clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Texas Rangers left field options with Josh Hamilton out

New, comments

Josh Hamilton is out for at least the first month of the season. What are the Rangers' options to take his place?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Rangers had tentatively penciled in Josh Hamilton to be the team's semi-regular left fielder, in a platoon with Justin Ruggiano, for the Opening Day 25 man roster, with the fifth outfielder spot still being up for grabs.  But with Hamilton being out for at least the first month of the season, the Rangers now are left with a couple of question marks, as they look to replace Hamilton on what they hope will just be a temporary basis.

So, who are the candidates to take Hamilton's spot in left field on Opening Day?

Joey Gallo would seem to be the immediate answer -- he started 14 games for the Rangers in left field last year (and even one game in center field), he's arguably the team's top prospect, and he put up a .204/.301/.417 slash line in 123 plate appearances, which isn't great, but is also as good as most of the guys available on minor league deals in the free agent market right now.  Of course, Gallo slumped after a fast early start in the majors, struggled in AAA (.195/.289/.450), and probably needs a little more time in the minors.  The Rangers have said that, when Gallo comes back to the majors, they want it to be for good, and after struggling in the second half of 2015, I imagine the Rangers would rather let him go to work against AAA pitchers and build his confidence up there, rather than throwing him back in against major league pitchers for 4-6 weeks and then sending him back down.

The hot internal pick seems to be Nomar Mazara, the 20 year old lefthanded hitter who rocketed up the prospect ranks after putting up a .284/.357/.443 slash line in Frisco in 470 plate appearances, and then improving on that to go .358/.409/.444 in 88 plate appearances in Round Rock after being promoted.  Mazara probably isn't far off, he's already on the 40 man roster, and the consensus seems to be he's got the mental fortitude to handle it if he struggles.  But the flip side is that his experience against upper-level pitching is limited, and like Gallo, would probably be better served with some time in AAA to start the year.  While I expect Mazara to start the year in AAA, it wouldn't shock me if he forced the Rangers' hand with a stellar spring.

The 40 man roster also has a pair of righthanded hitting left field options, in Ryan Rua and Patrick Kivlehan.  Rua started the season as the Rangers' everyday left fielder, but broke his ankle in the first week and then never got back on track.  Kivlehan, meanwhile, is a 26 year old who didn't play college baseball until his senior year, and thus is a late-bloomer, a guy who the Rangers picked up from Seattle in the Leonys Martin trade.  Kivlehan put up a .256/.313/.453 line in the PCL in 2015.  Both guys are in the mix, but with Ruggiano already giving the team a righthanded corner option, neither seems likely to make the Opening Day roster, unless it is in addition to a lefty hitting outfielder who would back up center and provide a platoon partner for Ruggiano.

Also coming over in that Seattle trade was James Jones, a 27 year old lefthanded hitting center fielder who was already in the mix for the fifth outfielder job.  Jones has a career .238/.268/.296 slash line in 328 major league plate appearances, which includes a .103/.161/.138 slash line in 31 plate appearances last year.  He's fast -- he's 28 for 30 in steals, and 5 of his 81 career hits are triples -- but he's not a good defender, based on both scouting reports and the limited statistical data.  Still, given his ability to back up center field, he could end up getting a chance to share time in left field while Hamilton is out.

The wild card here among the internal options is Lewis Brinson.  The 21 year old Brinson started the 2015 season in high-A, and then missed time early in the year with a hamstring issue.  Once he got back on the field, however, he was lights out, earning a late season promotion to AA Frisco, and then getting sent up to AAA for the final week and the playoffs.  From the time he was activated from the d.l. in June until the end of the minor league season, he had a .343/.412/.635 slash line, which he followed up with a .300/.408/.575 performance in the Arizona Fall League.  Brinson is a true center fielder who has earned praise for the adjustments he's made, but given his limited experience in the upper levels, and the fact he's not on the 40 man roster, he'd seem like a longshot to make the Opening Day roster.  Still, like Mazara, he could force the Rangers' hand with a strong camp, and its possible he could make the Rangers consider putting him in center field on Opening Day, with Delino DeShields sliding to left field.

Okay, that's the internal candidates...the external candidates are a lot less exciting, particularly given that the Rangers don't appear to have any money left in the budget to spend (if they did, you'd have to think Austin Jackson would be on his way to Surprise).  The realistic candidates are guys who would accept minor league deals.

David Murphy is the name that I've seen bandied about the most, due, I suspect, in no small part to the fact that he's a former Ranger who was very popular with the media and with fans.  However, he has a .253/.305/.392 slash line over the past three years, is coming off a .283/.318/.421 slash line, and isn't a good defender anymore.  As a potential stopgap option, he might be okay, but his inability to play center field is a problem.

Will Venable, on the other hand, is also on the market, is also a lefthanded hitter, and can play some center field, which might make him a better fit on a roster which is lacking a backup centerfielder.  Venable was acquired by the Rangers in August, 2015, to help fill in for Hamilton when Hamilton went down last year, but didn't hit (he put up a .182/.325/.227 slash line).  Venable, like Murphy, isn't exciting, but he does give you a lefthanded bat to platoon with Ruggiano while also being able to back up center, and that might give you the flexibility to keep someone like Rua or Ike Davis on the roster as a righthanded hitting platoon partner for Mitch Moreland.  UPDATE -- Oh, yeah, Ike Davis hits lefthanded.  In my defense, I haven't thought about Davis basically since the Rangers signed him.

And then there is Drew Stubbs, who was also a Ranger in the latter parts of 2015.  Stubbs is a righthanded hitter, which means he's not really a platoon partner for Ruggiano, but he can play center field.  Stubbs was even worse with the bat as a Ranger than Venable was -- he put up a .095/.269/.143 line -- but hey, he's out there.

Finally, the Rangers could look at the trade market.  I don't know who all the Rangers would look at as a trade option, especially given that, with the young options they have in the system, they are likely looking for an early-season or one-year placeholder, rather than a long-term solution.  Nevertheless, as we've discussed, the Rangers have a lot of bullpen depth available, and if someone who could be an option in both left field and center field were to come available on a team that is looking for an extra bullpen arm, that could certainly end up being an option.