Today's issue: What happens in center field?
As soon as Josh Hamilton signed his five-year, $125 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, the center field competition in Texas really took center stage. Even if Hamilton had signed, the club would have wanted to keep him in left field as often as possible, something they tried to do the past few years. But Hamilton's presence meant that he could play center when needed, not to mention give the club some key power in the outfield.
But after Texas was unable to get Justin Upton in a trade, things seemed to really focus on an internal battle for the center field spot. Michael Bourn has now signed with the Cleveland Indians, meaning it looks like the center field position will come down to Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin.
Coming off a solid 2012 season, the 29-year-old Gentry is focused on earning that spot. He played in a career-high 122 games, though only 66 of those were starts. Gentry was frequently inserted late in games by manager Ron Washington as a defensive replacement. He batted .304 with a homer and 26 RBIs in 240 at-bats. During a stretch in June, Gentry was as hot as any hitter in the big leagues, hitting .455 (24-for-40). He stole 13 bases in 2012, has good speed and plays solid defense.
"I just want to have a healthy spring," Gentry said a few weeks ago. "I didn't have the spring I wanted last year, but I ended up having a good season and felt really good about it. I'm trying to keep it going and get strong over the offseason and try to repeat."
Gentry, a right-handed hitter, hit .343 against lefties in 2012. It's possible that Gentry could be in a platoon situation with Martin with Gentry hitting against lefties and Martin against righties.
Martin, who turns 25 next month, has a .204 average in 32 big league games, though he's never been given a regular job in the majors. The Rangers invested $15.5 million as part of a five-year deal in 2011 (included a $5 million signing bonus) for Martin, hoping he'd eventually become the club's center fielder. Is that time now?
Martin played in 55 games with Triple-A Round Rock last year and hit .329 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs with a 1.033 OPS. He played winter ball and batted .253 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 146 at-bats (37 games).
"We've got to make sure that we make him understand situations out there on the defensive end -- throwing to the right bag, hitting the cut-off man, replaying things before they happen," manager Ron Washington said. "These are all jobs that we have to make sure we instill in him and get him ready to perform not only athletically, but also the parts of the game that people take for granted. I do believe that he has come a long way. He had an opportunity to be up here and see how the big leagues work. Now he's going to get a chance to see where his ability takes him and us."
The question is whether one of these two players can seize the spot on a full-time basis with their play in spring training. That will take not only showing speed and skill on the bases and in the field, but an ability to hit pitchers from both sides. The two could split time if one doesn't stake his claim to the position in spring.
"We all would like to have a guy that you can pencil in every day, but if that's not the case here, we won't have any problem with a platoon," Washington said. "But right now, on Feb. 11, we'll let them come in and play and see what happens, and then we'll cross that bridge as we get further along in spring training. But you'd always like to have players you can depend on daily."
We'll be keeping an eye on center field. It's a key position up the middle and it will be interesting to see what decision Washington and the staff end up making.