In the second installment of this series, I’m going to take a look at the players competing for starting roles at first and third base. I'm also going to talk about the potential corner infield backups and players from the Minor Leagues that will likely see time in the Majors this season.
In 2008, the Rangers' corner infield spots seemed to play out like a merry-go-round: Blalock, Davis, Catalanotto, Melhuse, Metcalf, Laird (yeah, remember that experiment), Botts, Shelton, Broussard, Vazquez (Ramon), Ramirez (Max), and Duran.
Coming into 2009, the corner infield situation is not completely stable, but the path is a little clearer than 2008 so far.
Chris Davis (pictured above) was drafted as a third baseman, came up through the Minors developing as a first baseman, was brought up to the Majors as a first baseman, moved back over to third base when Hank Blalock became healthy, and finally is slated as the starting first baseman this season.
Michael Young will complete three-fourths of his infield rotation when he makes his Opening Day start as the third baseman.
Along with these two possible starters, here is a quick look at the other players that will likely see time at one or both of the corner infield positions this year.
Michael Young - 32 - R/R
Young was initially acquired by the Rangers from the Blue Jays as a second baseman, moved himself to shortstop in 2003, won a Gold Glove in 2008, and then was asked to move to third for the 2009 season.
All the drama from the team asking Young to move to third, with him at first refusing and wanting to be traded, is all ancient history. Believe me, don’t worry about that any more.
Michael Young is the face of the franchise, and he will be a Ranger for the rest of his career. That is the type of player and person that he is.
So far during Spring Training, the transition for Young has not been a problem at all, but during the season he will make some mental and physical errors at the new position. However, in the long run (rest of his career), this move might work at well for Young, who is 32.
If A-Rod can make the move, so can Young.
Chris Davis - 22 - L/R
As I stated before, Davis has had his own version of a merry-go-round just as a corner infielder. But with the move of Blalock to DH, Davis is back at first and could be there for a while.
Davis’s only real competition in the future will be 2008 first round draft pick Justin Smoak, but more on him later.
Davis, getting better known as Crush, came up to the Majors last season in July, and in the span of only 80 games he batted .285, hit 17 home runs, 23 doubles, two triples, and drove in 55 runs.
Davis did struggle at times to make mid-game adjustments, but it is an area that he has said that both him and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo have identified and are working on during the offseason and Spring Training.
In regards to Crush’s power as a left-handed swinging first baseman, he is already garnering comparisons to both Mark Teixeira and Rafael Palmeiro.
Call me a crazy, but Crush has the potential to become the first 50 home run hitter in the Ballpark since A-Rod—okay, well, the first non-steroid since Palmeir...Juan Gonza...well you get the picture.
Frank Catalanotto - 34 - L/R
In 2008 Cat had to move from a rotating outfield position to first base because the team had enough outfielders to play before him.
This season it seems that the team still has enough outfielders and now a first baseman to play before Cat, cutting down on his at-bats significantly.
Cat will most likely be used as Davis' backup at first base and a left-handed pinch hitter late in games.
In a contract year for him, it is likely that Cat will be traded to another team looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder in a playoff run.
Travis Metcalf - 26 - R/R
Again Metcalf seems to always be the odd man out when it comes to third base with the Rangers.
He has always been the backup behind Blalock, but last season when Hank got hurt Travis was hurt as well (same day, no joke). This year with Young moving over to third, it seems Travis’ only way of starting will be if either Young gets hurt, Elvis Andrus gets hurt at shortstop, or Andrus isn’t Major League ready and Young moves back to shortstop.
Metcalf is competing for a utility role in Majors during Spring Training, but will likely be the everyday starter at third for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Hank Blalock - 28 - L/R
Since Blalock has proven to be injury-prone the past couple seasons and Milton Bradley departed to the Cubs, Hank is going to be the starting DH.
This move will hopefully keep him away from any injury issues, since the last two seasons Blalock has played a combined 123 games.
Also being in a contract year, Blalock will need to prove himself healthy in hopes that either the Rangers or another American League team offers him a contract.
I have mentioned him in this section because even though he will be the starting DH, look for him to get some appearance at more likely first base than third base during the season.
German Duran - 24 - R/R
Last season when Blalock and Metcalf were injured on the same day, Duran was promoted from the Minors to take over responsibilities at third base.
At times he did struggle, but for the most part German was a solid player for the team, still in need of experience and time in the Majors to adjust.
This Spring Training he is competing with Omar Vizquel to become the utility man for the team, since German can play 2B, SS, 3B, and OF.
Justin Smoak - 22 - S/R
The Texas Rangers' first round draft pick from 2008 is quickly making a big name for himself in the Rangers organization.
So far the best part of his game has been his ability to adjust from hitting with a metal bat in college to a wooden bat. Even with the change, Smoak has shown some serious potential as both a contact and power hitter.
Many baseball experts have him making his Major League debut later in the 2009 season, after just over a year of professional experience.
As I stated earlier, Smoak is a player that can make the Rangers' first base situation with Davis a little interesting in the future (around 2010 or 2011).
Ranger manager Ron Washington has already addressed the issue, saying that it will be a good problem to have.