10 spring issues: Ian Kinsler key to lineup

Editor's Note: This is part of a series looking at 10 issues that face the Texas Rangers as they head into spring training.

Today's issue: Ian Kinsler can set tone with bounce-back season.

It was not the 2012 that Ian Kinsler envisioned. His batting average was similar to what it was in 2011 -- he hit .255 in 2011 and .256 in 2012 -- but his home runs and stolen bases went down while his errors went up. Kinsler hit 19 home runs (he hit 32 in 2011) and had 21 stolen bases (30 in 2011). His on-base percentage was .326, a drop from .355 from the previous year. The difference? Walks. Kinsler had 89 walks in 2011 and dropped that total by 29 last season.

Add it up and Kinsler wasn't as productive as he'd like to be from the leadoff spot. Considering the numbers, it's impressive to note that Kinsler still had 105 runs scored, one of the top marks in the league.

But Kinsler knows he needs to improve.

“I want to provide more energy for this club,” Kinsler said earlier this offseason. “I think I need to show more emotion. I think our team as a whole needs to show more emotion, more energy. That’s obviously one of my responsibilities as a player. It’s what I’m good at, so I need to get back to that. As far as numbers are concerned, I think every player has up and down seasons throughout their career. It’s something you go through, and there’s a lot of reasons why it happened.”

Kinsler's focus is on having a better 2012. He enters spring still on top of the lineup, though nothing is set in stone. Manager Ron Washington likes the versatility that Kinsler provides at that spot. As we've talked about this offseason, I'd like to see what Elvis Andrus can do in the leadoff role. But then the question becomes who hits behind Andrus and where does Kinsler go in the lineup? So Washington is committed to sticking with Kinsler at No. 1 and Andrus at No. 2. Washington likes the way Andrus can make things happen with Kinsler on base, whether that's bunting or putting even more pressure on the opponent if he also gets on base.

The bottom line: Kinsler has to get on base more and make more happen. If he does that, good things follow. Kinsler is the spark plug of this offense. That's been the case the past few seasons, in my opinion. He wasn't able to hit like he's capable last season. He wasn't able to steal as many bases, in large part because opponents paid better attention. And he wasn't quite as clutch at the plate as he has been in the past. Kinsler hit just .226 with runners in scoring position. He hit .254 with RISP in 2011.

The 30-year-old veteran met with some members of the club's brass this offseason and told them he wanted to stay at second base. Initially, Kinsler said he'd do whatever the team wanted and was open to a move to first, but he had second thoughts after pondering the move for a week or two. At this time, the Rangers have agreed to leave him at second. But the decision has ripple effects, in that Jurickson Profar doesn't have an everyday spot right now. Profar can certainly benefit from at-bats at Triple-A, but he is clearly close and isn't likely to stay in the minors for long.

What it means is that Kinsler is also putting more pressure on himself to produce, arguing that he's more valuable to this club at second base. That's true if he gets back to doing what he did in 2011. He knows that and has said he's hungry this offseason to make sure he does all he can to get better offensively and defensively. The Rangers need him. If he is hitting and running and playing well, it seems to have a trickle-down effect on this offense. Texas needs the Kinsler that makes things happen. That starts with a solid -- and healthy -- spring. He feels the best he has in years. Watch how he responds as the weeks go along.

How do you think Kinsler will do in 2013?