In a tough season for the Rangers, there was one position that lacked the most: center field. Five players earned at-bats at the position throughout the year (Carlos Tocci, Delino DeShields, Drew Robinson, Joey Gallo, and Ryan Rua). Collectively, the group posted an AL-worst .211 batting average in 2018 (2nd worst in MLB above Miami). They also accumulated the fewest hits at that position (116). Those totals just included the at-bats these players had as centerfielders. They also combine to commit the most errors of any centerfield group in the AL with ten. However, this group did get the 2nd most chances than any other group behind Detroit.
All five players are still under the Rangers control unless the team makes a trade, of course. However, the question remains which direction the Rangers should head for center field? One positive is that if the team is just considering these five candidates, they are all 28 and younger. Another plus is that all five have enough MLB experience to accumulate at least 150 at-bats in their career. Tocci’s situation becomes easier for 2019 because the Rangers can send Carlos to the minors if need be. Due to the 2017 Rule 5 draft, Tocci required to stay in the majors for the entire season if the Rangers wanted to avoid putting Tocci on waivers.
Delino DeShields saw the most time in center field last season. Out of 549 total at-bats by Rangers’ centerfielders, DeShields collected 331 of them (60.3%). The Rangers may look to give Delino more opportunities to get him back adjusted to centerfield. In 2016 and 2017, Delino accumulated fewer than 150 at-bats as a centerfielder with Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond getting a bulk of the work. In 2015, Delino’s first year in the majors, Deshields and Leonys Martin shared the workload at center.
One aspect the Rangers tried last year is giving Joey Gallo some opportunities last season in center field. Previous to 2018, Joey Gallo only started one professional game in centerfield (June 27, 2015, at Toronto where he moved to left field after five innings). Gallo barely appeared in the outfield in the minor leagues and did not play in a single game in centerfield. In a small sample of 95 innings, Gallo posted a perfect fielding percentage. He even showed off his infield cannon arm on the last road trip in Anaheim attempting to double off Mike Trout.
There is an option for the Rangers in the minor leagues if they want to go even younger for opening day. 25-year-old Scott Heineman could be an option. Last season, Heineman proved as an on-base hitter in the minors and posted a .295 batting average in AAA last year with 424 at-bats. Although he has more experience in the corner outfield positions, Heineman has the arm strength and range to carry his own in center. He also has experience at third base adding in the versatility and making him more valuable on the roster.
All this concludes that the Rangers have some decent options in deciding how to build the 2019 roster. However, the position is an issue that needs addressing, at least in spring training. The Rangers may decide to go to the free agent market, but with the young talent they have, it will be placing money where it does not need to go. The Rangers have potential in their choices, the question upcoming is where will the pieces fall? Ultimately this is for the new manager to find out.
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