Michael Blair Choice isn’t making life easy on Texas Rangers’ brass during Spring Training. That’s actually a good thing.
Choice, 24-year old outfielder acquired by the Texas Rangers via trade with Oakland this past December for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom, is doing all he can to prove he can be the Texas Rangers’ fourth outfielder in 2014. The Rangers would rather him get every day at-bats in AAA Round Rock this year because they are set at all positions in the outfield, but they may not be able to ignore what he’s done this spring.
Choice enters play on Sunday hitting .389 with three doubles, one triple, two home runs and six RBIs in 36 at-bats. If there is anything concerning about his stat line, it would be that he has yet to draw a walk in 17 games played so far. On that same token, he has managed to score eight of the 14 times he has reached base.
The initial hope was that Engel Beltre, who is out of options, or Jim Adduci would be able to grab the fourth outfielder spot. Both have played well – Adduci more than Beltre – but the problem therein lies with the fact that they are both left-handed hitters in a Rangers’ outfield that is already left-handed heavy.
Choice’s production so far – combined with the fact that both Beltre and Adduci are left-handed – is making the decision difficult. The team has also been pleased with his ability to play all three outfield positions, which increases his value as the fourth outfielder even more.
Choice certainly has a future beyond 2014 in the outfield for the Rangers, which is why they were willing to add Gentry to the deal with Oakland to acquire him. He projects to be the future right fielder but, at the moment, the right field position is filled by Alex Rios.
Rios, 33, was acquired via trade last year from the Chicago White Sox to fill in for suspended Nelson Cruz. He can be a free agent at the end of this season, but the Rangers do hold a $13.5 million club option with a $1 million buyout on him for 2015. Choice’s development will certainly decide the fate of that decision.
Rios is currently a stopgap, but he is definitely a good stopgap to have.
If indeed Choice makes the Opening Day roster, the plan, initially, will be to platoon him with Mitch Moreland at DH against lefties. His availability off the bench will also allow manager Ron Washington to use him to give Rios, Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo days off. Wash will then be able to flex Rios and Choo to DH, keeping their bats in the lineup while giving them rest in the field.
Nothing is guaranteed, however. In a perfect world, everyone would be healthy and producing as they project to. But if Moreland, 28, starts out the season the way he finished last season, Choice may get many, many more at-bats at DH.
The point is, while it would be better for Choice himself to get every day at-bats at Round Rock, he may have more value in 2014 coming off the bench at the big league level.
The Rangers are in win-now mode, and Choice could help the team win more, right now, as the fourth outfielder on the 25-man roster.