2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Rangers hoping to bash their way to the playoffs again – CBSSports.com

We’re used to a flukey team sneaking into the playoffs every year, riding an unsustainable record in close games to a close finish in the standings, but the Rangers elevated this to an art form.

With 95 wins, they led the American League in 2016, and won their division by nine full games, despite posting the third-best run differential in their own division. Seven different teams finished with a better run differential in the AL than the Rangers, who nonetheless waltzed into the playoffs thanks to a 36-11 record in one-run games.

You can’t take that playoff appearance away from the Rangers, but they’re probably going to need to be better in 2016 to avoid a regression back to .500. And, if that is going to happen, it almost certainly needs to come with the offense taking another step forward. The pitching staff should be improved with a full season of Yu Darvish and the addition of Andrew Cashner, but if this team is going to go anywhere, it’s going to be on the strength of the bats.

The good news is that this is a lineup with plenty of bats that travel. There are question marks up and down the lineup, of course, but if everything clicks, it’s not hard to see this being one of the best lineups in baseball. Adrian Beltre, Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy set the floor pretty high for this group, while Jurickson Profar, Carlos Gomez, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo — more on the latter three shortly — give them the upside and high-variance that could make this lineup soar.

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Is Nomar Mazara ready to break out?

Mazara hit the ground running in his major-league career the way you would expect from one of baseball’s top hitting prospects, homering in his first major-league game and posting a .318/.367/.495 line in his first 50 games. And then he stumbled the rest of the season, the way you might expect from even an uber-talented 21-year-old. Mazara hit just .235/.292/.373 in his final 95 games.

The general assumption moving forward will likely be that Mazara can only go up from here. The talent level is so incredibly high, it’s going to be hard to slow him down now that he has his bearings. However, even amidst his slump, there are warning signs that Mazara might have some regression yet to come. His raw power is impressive, and it’s easy to see Mazara developing into a perennial 25-homer threat down the line. However, he sported just a 28.7 percent hard-hit rate last season, good for just 118th in baseball — just behind Scooter Gennett.

HR/FB ratio has a pretty strong correlation to hard-hit rate, so that is one real red flag for Mazara. You have to assume he’ll improve his skill set as he matures, but Mazara may not be quite the slam dunk power threat and run producer his rookie season suggests.

Was Carlos Gomez’s second half for real?

It’s hard to say definitively, but it really feels like the Rangers will go as Gomez does. A two-time All-Star, Gomez pulled out of a year-long slump following a trade to the Rangers in 2016, hitting .284/.362/.543 in 33 games with the Rangers. If he can sustain something even close to that — which isn’t far off his best seasons in Milwaukee — at the top of the lineup, this is going to be an impossible batting order to make it through.

However, that strong performance came on the heels of a 126-game stretch where Gomez hit just .221/.277/.342 in a good hitting environment in Houston. Maybe all he needed was a change of scenery, or maybe the Rangers found something mechanically they could fix in his swing that will make this stick. Or maybe he still struck out too much (27.7 percent K-rate), got a bit of unsustainable luck on balls in play (.347 BABIP), and just ran into a month of strong play. That happens sometimes, too.

At his best, Gomez was an elite Fantasy option, worthy of a late first-round pick. That he showed us that upside again, even for a month, makes him someone you’re going to want to take a shot on.

Should we still be waiting on Joey Gallo?

It’s hard to give up on a player like Gallo. The warning signs throughout his career have been bright and garish, far too great in number to ignore. However, his upside is equally hard to ignore. We’re talking about a player who has already accumulated well over 1,000 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A, with a combined .875 OPS and 69 homers in 257 games. This is a player who could lead the league in homers seven times in the next 10 seasons, or he could swing and miss his way out of the league.

Part of the problem with Gallo is the upside has looked diminished as he has climbed in the minors. Always strikeout prone, he was still a powerful presence early on his career, posting 1.003 OPS in his first three seasons spent in the lower minors. Despite striking out in more than one-third of his plate appearances, Gallo remained a dominant offensive force, largely because he homered a ridiculous once every 10.2 at-bats. His risk as a prospect was clear, but he managed to overcome it by simply overpowering minor-league competition.

He has still been good in the upper minors, but that certainly hasn’t been the case in his brief time in the majors. Still just 23, Gallo is nonetheless starting to look like a more fully-formed player, and what is coming into focus isn’t quite what we hoped it would be when he was developing.

There is still a future in the majors for a player like Gallo, but he’s looking more like Russell Branyan than Giancarlo Stanton on the spectrum of strikeout prone sluggers. He should get a chance to finally lock down a full-time role, and his power is impossible to ignore, but it is harder to get excited than it used to be.

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