With a month before spring training is underway and a little more than two before the season is underway, it's time to start looking ahead to 2016 story lines.
ESPN put together a list of the 10 most intriguing players in the AL West for the 2016 season — for different reasons — and two Rangers players made that list.
The No. 2 player on the list was pitcher Cole Hamels, who will be looked upon as the Rangers' ace at least until Yu Darvish returns from Tommy John hopefully by mid-May, and possibly longer if Darvish struggles to get back to pre-surgery form immediately. Hamels has a well-documented struggle against AL lineups and although he was good in his Rangers tenure after his trade to Arlington last year, it'll be interesting to see how he handles a full season in the AL.
Here's what David Schoenfield wrote about Hamels on ESPN.com:
If the Rangers are to challenge the Astros, they'll need a big year from their ace, given the unknown production from Yu Darvish as he returns at some point from Tommy John surgery. In 12 starts after coming over from the Phillies, Hamels went 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA, just above the 3.30 career ERA he had with the Phillies. Keep in mind that in recent years Hamels has toiled in a division with some of the worst offenses in the game. It will be interesting to see how he fares over a full season in the American League, especially considering that four of his 12 starts came against a weak-hitting Seattle lineup and his career ERA in interleague games is 4.74 over 33 starts.
In some regard, everyone knows about Hamels. I'm not sure he truly qualifies as intriguing, much like Schoenfield's No. 3 player on the list, Mike Trout. The Ranger I think is more intriguing is the No. 6 player on the list, Rougned Odor.
Schoenfield sums Odor's case up nicely, as the young second baseman had an awful month and a half before being demoted and recalled to become one of the best hitters in the AL.
He struggled early on, was sent to the minors, came back in mid-June and raked the rest of the season. Even with that slow start -- he was hitting .144 when sent down after 29 games -- he led major league second basemen in slugging percentage, as he hit .294/.334/.527 after his call-up. He swings hard but doesn't strike out excessively, and he's just turning 22. While he has some finer points of his game to work out -- defense, baserunning -- we saw in the postseason how this kid has that extra level of excitement and flair to his game, that "it" factor. He has the chance to be one of the best second basemen in the game.
Of course, all of these guys are chasing the No. 1 player on the list in Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, who looks like he'll be a thorn in the Rangers' side for the next 20 years.