Inbox: Who's off to the best start in center field?
Inbox: Who's off to the best start in center field?
By T.R. Sullivan
So far, how has Leonys Martin looked? Does Craig Gentry have a leg up on the center-field race? I really haven't got to see Martin play, but I'm pulling for him to be the Opening Day starter.
-- Chris G., Hurst, Texas
Actually Julio Borbon, a left-handed hitter who is 4-for-11 to this point, is off to the best start of any of the center-field candidates, while Gentry is hitless in his first 11 at-bats. Martin would really need to have a knockout spring to beat one of those two out for the Opening Day job, and he is getting a serious look. More likely, he will start at Triple-A.
Gentry might be the better fit on this team because he bats right-handed. That would allow the Rangers to pair him with David Murphy, a left-handed hitter, like they did in the playoffs while shuttling Josh Hamilton between left and center. But right now, the Rangers are looking to see if somebody can seize the center-field job, and Borbon has been the quickest out of the starting gate.
I've noticed that the Rangers have added, among others, Conor Jackson, Brad Hawpe and Joe Beimel to Minor League contracts. It seems that under certain circumstances, any one of those guys could play key roles for the Rangers. It's just that the right circumstances might not be on Opening Day. Which players have out clauses in their contracts and when are they?
-- Aaron R., Dallas
Jackson and Hawpe are both covered in the new CBA rules concerning free agents with six-plus years of experience who sign Minor League contracts. By April 1, the Rangers have to do one of three things with them: Add them to the 25-man roster, release them or pay them a $100,000 bonus. If the clubs pay the bonus and the players go to the Minors, then they are automatically given a June 1 "opt-out" date. That means they can take their free agency if they are not on the Major League roster.
What are the chances that Martin Perez will win a spot as a left-handed reliever in Spring Training?
-- Jared C., Fort Worth
None. Perez is not a reliever. He is a future starter who needs to start every fifth day at Triple-A. The biggest issue with Perez is he gets "excitable" on the mound and gets out of whack with his delivery and composure. That's not a good thing for a left-handed reliever coming into a tough situation late in the game. The Rangers have a sufficient number of experienced left-handed relievers in camp, and Beimel, Neal Cotts, Mitch Stetter and Michael Kirkman combined for four scoreless innings against the Indians on Sunday.
Jon Daniels is always quick to credit his scouts and other organizational people when a move goes well. As an insider, do you have a sense of how dependent he is on others in the organization in his decision-making? Does he rely on groupthink more or less than other GMs?
-- John C., Austin, Texas
One of Daniels' best assets is he is a good listener. Often in organizational meetings, he will sit back and listen to others without injecting his own opinion to avoid unduly influencing the discussion. That the Rangers had at least a dozen scouts watch Yu Darvish in the past two years shows how much Daniels is sincerely interested in the opinion of a wide variety of people. Obviously some opinions carry far greater weight than others, and Daniels has the final say in the end.
Michael Young exceeded expectations for the team, and at the same time, got more than enough opportunities from the team. Is this the super utility player role we are likely to see going forward, and are other teams looking at this type of player role now with Young becoming such a valuable contributor to the team's overall success while being satisfied as a player?
-- Richard M., Dallas
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Versatility is huge in the American League, because teams carry seven relievers and only have a four-man bench. The real forerunners to Young in this regard were guys like Chone Figgins and Ben Zobrist, players who are capable of playing multiple positions at a high level. It's not easy to do; that's why such players are so valuable. That's what attracted the Rangers to Mike Napoli last offseason, even when it appeared they were set at catcher. They knew he could help at multiple positions. The Rangers place a premium on players with versatility beyond just Young.
I know a lot of focus is on Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez, but what's the latest on Tanner Scheppers?
-- Danny R., Gilmer, Texas
The Rangers have finally decided to let Scheppers focus on pitching in relief. He was set back last year by a back injury that limited him to 28 games in the Minors, although he did pitch well in the Venezuelan Winter League. He still has some command issues to figure out, but he has a chance to be the kind of power reliever the Rangers love. He probably won't make the team out of Spring Training, but he could find his way to Arlington this year if he stays healthy.
Since finding left-handed relief is going to be the biggest issue this year for us, why not send Matt Harrison to the bullpen instead of Alexi Ogando? Harrison proved himself a very capable pitcher in 2011, and since he is a lefty, could potentially solve the left-handed relief issue.
-- Jake B., Frisco, Texas
The feeling in the Rangers' camp is that Ogando, being more of a power pitcher, is better suited to the bullpen than Harrison. He has also been successful in that role before. Also don't overlook that value of having as many quality left-handed starters as possible. There were only 22 of them who threw at least 180 innings last year, and the Rangers had three of them.
We really enjoyed watching the Friday night games on a local station, since we don't have cable or satellite. Will that be in place for this season, as well?
-- Amy C., Fort Worth, Texas
Yes, that particular over-the-air television station is in the third year of a five-year agreement, and will broadcast 25 games on Friday night.
Was the injured ankle the only factor that stopped Napoli and the Rangers from coming to a long-term agreement this offseason?
-- Elizabeth R., Aurora, Colo.
It probably wasn't much of a factor at all. The Rangers were in the same situation with Napoli this offseason that they were with C.J. Wilson the previous winter. Napoli, 30, was coming off a great year and knows that next multiyear contract he signs is probably going to be the biggest of his career. This is his best chance to maximize his value, and there is no reason to settle for less at this point with only a year to go before free agency. The Rangers, on the other hand, are looking at a player who had the best year of his career and probably aren't ready to sign him to a lucrative contract based on just that one season alone.
How is it that Miguel de los Santos isn't on the top 100 prospects lists? He was lights-out in the AFL. A lefty, his fastball sits at 94 mph and his change is 77. No one could touch his change.
-- Bruce K., Surprise, Ariz.
De los Santos was 5-0 with a 3.26 ERA with a league-leading 40 strikeouts in 30 innings in the Arizona Fall League. He has had some arm injuries coming through the system, but he is still on the 40-man roster and still highly regarded within the organization. An 8.06 ERA in six Double-A starts won't get anybody on the Top 100 list, but he is a good candidate to have a breakout 2012 season.
Love seeing Nelson Cruz's cannon of an arm in right field. Didn't love see him tied up by the ball hit at him during the World Series. Arm aside, where is he generally considered to be among Major League right fielders, defensively speaking?
-- Robert F., San Antonio, Texas
According to Fangraphs, Cruz had the third-highest UZR (ultimate zone rating) among right fielders in the Majors during the 2009 season, and he was fourth in 2010. Last year, his UZR was the fifth worst among 22 right fielders with a minimum of 750 innings played out there. The reality is he can play right field and is one of the better ones out there.