Texas Rangers

There’s a clear front-runner to be Rangers’ center fielder. Will he benefit from new manager?

Among the things that ailed Delino DeShields in 2018 was a broken hamate bone in the season’s second game.
Among the things that ailed Delino DeShields in 2018 was a broken hamate bone in the season’s second game. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Everything that Delino DeShields needs to become a big-league regular appears to be in place.

He has the speed, the work ethic and the bloodlines. He has a sharp mind and an openness to learning. Anyone who questions that just needs to examine how far the former second baseman has come defensively in center field.

Success, though, has come in spurts for DeShields, who saw his 2018 season altered nearly from the get-go after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand in the second game.

Other injuries followed, but that one lingered. When he tried to work his way out of a late-spring funk, he never managed to do so. The Rangers even sent him to Triple A Round Rock, albeit briefly, because of a numbers crunch and a lack of performance.

Alas, a new season is on the horizon, with a new manager and new hitting coach, and DeShields has already reported to spring training in Surprise, Ariz., some three weeks before positions players are required to report.

He’s working on a new swing, one that engages his lower body more than ever before, and appears to have a regular spot in manager Chris Woodward’s lineup. For DeShields, it’s about starting fresh, again, after a down year and staying in the lineup.

“I didn’t expect it to happen, with my injuries and everything, but I can’t control that,” DeShields said. “It was something to look at and how to build from. It was something I looked back at, but I didn’t want to sit on it too long.

“You’ve got to turn the page and get ready to start a new season. As tough as it was, I think I did learn a lot and I’ve just got to take it into this year.”

DeShields’ strength is his defense after it was considered a weakness when he made his MLB debut in 2015 after the Rangers took him away from the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 draft.

He’s now one of the game’s best defensive center fielders, thanks to improved route running that utilizes his elite speed. Even his throwing, while still not a strength, has improved with better footwork and a quicker release.

The Rangers want to see DeShields become a better hitter, and they have urged him to use his legs more in his swing. He wasn’t using as much of his body in previous seasons, and wasn’t driving the ball.

Even with how fast he is, he’s going to make outs on most of the grounders he hits.

DeShields is athletic enough and coachable enough to make the most of the changes. He’s been working on them as soon as the Rangers hired hitting coach Luis Ortiz, who came with Woodward from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Woodward has talked about using DeShields atop the lineup, with Shin-Soo Choo, or in the nine spot with Choo batting leadoff. When DeShields is going well and scoring runs, the Rangers respond in kind.

“Delino with some speed, if he gets on base more, that, obviously, makes sense,” Woodward said. “I think it’s pressure. The one thing I’ve addressed to our team, everything we do, from a hitting standpoint, from a base-running standpoint, from a pitching standpoint, is all pressure. I want to apply the most pressure possible in the most efficient way on the other team, and they should know that.”

Joey Gallo could also see time in center field, where he played some last season, and so could Scott Heineman after he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery.

Carlos Tocci, who survived last season on the active roster despite being a weak-hitting Rule 5 selection, could be in the mix at some point, too, and the Rangers might be tempted to use a September call-up on prospect Julio Pablo Martinez.

But entering spring training, where DeShields is already busy working, he looks to be the primary center fielder.

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