Just as it was to be a year ago, the Texas Rangers will send a 21-year-old into their Cactus League opener with the full intention of having him start at second base in the regular season.
This time around that player is Rougned Odor, who has his hands around the job tighter than Jurickson Profar ever did last spring. Injuries have derailed Profar’s career and boosted Odor’s, though he held his own in 2014 when at age 20 he could have fallen flat.
That possibility still exists. Odor is, after all, now a second-year player who will be haunted by the classic sports cliché each time he struggles this season.
Fortunately, there is no easy English-to-Spanish translation of sophomore slump, and the native Venezuelan had never heard of such a thing.
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Also in the good-fortune column is that Odor learned last year the importance of making adjustments. One was to be more patient. Another was watching video to learn how to get a jump on the pitchers who are trying to get a jump on him.
“You watch a lot of video here, and I never did that in the minor leagues,” Odor said. “When I started watching videos, I know what kind of pitches they throw, and that makes me feel better at home plate.”
Odor wasn’t a walking machine. He didn’t draw his first walk until his 67th plate appearance after his May 8 debut, and finished with only 17 in 417 plate appearances.
But the at-bats got better after his batting average bottomed out at .247 in August. Odor batted .296 in September to finish at .259 with nine homers, 48 RBIs and a respectable .402 slugging percentage.
The league’s pitchers had adjusted to him, and he adjusted back.
“Since he got here, I told him it’s going to be like that for the rest of your career,” shortstop and fellow Venezuelan Elvis Andrus said. “You’re going to hit well, and if you make the adjustment right away, you’re going to hit the rest of your life.
“He knows that. As talented as he is and that swing that he has, I don’t think he’s going to have any problems.”
Andrus already sees more preparation from Odor this spring. The dissecting of opposing pitchers won’t begin in earnest until closer to the regular season, but Odor used video last year to help him better recognize pitches.
Four-seam fastballs that he saw in the minors were replaced by two-seamers and cutters, and the secondary pitches were much better. Odor ultimately started swinging at his pitch, a tenet of hitting coach Dave Magadan.
“I was struggling because I was swinging at everything,” Odor said. “I started to think about my pitch and not swing at bad pitches. That’s when I started doing good again.”
While others outside the organization have expressed concerns about having a 21-year-old starting at second base, assistant general manager Thad Levine praised Odor for his baseball IQ and drive to be a quality major leaguer.
An argument can be made that among Rangers infielders only third baseman Adrian Beltre has fewer questions concerning him than Odor.
“They call it the sophomore slump because the league adjusts, but I think we view it almost in the exact opposite,” Levine said. “He is a very intelligent player, and I think he feels as if he scratched the surface last year as to what he will be able to achieve in the game.”
Andrus, who sees Odor’s work first-hand as his double play partner and neighbor in the clubhouse, isn’t fretting either.
“People are always talking about sophomore slump and stuff like that, but actually, I’m telling you, I don’t think it’s going to happen to him,” Andrus said.
“He’s such a young guy, but so mature. He wants to learn something new every day. That’s all you need with that special talent that he has.”
And, in Odor’s mind, there’s no need to even know what a sophomore slump is.
“I don’t want to know about that,” he said. “I have the opportunity to play every day, so I’m just going to play hard, help my team and see what happens.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760