If you put a baseball and other toys in front of a baby, he’ll pick up a baseball in preference to the others. The American boy starts swinging the bat as soon as he can lift one. – Hall of Fame Tris Speaker
At the beginning of the 2007 season, my biggest concern out of spring training was the outfield. You can never underestimate the importance of a good defensive outfield to a pitcher. If anything was accomplished by John Daniels this year, he obviously upgraded the outfield. We still have holdovers from last year with Catalanotto and Cruz, but the rest are an improvement over the starters from the year before. Marlon Byrd did not join the Rangers until after the first two months of the season and he quickly became our best defensive outfielder. With his return this year, he is join by three others that will raise the level of play over last year. In addition of Byrd during the 2007 season, we were lucky enough to obtain David Murphy from Boston at the trade deadline. Off season acquisitions of Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton have continued the overhaul. With Byrd, Murphy, Bradley, and Hamilton the Rangers have a solid core of outfielders that can be a defensive plus for our pitchers. The remaining prospects for outfield give me cause for concern. Let us take a look at remaining four. Mench, Cruz, Calalanotto, and Botts. First of all let us just throw Botts out of the mix. I hope that Jason can find his swing at the majors and become an everyday DH. Other than his potential with the bat he should not be allowed to own a glove. Maybe Washington can do something with him at first base. Catalanotto is definitely a DH with time in the outfield in emergencies only. Cat-man is average defensively on a good day and is really limited to left field. Nelson Cruz is the one that scares me the most. On the outside he looks like a potentially great corner outfielder especially in right. He has good range and a powerful arm. His biggest two problems are poor routes to the ball and mental mistakes on his throws. That arm of his gets him is more trouble than anything else. Missed and overthrown cutoff men. Throws to third and home that allow the hitter to take extra bases on singles and doubles. The mental side of Cruz’s outfield play needs a lot of improvement. Finally we have Kevin Mench. He can mash the ball against left handed pitchers and play a decent left field. I would keep him out of right. Of the games when he has started in right for the Rangers in 2006, he look lost and confused. I don’t know if it was the look of the ball off the bat or the wind.
What I would like to see this year for our outfield is Byrd in left, Hamilton in center, and Bradley in right. Murphy would be the fourth outfielder. With those four we have multiple combinations any day since all four can play a competent center. Catalanotto would be DH and fifth outfielder when needed. That is the dream lineup for me. Let us take a look at reality. Bradley may not be able to start the season defensively and may only DH. Cruz is out of options and would most likely be snatched up on the waiver wire. Botts starts spring training playing first and will most likely not even be an option in the outfield any longer. Botts is also out of options and is a potential waiver wire loss. A lot can happen during spring training. Whether it is limited play for Bradley at the start of the season or a spring training trade, the Rangers have sufficiently covered all possibilities. I hope that David Murphy is not sent to the minors to start the season because of option-less players like Botts and Cruz when he is clearly a better player in my opinion. I believe that Mench is insurance against a loss of any of the other players due to trades or injury. Regardless of the outcome this spring, the Rangers have improved the outfield for the 2008 season. That has got to be a comfort to a starting pitching staff that will hopefully rebound from a poor 2007. I am looking forward to watching Bradley, Byrd, and Hamilton in the outfield this year.