Chuck Morgan, part of our 3-headed Rushmore of Voices (Nadel, Holtz, Morgan), will access the lower recesses of his range and declare,
“Now batting, center fielder…”
Leonys Martin? Craig Gentry? Julio Borbon? Engel Beltre? Michael Bourn? Gary Matthews Jr.? Gary Matthews Sr.? They’re all in play. Well, maybe not the last one. But you’d take Jr, right about now wouldn’t ya? (he played here a while back, scaled the centerfield wall, caught the ball, and landed in a pool filled with 50 million Angel dollars, you shoulda seen it!) Well, don’t be too scared. Concerned? Yep. Freaked out? Nah. Not just yet anyway.
If Bourn signs it’ll be to play CF. That would be cool, I guess, but that’s also because I don’t care about other people’s money. So he’s the easy one. I’m not sure I follow the hot stove enough to know if TEX is in on him. Besides, from what I’ve seen in the last few offseasons, following the hot stove appears to be as fruitful as a search for the Holy Grail, minus the swallows. If Bourn gets the money, he gets the job. I’m guessing he’s ready to be an everyday player at the major league level. I’m mostly basing that on the strength of the 743 games he’s already played in center field as a big leaguer. SCOUTING!
So, Craig Gentry. He’s a good player with a great nickname. Fast dude. You watch big league games, so you’ve undoubtedly seen him more in the last few years than I have. Good routes, good arm, good communication, good game knowledge. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in 476 plate appearances he has hit exactly one baseball over the fence during live play. I like a speedy guy too, but that kind of pop, or lack thereof, gets you platooned, or makes you a bench player. I should say, it has made him a bench player. That, and a .239 average against right handed starters. He recently turned 29. As the pundits are fond of saying, “he is what he is.”
Julio Borbon may have had his moment. I don’t remember the details, I’m sure you do, but wasn’t there some missed chances involving a bunt and some serious displeasure and subsequent erosion of trust from Wash and Pettis? Regardless of the situation, he’s still a player on the 40-man roster who hit like his hair was on fire at times in AAA in 2012. He seemed to have cut down on what I've learned are affectionately referred to as “Borboners” in the outfield and he is a speedy, base stealing, left handed hitting, true centerfielder. I’m like you, and I think his ship may have sailed as far as his Texas career is concerned, thanks partially to the fact that he’ll be 27 on February 20th. (**fun fact** same day(2/20), different year(‘86-v-‘93) as Jurickson Profar, and someone called “Justin Verlander”(‘83)). When someone says “that player's ________ tool is well below Mike Trout’s”, it’s usually not saying much. Unless that word is “throw/arm”. Trout’s arm is the kinda-ugly frame around the Mona Lisa, Julio’s is the macaroni frame around your kids’ very best refrigerator art. That’s a harsh analogy, but I like it so I’m keeping it in. I like Jules and I think he’d be well served catching on with an NL team. Unfortunately, as a guy with no remaining options and Texas’ choices becoming clear, the Rangers have lost leverage regarding trading Julio. The summation of my opinion is as follows: I think it takes a unique set of circumstances (read: injuries) or an amazing Spring Training for him to get the Texas job.
Leonys Martin could get the job. He’s a bit of an X factor, but a little less than the next guy on this list, so, hey, he’s the valedictorian of summer school! Leonys is left handed, so his 4.0-ish times to first base are in the same zone as Gentry’s, but not really, on account of having about a 2.5 step lead given his handedness. You’ve all seen him by now. His is not a slight, centerfield-type build, and that could ultimately move him to a left fielder’s role, but as of now, he possesses enough giddy-up to go get it from the middle of the outfield. He’s got a good arm, but then again so does Blaine Gabbert. Get it? Ok. Leonys needs to get better at reading the ball off the bat and getting a good jump. He also needs to prove he can hit left handed pitching. (I know, all lefty prospects have to prove they can hit left handed pitching, duh) He played CF nearly everyday for a couple of months in his stint for Licey this winter and played well. His speed is deceptive, both on the basepaths and in the outfield. By that I mean, Leonys never seems like he’s very fast, but you look up and he’s covered more ground than you thought he did. Cool trick. He is a good, though at times overly aggressive, baserunner, but not a good basestealer. Anyways, if I had a vote or even a guess, I think he gets the job. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets the job on an everyday basis. He’s a mature kid who appears VERY MUCH finished with being a minor leaguer. Hit the lefties a bit, get under the ball earlier when in the field, throw to the right base, and he’ll have the job. I don’t think he’s going to be an All Star just yet, or likely ever, but I think he’s ready to play center field everyday in the bigs and contribute to his team winning some games.
Engel? Trashcan throwing Engel? First pitch hack attack Engel? Showboatin’ on the HR trot Engel? 26 walks versus 118 strike outs Engel? Yep. Wanna know why? Lack of depth. Left handed hitting. Plus plus glove. Plus speed. Plus arm. Straight and direct routes. 17 f-in triples. 13 homeruns. 36 stolen bases. 10 caught stealings. 80 runs scored. These numbers are from 133 games in 2012, his second full season in Double-A. Engel turned 23 in November. Has he matured? Dunno. My mind tells me surely he has. My eyes told me, maybe not. Ideally, Engel spends 2013 refining his approach in Round Rock. But, maybe not. Maybe he’s exactly the type of kid who rises to the challenge of big time baseball. I’ve seen him a bunch and written about him ad nauseam and he’s anything but predictable. Maybe he instantly connects with Wash and GP and they love his gutsiness and closing speed. Maybe they figure they can teach the kid what base to throw to, but they can’t teach how to throw it as hard and accurately as he can. A few weeks ago, I would have nearly guaranteed he spends the entire year in AAA. That’s still the most likely outcome. But this is baseball, and weird stuff happens. Could he make the 25 man roster as the 5th outfielder? Weird stuff, y'all, weird stuff. Also, every columnist in town will be falling all over themselves with “Engel in the Outfield” ledes. And we wouldn’t want to deprive them of that, would we?
As for comparing any of these players to Josh Hamilton? That’s not fair, and you know it. When focused and happy and healthy, he’s 'bout as good as a baseball player can get. Be thankful you saw it. I am. If it’s any consolation, my gut tells me we saw it more times in 5 seasons than they will.
We’ll see what happens. Bottom line: don’t freak out. Until July.
Enjoy baseball! Love Ya!