NEW YORK – With their top two executives along for the final road trip of the year, the Rangers have started conducting end-of-season exit interviews for their players.
The message for the youngest of the 54 players to appear for them this year: You’ve grown a lot, Leody Taveras.
Also: Don’t expect nearly as easy a road to the majors in 2022.
“There is still a lot of promise and we believe in him in the long-term,” president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said Tuesday, an hour after he, GM Chris Young and manager Chris Woodward met with Taveras. “But we hope to come into camp next year with him having to come to camp to compete for a job. And we are hoping that he comes in with an uphill battle for one.”
In other words: They won’t get fooled again.
But first: Tuesday’s details. Joey Gallo homered against his former teammates in the Yankees’ 7-1 win. It was the Rangers’ 96th loss of the year, their most since 1985 when they lost 99. There are still 11 games left in the season. Enough about that.
The intent is to add an outfielder to the long offseason shopping list. Could be a right fielder with Adolis García able to slide over to center. Could be a center fielder. Taveras won’t go to camp as the favorite to win the job as he did this year.
A year ago, with the COVID-shortened season a wreck and the roster restricted, the Rangers gave Taveras a late-season look although he’d had only 65 professional games above Class A and hadn’t put together a .700 OPS for a full season anywhere.
The feeling was: Some MLB exposure was better than no playing experience whatsoever for the year. He survived for a little more than a month, posting a .703 OPS for the season. And the Rangers perhaps overestimated the performance. They all but cleared the path for him to open the 2021 season as the regular center fielder.
It was a mistake. Taveras, who didn’t turn 23 until Sept. 8, simply wasn’t ready. He hit .087 for the first three weeks, was returned to the minors and didn’t get a recall until late August. He’s been better, but then again, the benchmark wasn’t high.
“A lot of us were hoping he would perform right out the chute,” Woodward said. “We knew there was a chance, being this age and with a lack of experience that there could be regression there from last year. And there was. But I feel like he was a better player when he came back. He had to learn a lot this year.
“He’s getting valuable experience and he’s handled it like a pro,” Woodward added. “There’s been no pouting. He brings great energy. He’s open to dialogue, accepts criticism and wants to grow. We’ve seen a ton of growth.”
There is still a ton more to grow. That has again been on display during the Yankees series.
He made a bad attempt at a throw home Monday when he had no chance to get the runner. The throw allowed runners to move up an extra base and ultimately led to the decisive run scoring. On Tuesday, he seemed to glide toward Aaron Judge’s fly to deep center, but mistimed a jump, turning it into a double. Anthony Rizzo, the runner on base, had been so sure that Taveras was going to catch it, he’d turned, re-tagged second and was headed back to first when the ball landed past Taveras. Rizzo ended up scoring the Yankees’ first run.
That said, those are rookie mistakes. Taveras has been strong defensively. His roster spot will not be determined by defense. It is an asset.
The real work must come on offense. He must winnow down his chase rate. He entered the day striking out 34 percent of the time this year. In each of his first two at-bats Tuesday – both strikeouts – he chased pitches well below the zone. He has walked only six times this season.
It’s led to a .204 OBP for plate appearances. In the DH Era, since 1973, only 10 players have had at least 150 plate appearances in a season and an OBP of less than .200.
But then he finished the night by lining a Luis Severino fastball into the gap in right center for a double. It was his 11th extra-base hit in 24 games since returning. When he stays in the strike zone, he impacts the baseball.
“My message was: Stay in the strike zone, be really consistent with the swing from both sides of the plate,” Woodward said. “Put the ball in play. Be a line-drive hitter first. The power will come. He can impact the game on the bases and in the outfield. He’s got a chance to be an elite player. That’s what he’s got to understand going into next year.”
Even so, the Rangers have learned their lesson.
Right-hander Kohei Arihara, designated for assignment over the weekend, cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Round Rock. Arihara, 29, could have elected free agency, but would have forfeited the guaranteed portion of his contract for 2022 had he done so.
Arihara, who came over from Japan, signed a two-year deal worth $6.2 million with the Rangers after they won the “posting” process last winter. He is signed for $2.6 million for 2022. Arihara had a 2.21 ERA after four outings but has an 11.07 and a 1.184 opponents OPS in six outings since. He also missed nearly four months recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.