I realized something last night: I've spent time breaking down nearly every roster spot for the Texas Rangers heading into the 2016, and of that time, I've spent virtually none of it discussing Rougned Odor. It's time that changes.
Odor, who heads into his age-22 season, comes in as the incumbent 2nd baseman. It's not even a debate. At this point last year, there was at least a little bit of talk that Jurickson Profar might be able to step back into the role he was intended to have in 2014, but that talk was quickly derailed when it was revealed that he would need to miss yet another season due to recurring shoulder issues.
Although the shoulder issues are believed to be a thing of the past for Profar, he'll open the season at Triple-A Round Rock to get acclimated to playing everyday once again. Meanwhile, Odor will be the first point of stability at 2nd base since Ian Kinsler.
Odor's 2015 season started out rough, as he never really got on track and put up a .144/.252/.233 line that got him demoted to Triple-A on May 11. He was recalled on June 15 after doing some damage to minor league pitching for a little over a month. Furthermore, he made some mechanical changes that ended up helping his cause. From Beyond the Box Score's Spencer Bingol, an image that shows Odor's open stance in April 2015 on the left, and a more closed stance against the same pitcher and stadium in September.
Next, from the same piece, Spencer showed a more pronounced leg kick that was apparently implemented to help with timing.
Of course, adjustments only work if the results bear that out, and that they did. It's worth noting that Odor's pre-demotion BABIP was .188, so his struggles were at least partially caused by plain old bad luck, but when a 21 year old infielder struggles, it's not usually advisable to just try to let them hit their way out of it in on a Major League club.
So as to not let BABIP obfuscate things, it's important to know that Odor's pre-demotion strikeout rate was 24.3%. That's the sort of territory that Texas can only hope Joey Gallo works his way down to, but Rougned Odor doesn't have the same prodigious power that Gallo possesses.
Upon his return on June 15, Odor proceeded to put together one of the strongest seasons on the club. His post-demotion line of .292/.334/.527 was eye-popping, but made even more impressive by the fact that even coupled with his early-season struggles, Odor managed to put up a WAR of 1.9, according to Baseball-Reference.
His strikeout rate after returning from Triple-A was 14.7%, which is considered well above-average. Thanks to what we know about sample sizes, there's every reason to believe that whatever changes Rougned Odor made during his demotion were very real.
Perhaps no player in Texas has higher fan expectations heading into the 2016 than Odor. Not only was his play fantastic upon his return, but his boisterous personality has placed him in a group with players like Josh Donaldson and Ian Kinsler; players you love when they're on your team, but you hate/respect on another team.
Many in the media have even gone as far as predicting that Odor will be the best 2nd baseman in all of baseball as early as this season. That's high praise for a young man who hasn't yet been able to legally drink for two years. There are even fans forecasting an MVP season from the 2nd baseman. So, how realistic is that?
Odor ended up having a fantastic season in 2015, but still left some things to be desired. For starters, he still needs a little bit of work on defense. That tends to come with age and experience, so you can likely expect him to be better than his -7 defensive runs saved (DRS) figure from 2015.
The baserunning is still a bit of an unknown. While he stole 32 bases between two levels in 2013, he only has 10 so far in his Major League career. While swiping 6 bags in 2015, he was caught 7 times. While it would take more time than you likely care to look at break-even points for stolen bases, a 72-75% success rate is necessary for stolen bases to begin providing value to the club. So as you can imagine, getting caught more often than not is actually taking value -- and thereby runs -- away from the Rangers.
The biggest flaw still remaining in Rougned Odor's game is his walk rate. His 4.9% figure in 2015 is considered to be mostly awful, and is something he'll need to work harder to fix. Back when Ian Kinsler was arguably the catalyst for the 2011 Rangers, his walk rate was 12.3% as he drew 89 walks. I'm not saying Odor necessarily needs to even come close to that number, but a more respectable 6.5-8% would go a long way toward his game.
The most important factor here is that Odor has now shown he can hit for power at the Major League level. At various points, pitchers will begin pitching him differently, and it will be incumbent on him to adjust and take what is given to him -- in this case, more walks.
This is all a very long-winded way of me saying that I don't believe Rougned Odor will be an MVP candidate. At least not this season. And there's nothing wrong with that.
ZiPS projects Odor to post up a 2.3 WAR for the entirety of 2016. It's important to note that ZiPS expects him to actually regress defensively. I'm not sure what the basis is there, but it's probably the main point of the projection I'd disagree with most. PECOTA feels about the same way, with a projected WARP -- calculated a bit differently -- of 3.2. Both projections have Rougned Odor finishing roughly just as valuable as he was in 2015 in terms of wins above replacement.
At the very least, Rougned Odor showed in 2015 that he has the hit tool to stick at the Major League level. While there are some areas he needs to polish up, they fall more on the "fixable" end of the spectrum.
Changes can sometimes require a good deal of patience, and while Odor has already cemented himself as a fan-favorite, it's important to remember that he's only 22 years old. Not every player can be Mike Trout or Bryce Harper at that age, but that doesn't mean that Rougned Odor doesn't have the potential to be an MVP candidate in the future. Regardless, Odor figures to be one of the most important pieces to the Rangers in 2016 as the club attempts to win the AL West for a second straight season.