SURPRISE, Ariz. — Starting in right field for the Texas Rangers in Thursday’s exhibition opener … Michael Choice.But don’t read anything into that yet, the manager said, tapping the spring training brakes.It’s a seniority thing, Ron Washington explained. “Yeah, Choice became part of the organization early in the winter,” he said, “and the other outfielders became part of the organization deeper in the winter. So that’s the way I’m going.”Huh?Washington was pulling our leg, of course. I think. The trade with Oakland that brought the UT Arlington and Mansfield Timberview product to the Rangers took place on Dec. 3.The club’s other fourth outfielder candidates, notably Engel Beltre and Jim Adduci, were both in the organization before that date.Ask a cheeky question, though, and I got a cheeky answer. Washington simply isn’t ready yet to declare a leader in the race for the extra outfielder spot.Young Beltre, who has been with the club since he was 17, is out of options after seven years in the minors. Adduci, who will turn 29 in May, appears to be a favorite of some in the organization, but lacks the power and the upside of former first-round pick Choice.What is certain is that Choice will get a full dance card this spring. Starting on Thursday in place of the injured Alex Rios is just the opening number. “Choice is probably going to play every single game,” Washington said. “Either he’ll start it or he’ll pick it up. He’s going to be involved in everything. “We want to get a darn good look at him. So he’d better get his pillow together, because he’ll be on that bus for those long road trips.”Of all the Rangers’ moves this winter, the trade with the Athletics remains the most difficult to decipher. Sturdily built, only 24 years old and the 10th player chosen in the 2010 draft, Choice was dealt away by Oakland after only 18 major league at-bats in a September call-up. The A’s received outfielder Craig Gentry, 30, in return, and how could the Rangers’ front office not wet their pants with excitement? A first-round draft choice for a likely career backup with limited bat skills?It’s going to be interesting to see whether Gentry can sustain his slap-hit, speed-based game in Oakland. In seven years in the minors, he hit 21 home runs and averaged only 22 walks per season. Choice, six years younger, walked 69 times last season in Triple A and is projected, by several sources, to have 30-home run potential.Washington said he just wants Choice to be himself this spring. “Do it as a Michael Choice,” the manager said. “Don’t try to be someone he’s not.”Choice had hits in both intrasquad games this week, adding to Washington’s early impressions.“He’s barreling the ball up — right center, left center and with a good approach. He’s been getting better in the outfield, too, working with Gary [Pettis].”Washington doesn’t like to pencil young players into the lineup’s designated hitter role. But Choice could get his DH chances, as well as regularly spelling Alex Rios in the starting outfield. He could win the fourth outfielder job with a solid spring. “Everybody here is in a competition,” Choice said on the eve of the exhibition opener. “But you can’t really focus on what everyone else is doing. All you can do is focus on yourself, and do what you can to help the team win.”The trade with the Athletics still puzzles. Oakland GM Billy Beane, however, didn’t have to call the Rangers twice.Michael Choice will get his chances this spring. Nothing official yet. But as the manager said, the bus is waiting.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton