We now shift to the hot corner in our Surprise positional outlooks.
Today's position: Third base
A little more than a year ago, the Texas Rangers and agent Scott Boras agreed on a five-year, $80 million deal (with a $16 million vesting option for a sixth year) for free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. The acquisition came after the Rangers lost out in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.
The Rangers certainly got their money's worth in the first year of that contract. Much was made last year about Beltre's career numbers and how they peaked in contract years (including his solid 2010 season in Boston). Texas scouts (and even some outside the organization) insisted that was unfair. Beltre went about setting the record straight in 2011.
The Rangers signed Beltre (and perhaps his biggest proponent was Don Welke) because they believed that if there wasn't a free-agent pitcher that could vastly improve the rotation, they'd look to do it with defense. That's not to say Beltre was a slouch with the bat, either. Texas knew it was getting a solid, middle-of-the-lineup offensive piece as well. But it was Beltre's defense and ability to make the entire team better in the field that really got the Rangers' attention (and that of manager Ron Washington).
Beltre did that in 2011. He led the team in WAR (wins above replacement) and his DRS (defensive runs saved) of 17 was tops among AL third baseman (and second in the majors). Beltre made plenty of highlight-reel plays, getting to balls that many can't. Watching his feet as he quickly made adjustments to the ball was fun for fans and teammates. He made accurate throws from nearly anywhere.
At the plate, Beltre was a consistent producer. He hit .296 with 32 homers (fifth in the AL) and 105 RBIs. And he did it in just 124 games, missing five weeks with a left hamstring strain. He spent most of the season as the cleanup hitter, though he was moved to fifth in the order when he returned in September with Michael Young batting well at cleanup.
Beltre had his own Reggie Jackson moment in Game 4 of the ALDS, helping the Rangers advance to the ALCS. He belted three homers (all solo shots) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. At that time, he became the sixth player to hit three homers in the same postseason game (Albert Pujols later matched his feat in Game 3 of the World Series). The others: Adam Kennedy (2002, ALCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS), Jackson (1977 World Series), Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), Babe Ruth (1926, '28 World Series).
Beltre admitted earlier this month that he still thinks about Game 6 of the World Series.
"People on the street don't help by asking about it, but I'm trying to get over it," Beltre said with a smile. "Hopefully by the time I get to spring training, it will be all done."
Beltre said he replayed the game is in his head a lot the first three or four weeks after the game.
"But after that, I've tried hard to get over it," Beltre said. "It wasn't easy being so close and the way it happened. But hopefully once we get to spring training, it will be all over and help the team to get to the point where we need to be to finish it off."
Beltre is focused on staying healthy (he said he feels good and that rest has helped him) and continuing to contribute to the club. Look for Beltre to have a big impact again in 2012.