Who is Delino Deshields fighting for his starting spot against with the Texas Rangers? It might not be who you think.
The Incumbent: Delino Deshields
Going into the 2018 season, there was no mystery who would be playing in center. It was evident from Day 1 that Delino Deshields was going to get everyday reps there and he had spent an entire offseason working to improve his defense.
In his four professional seasons with the Texas Rangers, Delino has improved defensively each year. Good defense continues to be a challenge to measure statistically, but dWAR (or Defensive Wins Above Replacement) is one-way Baseball Reference seeks to value what a player brings defensively. Unlike WAR, dWAR measures a player’s defense to the average (not replacement level) player at their particular position.
Delino’s dWAR has improved each year to the point of 1.3 dWAR last season which was up from his 2017 total of 0.5 dWAR.
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dWAR does not tell a full picture by any means though. For example, while Lorenzo Cain, a notably good defensive player had a dWAR of 2.4 in CF last year, Jackie Bradley Jr., AL CF Gold Glove winner, had a dWAR of 0.4. Nevertheless, Delino improved defensively last year and any Rangers fan who watched games could clearly see this. He took better routes and looked more confident than ever before.
Unfortunately, Delino has continued to be inconsistent offensively. In his four years in Texas, his OPS+ has looked like this: 95, 55, 85, 57. For those who prefer a more straightforward stat, his batting average numbers have been .261, .209, .269, .216.
Deshields’ lack of consistent offensive production has kept him from taking complete reign over CF in Texas for the present and future. His speed is a game changer though and his defense can continue to get better. If he can meet be a consistent 100+ OPS+ player, then he can be a dangerous CF for years to come.
Delino Deshields is going to make this 25 man roster regardless, though. He has too much value with his speed and ability to play CF well. The question is whether or not he will be a regular or a platoon that faces only lefties, can be a defensive replacement, and pinch run.
The Other Option: Joey Gallo
100. That is the number of innings Joey Gallo has played between the majors and minors combined. This is his least of any position and yet Joey Gallo may be starting in CF on opening day. Some things have to go right (or wrong) for this happen though.
Without question, either a bad spring or injury to Delino Deshields could force this to happen. The other possibility is Willie Calhoun forces, Chris Woodward, to play him every day. And this is why Delino Deshields is not competing with Joey Gallo for CF.
The Rangers cannot afford to send Calhoun down for yet another season at AAA especially if he rakes in Spring Training. Calhoun needs regular MLB at bats at this point, even if it is in a platoon situation where he only faces right-handed hitters. Anything short of 400 – 500 plate appearances for Calhoun this year in the majors could be detrimental to his continued growth as a hitter. As was noted yesterday in our LF position preview, his most ideal position is DH. Shin-Soo Choo, whether we like it or not, will get the majority of ABs in that spot though barring injury.
I would not count out a scenario of a starting OF of Calhoun, Gallo, and Mazara. As terrifying as that could be defensively, these are guys that need to continue to develop and play every day. Calhoun has appeared to have put in the work this offseason to get into shape to be able to play every day in the OF for the Texas Rangers in 2019. He was the supposed prize in the Yu Darvish deadline deal of 2017. They can’t keep Calhoun waiting forever thinking maybe they will eventually find a deal to move Choo elsewhere. Calhoun has the opportunity to force Woodward’s hand and play him every day.
Now with all that, Jared Sandler tweeted out Tuesday that manager Chris Woodward commented on the center field battle going on in Spring Training.
The Depth: Carlos Tocci, Scott Heineman, and Ben Revere
The Rangers knew going into camp they were thin on CF depth. Due to Scott Heineman’s injury, that list consisted of only Carlos Tocci. In my opinion, Tocci is almost guaranteed to play CF every day in AAA regardless of what occurs in Spring Training. He missed valuable playing time last year as a backup CF and sometimes 5th OF for the Rangers. Knowing this, the Rangers signed Ben Revere. Revere’s path to the Opening Day roster is narrow at best, but he may just work his way as a back up OF if Deshields were to get hurt at some point.
The safest bet is that Deshields is starting in CF on Opening Day (especially since they will probably be facing a left-hander in Jon Lester), but I believe Calhoun has come to camp as determined as anyone and will force himself into a regular role even if that is 4-5 games a week instead of 6 or 7.