ARLINGTON -- The array of moves made by the Rangers in the winter have only cleared up half of their designated hitter situation.Frank Catalanotto will be their DH against right-handed pitchers. It is unknown who will perform those duties when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. The Rangers only know that it will not be Sammy Sosa.
The Rangers will likely need a right-handed bat to go with both him and left-handed hitting first baseman Ben Broussard. Catalanotto, 33, had just 13 at-bats against left-handers last year and it's clear that after 11 years in the big leagues, he is viewed mainly as a platoon player.His partner is unidentified, but it will likely come from within from a group that includes right-handed hitters Nelson Cruz, Chris Shelton and Nate Gold and switch-hitter Jason Botts. Shelton and Gold can also both play first base. Botts has played there in the past and will work there in Spring Training. Cruz is strictly an outfielder. The Rangers turned away from Sosa because he is limited defensively and he hit just .222 with a .410 slugging percentage against right-handers. "We talked about a variety of RH options, since Cat and Broussard are left-handed and have traditionally needed a platoon partner," Daniels said. "But we decided we'd prefer to give opportunity to the guys we already have: Cruz, Botts, Shelton, Gold." This could be a big spring for Botts, who has put up impressive Minor League numbers, but has yet to convince the Rangers that he's ready for an everyday assignment in the big leagues. Over parts of the last three seasons, Botts has played in 78 games and hit .240 with three home runs and 23 RBIs in 244 at-bats. He has struck out 90 times while posting a .329 on-base percentage and a .335 slugging percentage. Now he is out of options and has little left to prove in the Minor Leagues. In a combined 611 at-bats between Triple-A Oklahoma and winter ball this offseason, Botts hit .322 with 21 home runs, 110 runs scored and 132 RBIs. "Jason's out of options, so he's got to make the club, or we've got a decision to make," Daniels said. "I was happy to see him go to Mexico, where he did what he's always done -- produce. He's got the ability and the track record you like to see." Cruz is in the same situation. He hit .352 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs in 44 games and 162 at-bats at Oklahoma last year, but just .234 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 307 at-bats with the Rangers. Botts has the advantage of being a switch-hitter. Being able to play first base could also help. Cruz is more athletic and a much better outfield defender. Shelton and Gold are strictly right-handed hitting first basemen. The problem is, there may be only one spot on the team for any of them. The Rangers figure to go with a four-man bench that will likely include a backup catcher, a utility infielder and a fourth outfielder. That leaves just one spot for a right-handed hitting backup outfielder/first baseman and a potential platoon partner with Catalanotto at designated hitter. Ramon Vazquez is the leading candidate to be the utility infielder, although the Rangers will take a hard look at rookie German Duran and are also bringing veteran Edgardo Alfonzo into camp. Alfonzo, 35, is a long-shot to make the team. He did not play in the Majors in 2007 and hit just .126 in 30 games in 2006. But there was a time when he would have been just what the Rangers needed: a right-handed hitting machine who can play multiple positions.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.