With a solid group of pitchers headed to Surprise this spring, followed by at least a couple of bona fide catchers, and a quality rank of infielders, the big question mark for the Rangers is: who plays left field? Last season the Rangers had more left fielders than hot dog vendors run through the Ballpark and going into 2015 the job is still wide open.
MLB.com Rangers writer T.R. Sullivan had an excellent breakdown of the candidates including recent minor league signees journeyman Nate Schierholtz and former Ranger and Cincinnati Red, Ryan Ludwick. Schierholtz was with the Cubbies and the Nationals last year and hit a whopping .195 and seven homers. I’m thinking he may not be the answer. But Ludwick had an acceptable year with the Redlegs hitting .244 and putting nine over the fence in 112 games. Neither of these guys are a star, but after the walking wounded tour that was the Arlington outfield last year, just about anything will be an improvement.
There are a few bright spots on the list of possibles. The Rangers say they’ll look at Mitch Moreland as an outfielder, backup first baseman and DH. Moreland has only had two years of injury free ball, so durability is a question combined with the fact that he’s not played a great deal of outfield since his college days, even then Mississippi State saw his potential and moved him to the mound. But Mitch is a proven quantity and a solid major league quality ballplayer. If anyone can make the move, he can.
Michael Choice had the job to lose and he did so. Some days Choice looks terrific and some days he’s lost like a small dog in front of the out-of-town scoreboard. He breaks the wrong way on balls and bungles grounders, but can misplay a hop and then fire a strike to third to catch a runner who thinks he’ll get away with an extra base. No wonder Ron Washington pulled all that hair from the top of his head.
Sep 12, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers right fielder Michael Choice (15) cannot find a pop up hit by Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (not pictured) in the second inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
My two favorites for the job are Jake Smolinski and Ryan Rua. Smolinski had an amazing run in September after coming back from a broken foot. He caught the Rangers injury bug and spend a large chunk of the season on the Disabled List, but when he played, he brought power, a glove and an arm. A solid spring could move him up the list.
Sep 24, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Ryan Rua (16) hits 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
Rua had a cup of coffee in the Bigs last year, hopping off the bus full of rookies that stopped in Arlington to fill holes in the line-up. He showed some pop at the plate and hit a game winning homer for his first major league dinger. He should be in the mix.
May 2, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) attempts to avoid Texas Rangers Daniel Robertson (19) after he throws to first after forcing out on a double play during the ninth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Texas Rangers defeated the Los Angeles Angels 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out one off season loss that I think might have been a misstep and that was Daniel Robertson. He’ll likely be backing-up in Anaheim this year when the annual Josh Hamilton injury comes to pass. I liked Robertson’s abilities in the field and his hustle and toughness cannot be questioned. Who else smashes his face into a teammate’s knee going for a dying quail of a popup when your team is out of the game and mathematically eliminated from everything but the Little League World Series? I’m hopeful Robertson’s loss was a strategic move on the part of the Ranger’s front office – thinking if he goes to the Angels, maybe he’ll crash into Mike Trout and take the Big Fish out for a week or two.
Hope springs eternal in Surprise this year and my hope is that someone plants a flag in left field and makes it their own for years to come.