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Surprise positional outlook: Bench

The Rangers worked hard this offseason to bolster their lineup, and that doesn't mean simply the guys starting most nights.

Today's position: Bench

Manager Ron Washington has talked repeatedly about how critical his bench was during the course of the 2010 season. When Ian Kinsler was out to start the season, Andres Blanco stepped in at second base. When Kinsler went on the DL again, the Rangers traded for Cristian Guzman, but it was Blanco that ended up getting most of the playing time at second.

Washington utilized Jorge Cantu, another trade deadline acquisition, when he could at first base to protect Mitch Moreland. But Moreland ended up earning the majority of the playing time down the stretch and in the playoffs. The manager also used Craig Gentry late in the season and moved David Murphy around. In other words: Washington's bench proved very valuable.

The same is likely in 2011, though the bench looks different. And there could be some interesting competition for thoe final spot or two. If things go to plan, Josh Hamilton will be in left field, Borbon in center and Nelson Cruz in right when the season begins. That leaves Murphy as the fourth outfielder, a term that really isn't fair in describing him. For a guy who wasn't considered a starting outfielder when 2010 started, Murphy got more than 450 plate appearances.

Murphy, a left-handed hitter, also got time against left-handed pitching. He had 114 at-bats against southpaws in 2010 and hit a respectable .272. Murphy was .298 against righties. No one was better in September with Hamilton out than Murphy, who hit .355 with three homers and 17 RBIs. He showed patience, walking 45 times with 71 strikeouts. The 45 walks were fourth most on the team.

Gentry will also get an opportunity this spring and has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Oklahoma City and batted .309 with 35 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. But Moreland, the club's regular first baseman, also saw some time in the outfield and could end up doing so again if needed in certain situations.

The switch of Michael Young to designated hitter and super-utility gives Washington even more options. Young can play the infield positions when needed and would DH the other days. Blanco is on the roster headed into spring training and could provide some additional infield insurance.

Mike Napoli also gives Washington flexibility too. He can use Napoli as a first baseman against left-handed pitching or as a DH when Young plays the field. And Napoli can catch, so he's right now penciled in as the third catcher. Napoli, as we discussed in the DH positional outlook, hit .305 against left-handers.

So if the Rangers decided to carry 12 pitchers, that would leave them (after the eight fielders, not including the pitcher, and the DH) with four bench spots on the 25-man roster. Murphy and Napoli are automatics on that list. If the club sticks with its plan to keep all three catchers, add Matt Treanor to the list as well. Read more about him in our catcher positional review here.

That would leave one spot with Blanco, Gentry, Chris Davis and a host of nonroster invitees fighting for it in spring training.

How it all shakes out remains to be seen. But Washington's bench is shaping up as one that gives him some versatility and one that can plug a lot of holes, something that could prove critical.