2015 Preview – Shortstop

Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay Rays
In theory, Elvis Andrus’ approach to the offseason between 2013 and 2014 wasn’t a bad idea. Coming off of four straight years of extra baseball (game 163 is technically extra baseball), resting during the winter might be advised to any young player with his prime years still ahead of him. Elvis did not play in the Venezuelan Winter League and, in fact, did no throwing whatsoever. “I was resting a lot,” Andrus told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News during last spring training. The result was not exactly what anyone was expecting. Instead of feeling refreshed and having a renewed vigor for the season, the Rangers saw a slightly heavier than usual, not fully prepared Andrus who experienced soreness in his elbow. The injury set him back in spring training and undoubtedly contributed to his poor 2014.
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2015 Preview: Catcher
2015 Preview: First Base
2015 Preview: Second Base
2015 Preview: Third Base

2014
: If anybody’s ever tried to do a full on workout after not being at the gym for six months, that’s about the equivalent of what Andrus had to face after a winter of non-baseball activities. He never found his groove, and although he remained one of the healthier players throughout the year, playing in 157 games, his offensive and defensive contributions left something to be desired. Hits? Lowest since his rookie year. RBI? Lowest since his rookie year. Stolen bases? Half of what they were the year before. Batting average?Career Low. In short, it wasn’t the most attractive stat line for a guy whose 8-year, $118 million contract extension was about to kick in.With that in mind, Elvis’ strength, and that of most shortstops, has always been his fielding. Contrary to perception, Elvis was right on par for the course as far as he is concerned statistically. His fielding percentage of .971 with 18 errors was worse than the prior year, but he was actually a worse statistical defender on the 2011 team. Regardless, eight of his 18 errors were throwing errors, something that goes back to his lack of baseball activity over the winter. The throws that he did make were noticeably weak. The guy playing the position wasn’t the Elvis Andrus that had sparked a clubhouse when he debuted and certainly wasn’t the Elvis Andrus the Rangers expect to earn $15 million beginning this year.

The expectation was that Elvis would be able to improve upon his prior years and grow into the contract, providing Gold Glove caliber defense, on-base threats, and a light potential for power. Instead, Andrus regressed, which prompted many to dismiss the pending payday as a bad move by the Rangers and even had some calling for him to be traded. In my mind, however, Andrus couldn’t have picked a better year to be less than stellar. On a club where the biggest offensive producer was shelved for the season, the pitching staff featured was mostly comprised of minor-league depth pieces, and the roster as a whole was a revolving door and study into the Rangers’ section of Baseball Prospectus, why would you have wanted Elvis to have anything but the year he had? Obviously, during the season, it wasn’t a lot of fun to watch, but on the whole, I wouldn’t have wanted Elvis to be the stand-out star in a lost season. Now, the club is recharged, revived and ready to roll, and Elvis’ eyes were opened to the improper approach to the off-season.

2015: Elvis didn’t play Venezuelan winter ball again this off-season, but he didn’t sit around either. Along with several teammates, Elvis stayed in the Arlington area and spent the whole off-season conditioning his body and increasing his strength and agility to prepare for the season. He reported to camp last week looking much better than the year prior, and has been reported to be full of energy. That can only be good news for this Rangers squad, looking to prove doubters wrong and exceed expectations. Elvis could be said to be a microcosm of the team, in that regard.

If Prince Fielder’s healthy return to the lineup is the biggest key to jump-starting the offense, I would rank Elvis’ return to form at the plate and on the base paths as a close second. Prince and Beltre might be the most feared hitters for pitchers to face, but in my eyes, Andrus has taken on the mantle of being “the straw that stirs the drink,” as Ron Washington used to say. Penciled In for the number 2 hole, with Leonys Martin gunning for the lead-off spot, Elvis becomes both a run-producing and run-scoring threat. He will have to improve on his base-stealing, as he only attempted 42 swipes, which was the total number of stolen bases he had the year before. “[Last year…] I wasn’t ready for spring training,” Elvis told Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. The energetic Elvis seems to have regained the pep in his step and appears to be ready to be that franchise player that the Rangers need him to be. Emily Jones-McCoy of the Rangers even said, via the @ShutDownInning Twitter account, that Elvis would be the Most Improved Ranger in 2015 (perhaps…Rangers Most Likely to Improve?). All signs point to an explosive year for the 26-year old shortstop.

Hot Stove: The Rangers big move here was to re-sign Adam Rosales to be the utility infielder. Expect Rosales to man the 6-spot in the field when Elvis takes a day off. Aside from that, Elvis has averaged 152 games over the last 6 years, which means the Rangers won’t have to worry about replacing their incumbent for quite some time.

Do you agree that Elvis is primed to be the best candidate for the Rangers’ Comeback Player of the Year? If his play this year starts a trend upward, is the contract worth the player? Leave a comment below and discuss the Rangers’ shortstop situation and Elvis Andrus! Next week, I’ll look at one of the most glaring holes on this 2015 team with the most number of people competing for the job. Auditions start next week for Left Field.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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