With all the drama the past two weeks regarding the Michael Young situation there is one area of the offense that remains completely unaffected and that is the Texas outfield.

 

MY will not be used in the outfield in 2011 at all or moving forward, and even though Mitch Moreland spent the bulk of his 2010 AAA time in right field, he is the Rangers first baseman and will not play any outfield. 

 

So with those two players aside the Rangers currently have six players on the 40-man roster that could see outfield time in 2011.  True, there are others who will get Spring Training invites and might impress a few people, but this year it’s going to be these six covering the Green Grass Fields of Arlington.  So let’s take a quick look at these six players and what their roles and projections are for the upcoming season.

 

Josh Hamilton

 

Anybody ever heard of this guy?  Oh yeah you’ve heard about him, even the people living under rocks have heard about him.  He just signed a two-year, $24 million extension with Texas which is already being deemed the first of two multi-year extensions in his Rangers career.

 

When Hamilton was traded to Texas back in December 2007 for pitchers Edinson Volquez and Daniel Ray Herrera, I stated back then to give this guy three years to prove it was a smart trade and the right decision by Texas.  For many it took half a season and one Home Run Derby in New York to be sold on Hamilton.  For the doubters who gained steam during his dismal 2009 campaign, the 2010 MVP season slammed that door closed…again.  And with that said let’s take a quick look at his combined three year numbers:

 

378 Games (126 average), .315 Batting AVG., .543 SLG., 466 hits, 94 doubles, 10 triples, 74 home runs, 284 RBI, 236 runs, 131 walks, 25 stolen bases…and that all includes his injury-ridden, down 2009 season.  Last year in his MVP season: .359 AVG., .633 SLG, 1.044 OPS, 186 hits, 40 doubles, 32 home runs, 100 RBI, 95 runs, and 8 stolen bases and he did all this while missing 29 games.

 

In my book that his earning a $24MM payday.

 

The questions facing Hamilton will as always be the health concerns, can he stay healthy enough to play more than his average of 126 games a season, remember his first year in Texas he played in 156 games.  If Josh can play that many times a season then again he will be considered for a MVP.  I really am that confident in saying that, if healthy he is an MVP-caliber player, that is just how good the man is at baseball.  The second question facing Josh will be where in the outfield he plays and that depends less on his performance and more on the others around him.  When Julio Borbon is in the lineup, Josh will play left field, less running and less of a chance for injury, but if Borbon struggles, then Josh might see more time in center field again.

 

Regardless of where he plays, as long as Josh stays healthy Texas has an improved chance of repeating not only the AL West division but also the AL Pennant.

 

Side note:  I’m predicting a 32 home run season for Josh, because in his two healthy seasons (2008, ’10) he has exactly 32 HRs, so I’m going to first predict this trend continues and then in the offseason find a way to convince him to change him number to something in the 50s or 60s.

 

Nelson Cruz

 

The guy who I have deemed a nickname for and it is my favorite in all of sports, Mr. Cruz wears number 17, so now whenever he launches a BOOMSTICK, I’m yelling out, “NC-17!!!”

 

When Texas acquired Nelson in 2006 as part of the Carlos Less trade, he was a piece that we insisted was added in.  Great job front office as Nelson has become the ideal example of a late bloomer.  In 2009 Nelson came out of his shell and surprised many baseball people, and when healthy in 2010 he did the same thing.  In fact in the past two seasons Nelson has 247 hits, 52 doubles, 55 home runs, 154 RBI, and 135 runs scored in only 256 games played.  Do the math and he missed out on 88 games in the past two years.

 

Which brings up the obvious question regarding Cruz, can he stay healthy?

 

When healthy Cruz is a legit .300+ hitter, stroking at least 35+ doubles and home runs a season, and 100+ RBI candidate, but each of the past two years his injury issues have prevented him from accomplishing these feats.  Last year alone Nelson had three separate stints on the DL and each time it was due to hamstring issues.  During the offseason he has assured many that working on his hamstring strength and stamina and overall endurance has been the number one priority.

