Elvis Andrus primed for big year

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There's something different about Elvis Andrus this spring.

For starters, the Texas Rangers shortstop gained some weight -- maybe 10 pounds or so -- and it looks like it's all muscle. He focused this offseason on getting stronger, especially in his upper body, and it certainly appears he succeeded.

"He's always had broad shoulders, but he looks thicker," designated hitter/infielder Michael Young said. "People think of Elvis as a little speed shortstop or a 180-pounder. He's every bit of 210. He's a big kid."

But it isn't just Andrus' bulk that is making fans and teammates take notice. He's become an offensive force this spring, hitting .381 with a team-high 10 runs scored and 16 hits in 15 games (before Monday night's contest with the Cincinnati Reds). Andrus is driving the ball better, going the other way with pitches and getting himself into hitter's counts.

"He's never going to be a huge home run threat, but where he really has potential is being a guy that wears out gaps -- a lot of doubles, a lot of triples," Young said. "He can be really dangerous putting that with his hit-and-run and bunting ability."

Andrus feels like his offseason strength work has helped his bat speed and he's been working hard in the batting cages with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh to drive the ball to all fields.

"I'm trying to be a little aggressive," Andrus said. "I've had trouble sometimes when I'm ahead in the count. I'm thinking now about putting a good swing on the ball when I'm in those counts and seeing what happens."

Don't worry, Rangers fans: All this offensive talk hasn't altered Andrus' defensive goals.

Andrus acknowledged his glove work wasn't where he wanted it in early 2011. The 23-year-old ended the season with a career-high 25 errors, but 20 of them occurred prior to July 27. After that, Andrus tightened things up.

"I quit thinking as much," Andrus said. "I had to simplify things, especially on the routine plays. I had too many things in my head."

He doesn't now. Andrus has come into spring and made the routine plays look, well, routine. We haven't seen an errant throw or Andrus make a poor judgment call in the field. He seems relaxed, yet focused.

"The thing we talk to Elvis about is that everyone is going to make errors, but don't make the careless ones," Young said. "If you make an error, fire it in the fifth row. Don't bounce it to first. Be aggressive."

Manager Ron Washington has talked this spring about how Andrus has matured. He's now had three years in the majors and Washington sees a player who knows himself better.

"I don't need to be on him as much now," Washington said. "He knows what he has to do to improve and keep playing at a high level."

Washington's trust in Andrus is evident in the fact that he hit second in the batting order nearly all of last season. Washington liked the 1-2 punch of Ian Kinsler and Andrus attacking opponents with their legs on the bases. But he also believed that Andrus could put down a quality bunt or execute a hit-and-run when needed. And the No. 2 spot in the order must be able to do those things in the Rangers' versatile lineup.

"I like hitting there," Andrus said. "I'll do what they need, but I like having to be able to put down bunts or swing away or do the dirty things."

He did them well enough to finish third in the American League in sacrifice hits (16). He also had six bunt hits (tied for eighth in the league) and reached on an error a league-high 12 times, a nod to his speed and how he rushed fielders into making plays they couldn't.

Andrus did all of this and still hasn't reached his prime. He's heading into his fourth season and hopes he's ready to take an even bigger step forward in 2012.

But one thing won't change: his ability to cut up with his teammates. Andrus has been the club's head cheerleader this spring -- you can hear him on the back fields yelling during batting practice or clapping and jumping in the dugout. He's already in regular-season form there, too.

"He's great to have in this clubhouse," Young said. "He's excited and ready to get things going. He isn't afraid to ask questions and everyone is excited about what Elvis could potentially do this year."