What are the Texas Rangers’ plans for Hunter Pence?
By Travis Koch
Hunter Pence signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers last week. Is he confined to the minors or does he have a shot to make the opening day roster?
The Texas Rangers made a curious move last week when signing outfielder Hunter Pence to a minor league deal. Pence has had an outstanding career, but his numbers took a deep dive in 2018 with the Giants. Deep dive as in career lows in just about every statistical category.
Minor league contracts are risk averse. Texas signing Pence to such a contract is no issue, but the reason(s) behind the signing is what’s confusing. The team already has an outfield cluster; we’ve covered it all offseason. Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields, Willie Calhoun, Carlos Tocci, Scott Heineman… they have a ton of guys ready to fill three spots. Why add another to the mix?
Gallo and Mazara are the corner outfielders. Any scenario that proclaims otherwise has very little promise. Center field is sort of up in the air; however, the real question mark is the Texas Rangers’ fourth outfielder.
That role could go to Tocci, Calhoun, or… Pence? The thing is the utility outfield role typically revolves around defense. The player who takes on the role is known to be speedy and to have a great glove. He generally enters the game in the late innings as a defensive replacement and therefore rarely steps to the plate. Carlos Tocci is the perfect example.
Hunter Pence is not a perfect example, or even a good example. His bat has always been his greatest tool, with his arm and glove lagging behind. Pence is not a bad outfielder, but there are certainly better options if the Rangers are looking for reliable defense.
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I just don’t see how the team could be evaluating him as a fourth outfielder. Maybe they’re looking at him as a starter. He’ll turn 36 years old two weeks into the regular season. One bad season doesn’t mean the book should be closed on his career. After all, Pence hit .260 with a .315 OBP and 13 homers two seasons ago, and At&t Park is not the easiest place to post numbers.
What if he enters camp rejuvenated and tears it up this spring? What would the Texas Rangers do?
Pence could start in left field. That’s one of those scenarios in which Joey Gallo would move from left field to center field. Another scenario is if Willie Calhoun was to dominate the spring. Pence is not a center fielder, and the only reason he’d be needed in right is if Mazara was injured. He could be a platoon right-handed bat, but then the team is sacrificing defense for offense.
Hunter Pence brings all the intangibles. He’s a veteran, he’s a leader, he’s won championships, he’s energetic, and he’s an excellent clubhouse guy. The Rangers would love to have him in their clubhouse on a nightly basis, but he can only hold a roster spot if they intend to play him.
By all means it’s a fine sign. Pence played at the University of Arlington. He’s a local product and he’s probably at a point in his career where comfort is very important. And, again, there’s no risk on the Rangers’ end.
The Rangers will be as intrigued by Pence’s spring play as the rest of us. Perhaps they’ll strike lightning in a bottle. Though, barring a strikingly dominant offensive February/March, I just don’t see a place for him on the opening day roster.