The quest to find the Texas Rangers’ 2015 starting left fielder officially began in earnest Sunday afternoon.
Journeyman Ryan Ludwick, age 36, went 2 for 2 in the day’s intrasquad game. Nate Schierholtz, who has a World Series ring from the Giants, also had two hits. Carlos Peguero, who hit 30 homers last year in Triple A, had a double and two RBIs.
The incumbent left fielder, Ryan Rua, like most of the starters, had the afternoon off.
The 2015 job, with all respects to Rua, is up for grabs and likely will be all spring.
But for 2016, my chips are on Nomar Mazara.
Frisco RoughRiders fans already know about Mazara. He’s the tall, left-handed-hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic who passed his Double A advanced placement test last season with impressive colors.
If all goes according to plan, Frisco’s everyday lineup this season will include Mazara, Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams. All are ranked by Baseball America among the Rangers’ top five prospects. Three are on the publication’s list of the Top 100 prospects in baseball.
Third baseman Gallo, catcher Alfaro and outfielder Williams are all 21 years old. Mazara is 19.
To understand the Mazara story, you have to know what life was like in Santo Domingo as the teenaged son of Ramon Mazara, a high-ranking officer in the Dominican Navy.
Yes, the Dominican Republic has a navy. Its finest hour came during the war for independence from Haiti in 1844.
So, show some respect. Gen. Mazara’s Navy is 1-0.
“When I was real little, I followed the way he acted,” Nomar said. “He was strict. But he didn’t talk bad to me — he told me the right things to do.”
Mike Daly, the Rangers’ minor league director who used to be in charge of international scouting, recalls the day in 2010 when he met the Mazara family for the first time.
“We went to his house — Nomar was 14 years old — and his father was an imposing figure,” Daly said. “He showed us all the stars he had earned in the Dominican Navy. He was just a great human being, as was Nomar’s mother.
“They obviously did a tremendous job raising him and Nomar’s brother and sister.”
In the Dominican Republic, there are 14-year-old diamonds in the baseball rough everywhere. The Rangers coveted and shadowed Mazara and teammate Ronald Guzman for two years before signing them in July 2010.
Mazara’s contract was for $4.95 million, the highest international amateur bonus ever. It was part of an estimated $13 million in bonuses that the Rangers spent on the Latin American market that off-season.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow tsk-tsked the Rangers’ signings and said Jon Daniels and his crew were spending money like “drunken sailors.”
The harvest of those signings seems to be near.
Mazara batted .306 with an .899 OPS in his one month at Frisco last season. More impressively, as a raw 19-year-old, he more than held his own, batting .294, in a few weeks of playing left field for the Licey team in the Dominican Winter League.
“I’ve learned that you have to make adjustments — and make them real quick,” Mazara said. “If you don’t, the game is going to keep moving and you’ll be left behind.”
Mazara’s ability to adjust and his maturity, even though he’s still a teenager, have enabled him to rapidly climb the organization’s prospects chart.
Daly tells the story of Mazara’s trip to the dentist last week to get a wisdom tooth rechecked. Normally, a trip to the doctor for a teenaged minor leaguer would require a member of the club’s training staff to escort and drive him.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mazara told the trainer. “I know where it is. I’ll drive myself.”
Which he did, just the way Gen. Mazara had taught him.
“We see him as a complete hitter,” Daly said. “I think he’s going to be a guy who’s going to be able to have really good at-bats, very solid average-wise and with above-average power.
“We had scouts in Hickory last year, watching him for a couple of weeks before he was promoted. Everybody came back talking about his at-bats, how they were so good, and how he saw so many good pitches and grinded at-bats and was hitting both velocity and breaking balls.
“And then he went to Frisco and didn’t miss a beat.”
By the middle of this season, if Mazara maintains his current pace, he should be playing left field at Triple A Round Rock.
Beyond that? I know where my chips are going.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697