Rangers Outfield Logjam(s)
The Rangers have a good problem. Ian Desmond, Delino DeShields, and Shin-Soo Choo were the three outfielders with guaranteed jobs going into the season, with Justin Ruggiano making the team over Drew Stubbs and Ryan Rua landing a spot on the roster due to his versatility and ability to hit left-handed pitching, the Rangers had five players capable of playing the outfield.
Ruggiano was designated for assignment four days into the season, to make room on the 40 man roster for A.J. Griffin, and he later accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Round Rock. Josh Hamilton is on the 15-day DL, and is expected to miss about another month or so. Then, came the very untimely calf injury to Choo, which left the Rangers shorthanded in the outfield.
Or so we thought.
In the final game of that series vs. the Angels, The Rangers’ No.2 prospect Nomar Mazara came into the big leagues swinging, going 3-4 with a double and a home run. Mazara’s stellar first week in the bigs, showing flashes of both his bat and glove, had me thinking a couple things: First, What happens when Choo and Hamilton are both healthy and ready to roll? Second, in 2017, How does Lewis Brinson, one of the top prospects in the Rangers’ Farm system, fit into the outfield plans?
2016: In order for the Rangers to retain another year of controllable salary for Mazara, he needs to spend four more days in the minor leagues. However, with his recent play and seamless transition into the clubhouse, as of right now it is hard to see the Rangers going without his production for four games. Therefore, if/when Hamilton returns, there is a possibility that five of the Rangers 25 man big league roster will be outfielders. If this happens, I believe either Desmond or DeShields will become a platoon player, and see the vast majority of their playing time against left-handed pitching. When Deshields sits out, Desmond will take over his duties in Center, and Mazara will be in left, with Choo in right. DeShields and Desmond could be real weapons off the bench with their plus speed, and Hamilton could be used in multiple pinch-hitting situations.
With the desire for Mazara to play every day, a problem arises when Texas faces a right-handed starter. With Choo in right and Desmond/DeShields in center, That leaves left-field for either Hamilton or Mazara. If the club feels the need to get Hamilton as many lefty/righty at-bats as possible, this could mean Mazara returning to Round Rock for some time until another spot opens up.
2017: The one thing I can almost assure you, is that the 2017 Opening Day outfield will not feature Ian Desmond. A mix of a potentially huge contract, along with Brinson and Mazara waiting in the wings, Desmond’s season with the Rangers will very likely be his first and his last. The Rangers will likely get rid of one of the large contracts they possess, and the three highly likely candidates are Shortstop Elvis Andrus, DH Prince Fielder, and Choo. Fielder is now almost exclusively a DH, rarely getting a day in the field. If Texas could move Fielder and slide Choo into the primary DH spot, that would give them the most lineup versatility. Choo is still capable of playing the outfield, and could do so for an extended time if need be. Hamilton will be in the last year of his deal, and could assume DH duties as well, however, I am not sure what position if any, he will play with Texas next season. With that being said here is what I think the Rangers’ 2017 outfield will look like for the majority of the season.
There are so many players and options to consider, but only three outfield spots to fill. General Manager Jon Daniels and Manager Jeff Banister will have some multiple choice questions to answer going forward.