Texas Rangers Positional Preview: Centerfield (The search for Zero)

The Rangers have historically had a difficult journey developing centerfielders. The last two players to lead the Rangers in games played in CF in consecutive years were Gary Matthews Jr. (2005, 2006) and Gabe Kapler (2000, 2001). Matthews nor Kapler played over 100 games in consecutive seasons however.To find the last guy to complete such a feat you would had to travel back to 1985, when a young Oddibe McDowell manned Arlington Stadium’s CF. Oddibe was number zero on the field, but number one in the hearts of Rangers fans. McDowell played 100 plus games in CF, each year from 1985-1988.

Oddibe was drafted six times, twice by the Rangers and never later than the 5th round. The Rangers drafted him in June of 1984, and he was the starting centerfielder nine months later. McDowell finished 4th in rookie of the year voting, losing to Miami Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen.

McDowell played four years in Arlington, then Cleveland came calling and offered Julio Franco. The Indians probably thought the 29 year-old Franco was getting a little old. Franco played another 16 years, went to three All-Star Games with the Rangers and won the 1991 American League batting title.

McDowell was the last successful CF the Rangers developed. Ruben Mateo was a broken leg away from changing that. Julio Borbon was drafted in the supplemental 1st round in 2007, and he has yet to seize the CF job. Craig Gentry has a limited offensive ceiling, is 28, and has averaged just 105 games played each of the last five seasons.

The Rangers spent $15.5 million on Leonys Martin to be their future CF. He will be in AAA, Round Rock, refining his skills. Martin’s speed and defensive routes and instincts aren’t what the Rangers had hoped for at this point.

The Starter

Now that I have mentioned seven guys who won’t be the Opening Day centerfielder, its time to discuss Josh Hamilton. With the Rangers, Hamilton has played 111, 56, 40 and 35 games in CF. The decline is obvious, the Rangers have attempted to keep Hamilton out of CF to limit the attrition of his overall play.

But now that the nasty negotiations are going nowhere, the Rangers seem to care less about his long-term condition and effects. With no other legitimate option, the Rangers’ hand is forced. Hamilton prefers CF anyways and going into a contract year, showing his durability in CF could earn significantly more coin.

Stats show that the Rangers best defensive alignment is Hamilton-Gentry-Cruz and that the worst defensive combination is Murphy-Hamilton-Cruz. The latter defense isn’t horrendous, its just below what the Rangers are capable of rolling out there. Murphy has had another productive Spring Training, and he’s always been steady force against right-handers (career .835 OPS vs. RH’s).

The Rangers have some incentive to find a CF capable of shifting Hamilton to LF.

Hamilton’s career OPS as a LF (1.013)

Hamilton’s career OPS as a CF (.845)

Hamilton’s career OPS as a DH (.796)

Hamilton is no slouch as a offensive CF, but he’s an MVP candidate offensively in LF. The Rangers know this, but their hands are tied, and they will hope one of the under-achieving trio will step up before too long.

The Bench

It seems the Rangers would prefer to have Gentry play his way into some CF playing time, as he would complement Murphy’s lefty bat best. Manager Ron Washington mentioned, that he would prefer Leonys Martin to spend the entire 2012 season in AAA. I’m sure the front office feels differently about their $15.5 million investment.

The Rangers are always ‘in’ on everybody, and they are aware of their CF situation as best as anybody. JD will likely address CF at some point this year. Particularly now that Hamilton is in his walk year, and that Martin may not be best suited to play CF.

Marlon Bryd is the sentimental favorite to return to Texas, but his contract would cause the Rangers to make another move, and he’s a free agent to be as well. B.J. Upton could be available at some point this year, whether the Rays stay in contention or not. Upton is also awaiting a big payday via free agency as well.

As the Rangers likely watch Josh Hamilton depart this winter, they will continue their perpetual search for the franchise CF. It’s likely that CF will be the main goal for next off-season, if JD doesn’t acquire someone sooner. And if he is unable to add a legitimate CF to the mix, maybe he should think about slapping a number ‘0’ on Martin, it worked for Oddibe.


Hamilton: 517 AB, 33 HR, .303 AVG, .355 OBP, .547 SLG, .902 OPS
Gentry: 384 AB, 2 HR, .276 AVG, .345 OBP, .350 SLG, .696 OPS
Borbon: 215 AB, 1 HR, .279 AVG, .336 OBP, .356 SLG, .693 OPS
Martin: 225 AB, 2 HR, .282 AVG, .337 OBP, .364 SLG, .701 OPS 

Wild Bonus Prediction:

The Rangers will trade for the Reds CF, Drew Stubbs, and the Texan will never wear ‘0’.

Dan Allsup is a Senior Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. You can email him at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @SDIDan.
Dan Allsup

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