Martin entrenched in center despite slow start

Martin entrenched in center despite slow start

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Michael Choice started in center field for the Rangers on Saturday, while Leonys Martin got the day off, at least from the Cactus League.

Martin, who had some back issues last week, still did his work in the batting cages as he tries to get going at the plate after a 2-for-11 start to the spring. He is also 0-for-2 in stolen-base attempts.

"I don't feel good at the plate yet, but it's still early in spring," Martin said. "I feel my focus is there at the plate and I'm working hard on every part of my game."

Martin has still started six of the Rangers' 10 Cactus League games in center field. Choice started for the third time on Saturday, and Engel Beltre, who is sidelined with shin splints, has started there once. The job still belongs to Martin, according to manager Ron Washington.

"No, we don't have a center-field controversy, not at all," Washington said. "Leonys is my center fielder. Choice will play center field."

Choice played mostly center field in the Minor Leagues the past three years with the Athletics. The Rangers acquired him in the off-season and are using him at all three outfield positions. Choice is off to a good start offensively, with six hits in his first 17 at-bats.

"I have never seen him play, but I'm getting a chance to see him play and I'm happy with what I'm seeing," Washington said. "He is asking all the right questions, he wants to fit in and he wants to be a part of this team."

Right now, his best chance to make the team is as the fourth outfielder and right-handed designated hitter. At some point, he could move into an everyday role, but as far as taking Martin's job away in center in Spring Training, Washington isn't planning on that happening.

"My main goal is to help this team anyway I can, whether that's in a reserve or starting role," Choice said. "Like I said before, my goal is to be a cog in the wheel and do what it takes to help us win."

Martin had a promising first full season with the Rangers in 2013, hitting .260 with 66 runs scored, 21 doubles, six triples, eight home runs, 49 RBIs and 36 stolen bases in 147 games. The defensive metrics had him above average in center field, including an ultimate zone rating of 12.0 that was the fifth best in the Majors for his position. Washington said Martin made significant progress in running good routes and with his throwing as the season progressed.

Martin has great speed and one of the best throwing arms in the game, but he is still developing his instincts and learning to throw to the right base. He showed improvement in both areas last year. Washington said Martin still needs work going after balls at the fence and after long runs. He is tentative at the end in both situations.

"But you have to remember he hasn't played a lot of baseball," Washington said. "His instincts haven't totally developed yet."

The Rangers will give him that chance as their center fielder this season. Choice remains the leading candidate to be the fourth outfielder. He is a right-handed hitter on a team that has four big hitters -- Martin, Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland -- hitting from the left side. The only right-handed-hitting outfielder is Alex Rios, who has been a durable player his entire career but has had a couple of nagging injuries this spring.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.