A year after his first big-league spring training and 11 months removed from an ugly stretch of hitting that would result in a demotion to Triple A, Rougned Odor said that nothing much has changed this spring.
He’s the same person, he said, and is approaching the game the same way as he always has. The second baseman wants to win a world championship more than he wants to bat .300 or swat 20 homers.
While the native of Venezuela says one thing, others with the Texas Rangers are seeing a different player. Odor is more mature after being humbled by the game early in 2015. He’s more focused on the things he needs to do to be successful.
“After yesterday’s game, he’s good to go,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
The game in question was played Friday night, when Odor hit three solo homers as part of a 4-for-4 night with four RBIs in only six innings of work. He did it despite being so stuffed up with flu-like symptoms that breathing was a chore.
Within the performance was a sign of growth and a sign that Odor won’t be swallowed by an all-encompassing slump. He didn’t chase pitchers’ pitches but patiently waited for his own.
That’s different, and so is Odor a year later.
“I’m always trying to learn something,” he said. “I always talk to Elvis, AB [Adrian Beltre], always trying to find something new. In this game, every day you can see new things.”
Odor didn’t play Saturday at Salt River Fields, a scheduled day off that he needed after his illness took a firmer hold overnight. His Cactus League average held at a robust .464 (13 for 28) and he has hit in six consecutive games.
He’s short on at-bats as the result of a cautious approach to a mildly strained right oblique muscle, but he has given no reason for concern that he is badly behind where he needs to be for the regular season.
Odor’s improved approach was hatched last year after opening with .144 average. He was optioned to Round Rock, where the worked began on getting him to cut down on his free-swinging ways.
He batted .352 in 30 Triple A games before being summoned back to the majors. He hit .292 the rest of the season with 15 of his 16 homers and 52 of his 61 RBIs to finish with a .261 average and a .465 slugging percentage.
Odor wasn’t as patient as Barry Bonds, but he greatly reduced the times he got himself out.
“When they sent me down to Triple A last year, I worked on that,” he said. “I like to hit, but I was swinging at everything. Right now I try to swing at my pitch, not his pitch. When I’m looking for something, I can take all the other pitches.”
While things are clicking at the plate, Andrus has been most impressed by how much spring work Odor has put in defensively. His footwork is a work-in-progress, especially on double plays, and the Rangers want to see him dialed in on every pitch.
But that will come with time. Though about to embark on his third season, Odor reminded the media that he’s only 22.
“Exactly,” manager Jeff Banister said. “That is a muscle that has to be exercised every single day, every single pitch to discipline yourself to do it.”
He’s improving his plate discipline, so it would make sense that his defense will, too. Odor also rates as one of the Rangers’ top base runners, and his total package has him pushing to be considered among the game’s top second basemen.
He might already be there.
“He’s that talented,” Andrus said. “The best thing is I can see it in his eyes that he’s ready for that success. He’s been working really hard to become the top second baseman in the league, and I believe if he stays healthy he can do it.”