Texas Rangers Spring Training Preview: Center Field
By David Cash
Sep 30, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers center fielderLeonys Martin
catches a ball hit by Tampa Bay Rays designated hitterDelmon Young
(not pictured) during the seventh inning at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Texas Rangers start spring training in little over 2 weeks now and the pieces to the 2014 team are coming together. For the 2014 season, more than likely nothing will change in center field.
Leonys Martin started the season on opening day as an every day player batting 9th in the lineup. Last year was a pretty good year defensively in center field with 11 assists and only 5 errors over 127 games. He had a defensive WAR of 1.7 and an offensive WAR of 1.9. Overall, it is easy to say Martin had a good year, but there is room for improvement.
Martin had a very good first half of the season with an batting line of .283/.336/.422/.758, but some inconsistencies in the second half caused his batting average to decline to a .238/.289/.348/.637.
When Leonys Martin was batting well during the first half of the season, he was just as effective as lead off hitter. Many times it was up to him to go to bat at the start of an inning and he would deliver.
During the 2013 season, Martin did earn his nickname the Cuban Missile with his arm in the center field. There several games where runners would try to advance from second base to third on a fly ball and he would be there to throw them out with the help of Adrian Beltre. At one point, the annoucners wondered if base runners would learn that you can make it to third if Leonys Martin has a play on the ball.
Even though Leonys Martin did struggle at the plate near the end of the season, only batting .239 in September, he easily made it up with his defense.
During the offseason, Martin spent some time in the Dominican Winter League getting some extra playing time to work on his at-bats. In the DWL, Martin appeared in 15 games and only managed to bat .170 over 53 at-bats. Even though his time in the DWL wasn’t great, Ron Washington still has faith in his center fielder. Before the Shin-Soo Choo signing, he was going to put Leonys Martin in at the lead off spot. Martin did get some at-bats in the lead off spot in the DWL, but after the Choo signing, he’ll be batting 9th again in the 2014 season.
But for Leonys Martin, again, the 9th spot for him is sometimes as good as the lead off spot.
For the 2014 season, Leonys Martin will be the primary center fielder, but Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland and Alex Rios are likely to get some playing time in center field. Over the years, Choo and Rios have played center from time to time. Also, Ron Washington has repeatedly said that the club is going to find a spot for Moreland and that Moreland has been preparing himself for any role the Texas Rangers ask him to do. He’s also been getting ready for the outfield so it is likely he’ll play in the outfield when players need rest.
When the Texas Rangers go into spring training in just a few weeks, they’ll be looking to Leonys Martin to be more consistent at the plate and to continue his strong defensive play. In my opinion I would expect him to do better than he did in the second half of last season.
But if Leonys Martin continues to struggle at the plate, that might give another player on the Texas Rangers a chance to step up. For example, the Rangers do have Michael Choice who is one of the top prospects in the league (Ranked number 72 overall for 2014). I’m not suggesting that the Rangers will quickly replace Martin, but there could be a time in the 2014 season that Choice is given a chance to play left field or center field. When Choice is given that chance, he’ll do his best to display his power at the plate and in the outfield. But for now, center field and every day playing is Martin’s. In just a few short weeks we’ll get to see how well he’ll do. Hopefully we’ll see more of the Martin we say last year in the first half.
Go get you ready for the season, check out a great clip of Leonys Martin below.