line starter.

Sosa: He has 588 career home runs but did not play in 2006. He is 38 and will likely be used as a DH. Needs to show he can still hit right-handed pitching.

Prospects to watch
Joaquin Arias: Terrific defensive shortstop but he is blocked by Young. The Rangers are going to look at him in center field for a possible position change.

Thomas Diamond: A 12-game winner at Double-A Frisco, he'll be at Triple-A Oklahoma. Good fastball, but needs to refine other pitches to get his pitch count down.

Eric Hurley: He was the Rangers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2006. He will likely start at Double-A Frisco, but is rising quickly through the system.

Returning from injury
Gagne: The 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner pitched in just 16 games over the past two years because of back and elbow injuries. The Rangers believe he is healthy again and ready to close.

Brad Wilkerson: Coming back from shoulder surgery. If he's healthy, he could regain his spot as the Rangers starting left fielder.

On the rebound
Blalock: His OPS has gone from .872 in 2003 to .726 in 2006. He had shoulder surgery after the season. Manager Ron Washington has made him his personal project and says he plans on using Blalock every day rather than sitting him against some lefties.

Long gone
Rod Barajas: The Rangers' No. 1 catcher over the past three years. The Rangers made little attempt to re-sign him because they think Laird is ready to be their No. 1 catcher.

Mark DeRosa: An invaluable utility man, he had a career year in 2006 and signed with the Cubs to be their everyday second baseman.

Adam Eaton: He missed almost four months because of finger surgery, then won seven games down the stretch. But the Rangers weren't interested in giving him a three-year deal.

Carlos Lee: He gave the Rangers a big bat in the middle of the lineup but they weren't interested in giving him a huge contract.

Gary Matthews Jr.: Had the best season ever by a Rangers center fielder and was their Player of the Year. The Angels signed him for five years and $55 million.

Eric Young: Former frontline second baseman, he hardly played much for the Rangers. A great person, but his career has drawn to a close.

2006 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg: Lee, .322
OBP: Teixeira, Matthews, .371
SLG: Lee, .525
Runs: Matthews, 102
RBI: Teixeira, 110
Hits: Young, 217
2B: Young, 52
3B: Matthews, 6
HR: Teixeira, 33
SB: Kinsler, 11
2006 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Millwood, 215
W: Millwood, 16
L: Millwood, 12
Win %: Rick Bauer, .750
S: Otsuka, 32
ERA: Wes Littleton, 1.73
K: Millwood, 157
K/9: Francisco Cordero, 9.99
WHIP: Littleton, 0.99

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Will Gagne and Sosa be healthy?
If they are, the Rangers will be dancing in the streets. Gagne appears healthy after two years of injuries. Spring Training will tell if Sosa, 38, has anything left in his game.

POLL
Who will be the fifth starter?
John Koronka
Kameron Loe
John Rheinecker
Jamey Wright
Josh Rupe
Edinson Volquez
2. Will Ron Washington make a difference as manager?
Everybody thinks so. Washington has passion, energy and 36 years of professional baseball experience. He has made a deeply positive impression on just about everybody who has come in contact with him, especially his players. He believes the Rangers will win right away.

3. How good is the pitching?
Much depends on McCarthy and Tejeda, two young pitchers with terrific talent. They need to put together full seasons in the middle of the rotation. But the Rangers do have some starting pitching depth to take advantage of at the back end of the rotation. If Gagne is healthy, this could be the Rangers' best bullpen since 1999.

The bottom line
The Rangers have eight players who have been All-Stars in their careers. They have a Cy Young winner and a Most Valuable Player winner. They have a batting title winner, a stolen base title winner and a home run champion. They also have serious questions about age and injuries, and they have some key young players who have yet to establish themselves at the Major League level. There are a lot of "ifs," which means this team could see a drastic swing up or down.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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