Fans who attended the Cowboys Santa Toy Drive Finale on Tuesday had the opportunity to get an autograph from the Texas Rangers’ starting first baseman in 2017.
Actually, a chance at two of the Rangers’ starting first basemen in 2017.
A third wasn’t present. And that isn’t a reference to Edwin Encarnacion.
Just as things stood a week ago at the end of the winter meetings, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar are the front-runners to replace Mitch Moreland at first base. General manager Jon Daniels again said on Wednesday that the addition of a top-of-the-market free agent is “unlikely” and pointed to the internal candidates.
Each of them was drafted at a different position but realizes that opportunity exists this spring to win a prominent role as the Rangers try for an American League West three-peat.
Each wants to be an everyday player in the major leagues. This, barring a Daniels change of heart, is the best chance each has for 2017.
“The Rangers already have their middle infield,” said Profar, a natural shortstop. “For me right now, it’s just get ready and see what happens.”
The most likely scenario is that Rua and Profar share first base early in the season. Profar would rather play every day in the middle infield, now locked up by shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Rougned Odor. But he would rather play every day in the majors leagues, and first base and designated hitter could give him that avenue.
Profar debuted at first base in June and showed well. He also had some hiccups that come with inexperience and didn’t deter the Rangers from continuing to play him there and find a way to get his bat in the lineup.
“I think I did my best to field the position and to help the team,” he said.
Rua also plays multiple positions and was the Rangers’ Opening Day left fielder in 2015. Gallo is a third baseman, but knows that his avenue to regular at-bats with the Rangers is at first base as long as Adrian Beltre is on the team.
“No one is taking his job,” Gallo said.
Rua and Gallo are better and more experienced at first base than Profar and defensively have a leg up. Rua and Profar have an advantage in MLB experience over Gallo, who could start the season at Triple A Round Rock but take over the at first if he shows well.
Only a handful of players in the game have the power potential of Gallo. He’s working out this off-season in Las Vegas with, among others, former MVPs Jason Giambi and Bryce Harper after seeing his stint in the Venezuelan Winter League cut short by a strained left hamstring after only three games.
“I was just trying to get some at-bats and play in front of an atmosphere like that,” Gallo said. “I really like first base. I played a lot of first in Triple A.”
Rua knows that versatility is what allowed him to stay on the Rangers’ roster almost the entire season. He got the majority of his at-bats against left-handed pitching, but the right-handed hitter believes he can hit righty pitchers and play every day as he was doing in 2015 before injuring his foot and ankle in the first week of the season.
“I think everybody has that mind-set. When you get up here, you want to be an everyday player,” Rua said. “That’s the goal, but whatever the situation is with the team, that’s what I’m willing to do.”
Barring an unexpected breakthrough with Encarnacion or perhaps Mike Napoli or Adam Lind, Rua is going to get a chance at first base.