Texas Rangers Position Preview: 3B Adrian Beltre
In the 2013 season, the Texas Rangers were 26-4 when third baseman Adrian Beltre hit at least one home run. If he means that much to the team when he has a down year, imagine what he can do for the club in a good year.
The 34-year-old slugger and incumbent Player of the Year slumped to 30 home runs last year after 36 in 2012. No one in the front office may admit it, but the loss of Josh Hamilton after the 2012 season really hurt. Without Hamilton, there was no consistency in the lineup. Instead of a top run-producer in the three-hole and reliable protection in the five-hole, Beltre was often left as the only legitimate slugger in the lineup, with apologies to the streaky Nelson Cruz and the steady yet unspectacular Alex Rios.
This year should be different. With Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo in the lineup along with wunderkind Leonys Martin, Beltre may see some better pitches and be less of an Atlas with the world no longer being perched atop his shoulders.
On top of his run production, Beltre is a Gold Glove-caliber defender. He not only produces runs with the stick but prevents them with the leather. Beltre has never been a quick guy but instead relies more on game awareness: knowing the pitcher, knowing the hitter and knowing where the ball is likely to be put in play. These qualities should serve him well in the coming years as he gets older.
Speaking of Beltre getting older, the Rangers currently have the No. 9 prospect at third base that may be ready to come up in a few years. Last year, 20-year-old Joey Gallo led the minor leagues with 40 home runs and was fifth in slugging percentage at .623. A former pitcher who could touch the upper 90s with his fastball, Gallo clearly has more than enough arm strength. The bad news is that Gallo also finished in the top ten in strikeouts last year (172), and needs much more work before he is ready to be a consistent threat against major league pitching. Gallo, a first-round pick in 2012, should start this year in Class A or maybe Class AA.
In the increasingly-competitive American League West, the Texas Rangers should be well-positioned to keep up with the Joneses for the next few years, at least as far as third base is concerned.