 

I have always been really high on the Rangers standard in right field and I’m very hopefully and optimistic that 2011 is going to be a .300+, 30+ double, 90+ RBI, 80+ runs scored, and 40+ HOME RUN season for NC-17.  That’s right, you can quote me, if Nelson can stay health it is a 40+ HR season.

 

Julio Borbon

 

Say what you want about some disappointments in Julio’s 2010 campaign, I won’t offer up too much of an argument.  But the problem I have with it is two-fold.  One, I think too much pressure was put on Julio right off the bat, last year he was 24, in his rookie season with only 157 MLB at-bats under his belt and he was expected to hit leadoff.  I disagreed with this right away and was extremely glad once he was placed in the regular nine-hole spot.  In fact in 2010 when batting in the #1 or #2 spot Borbon batted only .219 with only 16 hits, but when placed in the nine-hole he batted .291 with 98 hits. Two, and this goes along with number one is that too much pressure was put on Borbon to be the everyday center-fielder right away.  Don’t get me wrong I think he is the future for the team in center, but he should have been eased into the role.

 

It was very obvious last year that Julio still needed to develop his fielding, throwing, and understanding of situations before he can be counted on as the director of the Green Grass Fields of Arlington.  Throwing, Julio needs to work more on accuracy than strength, he has the speed to get to balls quicker and therefore has a little lee-way on strength if his accuracy improves.  Along with that are the angles that Borbon takes to the ball, he has ridiculous speed and in the future will be able to cut balls off before they reach the wall in some gaps.  But first he needs to improve on those angles and understand situations in which he won’t reach a rolling ball.  But now with a full MLB season under his belt, an offseason to work on his weaknesses, if Borbon has addressed the arm accuracy, fielding angles, and overall IQ of outfield play, he can and will be the everyday center fielder.

 

The repercussions of Borbon being able to hold down center are huge for this team.  One, it will allow the MVP Hamilton to stay in left and hopefully avoid injuries.  Two, it will give the team stability in center, a position that has seen 16 different starters on Opening Day in the past 18 years.  And finally three, with the DH situation not an option for any outfielders, having Borbon batting ninth as the second lead-off hitter adds another aspect of speed that balances a Rangers lineup that can and will contend for the best offense in baseball.

 

David Murphy

 

Words can not even begin to explain how vital Mr. Murphy has been for the Rangers in his three plus years wearing the Ranger Red & Blue.  Never has he been considered a starter, except for when one has gone to the DL, but yet each of the past three seasons he has logged at least 400+ at-bats, 114+ hits, 26+ doubles, and 57+ RBI.  In fact in the last three seasons David has been the Rangers #4 outfielder each season and during that time he has a .278 AVG, 352 hits, 1266 at-bats, 44 home runs, 78 doubles, 196 RBI, 179 runs, and 30 stolen bases.  Break that down, on average in the past three seasons the Texas Rangers have gotten a .278 AVG., .453 SLG. with 117 hits, 15 HRs, 26 doubles, 65 RBI, 60 runs, and 10 stolen bases out of their FOURTH OUTFIELDER.  Seriously, I would be fine to have those numbers from the #3 outfielder and most teams would agree with me. 

 

Going into 2011, just like the three previous seasons, David is again going to be the Rangers #4 outfielder and a wonderful insurance policy when Hamilton, Cruz, and Borbon need a day off or spend time on the DL.  Additionally, like 2010, if Borbon struggles to find a rhythm as a regular in the lineup, manager Ron Washington will have no problem making the move to play David on a regular basis and no one on the team or in the stands will worry even the slightest bit.

 

In fact the issue with Murphy each of the past two seasons is will we be able to get him enough at-bats.  Every year, the same question is asked, it looks like the lineup is full enough that he will not, and yet year after year he not only gets his at-bats, but he performs like a regular as well.  There are very few better insurance policy fourth outfielders in baseball than what Texas has in David Murphy and once again for the 2011 season to be a championship caliber season the team will again call on the services of #7.

