Delino DeShields watched last year’s World Series with a mixture of envy, happiness and dogged determination.
The Texas Rangers’ center fielder was the Houston Astros’ first-round draft choice in 2010 and came up through that system until the ‘Stros failed to protect him after the 2014 season and he landed in Arlington.
DeShields wished it could have been him on the field celebrating that Game 7 victory over the Dodgers and the state’s first MLB championship.
Now he yearns to show his old employer that Texas’ other club is a worthy adversary. After all, the Rangers went back-to-back with American League West titles in 2015 and ‘16 before slumping to 78-84 last year.
“I was happy for the guys I played with, especially Jose Altuve and Carlos Beltran,” DeShields said Tuesday during the Rangers’ winter caravan stop at the Round Rock Sports Center. “Altuve was a part of three straight 100-loss seasons. Beltran had never won a World Series and wanted it so badly.”
DeShields spent part of his offseason in Houston attending the weddings of former Stros teammates George Springer and Tony Kemp.
“Two really good friends,” he said. “They deserved all they got, to be champions, get the rings. I know it could have been me over there, so I’ll be playing with a chip on my shoulder. Of course I always play that way, a smaller guy, son of a former major leaguer, people are always trying to measure me up.
“The Astros had their moment and we know they’re not going away, but now they’ve got the targets on their backs. We want to take them down.”
It’s a tall order. The Astros finished 23 games ahead of the Rangers and boosted their pitching with a trade for former All-Star Gerrit Cole and strong setup men Joe Smith and Hector Rondon. The Rangers haven’t made any glitzy additions, at least not yet, but did add three starters to the rotation — Doug Fister, Matt Moore and Mike Minor — behind Cole Hamels and Martin Perez.
“Fister has had success (30-15 over the 2013-14 seasons),” DeShields said. “Moore is coming off a down year but he’s won big before (17-4 in 2013), and he shut down the Rangers in the playoffs a few years ago.”
Reliever Tony Barnette, part of the Rangers caravan, pointed to the variety of arms in the bullpen.
“We’ve got power guys, finesse guys and ones who excel with different types of pitches,” he said. “We had a lot of injuries last year, but I see the pen as a strength now.”
Texas expects to score plenty of runs. Although the Rangers are rumored to be in the mix for free-agent center fielders Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez, they were 54-48 with DeShields starting and 24-36 when he didn’t.
“Delino brings defense and speed, and he’s a force at the top of the lineup,” manager Jeff Banister said. “He’s 25 and has plenty of room to grow.”
On a team of low-average hitters, DeShields batted .269 with a .347 on-base percentage and scored 75 runs in just 376 at bats, while stealing a team-high 29 bases.
“Those numbers can improve a lot as long as long as I give consistent at-bats,” he said. “I’m working on hard on it. I know I belong, but I’ll never get too comfortable. I play best with an edge.
“It’s important that Elvis (Andrus) and I are good table-setters because we’ve got a lot of young emerging power behind us, like (Joey) Gallo, (Nomar) Mazara and (Rougned) Odor.”
Yet they realize nobody will be picking the Rangers in 2018.
“This team has played well before as an underdog,” Banister said. “We embrace that role.”