|Josh Hamilton’s Position a Question||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on April 20, 2012
It's amazing to think that Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is already 30 years old.
We've been hearing his name since he was an 18-year-old superstar prospect for the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. However, his drug abuse problems diminished what could have been a great baseball career.
The majority of center fielders these days are younger guys with tons of speeds and range. So we must ask the question: Can Hamilton effectively patrol center field this season for the two-time defending AL champion Rangers?
Known more for his potent bat, Hamilton's defensive skills are often overlooked. He has great range in the outfield and can cover the gaps with ease and has a strong throwing arm.
But once again, he's 30 and has shown to be rather injury-prone. How much longer can his body take the pounding that it goes through on a daily basis?
Now, obviously Hamilton is in fantastic physical shape. He's easily in the top-five best center fielders in the game today, along with Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Kemp.
However, would it be wise for the Rangers to consider moving Hamilton back to left field full-time?
Before deciding, let's dissect Texas' roster. Nelson Cruz is firmly entrenched in right field, so that's taken care of. For the other two outfield spots, the Rangers have three players: Hamilton, David Murphy and Craig Gentry.
Murphy is the prototypical platoon player. As a left-handed hitter, he has historically hit righties more so than lefties. However, since Gentry is a fourth outfielder at best, Murphy has seen time early on in left field facing both righties and lefties.
As a result, Hamilton figures to get the majority of starts in center. Both Gentry and Julio Borbon played center for Texas last year, but Gentry needs to show more consistency offensively and Borbon is playing in Class AAA.
Though the team has limited outfield depth, the Rangers have plenty of depth across the board. Mike Napoli, who hit .320 last season, can catch and play a little first base in addition to being a DH. Michael Young, the team's primary DH, can play all over the diamond, giving manager Ron Washington some nice flexibility.
But Washington must also be mindful of properly utilizing Hamilton, his prized possession. In all likelihood, the Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be battling down the stretch for the AL West title. With the new playoff structure, both teams should be in the hunt, but winning the division will be key to sustained postseason success.
While, of course, pitching will play a role in September, both teams have stacked lineups from top to bottom. Whichever team is the freshest on a daily basis will likely be the team that emerges as the division winner.
On paper, the teams are quite similar. But a guy like Hamilton can be the X-factor for the Rangers.
It's tough to say in the heat of a pennant race that Washington would play Hamilton in left field or at DH. The other players on the roster are certainly capable to fill the position temporarily, but Hamilton is the guy you want out there in tight situations.
It's way too early for Washington to be consumed with his treatment of Hamilton, but it's also a safe bet that it's in the back of his mind. After two straight World Series losses, the Rangers are ready to hoist the Fall Classic trophy.
Hamilton will be a major part of that run, so limiting the stress on him might be a wise decision. However, because he's a true competitor, good luck getting him to agree to take a day off or switch positions.