Texas Rangers

Rangers high on Gallo in center, but how far does outfield defense drop when DeShields sits?

Joey Gallo: Young but experienced Rangers ready for takeoff

Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo said that he and the other third- and fourth-year Texas Rangers players can make strides this season.
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Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo said that he and the other third- and fourth-year Texas Rangers players can make strides this season.

Delino DeShields had the good fortune Thursday of not having to make the trek from the Surprise Recreation Campus to Tempe Diablo Stadium to play center field for the Texas Rangers.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Joey Gallo drew the short straw and drew his first start of the spring in center, where he played last season and where manager Chris Woodward plans to play him this season.

How often is to be determined, with Woodward publicly stating he hopes DeShields is the everyday center fielder. Numbers show that DeShields is one of the best center fielders in baseball.

At minimum, Gallo appears locked in as DeShields’ backup and the regular left fielder. But when DeShields is off and Gallo is in center, the Rangers’ outfield defense won’t be as good because Gallo isn’t as good as DeShields and the left fielder won’t be as good as Gallo.

There would be a gain offensively, but how much of a drop-off do the Rangers believe there would be with the outfield defense?

Not as much as many might think, and not enough to offset what could happen at the plate.

“It’s not something to be concerned with,” Woodward said. “In my opinion it’s still pretty high. If I put Joey out there every single day, he would be a really good center fielder. According to Delino’s standards, which are pretty high, maybe he’s a tick below. But, at the same time, he’s still above average.”

Gallo, the metrics show, wasn’t a great left fielder in 2018 with minus-3 defensive runs saved, which rated 92nd in MLB. His 1.3 ultimate zone rating was 33rd in the majors.

But the Rangers consider him average, with an above-average arm, and prefer him in left to others in camp who play the position.

Willie Calhoun was the left fielder against the Angels, and he is still learning the position. There is plenty of room to grow, something that has been accelerated by how much he has shrunk.

Down 20-plus pounds, Calhoun has shown this spring that he is more mobile and won’t be the defensive liability he has been after coming up as a second baseman and transitioning to left field after the Yu Darvish trade in 2017.

“I’m interested to see how Willie does,” Woodward said.

The Rangers could also find themselves with Hunter Pence in left field when Gallo is in center. Maybe Nomar Mazara under a particular circumstance. Shin-Soo Choo played out there last season.

None of them, including Calhoun, is considered by the Rangers to be as good in left field as Gallo is. Gallo isn’t the same quality of center fielder as DeShields, who was among the MLB leaders in defensive runs saved and outs above average.

DeShields could dictate how much Gallo plays in center by having a better offensive season than he did in 2018. Injuries contributed to DeShields batting only .216 with a .591 OPS. Gallo batted only .206, but he posted an .810 OPS and popped 40 homers.

Gallo in center and Calhoun in left field against a right-handed pitcher might be worth the risk of a lesser defensive alignment in the outfield.

Regardless, Woodward doesn’t see potential defensive issues when Gallo is in center and a lesser defensive player is in left.

“Maybe with Delino you can play a little different because he’s so fast, so you can play guys a little bit off of him,” Woodward said. “I don’t look at Joey as any kind of detriment. He’s not like a downgrade.”

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.