Left field is a spot where a lot of big-league ballclubs plop down one of their top sluggers.
Ryan Braun and Justin Upton are left fielders. Khris Davis smacked 42 home runs while playing that corner outfield slot for the Athletics last year. The emerging Adam Duvall drove in 103 runs for the Reds. Young Marlins star Christian Yelich hit .298 and knocked in 98. Cubs phenom Kris Bryant plays a lot of left field along with third base.
The Texas Rangers have four guys wrangling for the job who, all told, produced 18 homers, 56 RBIs and a .230 batting average last year.
Batter up, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, Ryan Rua and Delino DeShields Jr.
“You’ve hit on the most competitive spot we have in camp,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister told the American-Statesman at spring training. “Is it one single player? Is it a platoon? We’re searching. It’s too early to say.”
While largely unproven, the four players represent an interesting mix. Profar and DeShields offer speed. Gallo brings pure power. Rua is a gap-to-gap hitter who’s added strength over the past two years. Round Rock Express fans are familar with each of them.
“They bring something different to the table, depending on what the lineup needs,” said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. “They also have position versatility, which we really value.
“It’s not like I feel bad about this group. These were some high-profile names coming up, and they might just need a full chance to shine.”
Profar, 24, who’s competing for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, was baseball’s consensus No. 1 prospect in 2013 before injuries sideswiped his career.
Gallo, 23, was named the Rangers’ top prospect in 2015 and ‘16 by Baseball America. In 2014, his 42 homers were second to the Cubs’ Bryant in all of the minor leagues.
DeShields, 24, was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, taken by the Astros.
Rua, 26, is the only sleeper in the bunch, a 17th-round pick out of tiny Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio.
“You hope you’re the guy who steps forward because there is opportunity,” said Gallo, who’s been dogged by strikeouts. “I’m trying to concentrate on what I can control and stick to that. You don’t want to start comparing stats.
“I think I had a productive offseason. How that translates, we’ll see. If the team has an All-Star lineup, they’re not just going to throw me out there.”
It’s not like other American League West contenders have a proven star in left field. The rival Astros plan to start slap-hitting Nori Aoki. Ditto for the Mariners with Jarrod Dyson. The Angels have Cameron Maybin, whose career year was 10 homers and 59 RBIs.
“We don’t have the proven numbers there, but we have young guys who might be about to hit their stride,” said Mike Daly, the Rangers’ assistant GM.
There is uncertainty all across this Rangers outfield. Center fielder Carlos Gomez was released by the Astros last summer before catching on with the Rangers and altering his swing to produce a .284 average and eight homers in 33 games. Management loves right fielder Nomar Mazara, who hit 20 homers in his 2016 rookie campaign, but both Mazara and Profar saw significant dips in the second half.
“I could see why some people would have questions, but I think the outfield could turn into a strength,” said Mazara, another Express alum. “We’re young players on the way up. I have confidence this group will hit, and the Rangers will score runs.”
Rangers key dates
March 17-18: Big League Weekend in San Antonio vs. Cleveland. Tickets: $10 to $77.
March 29: Camp breaks in Surprise, Ariz.
March 31-April 1: Final exhibitions, vs. Kansas City, in Arlington.
April 3: Opening day vs. Cleveland, in Arlington, 6:05 p.m.
April 6: Round Rock Express opening night, vs. Nashville, at Dell Diamond, 7:05 p.m.