Ever since the injury to Josh Hamilton, the Texas Rangers have been searching for the best left fielder while he was out. While Delino DeShields Jr. was a solid fit with Leonys Martin taking over in center field, this didn’t last very long. When DeShields went down with an injury, the situation got even more difficult trying to decide who will play left. The Rangers have different options that would work in the outfield until Hamilton returns and once he does, things will only get more difficult.
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Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported this week that Hamilton “has begun full workouts and could begin an injury-rehabilitation assignment next week.” While a rehab assignment is a positive sign, anything can happen once a player starts swinging a bat in a real game. The Rangers have continued to win consistently and will be sure to make sure Hamilton is 100% ready before moving him up. So who are the options in left and what will happen when Hamilton potentially returns in two weeks?
The Rangers have had seven different players playing left field so far this season, with the most games going to DeShields and Carlos Peguero who is now out of the league. As a group, left fielders have hit .214/.300/.383 so far in 2015. Jake Smolinski has played a lot of games in left but hasn’t managed to get a hit yet in his seven at-bats in June. Smolinski was designated for assignment to make room for Ryan Rua, who was activated from the Disabled List.
An option that the team seemed to lean towards at first was the newly activated Kyle Blanks. Although he played three different positions since he returned from the DL on June 11th, Blanks played his final game on June 16th and went 2-for-4 with a double before being pulled from the game. This season, Blanks played three games in left and hit .417/.417/.583 with two doubles and just two strikeouts. With Blanks returning for his second appearance on the DL due to Achilles tendinitis, he will be out for at least a couple months which takes him out of any conversation for the left field spot.
With the activation of Rua from the DL, he remains a top option for the team. Rua was the 7th overall prospect for the Rangers entering 2015 according to Baseball America. Rua played in 28 games with the Rangers in 2014, hitting .295/.321/.419 and had a lot of promise heading into the year before his injury. Rua has played just seven games for the team this season and has hit just .200/.231/.240. All seven of his games have been played in left field.Mar 23, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers shortstop Ryan Rua (16) swings the bat against the Cincinnati Reds at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
When Hamilton first went down, initial thoughts were that Joey Gallo would take over left once Adrian Beltre returned from injury. Gallo has hit well in his league so far that the team will do whatever needed to keep his bat in the lineup. Although this idea was initially shot down by the team and the media, the injury to DeShields added Gallo back into the equation. Proof of this is the three games Gallo played in left this week, although he hit just .091/.167/.364 and struck out in half of his plate appearances.
While there is no specific date for the return of Beltre, the best case scenario is that Gallo will remain at third and Rua will pick up where he left off in 2014 and be a solid hitting outfielder. Hanser Alberto is a good utility player that can fill in for Gallo at third when Gallo needs a rest or if Gallo needs to make a spot start for Rua in left field.
When Beltre returns, the Rangers will need to make a reevaluation of how Rua is playing in left field. Although he is striking out more than many like, Gallo has been a big factor in the lineup and will be the best bat to keep in left until Hamilton returns. Gallo has outperformed most expectations after making the jump from Triple-A and is becoming a solid everyday player.
When Beltre and Hamilton return is when things will become more complicated for the Rangers. There is always a chance a player will get injured and a replacement will be needed to fill the position. Hoping this is not the case, a major spot the team may want to replace would be Martin in center. While Martin has had his best month in June, he struggled this past week and has a chance to slip back into the way he was performing at the beginning of the season. If this was to happen then either Hamilton, Shin-Soo Choo, or Gallo could make a shift to center field. While replacing Choo is something many would hope for, the amount of money owed to him for his contract makes that very unlikely.
Overall, the problem of having too many good hitters on the team is a good one to have. Players will get injured and others will simply go cold. It is those times that you want the team to be most ready. While it remains possible for Gallo to be sent down to get more seasoning with Round Rock, the abilities he has shown in his short time have made that option more and more unlikely. With the success the team has had so far this season, the team has gotten the most out of many of their players and will attempt to do the same with left field.