Tell Me Who’s Playing Left Field. No! Who’s on First.
Sep 24, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Ryan Rua (right) celebrates with left fielder Jake Smolinski (middle) and third baseman Adrian Beltre (29) after hitting a three run home run against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In the classic Abbott and Costello bit, Who’s on First, Why is in left field. The question of today: Who is going to play left field for the Rangers in 2015? We know who’s on first next year. Prince Fielder is one of the last of my worries, but that is for another day. I’m going to take a look at which players might earn 25 man roster spots in the outfield.
On the opening day roster there are 25 spots. Five of these spots are for starting pitchers, let’s say the Rangers decide to go with an eight man bullpen. Then you subtract four infielders, then two more spots for the DH and utility infielder and you are left with 5 spots for outfielders. Subtract one outfield spot for Leonys Martin as your every day centerfielder, and another for Shin Soo Choo. All signs are pointing towards the Rangers not exercising the $13.5 million club option for Alex Rios in 2015. Instead the Rangers will most likely use the $1 million buyout. I’ve thought since the beginning of the season that if the Rangers could find a cheaper third option in the outfield besides Alex Rios without a huge drop off in production that they would let Rios go. Don’t misinterpret my meaning by thinking that Alex Rios is a bad player. He is a great player to have on your team and in the club house. Rios is a solid veteran presence who plays the game the right way and does many things well. Even though he was injured throughout the majority of the 2014 season, Rios did not do the things well that make him a very underrated player. He was not a threat on the bases like last year, and offensively it was a tale of 2 seasons for Rios. At the All Star break Rios had already hit all of his home runs and triples, 4 and 8, and had stolen all but one of his total bases for the season. Rios was also hitting .305. After the break, his numbers nosedived into hitting .211 with 9 doubles in 128 at bats. Though Rios was a solid player during his 178 games as a Ranger, the team could use that $12.5 million for a premium power bat (or more likely another starting pitcher).
Now with Rios gone, Shin Soo Choo can go back to playing his most natural position of Right Field. This leaves left field open for 2 leading candidates: Ryan Rua, and Jake Smolinksi. Let’s start with the older of the two.
Jake Smolinski (aka Smo money Smo problems): This is what came out of my mouth after Jake hit his first career home run off of the A’s Scott Kazmir. Mr. Smolinski is a testament to not believing small sample sizes. Yes Jake hit .349 as a rookie and that’s exciting but he had less than 100 plate appearances so let’s not get too giddy just yet. The highest Smo hit for a full season outside of rookie ball was .283. The most prominent tool in his tool box at this point is his above average right handed power. His numbers against left handers were incredible in a tiny sample this year: 21 at bats, 10 hits, 2 doubles and 2 homers. That’s a slash line of .476/.500/.857. Jaw dropping but still and itty bitty sample size. Smo also hit over .300 against righties in 65 at bats which is nice to see in a 25 year old rookie. Defensively he can play both corner outfield spots well as you can see with this impressive diving catch against the Angels. If I were a betting man I’d put money on Jake Smolinski being on the opening day roster for the Rangers, but anything can happen because baseball is the most unpredictable sport I’ve ever seen.
Ryan Rua is a valuable asset and an easy dude to cheer for. When a 17th round pick makes it to The Show, it is a huge credit to that player’s hard work and to the organization as a whole. I’ve been aboard the Rua train since he clubbed 29 bombs in Hickory and led Joey Gallo in the home run race in 2013 before his 2 level jump to Frisco. Rua’s greatest asset is also his right handed power but a close second is his versatility. In 4 minor league seasons, Rua played at least 10 games at every defensive position except center field, catcher, and right field. Ryan only struck out 18 times in his 109 plate appearances. Though he only walked twice in the bigs, Rua has put up good walk rates in the minors. Lefties were no match against Rua in his 31 at bats. His slash line against them was .387/.406/.516. Against righties Rua was still solid hitting .257 in 74 at bats. Both of his home runs came against right handed pitchers this season. This bomb I was fortunate enough to be in attendance to bear witness, and it made a heck of a crack leaving his bat. My big plus for Rua is that he has figured it out at every level. He hit .300 or better this year at both Frisco and Round Rock with over 50 games at each stop. Fundamentally, Ryan Rua is sound at the plate and offers you at least average defense at 4 positions. Rua is a smart guy and I, along with many others who have watched him, believe that he will figure it out at this level as well. I’d love to see him earn the right during spring training to be the Rangers every day left fielder. If he doesn’t do that, I’m sure he will still have a spot on the roster with all he brings to the table.
This last guy who I think might start in left field for the Rangers opening day, or maybe right field, is someone you all know very well. It’s someone who I think most of you remember fondly save for one horrible gut wrenching memory and miss. He has a boomstick.
Yes Nelson Cruz. Come on home big boy. There are several reasons why this makes sense. The first of which is that Cruz left the team on very good terms. Nelson declined the Rangers $15.3 million qualifying offer and ended up taking a one year $8 million deal with the Orioles. It was established that Cruz was going to play mostly DH and sparingly in the outfield. Cruz didn’t like this idea so he tried to find a team that would let him play most days in the outfield. Instead, Nelson was the DH in 89 games for the O’s this year and played only 70 games in the outfield and was pulled defensively in 29 games. Though he led the MLB in homers this year and hit over 30 for only the second time in his career, his season is not all that much different from his pre all star break 2013. Cruz was the life force of the 2013 offense before his 50 game suspension for PED use. Throughout his 8 years with the Rangers Cruz only played in 120 or more games 3 times. Playing Cruz for a large portion of the season at DH will keep him off those gimpy hamstrings which have caused him so much trouble and also allow you to have a lighter hitting better fielding outfielder in his place. The catch for landing this big fish in the free agent pool is that whoever gets him will have to overpay. Cruz will want a multi year deal and it might take as much as 4 years to sign the 34 year old and at $18 million a year it won’t be cheap. Cruz still loves the Texas fans, front office, and former teammates as he has said many times. All the aforementioned parties still love him too. Since power hitters are such a premium in today’s market, I wouldn’t be shocked to see JD and the front office go all in for a long term deal on a guy who has proven he can carry a team and also is unbelievably good in the postseason. I know y’all remember
. Who wouldn’t want this guy back on their team?
Others who have a shot at making the roster as an outfielder are Daniel Robertson and Jared Hoying. The 29 year old Pepper Pot Daniel Robertson made his MLB debut this year 6 years after the Padres took him in the 33rd round of the draft. This speedy man played all 3 outfield positions extremely well and played every single play at 150%. He stole bases, robbed extra base hits, and took extra bases on the basepaths with reckless abandon. I loved watching him fight and scrap for every second of playing time because he acted like every play could be his last. Robertson will likely be rewarded for his valiant efforts in a lost season with a roster spot in 2015. Jared Hoying was second in Ranger farm hands in home runs to only Joey Gallo. Hoying played all 3 defensive outfield positions incredibly well and swiped 20 bags to boot. Jared is a nice power and speed kind of guy and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a chunk of playing time in the majors next year. If he impresses next year in spring training don’t be surprised to see him with the big club to open up the year.