SURPRISE, Ariz. — Once upon a spring training, he was the hot stuff, the budding star, that everyone was talking about in camp.But for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, that was at least five years, six teams and three trips to the minor leagues ago. He’s trying to make the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day roster and he understands his new role. “I’d be comfortable in any role,” Kouzmanoff said Monday. “But first you’ve got to see what happens. I understand that. Adrian Beltre is the guy at third base, and he’s a stud — one of the best baseball players I’ve ever seen play with my own eyes.”The Rangers are expected to break camp next week with both a backup middle infielder and a player who can handle the first and third base corners. The list of candidates was thinned Monday when second baseman Kensuke Tanaka was reassigned to minor league camp and infielder Andy Parrino was optioned to Triple A Round Rock. Every spare infielder left in the big league clubhouse, according to manager Ron Washington, still has a chance to make the club.That includes Kouzmanoff who, despite the travails of his recent seasons, has put together a productive spring.The 32-year-old has appeared in all 19 of the Rangers’ spring training camps, and he began Monday with a .333 average, no errors and seven runs batted in. “Kevin Kouzmanoff has shown me exactly what I thought Kevin Kouzmanoff could show me,” Washington said. “He’s a baseball player.“He can play third base. He can play first base. He can hit left-handers. He’ll get you big hits and he knows how to play. So I’m not surprised by anything he’s doing. We cut some infielders this morning. He wasn’t one of them.”Why write about Kouzmanoff?Because Beltre missed another exhibition game Monday due to a strained quadriceps muscle. He batted .315, had an .880 OPS and played in 161 games last year, but Beltre will turn 35 a week after the season begins.The question that Rangers, Inc., has to answer is if Adrian Beltre is sidelined for any extended period this season, who would they trust most at third base — Adam Rosales, Brent Lillibridge, Josh Wilson or Kouzmanoff?Utility man Rosales, 30, has been in the big leagues for six seasons and is playing with his third team. He has started 59 games at third base in the major leagues. Lillibridge, also 30, is with his seventh major league team in six years and has started 27 games at third. Wilson, 32, has 14 starts at third base and is playing with his eighth big league team in six seasons.Rosales’ career batting average is .219, Lillibridge’s is .205 and Wilson’s is .200.Kouzmanoff, on the other hand, has 624 starts at third base and has a .255 career average and 85 homers.Nobody expects any of them to fill Beltre’s spikes in the lineup. But Washington knows what he sees in Kouzmanoff.“What I’ve seen,” Washington said, “is you put him out there, and he make the plays. He goes up to the plate and gives you a good at-bat, and he executes in situations.“He’s a baseball player. That’s his experience. That’s what he brings.”The problem that seems to gnaw at some in the organization, however, is that Kouzmanoff’s last promising season in the major leagues came in 2009 with the Padres. He spent 2012 in the Kansas City farm system and played with the Marlins’ Triple A club in New Orleans in 2013. Of the three utility candidates, Rosales is roundly viewed as the most accomplished. But he’s batting .150 and hasn’t inspired confidence as he’s wobbled around the infield this spring.“When we make a decision, I’ll let you know,” Washington said Monday, sidestepping the question. On a team with an ample number of youngsters, however, an experienced hand like Kouzmanoff seems a wise choice.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton