Texas Rangers: What Does Leonys Martin's Call-Up Mean for the Outfield?

Micah PowellCorrespondent IIIAugust 29, 2011

SAN DIEGO - MARCH 16: Leonys Martin #26 of Cuba is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run against Mexico during the 2009 World Baseball Classic Round 2 Pool 1 Game 3 on March 16, 2009 at Petco Park in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers have decided to call up top prospect Leonys Martin before Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Martin will take the spot of Nelson Cruz, who strained his hamstring rounding first base Sunday night against the Los Angeles Angels.

The Rangers signed Martin to a five-year contract worth $15.5 million in early May after defecting from Cuba. The $15.5 million is the second most ever given to a Cuban prospect behind the Reds' Aroldis Chapman.

Martin was rated the No. 25 prospect at midseason by Baseball America, the No. 3 Ranger on the list. The speedy center fielder's game has been likened to Kenny Lofton, Juan Pierre and AL MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury. If he performs anywhere near those comparisons, he will be just fine in Texas.

But with his center field position already crowded with Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry, where does Martin fit in?

Texas Rangers writer Anthony Andro reported via Twitter that general manager Jon Daniels confirmed the move would take place, but that Martin's playing time would be up to Ron Washington. While technically Washington will have the final say, the Rangers did not bring up Martin to have him ride the bench.

This is contrary to what Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star Telegram thinks.

Wilson says—also via Twitter—"The thought here is that David Murphy will be the regular right fielder while Cruz is out. Martin will play some."

While I agree that Martin will not be the regular right fielder, he will definitely play more that "some."

Martin is a comparable—if not better—fielder that Gentry and has way more potential at the plate than Chavez. If Martin shows that he can hold his own with the bat, you can go ahead and pencil him in on the 25-man playoff roster, should the Rangers hold off the Angels.

Don't expect a seamless transition, though.

Martin went from a .348 hitter in Double-A to a .263 hitter at Triple-A. He has held his own, but that is a significant drop-off. A jump to major league pitching will be sure to confuse Martin at least a little bit. If he can adapt quickly, there's no doubt that he will lock down a spot in the outfield.

The real question is what will happen in right field now that Cruz is down for at least three weeks?

Chavez and Gentry, along with David Murphy, are in a three-way battle for the the open spot. Murphy and Chavez have both seen action there this season, which should give them a leg up, but Gentry is clearly the superior defender.

In my opinion, it's Murphy's job to lose. He is just beginning to find his stride with the bat, and when he is on he offers far more than Gentry or Chavez. Murphy has been a class act despite the lack of a permanent spot in the lineup over the last few years. I fully expect him to be the primary right fielder.

What throws a wrench in all of this is the Lance Berkman trade talks that broke early Monday morning. The St. Louis Cardinals slugger cleared waivers and apparently the Rangers are interested in his services.

While adding both Berkman and Martin would dramatically improve the offense, it is unlikely and would cause more problems than anything else. Do you move Moreland to right field and shift Berkman to first? Or is Berkman's defense too much of a liability for first base? What then happens to Murphy, Chavez and Gentry down the stretch? Too much of a headache if you ask me, especially when Cruz returns.

No matter what happens with Berkman, the addition of Leonys Martin should cause a heated battle for playing time in a very crowded outfield. All signs indicate the last month of the season could be the most fun.