2016 Position Preview – Right Field

No position showed more of an embodiment of manager Jeff Banister‘s “Never Ever Quit” than the right field position. What started as a black hole at the 9-spot on the field turned into arguably the Most Valuable Position on the diamond and in the lineup. Of all of the long-term, high-dollar contracts that the Rangers tendered in the past few years, this position finally saw that investment come to fruition.

In 2015: Coming off of a definitively sub-par 2014, the Rangers needed Shin-Soo Choo, entering the second year of his 7-year, $130 million contract, to step up in a big way. Having been brought onto the club for his typically high on-base percentage, and coming off of a .423 year in Cincinnati, a severe dip to .340 in his first year in Texas was a huge disappointment.

As the season kicked off, there were no two ways to put it – Shin-Soo Choo was awful. Much like the team, Choo’s first month of 2015 was an extraordinarily rough run. As the team went 7-14 in April, the Rangers’ right fielder was hitting a much worse than weak .096/.254/.173. As the month turned, both the team and Choo turned around and Choo opened May with an impressive 14-game hitting streak. That brought his average up to a robust .248, but without a doubt, things were still not coming together for Choo.

Around this time, strong talk about trading the South Korean arose within the fan community, with the acceptance that a large amount of salary would have to be eaten. With the Rangers just a few games below .500, any other option would have been better than what Choo was giving the team. Then came the All-Star Break. That also brought about a very important conversation with his wife.

“…And she is telling me that I’ve built a very strong building, that, like everyone, it’s going to get shaken, but it is built on a solid foundation and that I shouldn’t try to change that. It will stand up sturdy.” ~Shin-Soo Choo on his wife, Won Mi Ha. (Excerpt: Eddie Middlebrook, WFAA.com)

What was she saying? Choo was feeling the pressure of having to live up to the giant contract that the Rangers had paid him. His wife told him what many coaches have told other players that started the first years of their mega-contracts – you already earned the contract and they can’t take that away. All you have to do is play the way you know how to play.

Choo relaxed, and away he went. He finished June with a .710 on-base percentage and it only went up from there. His approach at the plate went more “retro” as he became very selective with his pitches, used all parts of the field, and was simply better. For the month of July, he had a .837 OBP. For August, .847. Then, in September, when the Rangers were fighting for not just first-place in the AL West, but also a playoff spot, Choo responded with a ridiculous .387/.500/.613 slash-line with six homers.

Arguably, Shin-Soo Choo won back the hearts of the fans, and was the MVP of the second half.

In 2016: Much of the talk about Nomar Mazara taking over a corner outfield spot, a very real possibility as the team enters Spring Training, directs him to left field. Much of the talk of Lewis Brinson taking over center field pushes DeLino DeShields to left field. Why? The underlying thought as the team enters 2016 camp is that Shin-Soo Choo takes that life lesson from his wife and picks up where he left off at the end of 2015.

This is something of a sophomore year for Choo. True, it’s his third year with the club, but the second half of 2015 was his Texas Rangers coming out party. Can he continue that type of production? Thanks to those last three months of the season, Choo is playing to the worth of his contract. Obviously, slumps will come, but the biggest indicator of Choo’s worth to the club will be how he responds and comes out of those slumps.

Backing Choo up, at least at the outset of the season, is former Texas A&M Aggie Justin Ruggiano, who, while he can play all three outfield positions, has logged the fewest games in right field.

As mentioned above, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara are playing their ways to the top of the Rangers prospect class – MLB.com has them ranked number 2 and 3 among outfielders, respectively. Furthermore, both appear in the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects: Brinson is number 15, and Mazara, the corner outfielder of the two, is the number 5 prospect in all of baseball. As has been shown at other spots on the field, prospects only have potential; once they get to The Show, things are up in the air. With that in mind, however, the outfield looks to be in really great shape for the Rangers going forward, with Choo signed through 2020, and the prospect picture helping to shape the remainder of the field.

From the Hot Stove: Not much more can be done to augment the outfield depth. As we just discussed, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara look to be better players to take chances on as the Rangers’ season goes forward. Any dreams of trades for Rockies’ spare outfielders went out the window last week, and the big name free agent outfielders have already signed.

The “Richard Durrett” three questions at this position:

  1. Do you expect Shin-Soo Choo to continue his offensive tear from last year?
  2. If he does continue that, are you comfortable with Choo anchoring down Right Field for the next four years? Would you place Nomar Mazara out there and relegate Choo to a very expensive fourth outfielder?
  3. More of a lineup question than a right field question: as Father Time starts to take its toll on the older, less durable members on the Rangers, how would you juggle DH time in terms of percentages?

Later this week, we’ll take a look at all of those backup, utility and fourth outfield types, an area that typically hasn’t been a strength of the team – The Bench.

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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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