ARLINGTON, TX: Josh Hamilton #32 and Craig Gentry #23 of the Texas Rangers react after a catch at the wall by Hamilton to end the top of the fifth inning of Game Six of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Apparently that's not really happening.
But there's still a competition for the job; assuming Josh Hamilton really does make the full-time shift to left field, center is likely going to be manned by Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, or perhaps both.
Borbon's got the pedigree, for sure. The 35th pick in the 2007 amateur draft, Borbon reached the majors just two years later and played well in 46 games. But while playing nearly every day in 2010, Borbon struggled and finished the season with a .309 on-base percentage. Oh, and somehow he managed to steal only 15 bases all season, while being caught seven times. Perhaps it goes without saying that he's got very little power?
That performance, coupled with a couple of injuries (one of them serious) cost him a real shot to play for the Rangers last season; in the 32 games he did get into, he continued to hit like a replacement-level player. And didn't play during the club's postseason run at all.
Essentially, Borbon's role as speedy-but-underpowered center fielder was filled by Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry. But Chavez is gone, leaving only Gentry. He did play in October, and turned 28 about a month after the World Series. Skills-wise, there's not much to choose between; both Gentry and Borbon are fast, and both slap the ball rather than drive it. Both have good reputations as center fielders, though Gentry's numbers were vastly better than Borbon's last season.
There is one significant difference between them: Gentry bats right-handed, Borbon left-handed. There's another difference, too: Borbon's line in 128 triple-A games is .305/.370/.398; Gentry's in 117 games is .278/.364/.367. We obviously shouldn't read too much into those numbers, but we might at least surmise that Borbon, two years younger than Gentry, figures to be the superior hitter over the next few years. Not by a lot. But by some.
Of course there's an obvious answer here: platoon. When you've got two complementary players, neither of them particularly good, and one position, why not combine their talents and get one good player? Because of seven-man bullpens, essentially.
The Rangers are going to carry five starting pitchers, two catchers, eight more position players for sure, and probably seven relief pitchers. That's 22. There's supposedly a competition for the role of non-Michael Young utility infielder. That's 23. Corner/fifth outfielder David Murphy seems assured of a spot. That's 24.
Which leaves one spot. Ron Washington could use that spot for a second center fielder. But he might want an eight-man bullpen, or a third catcher, or someone who's really good at bunting and spitting sunflower seeds. You never can tell, with these guys.
In one game, the Rangers are probably better with Hamilton in center field and Murphy in left. But if Hamilton just can't stay healthy while playing center every day, the Rangers' best team probably doesn't include a winner in center field, but rather a couple of non-losers in some sort of job-sharing arrangement.