As seems to be the case with nearly all their position battles this year, the Texas Rangers have a good problem in center field. Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin are battling for the starting job after Josh Hamilton‘s departure and they will likely split time roughly 50-50 this season. That’s all well and good, but Rangers manager Ron Washington can’t get too cute with his strategy or he’ll cost Texas another title in 2013.
Washington is a good manager; he wouldn’t have led the Rangers to two straight World Series trips in 2010 and 2011 if he wasn’t. However, he tends to over think things, especially in crunch time. Although opening day is still over a month away, he could already be over thinking what needs to be done in center field.
Gentry is a superb fielder and hitter, ideal for a starting outfield job. In his first four big-league seasons, he’s progressively played more and better in each one, finishing up with 26 RBI and a .304 average in 122 games last season. He did a nice job filling in for Hamilton, who was often injured, depressed or just out for whatever lame excuse he could find to not try.
Like Gentry, Martin is a speedster, but lacks the experience and plate presence of Gentry. In 24 big-league games last year, Martin struck out 12 times while batting just .174. He was decent in the field, but not good enough to write home about.
The Rangers are one of the best teams in baseball when it comes to changing their lineup on a nightly basis to accommodate certain situations, which brought on the above description of Washington. Thus, early speculation is that Texas will split Martin and Gentry in center field 50-50 since the former is left-handed and the latter is a righty. The thought is Martin will play when opposing pitching is predominantly right-handed and Gentry will start against left-handed hurlers. That’s all well and good, but that strategy can’t dictate every start this year for these two players.
Sure, Martin could have a great third season in what should be his first full one at the big-league level, but if he struggles, he shouldn’t just keep starting over Gentry against right-handed pitchers. A sure bat is better than one picked strictly off the dominant hand, especially when it’s a younger, inexperienced player like Martin. That’s not to say that Gentry will be lights out all the time, but he’s proven himself on the field and at the plate, so he should be given the benefit of the doubt until Martin sets the woods on fire, if that ever happens.
Rangers fans should just hope that Washington picks his starters with more in mind than just their dominant hand, which he has been known to do, even in the most critical situations.