The arrival of Ian Desmond to the Texas Rangers’ was universally praised inside the clubhouse walls.
But a small group of players, no matter how team-first they are, realized their 2016 seasons had just been massively altered.
Instead of beginning the spring schedule, which starts at 2 p.m. Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium, with dreams of earning a starting spot in left field, all now must scramble to prove their abilities at multiple positions and at the plate.
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Some of the candidates were long shots and pipe dreams for prospect-lusting fans, including Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo. Gallo will remain at third base and appears destined to start the season with Triple A Round Rock. Nomar Mazara, who along with Gallo are the top two prospects in the organization, was also unlikely to land the job in lieu of much-needed Triple A seasoning.
“These are 21-22 year old guys who have all the ability in the world, but there’s still room for some growth,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “They may very well factor into this club this year. But this is about right now and how do we make our club the best it can be.”
That, as Daniels declared Monday, is with Desmond in left.
Until that moment, however a slew of candidates to replace Josh Hamilton were led by Ryan Rua and Justin Ruggiano. Rua was the Opening Day starter in 2015 before injuries wrecked much of his season. Ruggiano, who has played with five teams the past five seasons is open to including first base to his viable positions. This was happening before Desmond was even in the picture. Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister covets multi-talented players and players who can help mix up the batting order from either side of the plate.
We’re still evaluating them. I don’t think you change evaluations. What a player can do and can’t do is still an evaluation. Does it change a thought process of how do they fit on a club, or do they make you think what else can they do? You start looking at those prospects also.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister
“We’re still evaluating them. I don’t think you change evaluations,” Banister said. “What a player can do and can’t do is still an evaluation. Does it change a thought process of how do they fit on a club, or do they make you think what else can they do? You start looking at those prospects also.”
They already know Rua can player third and first and the corner outfield spots. Banister says his staff has already discussed the impact Desmond’s arrival may have.
“Right now, Rua is in left field and we want him to feel comfortable to compete,” he said.
Rua, of course, knows the more versatile he is defensively, the better his chances of making the club.
“Whatever they want me to do,” Rua said. “I have some experience at those different positions if that’s what it comes to.”
Ruggiano has played all three outfield spots extensively. Drew Stubbs, who signed a minor league deal just a few days before Desmond arrived, finished 2015 with the Rangers and was used mainly as a center field defensive replacement for DeShields.
“For what I’m trying to do I don’t think it changes much,” said Stubbs, a seven-year veteran who struggled at the plate in ‘15. “I think people know what I’m capable of. Knowing I have something to prove, that’s what I’m looking to do. Make myself a viable option.”
Ruggiano, who will start in left Wednesday, is trying to do the same thing. Rua starts in left on Thursday.
“With Desmond here now it’s kind of put me in a little bit of a bind as far as left field time because he’s right handed,” Ruggiano said. “but we haven’t even played a game yet in spring training. Let it play out and see how spring goes. It’s not my job to piece the team together.”
He understands the value of a versatile bench, however. That’s why he’s open to learning first base, a position he doesn’t recall playing, even as a kid.
“It’s going all right. It’s early,” he said. “I’m going to do more work in the infield. I’m just a number right now trying to make the team, that’s it.”
Does he see himself as the utility bench player?
“I don’t try to see it. I just try get my work in every day, I really do,” he said. “Be available, healthy and contribute.”