Sports

January 23, 2013

Martin, Gentry top Rangers candidates to fill hole in center

The plans haven't changed, general manager Jon Daniels said.

The plans haven't changed, general manager Jon Daniels said.

The Texas Rangers don't expect to make another major acquisition before spring training starts, which will leave the center-field job up for grabs between Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry.

Michael Bourn, a two-time All-Star who is one of the better defensive center fielders in the game, remains on the free-agent market, and the Rangers have expressed interest in him this off-season. But Bourn, represented by Scott Boras, doesn't seem likely to fit into the Rangers' price range. It's hard to count the Rangers fully out at this point, though, as things are always subject to change.

Still, Daniels said the team is "confident in the guys we have competing for time."

With spring training less than three weeks away, Martin and Gentry are the leading candidates to replace Josh Hamilton in center. Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre are on the 40-man roster and should be in big league camp, but would be considered long shots.

Martin, who will be 25 by Opening Day, signed a five-year, $15.5 million deal in May 2011. The Rangers would have liked to have seen him emerge from a similar competition last spring that included Borbon and Gentry.

None of them, however, seized it, and Hamilton broke camp as the regular center fielder. Now, the Rangers find themselves with another center-field competition, but this time Hamilton isn't around as a security blanket.

"I'm sorry that Hamilton went to another team, but I feel great mentally and physically," said Martin, who was one of five up-and-comers at the organization's hitting minicamp this week at Rangers Ballpark.

"I feel good about the opportunity."

Martin performed well in Triple A last year, batting .359 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in 55 games. He also had three stints in the big leagues, playing in 24 Rangers games with a .174 average.

"Last year made me get better, and it's going to help me get focused this spring too," said Martin, who spent six weeks on the disabled list last year with a thumb injury from May to mid-June.

Martin is confident he can make the transition to the big leagues, too, especially after watching fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes excel with Oakland last year. Cespedes, 27, was the runner-up for American League rookie of the year after batting .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs for the AL West champions.

"I might not hit home runs like him, but I'm trying to do better with stolen bases and hit for more average," Martin said. "I'm ready for this year."

Martin has already made a good impression on hitting coach Dave Magadan.

Magadan saw Martin in person for the first time earlier this off-season during a trip to the Rangers' Dominican Republic facility, and had more interaction with him this week.

"Obviously he's talented and the ceiling is limitless on him," Magadan said. "So we'll let him go at his pace and do whatever we can to make him better. He's very coachable, very open. He's got that personality where he's very approachable, so those are all good things."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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