It's been a quiet offseason, to say the least. That point has been hammered home by everyone by now, from the national writers, the beat writers and even our own Eric Reining a few days ago. As Eric noted at length, any significant trades that Texas makes heading into the 2015 season should, and likely will, focus on pitching rather than offense. And really, it appears by all signs that the organization agrees with that assessment.
One of the other needs that has been widely talked about for Texas has been the need of a corner outfielder. The thought has been that while Leonys Martin will remain in center, and Shin-Soo Choo will man one of the other slots, there wasn't a ton of optimism about throwing a guy like Mitch Moreland into that kind of role on a full-time basis.
Then names like Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers all headed to San Diego, where former Texas man A.J. Preller is putting together a fantasy baseball lineup in the outfield that would be the envy of even some of the smaller fantasy leagues around. Those are all names that would have bolstered the outfield for Texas, but likely would have required parting with some talent that the organization hopes will help put (and keep) the ball club in contention over the next few seasons.
Perhaps beyond just that, I've been thinking over the last few days, and got myself wondering if, perhaps, the Rangers being silent on the trade market for big-name bats is more of a sign of confidence than an unwillingness to part with the talent that would be required to obtain the services of one of those big-name bats. Yes, I'm talking about Ryan Rua.
Rua has been a mostly-overlooked prospect since the Rangers took him in the 17th round in 2011 because of his age. By the time the season starts, he'll be 25, which has led to him being mostly dismissed by, it seems, everyone but the Texas organization.
Though an infielder when he was drafted and while coming up through the minors, when Texas promoted him to Triple-A Round Rock, they began playing him in the outfield exclusively. When he got his first dose of Major League action beginning at the end of August last season, Rua played the majority of his defensive innings in left field. He's also put on weight in recent years, moving up from 188 to the 200+ range, an effort that lends some credibility to the thought that he could potentially be good for 15-25 homers a season in the Major Leagues.
At the time of his call-up, I opined that I felt like Rua might actually be an easier player to project than someone like Joey Gallo, who certainly brings his own risk of "miss" due to his strikeout rate. I also felt like he was auditioning for the 2015 club. Both opinions, judging by the comments section of that post, were mostly thought of as my own. That is, not many shared my level of optimism on Rua. Yet, here we are in 2015, and I can't help but be even more optimistic that my favorite baseball team appears to be showing some measure of faith in a mostly unheralded player.
Rua's 109 plate appearances in 2014 are by no means indicative of any sort of long-term success, but by posting up a wRC+ of 104, he at least left a good first impression. When you consider that Shin-Soo Choo -- who is a good bet for a bounceback season in 2015 -- and Jake Smolinski were the only two other outfielders to post up a wRC+ of 100 or more, there's definitely a reason, however small it might be, to be optimistic about Rua.
While 109 plate appearances isn't nearly enough to project an entire offensive arsenal, strikeout and walk rates tend to stabilize a bit more quickly, at about 60 and 120 plate appearances, respectively. A 16.5% strikeout rate would put Rua above league average, while his 1.8% walk rate would grade as, according to FanGraphs awful. With those things being said, nothing is set in stone, and a stabilization in both areas -- a regression in strikeout rate and an improvement in walk rate -- would potentially make Rua a valuable asset to be an everyday player in 2015.
Jake Smolinski and Michael Choice are both players that could earn a shot at the job, or at least some sort of platoon. However, given the abysmal debut season for Choice in Texas and Smolinski's smaller stature, injury issues, and strikeout concerns, Rua would seem to be the "safer" choice heading into Spring Training.
Then again, like Eric mentioned in his post, this could all be moot if Texas goes out tomorrow and acquires Bryce Harper. That said, I don't see that scenario -- or any of the other more likely scenarios that would net Texas an established and valuable outfielder -- coming to pass. And with each passing day, while acknowledging that pitching is indeed the biggest area of need for the Texas Rangers right now, it becomes all the more likely that Texas is willing to head into Spring Training and give Ryan Rua a chance to earn a spot on the 2015 club.