2016 Position Preview – The Bench

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The bench, the reserve players, for any baseball team remains one of the easiest to overlook, yet highly impactful part of a 25-man roster. These guys never get the recognition they deserve for trying to stay ready over the course of a 162-plus-game season and just being ready to do what is necessary when the time comes. The bench in baseball isn’t like a bench in basketball – the likelihood of entering a game is extremely minimal, playing time is never guaranteed or regular (there’s no set innings/outs mark for a baseball reserve player to reach), and there’s no “10th Man” award that serves as an attainable goal for the best bench player. Still, the proper depth, flexibility, and utilization of these players by a manager is one of the biggest keys to a team’s longevity over the course of a season and determinant of how far they go in a post-season.

In 2015: The Rangers broke camp in 2015 with a four-man bench – backup catcher Carlos Corporan, utility infielder Adam Rosales, and two reserve outfielders in Jake Smolinski and DeLino DeShieldsThat’s right, DeLino DeShields started off as the backup center fielder to Leonys Martin. By the mid-point of the year, only DeShields was having an impact on the team, having forced his name into the starting lineup as the everyday center fielder.

Corporan, who was a non-factor offensively, ended up sidelined with a sprained thumb that required off-season surgery. Although he was activated for the September Roster Expansion, he was never used in a game because of that thumb. Corporan has since signed as a New York Yankee.

Adam Rosales, the incumbent utility player from 2014, played in 55 games and really performed right to his average line (2015 – .228/.296/.342, Career – .227/.294/.342) with just under average defense playing six positions. He ended up being designated for assignment with the activation of lefty starter Derek Holland and was granted his unconditional release. He has since signed with the San Diego Padres.

Smolinski, who entered Spring Training as one of the finalists for the vacant left field position, never regained the momentum he had in 2014 as one of those power-hitting, “come out of nowhere” type contributors. After being designated for assignment in June, rival Oakland claimed him.

Everyone knows what happened to DeShields. After the All-Star break, with the aforementioned players no longer a factor, the bench took on a much different look. The Rangers went internal for their utility infielder and brought up Hanser Alberto. Alberto came up as a defensive-minded fielder who could excel at second, short and third. His claim to fame came in the Division Series, when Adrian Beltre had to be sidelined in the middle of game one with a strained back. Alberto would be called upon to replace the heart and soul of the club, a tall task indeed, and ended up with a game-winning hit in the 14-inning Game 2.

The other three bench players in the playoffs were secondary catcher Chris Gimenez, and two free agent outfielders in the form of Will Venable and Drew Stubbs.

In 2016: The bench picture looks a lot clearer going into Spring Training. How that continues to evolve over the course of the club’s time in Arizona remains to be seen. As of now, Hanser Alberto is the incumbent utility infielder, a role he was quite comfortable and happy in filling last season. As it stands, Chris Gimenez will be the backup to Robinson Chirinos, although Jon Daniels made some moves to create some competition for that reserve catcher. Bringing back Bobby Wilson, who performed that duty admirably behind Gimenez in the second half of the season, and signing free-agent backstop Michael McKenry will do just that. It would appear to be Gimenez’ spot to lose, but as has been shown, manager Jeff Banister isn’t afraid to go with an unconventional choice if that choice benefits the club.

There is one part of the diamond whose reserve spot is up for grabs. One spot is taken, but there would seem to be a second outfield spot for the taking. In the off-season, the club signed veteran Justin Ruggiano to be the right-handed hitting complement to left-fielder Josh Hamilton. With recent news coming out that Hamilton’s twice-surgically repaired knee has been pain-free for approximately one, single day this Winter, Ruggiano would appear to be in line for far more playing time than likely thought. In competition for the remaining one or two outfield spots are Ryan Rua, who was 2015’s Opening Day starting left fielder, prospects Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinsonand, assuming he gets enough reps in the outfield, Joey Gallo

From the Hot Stove: Just because we’re a little over two weeks out from Spring Training doesn’t mean that additional moves won’t be made to see who else can contribute to this contending Texas Rangers team. As other teams make moves and shore up their strengths, surpluses can be created and dealt from. With the Tampa Bay Rays having acquired Corey Dickerson from Colorado, they now have a couple of extra outfielders that could profile as fourth or fifth outfielders on the Rangers in the form of Desmond Jennings, who missed most of last year with a knee injury, but could be an average-contact hitter potentially good for double-digit home runs who plays all three outfield positions, and Brandon Guyer, who primarily profiles as a fourth outfielder. Tampa, incidentally, needs a high-leverage reliever, something Texas happens to have in spades.

In the free agent market, names like Austin JacksonChris DenorfiaMarlon Byrd and Dexter Fowler remain, but the latter would cost a draft pick and more money and years than the Rangers would want to spend.

The “Richard Durrett” three questions at this position:

  1. Which four players would make up your Bench for the Texas Rangers? The way things are shaping up, think of a reserve catcher, utility infielder and two backup outfielders.
  2. Who sees more playing time this year: Josh Hamilton or Justin Ruggiano?
  3. Is there a name in free agency or trade that you believe would be a great piece to add to Jeff Banister’s bench?

Next week is our last week of Position Previews at Shutdown Inning! I’m as sad as you all are, but we’ve got two very important and very fluid spots on the club coming up – The Bullpen and The Coaching Staff.

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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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