Texas Rangers Position Preview: Solving a Puzzle in Left Field
By Kenneth Nash
The Texas Rangers and manager Chris Woodward will have a puzzle to figure out in 2019 as they decide who gets the playing time in left field.
While many positions on the infield for the Texas Rangers are pretty cut and dry for the upcoming season, the outfield is a whole different story. The Rangers have a variety of options that can play numerous positions and a variety of factors will affect what combination we get during the 2019 season. In left field, manager Chris Woodward will get to choose from Willie Calhoun, Joey Gallo, Carlos Tocci and new addition, Hunter Pence, will all be vying for playing time.
Most Likely Scenario
As of now, Joey Gallo is listed first on the Texas Rangers depth chart and if I had to place money on an Opening Day left fielder, it’s the lefty slugger. Gallo really made the transition to a full-time outfielder in the 2018 season and got some considerable work at all three positions. Still, left field is where most of that time in the outfield has come.
Gallo is the most accomplished hitter of the those competing for an outfield spot and there’s no way his bat is coming out of the lineup which is why he has a significant leg up. Last season Gallo struggled with the traditional stats posting a .206 batting average and striking out 207 times in 148 games. But in the new age of OPS, Gallo was a team leader at .810. He blasted 40 homers, his second straight season to do so and is by far the home run leader at the club. Gallo will be in the lineup on Opening Day, the question is will he be playing left field.
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Defensively, any dramatic concerns with Gallo playing in left field or any outfield spot have been pretty much forgotten. In fact, Gallo now has more games under his belt in left field than he does at either first base or third base which were thought to be his “natural” fits. He had a defensive WAR of -0.2 last season but with a full season and offseason under his belt now, expect that to improve. Gallo can hold his own in the field which makes him the leading candidate for left field in 2019.
A Not-So-Crazy Alternative
Many fans including myself hope this is a breakout season for the young, promising slugger, Willie Calhoun. Calhoun, who was acquired at the 2017 deadline for former Rangers ace, Yu Darvish, came in full of promise but has struggled to break his way into the everyday lineup for Texas. Part of his lack of MLB playing time is his lack of a real, defensive fit. He probably is best as a Designated Hitter but there’s no opening there with veteran Shin-Soo Choo filling the time there.
If there’s “best” spot for Calhoun in the playing field, it probably is left field. So how can he get in left field in 2019? Well, that first off requires Joey Gallo not to be there meaning Gallo likely is playing center field which isn’t a far-fetched idea. So if Gallo moves to center, that opens up left field for Calhoun which would be welcomed by many Rangers fans.
At the plate, Calhoun’s bat has high expectations in Arlington. As a minor leaguer in 2018, Calhoun hit .294 with Triple-A Round Rock with a .782 OPS in 108 games. That success didn’t really translate to the big leagues though as Calhoun hit just .222 in an albeit small 35 game sample size. If he can get an everyday spot in the lineup, surely those numbers would improve which incentivizes manager Chris Woodward to get him playing time.
Defensively, he’s probably a below-average left fielder with limited range. However, Calhoun reportedly went on a self-improvement quest this offseason and shed over 20 pounds in hopes of becoming a more effective player. As an optimist, I think this new and improved Calhoun will become a better player on both sides of the game and earn himself more opportunities.
Competing for the Backup Spot
Carlos Tocci and new addition Hunter Pence are both going to be competing for playing time in the outfield this season as well. Tocci, predominantly a center fielder, was added by Texas last offseason in the Rule 5 draft and spent the whole year with the big league club, partially because the Rangers would lose him if they tried to send him down. Pence is traditionally a right fielder but will still have a shot at becoming that 5th outfielder that makes the roster.
It’s a tale of two scenarios with Carlos Tocci, the 23-year old up-and-comer and Pence, the nearly 36-year old veteran coming home to Texas for what is likely his final season. Right of the bat, age probably gives Tocci a bit of a headstart in the race for a roster spot. Both players struggled offensively last season and won’t be added to the roster for their production at the plate.
In the end, I don’t see the Rangers not having Carlos Tocci on the opening day roster. Texas seems really high on him and hopes he’ll become a viable piece of the future. I think in a rebuilding year, they opt to keep him with the big league club to continue his development which means Hunter Pence is the odd man out.