ARLINGTON -- When Rangers general manager Jon Daniels decided to trade pitcher Edinson Volquez to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Josh Hamilton, he was basically conceding what has become increasingly obvious as this decade has passed.The Rangers outfield, a major strength during the division championship years of the 1990s, has been a major source for concern since the club's last division title in 1999. While the Rangers have had five different infielders appear in an All-Star Game in the past eight years, they have had six different Opening Day left fielders, six different right fielders and seven different center fielders over the same stretch of time.
The numbers could have been better, but he missed time by going on the disabled list in May with gastroenteritis and again in July with a sprained right wrist. He still finished the season with a .922 OPS. The Rangers haven't had an outfielder with an OPS that high since Gonzalez in 1999."Josh has the ability, and now he's done it to a degree at the big league level," Daniels said. "One impetus of that deal was getting a talented outfielder who is youthful, productive and can be here for some time. Hopefully Josh can do that for us." The Rangers have tried hard to fix their outfield problems through the Draft. They have taken an outfielder in the first or second round in four of the last five years: Vince Sinisi (second, 2003), K.C. Herren (second, 2004), John Mayberry Jr. (first, 2005) and Julio Borbon (supplemental first, 2007). Only Borbon is on the 40-man roster, but that was simply a way to get him signed last summer. He is still at least a few years away. Mayberry remains a prospect but hasn't progressed as quickly as the Rangers had hoped. While 13 of 30 first-round picks from the 2005 Draft have played in the Majors, Mayberry split time between Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco in 2007, hitting a combined .235 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs in 489 at-bats with 48 walks and 126 strikeouts. "When we took John in '05, it was with the knowledge that he would have to make adjustments," Daniels said. "He made some, but he's still working on others. Right-handed power hitters are hard to find. This is a big year for him. He's going to have the opportunity to be challenged and we'll see how he responds." The Rangers' best outfield prospect may be Chris Davis, who played 36 games out there in 2006 for Class A Spokane after being taken in the fifth round of the Draft. The Rangers moved him to third base last season and he hit a combined .297 with 36 home runs and 118 RBIs between Bakersfield and Frisco. But he has a plus throwing arm and could be moved to right field at some point. "He has done it before," Daniels said. "I think his arm is a profile-type arm that plays out in right field, but we're not going there yet. If he can continue to hit the way he did all last year, we'll find a way to get that bat in the lineup." Another guy to watch is center fielder Brandon Boggs, a fourth-round pick in the 2004 Draft who overcame some early injuries and put himself in the picture by hitting .262 with a .380 on-base percentage, 86 runs scored, 30 doubles, 23 home runs, 72 RBIs and 84 walks between Bakersfield and Frisco last season. He is on the 40-man roster and will be in big league camp. "He's a switch-hitter who can do a lot of little things," Daniels said. "He certainly has a chance. He's a guy we're going to continue to challenge and see how he handles it." Then there is Engel Beltre, the 18-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the Eric Gagne trade on July 31. He has had just one season in professional baseball in the United States and hit .243 with nine home runs and 29 RBIs in 65 games and 247 at-bats last year. But he is already showing up in top prospect lists because of his enormous talent. It's the kind of talent the Rangers used to produce in the outfield. But it has been a while.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.