Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 in review - Outfield.

On to the outfield in the review of the Rangers 2014 season. Texas used eight guys regularly in the outfield in 2014 along with spot appearances by several other players. I'm not going to attempt to break the outfield down by position but will simply review the eight players who got regular time. Unlike the infield, all these guys are still with the team in some capacity or another and might be on the field for Texas in 2015.

Shin-Soo Choo was the second major off-season pickup for the Rangers after the Fielder/Kinsler trade. While they traded for Prince Fielder, they signed Choo as a free agent to help replace the departing Nelson Cruz. Choo was envisioned as a high on-base percentage leadoff hitter with some pop to take Ian Kinsler's spot in the lineup. Primarily a left fielder, Choo did appear a few times in right for Texas in the 123 games he played for Texas in 2014. Over 529 plate appearances Choo compiled a .242 batting average and a .340 on-base percentage. Both were significant drops from his 2013 performance as was his .374 slugging percentage. His speed on the bases also dropped off as he stole just three bases. Shin-Soo was a puzzle and frustration for most Ranger fans. The answer to the puzzle might be the awkward landing on first base he made early in the season. Choo attempted to play through the resulting injury but it didn't work. His season ended on the disabled list following ankle surgery and surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips.

Leonys Martin, shown here on card 203 of the 2014 Topps Heritage set, was in center field for Texas in all but two of the 155 games he appeared in. Those 155 games were the second most appearances on the team and made him the rock of the outfield. Leonys seemed to get better defensively as time went on and made a couple of outstanding throws late in the season to nail runners trying to score. He did lead the league in errors in center field but he also led the league in putouts in center and in assists by a center fielder. Martin went to the plate 583 times in 2014 and put together a .274 batting average and a .325 on-base percentage along with a .364 slugging percentage. The slugging percentage is explained by Martin relying more on his speed than power. He bunted for hits regularly and stole 31 bases to lead to club in that category. Late in the season Martin moved into the lead-off spot and did a fine job in that role. Leonys ended the season as the last man standing from the Rangers Opening Day outfield.

Alex Rios was supposed to be a big asset to the team in 2014 and more pressure was put on him as other players went down. He didn't deliver in the way many thought he could have. Some of that may be due to nagging injuries and some due to him not being used to being on center stage. Primarily a right fielder, Rios appeared in 131 games before being shut down in the last couple of weeks due to a thumb injury. He made 521 trips to the plate and reproduced the same .280 batting average he delivered following his mid-season trade to Texas last year. His .311 on-base percentage was a slight drop from his post-trade performance in 2013 and his .398 slugging percentage was a big drop. His 17 stolen bases were just one more than he delivered in 47 games with the Rangers in 2013.

When the Rangers traded Craig Gentry to the Oakland A's during the off-season for Michael Choice it appeared to be speed in exchange for power. Choice was supposed to be the fourth outfielder and occasional DH in 2014 while he got adjusted to the Majors. Instead injuries forced him to play more than was planned and he struggled offensively. The Rangers finally sent him to the minors to help him regain his confidence. When the injury bug continued to bite, Choice was brought back up. He seemed be a bit better than before but his season ended with a hamstring injury just as he appeared to be putting it together. All told Michael had 280 plate appearances over 86 games for the Rangers. He hit just .182 with an on-base percentage of .250 and a slugging percentage of .320. In spite of the low slugging percentage, Choice did show some flashes of power as he hit 9 home runs.

Jim Adduci got the call up from the minors to help replace Choice when he got sent down. This was Jim's time to shine as Choice was gone and Choo needed relief. It didn't go the way Adduci or the Rangers hoped. On either side of a trip to the concussion list, Jim got 114 plate appearances in 44 games for Texas. His .168 batting average, .239 on-base percentage and .228 slugging percentage tell the sad tale.

Daniel Robertson made his debut in April shortly after the Rangers purchased his minor league contract from the Padres. He was widely viewed as a fill-in for a season that already looked dark. At around five and a half feet and under 175 pounds he looks more like a middle infielder than an outfielder. He can play though. Appearing in all three outfield positions over the course of the 70 games he played in, Daniel made 197 trips to the plate. He compiled a .271 batting average and a .333 on-base percentage. As might be expected, he did not hit much for power with just a .333 slugging percentage. Even that was due to his nine doubles and one triple since he didn't homer at all. Robertson's season appeared to come undone when he broke his face while colliding with a fellow outfielder. He returned after missing just a couple of games and played with a plastic face mask until the fractures healed.

Jake Smolinski's story is the story of the Rangers season. A corner outfielder, Jake got the the call up from the minors in early July. He started off well and seemed to be poised to make a statement. A trip to the DL just as he began to hammer the ball sidetracked his season until his return late in the year. By the end of the season he had just 24 games and 92 plate appearances under his belt. He made good use of those plate appearances by compiling a .349 batting average, a .391 on-base percentage, and a .512 slugging percentage.

Ryan Rua's Major League debut occurred on August 29th as the reserves began to run thin. Rua played a game at third base and a few at first base but mostly appeared in left field to help fill in after Shin-Soo Choo went under the knife. By the time Ryan took the field, the Rangers were staggering towards the end of the season and nobody expected much. Ryan was a pleasant surprise during the 109 times he came to the plate in 28 games. He put together a .295 batting average, a .321 on-base percentage, and a .419 slugging percentage.

The Rangers are going to have Shin-Soo Choo in their starting outfield in 2015 unless there are some major complications in his recovery from surgery. Leonys Martin has the center field job to lose as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see the club not exercise their contract option on Alex Rios and let him walk. That's an option with the group of hungry young players who got a taste of Major League time in 2014 and would free up some salary room for other signings. Michael Choice won't have anything handed to him and will have to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. He's likely to be competing against at least Jake Smolinski, Daniel Robertson, and Ryan Rua. Robertson probably has the inside track of that group. Jim Adduci may get a non-roster invite to Spring Training but is going to have a lot of ground to make up on the pack if he wants to avoid a trade or another season in the minors.

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