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How a rookie making MLB debut stole spotlight from world champion Rangers

(AP photo/Lindsey Wasson)

 

ARLINGTON — Returning to the Texas Rangers this season from their magical run to the World Series are all six of their 2023 All-Stars, three Gold Glove winners and two other finalists, the kid outfielder who was dubbed the team’s “Little Savior” and four of the five starters who pitched the Rangers to into contention.

The Rangers added two former All-Star closers and will welcome back two starters at some point this season who have won a combined five Cy Young awards. Their manager has won four World Series.

A World Series banner will be unveiled on Opening Day, and the 2023 holdovers will receive their World Series rings Saturday.

Yet, since roughly two weeks before spring training, the talk of the Rangers has been a player who has exactly as many major-league at-bats as a newborn baby.

“A kid who was playing for the Florida Gators not too long ago,” manager Bruce Bochy said.

That, too.

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At 22, Wyatt Langford is a baseball baby. He won’t be the youngest player in the Rangers’ Opening Day lineup, a distinction that goes to the aforementioned savior, Evan Carter.

But Langford, the Rangers’ first-round pick (fourth overall) in last year’s draft, will make his MLB debut tonight with only 161 professional at-bats and only 19 at Triple A. Despite the inexperience, the Rangers brought him to big-league camp and were convinced that he would have to completely fail to not make the team.

Of course, they were convinced that he would do exactly what he did — chew up spring training.

Now, he’s a sure-fire Rookie of the Year front-runner, and the Rangers might have a budding superstar on their roster.

“Just watching him, he loves baseball, he loves what he does,” said third baseman Josh Jung, who roomed with Langford during spring training. “You can’t ask for anything more from a teammate. He bangs. A lot of homers. He’s got a lot of muscle in there. He’s got the potential to be really good.”

Langford led Rangers big-leaguers this spring in (take a deep breath here) at-bats (63), hits (23), runs (14) home runs (6), RBIs (20), total bases (45), average (.365), slugging percentage (.714) and OPS (1.137).

The hits, RBIs and total bases led all of baseball, and the slugging percentage was second.

He surprised some with his ability to be a pure hitter and control an at-bat against the best pitchers he’d ever faced, even if it was spring training. He impressed with his speed and improved defensively. His teammates love him, as he works hard but quietly goes about his business as rookies are often encouraged to do.

Not even Langford seemed surprised last week when he was told he had made the team.

“I feel like I’ve gone out there and done what I’ve always done,” he said.

His teammates weren’t surprised either.

“It wasn’t an if, it was, ‘When are they going to tell you?'” Carter said. “‘Are you looking for a house yet?’

“Imagine being so good at hitting at 22 that they’re putting you at DH. It’s kind of crazy.”

The Rangers will play Langford in left field, though Carter, Leody Taveras and Adolis Garcia give the Rangers their best outfield defensive alignment.

An outfield of Langford, Carter and Garcia could be deployed by Bochy as he gives Jung and Corey Seager, still working into game shape after missing almost all of spring training, days at designated hitter to get them off their feet. Langford, Taveras and Carter would play left to right when Garcia gets a DH day or a day off.

Nothing on the field or off it, like the media or the hype, seems to bother Langford.

“You’ve just got to take it day by day,” he said. “You’ve got to come to the field every day and just do the best you can to get better that day.”

As the media is apt to do, they are already pinning lofty comparisons on Langford. It doesn’t come any higher than Angels outfielder and three-time American League MVP Mike Trout.

They are of similar build, like a linebacker, and can fly down the base paths. Langford hit tape-measure homers last season at Florida and also hits for average.

“You see it a little bit,” Bochy said. “Let’s give the kid some time. With Mike, you’re talking about the best player in the game for a long, long time.”

Langford will have highs and lows, as all hitters do. He even had some in spring training, when he was one of the best players in all of baseball despite never having taken an MLB at-bat.

That changes tonight.

“He checked off every box to make this team,” Bochy said.

Jeff Wilson, jeff@rangerstoday.com

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Jeff Wilson

Sports reporter for two decades. Sports fan for life. Covers the Texas Rangers. Graduate of TCU. Colorado native. Author of Purple Passion: TCU Football Legends (https://t.co/2fmXLyympx). Follow me on Twitter at @JeffWilsonTXR

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1 Comment

  1. deGrom Texas Ranger March 28, 2024

    Langford strikes me as the type who would be disappointed he was “only” second in slugging percentage and would work to get in first place. i love his overall mentality. He also has a similar story to that of Adrian Beltre when he was hit in a very sensitive region and got through it pretty quickly.

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