As the Rangers wrap up spring training this week let’s take a quick look at my projected starting lineup for when they take the field Friday afternoon against Boston:
(1) Ian Kinsler, 2B. No question here. Whether its the right decision or not manager Ron Washington announced early in spring training that Kinsler would be the leadoff guy for Texas, returning to the same role he hit .253 at in 2009. Nonetheless, Texas seems confident with their decision and Kinsler has given them reason to in spring training proving he can flatten out his swing while the same time hit for power, a combination he hasn’t had the past two seasons. Will Washington’s decision pay off? There’ll be an easy measuring stick for that: With Elvis Andrus at leadoff in 2010, Texas made the playoffs and went to the World Series. With Kinsler at leadoff in 2009, Texas finished second in the AL West, eight games out of first place.
(2) Elvis Andrus, SS. Julio Borbon began last season as the leadoff man for Texas, struggled, then lost the job to Andrus who had a decent year hitting .265 with a .342 OBP and 32 stolen bases. Obviously, Andrus won’t be in that role again this year, but he still should be able to a have a similar impact at the plate and on the basepaths where he caused havoc last postseason. Still think Andrus should be at leadoff but him hitting out of the 2-hole really is the second best thing.
(3) Josh Hamilton, LF. Hamilton carried the Texas lineup from mid-May on last year hitting .359 for the season with 32 home runs and 100 RBI. The question, though, with Hamilton has always been his ability to stay healthy. Texas understands this priority and Washington will do all he can to keep Hamilton’s bat in the lineup so expect to see the 29-year-old in centerfield a little less and DH a little more.
(4) Adrian Beltre, 3B. The addition of Beltre may seem to give Texas an unfair advantage over the rest of the AL West on offense but when it comes down to Beltre has to hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI or better. That’s what Vladimir Guerrero hit last year and as weird as it sounds, the signing of Beltre could make the Ranger offense worse if he doesn’t reach those marks. Then again, if Beltre does anything close to what he did last year (.321, 28 HR, 102 RBI) then I’m sure GM Jon Daniels will sleep easy.
(5) Nelson Cruz, RF. Boomstick. Simple word, but it says everything about what Nelson Cruz brings to the table. When he’s healthy, Cruz brings just as much pop (and maybe even more) as Hamilton. Cruz hit .318 with 22 home runs last year in just 108 games. Keep him in the lineup for a f ull season and the Ranger offense is the best in baseball. Easier said than done, though. Cruz, like Hamilton, has a history of getting injured and spent three stints on the DL so look for Texas to be overcautious with him, too.
(6) Michael Young, DH. Young should start the season at DH but where he’ll be anytime after that will be up to who’s feeling good, who’s hurt, and who needs a break. There’s essentially five positions- DH, first base, second base, shortstop, and third base- Young could play but nothing is set in stone at this point. Washington will make that decision on a day-to-day basis but one thing that is certain is that Young should get his usual 600-7 00 at-bats by season’s end.
(7) Mike Napoli, 1B. Napoli is kind of in the same boat as Young on the whole not knowing where he’s going to play issue. Nothing is official but he’s more than likely going to start at first base Friday seeing that Washington has been clear on his stance of keeping Moreland out of the lineup against tough lefties i.e. Friday’s starter Jon Lester. But after opening day Napoli could end up at three different positions- catcher, DH, and first base- any day of the week. Where he goes, though, could largely be dependent on where Young goes.
(8) Yorvit Torrealba, C. The trading of Matt Treanor this morning sealed Torrealba’s job as the fulltime catcher for Texas. Torrealba, 32, isn’t a great hitter but he hit .271 and compared to the usual suspects behind the plate for the Rangers, that should be a noticeable difference. Plus, he handled a young Padre staff last year, one that nearly helped San Diego win the NL West.
(9) Julio Borbon, CF. Borbon won the centerfield job early in spring training but has had some fielding issues so far. Wouldn’t worry about that too much at this point, because Borbon may not have a better bat than his backup, David Murphy, but he’s faster and has a much better tracking ability in the outfield. Texas could do the sure thing and put Hamilton in center but as bad as sacrificing defense for offense (trying to keep Hamilton healthy by keeping him out of centerfield) sounds, its worth it in this situation. Hamilton is just that good.