Gil LeBreton

Rangers may hit speed trap if they keep DeShields

Texas Rangers second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. hits an RBI triple during the eighth inning as the Rangers beat the Brewers 5-4 on March 7.
Texas Rangers second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. hits an RBI triple during the eighth inning as the Rangers beat the Brewers 5-4 on March 7. Star-Telegram

Out here in the desert, where the heat beats down on the retirees driving the left lane in their golf carts and where even the rattlesnakes hide in the shade all day, the prospect of speed can be intoxicating.

There is no other way to explain the Texas Rangers’ latest likely roster decision.

“A lot of times guys with speed, their feet play on a different surface than the rest,” the Rangers’ new manager, Jeff Banister, tried to explain Friday.

“They play a different brand of baseball, a different game. I would just like to drive that fast, let alone run that fast.”

Banister was talking about Delino DeShields Jr., 22 years young, a one-time No. 6 overall pick in the MLB draft, a stealer of 101 bases one minor league season, and a converted infielder-turned-outfielder that the Rangers selected from the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 Draft.

The Rangers head home from their Arizona spring training camp on Wednesday. All hints suggest that they will be bringing young DeShields with them.

Which seems strange, to say the least.

With the new season at hand, the Rangers need their starting rotation to step up and show some consistency. They need their bullpen to be healthy. They need a more efficient offense. They need hitters who can find the gaps and hit home runs.

What they don’t necessarily need is a kid, deemed expendable by the Astros, who has never played above class Double A — and batted only .236 doing that — and whose minor league career included just one season of playing in the outfield.

Regardless of his one truly identifiable tool, his footspeed.

The club is backed into a keep-him-or-cut-him corner because of the rules that define players selected in the Rule 5 draft. The Rangers can only retain the rights to DeShields if they keep him on their major league roster for the entire season.

If they decide not to, they would have to place DeShields on waivers and hope he clears the entire major leagues. If he cleared, the Rangers would then have to offer him back to the Astros.

Infrequently used, clubs tend to stash Rule 5 players, not label them as secret weapons.

“I personally don’t look at Delino as a Rule 5 guy,” Banister said. “This is a guy that has a skill set that can help you win ballgames. He has a speed element. He’s shown the bunt. He’s shown some barrel. And he has shown us that he’s better than adequate in the outfield.

“If he makes this club and stays on this club, I see Delino as a player who adds value to this club in a winning fashion.”

Hmm. I must have missed the new memo about being allowed to steal first base.

Shields has batted 31 times in spring training games, has six hits and a .194 average, with one stolen base in three attempts.

One of the wince-worthy caught stealings came Monday against Cincinnati, when DeShields just took off from second while the ball was still in the pitcher’s hand.

That may have been a pivotal night, however, for DeShields’ bid to make the roster. The Rangers — and manager Banister — had a front row seat to the Reds’ Billy Hamilton Show with all of its high-rpm theatrics.

“How much fun was it to watch the other night against the Reds, he and Billy Hamilton?” Banister asked Friday. “I thought it looked like some kind of running competition.”

Fair enough. But speedster Hamilton played 144 games in center field last season for Cincinnati.

DeShields isn’t going to unseat Rangers leadoff man Leonys Martin in center field. Nor will he hit well enough to replace Shin-Soo Choo in right field or Ryan Rua, who is expected to start in left. His likely role: pinch runner.

DeShields isn’t a Billy Hamilton starter kit. He’s more like a Craig Gentry starter kit. And as we were reminded Friday by watching Gentry double and triple and play right field for the A’s, the Rangers determined that Gentry’s skill set was limited and traded him for Michael Choice.

DeShields seems like a guy that a National League team would keep. Or an American League team that already has plenty of hitters.

“Delino is a guy that I think has the potential to be a contributor, yes,” Banister said Friday. “This is a guy that has a usable skill set.”

There is no decision yet, Banister reminded. The 25-man roster has not been announced.

But Banister looks at his new team and clearly sees a need for speed.

Personally, I think it must be the heat.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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