Editor's Note: We continue our Surprise position outlook series as we get you ready for the start of baseball season.
Today's position: Center field
Josh Hamilton has dominated the center field talk ever since we've been doing these previews, either because the club wanted to find someone that could play center so Hamilton could shift over to left or because Hamilton was playing center because that was the best outfield alignment manager Ron Washington had.
Martin, who turns 25 in March, is a player the Rangers made a big investment in a few years ago with the plan that he could become the center fielder one day. It's time to find out. He has played in just 32 big league games (and has hit .204), but in fairness, he didn't play on any kind of consistent schedule. In 55 games (231 at-bats) with Triple-A Round Rock, Martin hit .359 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs. He had 10 stolen bases (was caught stealing nine times) and a 1.033 OPS. In winter ball in the Dominican, Martin hit .253 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 37 games (146 at-bats).
Gentry, 29, is coming off the most games played in the big leagues of his career. He saw action in 122 games, though just 66 of those were starts as Gentry was a frequent late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch runner. He hit .304 with a homer and 26 RBIs in 240 at-bats. That included an extremely hot streak in June, where he batted .455 (24-for-40). He's a solid defender and has great speed, though he stole just 13 bases in 2012 (was caught seven times).
The Rangers could, of course, still make a trade that would alter how the outfield lines up. Justin Upton is on the market, though the price may be too high to get him. Michael Bourn remains a free agent. But assuming it's a competition between Martin and Gentry, there may not be a "loser," either. Texas would likely platoon them, with Gentry hitting against left-handed pitchers and Martin batting against righties.
Gentry hit .343 in 99 at-bats against lefties with an .859 OPS. Martin has hit much better against righties (.217) than lefties (.125) in his big league games.
Hamilton's big bat and all-around game are gone from the outfield, meaning it's time for others to pick up the slack. That's Gentry and Martin's job this spring. How they progress and if they can do a good enough job to hold down the position should be interesting to see.