Texas Rangers

Can Guzman be Rangers' long-term first baseman without true homer power?

Ronald Guzman has been trending upward at the plate, but his defense at first base consistently has been at a high level.
Ronald Guzman has been trending upward at the plate, but his defense at first base consistently has been at a high level. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

At 23 years old, it's hard to think of Ronald Guzman as a late bloomer, but that's better than what he was being called only a few years ago.

Some were saying that Guzman was already a bust, having opened a third consecutive season at Low A Hickory and then struggled initially at the hitters' paradise that was High A High Desert.

Maybe the doubts spread because the 6-foot-6 baseball behemoth doesn't hit 40 homers a season. Or 30. Or even 20.

Maybe it was because his best buddy and fellow 2011 international signee, Nomar Mazara, made his MLB debut at age 21 and was seemingly always a level or two closer to the Texas Rangers' lineup.

But Guzman has been in the majors more than a month now, and of late has looked like he's there to stay. The bat has awakened, the glove has been his calling card, and the combination could allow him to be the Rangers' first baseman for the long term.

And, no, he doesn't have to hit dozens of homers at a power position. He doesn't really even want to right now, though he is.

Guzman connected Wednesday for the third straight game against the New York Yankees, this time a three-run shot. It helped the Rangers outlast the mighty Yankees' lineup 12-10 to clinch the best-of-3 series against one of the game's top teams.

"I don't consider myself a power hitter," Guzman said. "I know it's there, but I don't like thinking about it. At first I was like, 'Oh, yeah, I'm going to try to hit for more home runs,' but then I got to spring training and I was like, 'Oh, that's not me.'

"I definitely wanted to go back where I was in Round Rock [last season] and just let the power come. I'm just trying to get on top of the ball and get my swing to the fastball every single at-bat."

The Rangers erased deficits of 4-0 and 10-5 to stop the Yankees, who hit four more home runs and finished the series with 12. Nomar Mazara hit a two-run shot ahead of Guzman's shot in the fourth, and Jurickson Profar collected a bases-loaded double to give the Rangers an 11-10 lead in the sixth.

Isiah-Kiner Falefa joined the three-RBI club with a bad-hop RBI-run triple in the fifth, a bases-loaded walk in the sixth and a key RBI single in the eighth.

Guzman has five homers in 101 at-bats, but four in the past eight games as things started to click as he approached the 100 at-bat plateau. The blast he hit Monday traveled 443 feet, but the homers Tuesday and Wednesday off CC Sabathia were wall scrapers.

"It hasn't been the last couple games," manager Jeff Banister said. "He's found a little rhythm in his hands, he's found the barrel, and he's understanding where the barrel is at. And he's calmed down to where he's using his hands. The more relaxed guys are, the more they're able to use their hands, stay on their legs and let the ball travel."

Guzman knows who he is at the plate. If he tries to go deep, his swing gets long and he falls into slumps. He's a gap-to-gap hitter who connected for only 51 homers in the minors but 128 doubles. Doubles are power, too.

And Guzman can fit into the lineup as long as the Rangers have enough power elsewhere and as long as he hits left-handed pitchers. Guzman had only nine at-bats vs. lefties before starting against Sabathia.

When Mazara, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo are in the lineup, the Rangers have power and can find a fit for players like Guzman, who had an .806 on-base plus slugging percentage last season at Triple A Round Rock.

"Personally, when you look at the lineup, the balance of power and on-base and the ability to have productive outs, that's as important," Banister said. "Does his power play with the on-base and the slugging? I look at that more so than just hitting balls out of the ballpark."

The defense has provided the early wow factor for Guzman, who is batting only .218 in his first MLB stint. The three-base error he committed Monday, when he flat whiffed on a Brett Gardner roller, was the first of his career.

Jurickson Profar's three-run homer led Rangers

He has shown range, and the long arms that have earned him the nickname "the Condor" help him catch just about anything thrown his way.

Infielders love him.

