The Texas Rangers have a top-5 center fielder in all of Major League Baseball. His name is Josh Hamilton. Hamilton can do everything on the baseball field. He can run, throw, and hit with the best of them. He can also awe a crowd, as he did with a potentially game-saving catch in left-center field in Sunday night’s 4-2 win over the Colorado Rockies. However, Hamilton will not be a center fielder much longer. He is 31 years old, and to help him achieve better longevity for his career he will eventually switch to being a full-time left fielder, and then possibly to first base, and then perhaps to DH. He may even make those positional switches while on a team other than the Rangers, considering his impending free agency. Despite losing Hamilton from center field one way or another at some point in the near future, the Rangers will be just fine thanks to the duo of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin.
Gentry and Martin are not going to fully replace Josh Hamilton. There may be three or four players in baseball that you can say would replace Hamilton, and suggest that two is better than one doesn’t really apply because of the use of the extra roster spot and more. Even if this Gentry/Martin tandem doesn’t fully replace Hamilton, they will be a valuable asset to the Rangers, operating as a tag-team patrolling center field for the next several years.
Gentry has had a breakout year, of sorts, in 2012. He has been the fastest player on the Rangers roster for the last three years, has always shown good baserunning abilities (stealing 28 bases on 31 tries in his career), and has played excellent defense, but this year he has shown that he is more than just speed and defense. Gentry is hitting .345/.415/.431 this year. Combine that excellent on-base percentage with his speed, and he has truly been an impact player from the bottom of the Rangers lineup this year.
Martin is at the major league level with the Rangers due to the rash of injuries on other parts of the roster. Just because that is how his opportunity was created doesn’t mean that his promotion wasn’t well-deserved. Martin hit .344/.414/.547 in AAA Round Rock this season in 31 games. He had been knocking down the door all year, and now is getting the chance to prove he belongs. In just the four games that he has played, Martin has been impressive. Though not as fast as Gentry, Martin still covers a wide range defensively, has a solid arm, and runs the bases well. As the numbers would suggest, Martin also hits for better power. Sunday night, Martin supplied the majority of the Rangers offense, hitting the ball with authority to the gap in right-center field for a RBI double and then later down the right field line for a 2-RBI triple.
Gentry has shown that he can be best utilized in a fourth outfielder role on a team so as not to over-expose him, and set him up for success. Martin projects to be of a slightly higher caliber down the road. However, with Gentry as a right-handed bat and Martin hitting from the left side, the Rangers can help each player achieve a higher level of success by utilizing the platoon advantage. The production this two-headed approach could generate will not replace Hamilton after he has moved on from center field in some form or fashion. What it would do is give the Rangers stellar defense, speed that can get on base and impact the game, and a little bit of pop from the center field slot. All of that would come at a relatively low price tag through 2015, and that’s an outcome that the Rangers would gladly accept.