February 5, 2013

Nelson Cruz starter for now, but Rangers consider other options

Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt are among possible replacements.

Anyone linked to performance-enhancing drugs these days is guilty until proven innocent, and Nelson Cruz has learned that firsthand the past week.

But he is still the Texas Rangers' starting right fielder right now and for however long it takes for Major League Baseball to determine if he is guilty or innocent of links to a Miami anti-aging clinic that allegedly provided him and at least six other big-leaguers with banned substances.

A report last week in the Miami New Times remains the only public evidence that could lead to Cruz being suspended 50 games. Even Rangers general manager Jon Daniels doesn't seem to have more information than the general public.

Daniels, though, is wondering what others are, too: Who is going to replace Cruz if he's busted?

Not even Daniels knows, though he and the Rangers are planning to give several players, including their top two prospects, a look.

"Our expectation is that Nellie is our right fielder," Daniels said Tuesday. "Until we hear otherwise, there's nothing fancy about it. That's just the truth. While there's some chatter out there, I think we'll at least take at look at some other guys."

Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, along with other young players and some non-roster invitees to spring training, will be considered as possible options to replace a suspended Cruz.

Profar and Olt are infielders, and only Olt has tried the outfield. But they swing impact bats that could help plug the production gap with Cruz out.

Daniels, though, was quick to say that the Rangers are trying to teach their young players to be ready for anything if they want to leave the minor leagues behind.

Profar worked out for club officials at the Rangers' Latin America facility in the Dominican Republic. He was among those told to be open-minded this spring.

"Our message to them was, 'Whatever your position was in the minor leagues, you're a baseball player now,'" Daniels said. "'Whether you're a middle infielder, you may play on the corner, you may play some outfield. Just be prepared.'"

Profar, widely regarded as the top prospect in baseball, might have a better chance to make the Rangers' roster if he can be a capable outfielder. The Rangers tried to find ways to get him in the lineup as much as possible this winter, especially at second base, before deciding to not move Ian Kinsler to first base or left field.

Said Daniels: "Our stance with Jurickson is, and what we've communicated to him is, if he demonstrates that he's one of the best 25 and maybe one of the best nine and we're comfortable that there's enough of an opportunity for him to play and make and impact for the team and also continue in his progress, we're going to be open-minded to that.

"I see him long-term as a shortstop or a middle infielder with high ability there, but he may take some balls out there. We'll see what happens."

Role for Pudge

The Rangers and Ivan Rodriguez are working toward finding the 1999 American League MVP a role with the team, and Jon Daniels said that he expects Rodriguez to be at spring training at some point.

Rodriguez expressed interest in remaining with the team in a non-playing capacity in an April news conference in which he announced his retirement.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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