"He's great," shortstop Jurickson Profar said. "He's tall and very athletic. He takes pride in his defense, too. It makes you feel comfortable. You can throw it anywhere and you know he will pick it, he will go up, he will do anything. And he keeps working every day to improve."

Having Guzman on the roster has allowed the Rangers to shift Gallo, the Opening Day first baseman, to left field. Guzman is a plus-defender and more experienced than Gallo.

It's been quite a turnaround for a player who initially would have rather played outfield. Now, he looks like a solution at first.

"I used to hate first base," Guzman said. "When I played outfield, I hated taking ground balls. But I worked a lot and I fell in love with the position. I really love playing first, and I can help my team."

Texas Rangers ace Cole Hamels said Tuesday that it’s too early to think about being traded at this year’s deadline. He beat the New York Yankees, a potential suitor.

Rangers 12, Yankees 10

New York

301

060

000

10

14

1

Texas

000

524

01x

12

11

2

New York<QM>

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Gardner lf

5

1

2

0

0

0

.233

Judge rf

5

2

2

2

0

0

.284

Gregorius ss

5

1

1

2

0

0

.246

Stanton dh

4

1

1

0

0

1

.262

Hicks cf

5

0

2

0

0

0

.254

Walker 1b

5

2

2

1

0

0

.220

Andujar 3b

5

1

2

0

0

3

.288

Romine c

3

1

1

2

1

2

.340

Sanchez ph

1

0

0

0

0

1

.228

Torres 2b

5

1

1

3

0

2

.323



Texas<QM>

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

DeShields cf

5

2

1

0

0

2

.225

Choo rf

3

3

2

0

2

1

.255

Kiner-Falefa 3b

4

2

2

3

1

0

.260

Mazara dh

5

1

2

3

0

1

.274

Profar ss

4

1

2

3

1

0

.237

Odor 2b

4

0

0

0

0

2

.171

Rua lf

3

1

0

0

1

1

.163

Guzman 1b

4

2

2

3

0

0

.218

Perez c

4

0

0

0

0

2

.143



E—Betances (3), Profar (9), Odor (3). LOB—New York 8, Texas 5. 2B—Gardner 2 (8), Andujar (14), Profar (14). 3B—Kiner-Falefa (2). HR—Gregorius (11), off Fister; Walker (2), off Fister; Torres (8), off Fister; Judge (13), off Barnette; Mazara (11), off Sabathia; Guzman (5), off Sabathia. RBIs—Judge 2 (38), Gregorius 2 (34), Walker (14), Romine 2 (13), Torres 3 (22), Kiner-Falefa 3 (15), Mazara 3 (31), Profar 3 (26), Guzman 3 (17). SB—DeShields (9), Choo (2), Kiner-Falefa (4). Runners left in scoring position—New York 4 (Hicks, Walker, Torres 2); Texas 4 (Mazara, Profar, Odor, Rua). RISP—New York 4 for 11; Texas 4 for 12. Runners moved up—Mazara.

New York

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Sabathia

4<AF>1/3

6

7

7

3

1

91

3.55

Holder

<AF>2/3

1

0

0

0

1

14

3.60

Shreve, H, 2

<AF>1/3

2

2

2

0

1

8

4.15

Robertson, L, 3-2, BS, 4-5

<AF>2/3

1

2

2

2

2

22

4.91

Betances

2

1

1

1

0

4

28

4.71

Texas

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Fister

4<AF>1/3

11

8

6

1

2

102

4.22

Barnette

<AF>2/3

2

2

2

0

1

9

4.15

Claudio, W, 2-2

1<AF>2/3

1

0

0

0

3

27

4.50

Leclerc, H, 4

<AF>1/3

0

0

0

0

0

6

2.40

Martin, H, 7

1

0

0

0

0

0

15

4.50

Kela, S, 10-10

1

0

0

0

0

3

12

4.50

Inherited runners-scored—Holder 1-0, Robertson 2-2. HBP—Martin (Stanton). WP—Martin, Betances. Umpires—Home, Nic Lentz; First, Mark Carlson; Second, Tim Timmons; Third, Pat Hoberg. T—3:20. A—31,304 (49,115).

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