 

 

Going into the 2011 season Texas is likely to carry only these four outfielders on the Opening Day roster.  Normally teams carry five, but that is usually with a DH that can play the OF, this year Texas does not have that, therefore it is possible that the team will only need the four…for now.  But if and more likely when the time comes for Texas to promote another outfielder, currently there are two on the 40-man roster whom I predict will both see time in 2011 in a Rangers uniform.  That is Craig Gentry and Engel Beltre.

 

Craig Gentry

 

Gentry will not really be a Rangers option coming out of Spring Training, last August he broke his wrist running into a wall during a AAA Oklahoma City game.  Gentry had surgery on his throwing wrist and is slowly progressing back to normal.  When healthy Gentry provided a plus-arm in the outfield and plus-plus speed in both the field and on the bases.  He is a contact-type hitter, with not much power, and it is that combination plus the log-jam of Ranger outfielders that has kept his MLB time to a minimum the past two seasons.

 

Once healthy Gentry will likely be the first call-up from the Minors when one of the four Ranger outfielders lands on the DL.  Last season for Oklahoma City, Gentry played in 69 games, batted .309 with 80 hits, 43 runs scored, 35 RBI, and 12 stolen bases.  He does not project to produce much higher numbers than that, but if necessary could be a solid #4 outfielder for the Rangers.

 

Engel Beltre

 

The Texas Rangers top hitting prospect of the future might get his chance in 2011 to show the Arlington crowd and fellow Ranger players what he can do.  Beltre was acquired in one of the best trades that Daniels pulled off while re-building the team, it was the Trade Deadline 2007 and Daniels sent reliever Eric Gagne to the Red Sox, who ended up hurting Boston more than helping them, and in return Texas got LHP Kason Gabbard, OF David Murphy, and OF Engel Beltre.  It’ll be real nice in the future if those two are in the outfield together at the same time.

 

According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Beltre is the 10th best outfield prospect in all of baseball.  And the list doesn’t end there, he is Baseball America’s 5th best Ranger prospect (after not even being Top 10 the year before).  Baseball Prospectus’s rankings of Beltre since 2008: 4th, 5th, 9th, and now 4th.  Minor League Ball has he listed 6th, up from 11th in 2010.  Rangers Insider Jamey Newberg lists him 4th in the farm system, up from 14th the year before.  And yours truly lists Beltre as the #5 Rangers prospect in the system.

 

Notice a large jump in everyone’s list between 2010 and 2011, there are three reasons.  One, Texas prompted some of there top talent (Neftali Feliz).  Two, traded away some top talent (Justin Smoak).  But three, Beltre had a solid hitting and fielding 2010.  In 2007-09 Beltre’s batting averages were .243, .283, and .223 in the minor league system, in which he spent most of that time in the A-ball.  But in 2010, Beltre batted .331 in High-A ball Bakersfield, which is in the California League and known well for it’s tough pitching.  Once promoted to AA Frisco, Beltre batted .254 over the final 47 games.

 

Is he ready for time in the Majors…no, not at all.  Will Beltre see some regular time in Spring Training with the Major League club…yes, he has earned that much at least.  Could he have an incredible Spring and earn a spot on the 25-man roster…not likely.

 

Beltre is probably going to start the season back in AA Frisco and if he can dominate the league, like Bakersfield in 2010, then he will be promoted to the Rangers new AAA ball club Round Rock Express.  If Beltre can continue to improve his batting average and fielding IQ, it is possible that he will receive a September call-up to the Rangers when the rosters expand.  Either way Beltre is still viewed as a star outfielder of the future for the Rangers, but more likely that his landing point and regular playing time will be 2013, maybe 2012.

 

 The Rangers go into Spring Training with their outfield in great shape and ready for another severely productive 2011 season.  Though anything is possible during the season, I don’t really see the Rangers making any outside improvements to the outfield, barring any season-ending injuries.

 

But once again the hearts of Ranger fans can rest easy knowing that the Green Grass Fields of Arlington are guarded well by the likes of Hamilton, Cruz, Borbon, and Murphy.