Prince Fielder is dead to me after signing with the Tigers therefore I want to look at the center field position for the Texas Rangers. As it seems right now the Rangers will have Nelson Cruz in right field and Josh Hamilton in left field. There is not a single player at this time that will play the entire year in center. But this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, since with the health issues of Hamilton and Cruz a built in outfield platoon could add much needed depth. The two players that will likely start in the outfield are Craig Gentry and David Murphy. Others that may see time in center field will be Julio Borbon, Leonys Martin and Mitch Moreland.
There is no reason why the Rangers should go and find another outfield player to shore up the outfield this year. Just because two players may share responsibility for a position does not make the team weaker at that position. In fact I would argue that the presence of two players at a position make that position stronger since both players get to see regular time playing.
Craig Gentry became a Ranger via the 10th round of the 2006 MLB draft out of the University of Arkansas. This will be his fourth season to see some playing time in the majors. His career offensive production is .246/.314/.306/ His 2011 numbers were higher at .271/.347/.346. This shows considerable growth by the 28 year old at the plate. Gentry is not going to be a big bat having scored his only career homerun in 2012, but he is more than serviceable for the Rangers. Gentry is a defensive minded player showing an impressive .990 fielding percent in center field for 2011 and for his career.
David Murphy joined the Rangers on July 31, 2007 trade between the Boston Red Sox and the Rangers that sent Eric Gagne and cash to Boston in exchange for Murphy, Engel Beltre and Kason Gabbard. Murphy was Boston’s 1st round pick and 17th overall pick in the 2003 MLB draft. 2012 with be Murphy’s 6th years in Ranger Red, White and Blue. His 2011 offensive numbers were .278/.328/.401 with 404 at bats. He had a down year compared to his career numbers of .280/.339/.447 as well as one of the least productive years while as a Ranger. The left handed power he brings to the platoon in center field with Gentry make him a better choice in certain games while Gentry’s speed make him a more obvious choice in others.
Now it’s time to take a look at two of the other contenders to play center field for the Rangers, Leonys Martin and Julio Borbon. The third, Mitch Moreland has been discussed ad naseum in previous posts that I would highly recommend you read.
Leonys Martin is a 23 year old Cuban defector who is going to be a star in the majors. The Rangers made a splash by signing Martin in an international free agent contract on May 4, 2011. His contract was for 5 years and $15.5 million along with a $5 million signing bonus. Martin defected from Cuba during a 2010 FISU event. After signing in 2011 he played for three different minor league clubs and had a brief stint in the big league club. While playing for Villa Clara in the top Cuban League during 2008-2009 he posted a stat line of .311/.492/.491.
Since becoming a Ranger Martin was given a brief stay in the Arizona League Rangers before jumping to the AA Frisco RoughRiders. At Frisco he played 29 games and had 112 at bats. He had more than a handle on the pitchers at that level and had offensive production of .348/.435/.571 along with 10 stolen bases that show off his speed. His ability in the outfield was expressed with a .982 fielding percentage with 4 errors.
Following his plus output in Frisco he was promoted quickly to AAA Round Rock Express on July 10, 2011 where he spent the majority of the year. In 40 games and 175 at bats he had offensive production of .263/.316/.314 with 9 stolen bases. As shown by his numbers he had a harder time at this level than at AA. He also spent 8 games and had 8 at bats with the Rangers late in the year. He will be in spring training with the Rangers, but I would expect that he would spend at least half of the 2012 season in Round Rock unless something terrible happens with Gentry and Murphy.
Julio Borbon became a Ranger via the 1st round of the 2007 draft out of the University of Tennessee. The 25 year old Dominican native had his first game for the Rangers on June 29, 2009. He was the starting center fielder at the beginning of 2011 but was shut down in the majors after 32 games for injury but he did not return due to the fact that he had performed at a less than spectacular level. His offensive production in the majors was .270/.305/.348 with 89 at bats. For the remainder of the year he was with AAA Round Rock Express where he hit at .298/.376/.435 in 131 at bats and 25 stolen bases. During his time in Round Rock he reinjured himself and recently after a winter ball game he reported via Twitter that he had some pain from his ankle again. Borbon has the talent to compete for the opening day center field position but he has got to deal with his injury issues as well being consistent on the field.
I am very confident with the stable of players available for center field that this position will not be an issue for the Rangers. Also I believe that if he performs up to expectations that centerfield will be the daily home of Leonys Martin in 2013. This will free up a number of players to come off the bench and be able to play across the outfield and give some much needed player depth.