Center field has belonged to Josh Hamilton over these last 5 wonderful years. It was his. Let’s face it: even though his final days with the Rangers could be considered anticlimactic, dull, and even perhaps a little bit sad — he was still one of ours. He still provided us as fans a multitude of memories that we will be able to cherish for the next few decades. As part of three great teams in the last three seasons of baseball, he was the greatest of them all. And we will all miss him in our own curious way.
To that, even though it’s assumed Leonys Martin will be the primary center fielder in Arlington to begin 2013, just one name does not suffice when considering the enormous shoes they will be filling. That’s why, for the first (and only) time on NolanWritin’s 30 Rangers In 30 Days feature, there will actually be a second name to accompany Martin, and that’s Craig Gentry.
When Gentry first saw action in 2009 and 2010, he was sparsely utilized, as his main contributions ran parallel with his two obvious prowesses: speed and defense. His burners easily grade out in the 80 range (on the 20-80 scouting scale), which, obviously also directly correlate to how much ground he can cover in the outfield. In just 64 games in 2011 (many of which he was thrown in as a late-inning defensive replacement), he saved nearly 8 runs according to FanGraphs Ultimate Zone Rating, stealing a perfect 18 bases in 18 attempts. He was so impressive that he even started against left-handed pitching during the postseason.
Last year, he was even more impressive, serving as the Rangers #1 CF option in the first half, you know, before David Murphy decided to go ape shit on American League pitching. By season’s end, he was just a rarely used 4th outfielder, even though his UZR was 10.0, and his batting line was a svelte .304/.367/.392 (105 wRC+).
Leonys Martin is not limited by the same “platoon” profile like Gentry is; he is only hamstrung by lack of experience. We would like to believe his overall skill set will translate from AAA (where last year he hit .359/.422/.610 in 260 plate appearances) to the big league level, but we’re simply left with his short sample of .174/.235/.370 in 52 PA’s last year with the Rangers. Texas cannot afford to coddle his transition period, because we really need the guy to produce, and produce quickly. His baptism to the big leagues will be by fire, which is the way we like it with these young guys.
Last season during Spring Training when the Rangers were juggling between Hamilton, Murphy, Gentry, and Nelson Cruz, I was a firm proponent to starting Gentry on an every day basis in center field. I’m curious how that would have altered the Rangers playoff outlook, but because of the whole space-time continuum thing, I’ll never know. Meh.
In 2013, there is no Josh Hamilton safety-net. We presumably have David Murphy and Nelson Cruz on either side of Leonys Martin (vs. RHP) or Craig Gentry (vs. LHP). Individually speaking, Martin is the far superior talent to Gentry. If Leonys proves early on he can handle Major League pitching at a prolific production pace, we will very likely see him in center field regardless of the opposing pitcher. In that case, Gentry will be floating around on the bench in his typical late-inning defensive-sub role. As it stands today, Gentry and Martin, respectively, are the Rangers’ two best defensive outfielders. They might not look particularly sexy on the offensive stat sheet, but if they can amicably man the position, we will be fine.
For what it’s worth, Bill James has Leonys Martin hitting a triple slash line of .286/.340/.451, with Gentry at .272/.332/.354. FanGraphs, on the other hand, has Martin at a similar .280/.340/.439, worth 2.4 fWAR; Gentry is pegged at .277/.345/.342, worth 2.3 fWAR.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I would take a collective 4.7 fWAR from those two any day of the week. My belief is that — at some point — Leonys Martin will seize the CF job for himself, which, in turn, will relegate Craig Gentry to the bench. However, by the time that happens, I will not be surprised if David Murphy will already have shit the bed against left-handed pitching, which would theoretically open a spot for Gentry to start against lefties. This may be wishful thinking, but it’s the way I see reality unfolding. Like I said, 4.7 fWAR from out center field tandem could be a stretch given how unproven Leonys Martin is at this stage, and how Craig Gentry may have plateaued, productivity-wise. Knowing that, I’m comfortable in my presupposition that our CF platoon will generate roughly 4.0 fWAR next year.