If you’ve been living under a rock allow us to bring you into the light of day. Spring training has been cancelled and Opening Day is delayed by at least two weeks. Cheating scandals aside, the only thing that has delayed play like this in the past 30 years is labor strike. In this fight Covid-19 is the 800 lb. gorilla and the league is nothing but a little grease spot under its paw. So this is no battle at all. Seriously, this is worse than Charlie vs Willy Wonka in 1976.
That being said, eventually, probably, hopefully, there will be baseball. And there are some battles of note out there. One in particular is who will be the Texas Rangers’ center fielder? It’s not as clear cut as you think.
The 2019 Crew
First you have Danny Santana. He was a revelation in 2019, 28 home runs and 21 stolen bases will do that for a person. Among other things he played all three outfield positions last year. So theoretically he could play center, right? Not so fast, his fielding percentage was only .965. That’s not good. For comparison another guy who floats around, Jesse Winker, had a 1.000 fielding percentage last year in center. So you can see why the Rangers might want a surer glove out there.
Next you have Willie Calhoun. This former Dodger finally started to pop last year with 21 home runs and 14 doubles. But he’s a left fielder at best, think Manny Ramirez battling the Green Monster on his best day.
First up was failed second baseman Nick Solak. The Rangers were hoping to make something of the young man. One can see why, he hit 32 bombs between the minors and the majors last year between Tampa and Texas after a mid-season trade. Originally they where apparently hoping for some competition for the inconsistent Rougned Odor at second. It’s unclear if Solak’s hands are made of actual stone, because he barely passed at second and third before settling at DH most of the time last summer. Fast forward through the winter and the Rangers thought perhaps those stone hands would become tender in the outfield. Unfortunately he turned into a pumpkin offensively this spring, hitting only .194 and striking out one third of the time.
And that’s where Leody Taveras comes in. The kid is only 21, but considering everything above he has a legitimate shot just on need. He’s easily the best outfielder of the bunch based on his work in the minors, and he managed to steal 31 bags over Single A and Double A last year. The question is his bat. He managed to hit .279 in the minors last year but with only five home runs. But again with limited competition the Ranger can put up with less offense to support the pitching staff with a superior defender. The young guy has been stepping up in the truncated spring training, managing .286 and striking out in only 19% of his at bats, equaling his 19% walk rate. Put it all together and there are the makings of a light hitting contact guy catching everything in center in Arlington.
If Taveras keeps it up it looks like he could surprise. Keep an eye on him and Solak when, definitely when, spring training resumes. Solak could be an underground power source, but Taveras may keep him on the bench. With the Rangers lack of options it will be surprising if it’s not one of these two by Opening Day, whenever that is. Stay healthy everyone.