When told Monday afternoon that he was the oldest player in the Texas Rangers’ lineup by 10 years, Shin-Soo Choo picked up his jaw from the clubhouse floor and could manage only a few words.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Ten years older?”
But it was true. The 36-year-old Choo had 10-plus years on the other eight players in the batting order interim manager Don Wakamatsu posted for the opener of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.
The lineup, by age, was: 36, 24, 23, 25, 24, 23, 23, 23, 25.
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The second-oldest player was shorstop Hanser Alberto, who turns 26 next month. He was giving 30-year-old Elvis Andrus a day off. As if to make Choo not feel as old, starting pitcher Adrian Sampson told Choo that he turns 27 in a couple weeks.
The Rangers, though, might not be all that young.
Rougned Odor, 24, made his 669th career start and entered with 2,675 at-bats. Nomar Mazara, 23, played the 416th game of his career and was nearing his 1,700th career at-bat. Joey Gallo, 24, played the 340th game of his career.
The core group of the rebuild might not be as far away as people think. At the very least, the position players the Rangers are building around are closer than the pitchers.
“I think so, because they have more experience,” Choo said. “They’ve played more. They have more time in the big leagues. They’ve seen the postseason and the regular season. They’ve seen both. They have a chance just not to play a long time, but they have a good chance to be leaders in the future.”
If he does retire or continues with another team, his replacement would likely be Jurickson Profar, who turns 26 in February. He played in his 140th game of the season Monday and No. 346 of his career.
Not only are the young core pieces gaining experience, they also continue to grow physically. They are far from finished products.
“We have more at-bats of guys 25 and younger than we’ve had in a while,” interim manager Don Wakamatsu said. “The biggest thing for us right now is to be able to continue to evaluate these guys and make adjustments.
“In this game, you talk about not really physically maturing until 27 or 28, from a strength standpoint. Today there’s more of an influx of good young talent, but we have a lot of guys that start to develop in that 25-, 26-, 27-year-old range. It’s just maintaining that forward progress.”
Wakamatsu was with the Rangers when they acquired Nelson Cruz from the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. Cruz shuttled back and forth between Triple A and the majors, looking for a chance and the accompanying boost of confidence.
He received his everyday opportunity at the end of the 2008 season.
“He’s been one of the most prolific power hitters in the game since,” Wakamatsu said.
Choo cautioned that the young position players aren’t finished cooking yet. Even at his age and with his experience, nearly 1,500 games and 5,400 at-bats, he’s still learning the game.
He pointed to his second half, in which he is batting .219 after posting All-Star numbers in the first half. Just when it seems like a player might have things figured out, the game reminds him otherwise.
“To me, this game is so hard you’re never good enough to not learn,” Choo said. “I’m 36, have 12 years in the game, and I’m still learning.”
The young players seem to be heeding Choo’s advice.
“I need to keep playing and keep watching pitchers and keep seeing pitches,” rookie first baseman Ronald Guzman, 23, said. “It just takes time.”