The big draw at Fan Fest during the 11 a.m. hour, the player who had fans lined up outside the Jack Daniel’s Club at Globe Life Park, was top prospect Joey Gallo.
He was at the “Future Players” table, where up-and-comers were stationed Jan. 24 to sign autographs for an hour. He was joined by catcher Tomas Telis, who made his big-league debut last year, and fellow 2014 first-timer Ryan Rua.
While Rua is still a rookie and considered a future piece of the puzzle, those who have been listening closely this off-season might have found his Fan Fest location a bit peculiar. After all, club officials mention Rua’s name first when asked who is going to be the Texas Rangers’ primary left fielder in 2015.
The Rangers’ spending money has been frozen this winter by owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, making a trade for Justin Upton a pipe dream and even a $4.4 million flier on Dayan Viciedo not doable.
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The penny-pinching also positioned Rua as the frontrunner for left field after his strong September and a dismal 2014 by Michael Choice. Jake Smolinski is said to be a contender for playing time, too, as is former minor league outfielder Mitch Moreland.
But when the Rangers take the field for their first full-squad spring workout Feb. 26, left field will be Rua’s position to lose.
Give him credit, though. He isn’t taking anything for granted as he prepares for his first big-league camp.
“Nothing’s given,” Rua said. “I’m going to go out there and battle every day and try to do my best.
“I was lucky enough to be able to come up last year and fortunate enough to be able to play, too. I tried to do anything possible.”
General manager Jon Daniels ultimately says that there will be an open competition for left field once players report to Surprise, Ariz., after listing Rua first among those in the hunt. The Rangers like Rua’s athletic ability and versatility, and they point to his track record in the minors when pressed on his lack of big-league experience.
Rua, who turns 25 on March 11, batted .295 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 105 at-bats after his September call-up. He did so while playing 17 of his 28 games in left field, a position the career infielder hadn’t played until 2014.
But the numbers across a small sample size in the season’s final month — one of the toughest times to evaluate a player — are buoyed by a .306 average at two stops in the minors ahead of his promotion and by his 32-homer season in the minors in 2013.
Rua needs to keep moving forward this spring, when Choice, Smolinski, Moreland and Delino DeShields Jr. will also be getting a look during Cactus League games. Choice and Smolinski are seen as the others in the left field hunt, with Moreland and DeShields expected to see more time at other positions.
Choice, the former first-round pick from UT Arlington, has seen his stock slip after his 2014 struggles. He excelled last spring to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, then saw his hot hitting give way to a months-long slump that saw him sent to Triple A in July with a .177 average.
“Spring training evaluations are tricky, too,” manager Jeff Banister said. “You’ve got to use your experience and try to equate what they’ve done in the past and what they’re doing right now.”
Right now, Rua is the frontrunner to be the Rangers’ primary left fielder in 2014.
“I’m looking forward to spring training and a competition that should be a lot of fun,” he said.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
Ryan Rua: Athletic, has power, can play infield corners, still learning left field.
Michael Choice: Lousy 2014 at plate and defensively, has power, solid numbers in minors.
Jake Smolinski: Career minor leaguer hit .349 in 86 ABs, struggles with off-speed pitches, solid defender.
Mitch Moreland: Played outfield in minors, will see most ABs at DH and first base.
Delino DeShields Jr.: Speedy Rule 5 pick must play all three OF spots to stick on roster.