The season opener is just over a week away and the Texas Rangers still have some major decisions to make. The fifth rotation spot remains in question, and the club must also figure out who will be their utility infielder as they break camp. Perhaps the most intriguing and heated position race in all of baseball takes place in the Ranger left field.
As many as 10 players were in the mix to start the spring. Among the veteran signings, Texas decided Ryan Ludwick, Kyle Blanks, and Nate Schierholtz will not make the team. Schierholtz hung around camp the longest, however the Rangers felt the best move for both parties would be to start him at Triple-A.
Alongside Schierholtz, candidate Michael Choice will also be making the trip down to Triple-A Round Rock. Choice has tremendous talent and will no doubt get his fair share of opportunities as the season transpires. He has ridiculous pop, but will need to make some adjustments both mechanically and mentally if he wants to play with the big boys.
That leaves Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, Delino DeShields, Jr., and Carlos Peguero for the job.
Ryan Rua is the headliner for the position. He played in 28 games with the Rangers last season, hitting .295, and striking out only 18 times in 108 at bats. Rua seems to be the most composed and advanced from an offensive standpoint, the main issue is his defense. Drafted as an infielder, Rua’s bat progressed so quickly that Texas felt his earliest opportunity would come as an outfielder. With the Rangers infield being as talented as it is, it’s likely Rua will remain an outfielder as long as he remains in a Texas uniform. There were times when the youngster looked lost in the outfield last year, but the Rangers are hoping their focused effort on his defense will prove worthwhile in 2015. As the old saying goes, “If you can hit, you can play.”
Jake Smolinski is competing swing-for-swing with Rua. Smolinski endured similar big league experience last year, playing in 24 games, and hitting .349 with three home runs. He has proved to be no fluke by hitting .333 thus far in spring training. There are no glaring weaknesses in Smolinski’s game, in fact he has been compared to Ranger Hall of Famer Rusty Greer in his style of play. Regardless of who is in left field on opening day, Smolinski will have many chances to prove himself early on in the season.
Delino DeShields, Jr. will likely make the team, however will be on the outside looking in on the starting gig. DeShields would take on the role of a fifth outfielder and would be the Rangers’ speed option off the bench. His athleticism and potential has been eye popping during his brief time with Texas. There were other outfielders who hit better than DeShields this spring, but it is his above and beyond speed and defensive ability that will ultimately earn him a roster spot.
Also on the outside looking in, Carlos Peguero made a convincing case for himself by posting a .375 batting average, and slugging .531 in 38 plate appearances in spring training. His performance has forced the Rangers to a difficult decision. Peguero’s historically good springs have coincided with historically poor regular seasons, causing understood doubt among the Ranger staff.
You can go ahead and chalk Rua and Smolinski into the roster. DeShields and Peguero are still on the edge. Each candidate has their advantages. Rua and Smolinski provide a solid bat to a power lineup, DeShields has worldly speed, and Peguero is the only left-handed hitter among the four. The Rangers will likely include all four on their opening day roster. Rua and Smolinski will earn the majority playing time. Peguero will platoon and will see his playing time against right-handed pitchers. And DeShields will be the primary pinch runner and see an occasional start.