With Hamilton Out, Who is Rangers’ Next Man Up?

At the outset of Spring Training, a Texas-size question mark for the Rangers was Josh Hamilton’s knee and whether he’d be good to go for Opening Day.

Wednesday, we learned that answer is a definitive “no” – Hamilton will start the 2016 season on the Disabled List and likely won’t start in left field until at least early May.

Now, just one day after the full team reported to Surprise, Arizona, the new question everyone is asking – who will be out there on April 4?

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Assistant General Manager Thad Levine said they’re keeping all options on the table.

“We feel as if we’ve got some great candidates in-house,” said Levine. “We are very aware of the players who are still out on the free agent market and we’re still having conversations with those guys. We have been for weeks. But I think we feel as if we’ve got a great staple of outfielders in camp and we’ll continue to move forward with them.”

One option is Ryan Rua. He won the starting job out of Spring Training last year, but hurt his foot just five games into the season, forcing him to miss most of the Rangers’ 2015 AL West title run. In his limited action, he batted .193 with two home runs and 14 RBI.

“[Rua] is in a good place physically and mentally,” said Banister. “I think the ankle issue is behind him. He’s hungry. We like the athleticism and what we feel he can do, so he’s obviously a guy we’ll keep an eye on.”

Another guy they’ll be keeping an eye on is highly touted prospect Nomar Mazara. The 20-year-old is making his big league camp debut this year after being added to the Rangers’ 40-man roster in November. He was named the Rangers Minor League Player of the Year last season after batting .296 with 14 home runs and 69 RBI for Frisco and Round Rock.

“I’m going to go out there and have fun and do my job,” said Mazara. “I’m going to respect their decision whatever they do. I’m here for whatever they want me to do.”

“He’s mature in the way he competes and goes about his job,” said Banister. “He’s focused on what it takes to be a baseball player. It looks like he’s been well coached in that area. To say he’s got a better chance [of making the team] – well, right now, I think they all have a better chance.”

Joey Gallo certainly has a chance. He spent time in left field during his 36-game rookie stint with the Rangers last season, when he batted .204 with six home runs and 14 RBI. Although the team plans to work him at third base during Spring Training, Gallo indicated he’d be okay with a move to the outfield.

“I love third base,” said Gallo. “That’s what I came up playing, so I understand why they want me to stay there and keep working at it. If they move me around, that’s fine too – but third base is where I’ve been working so far.”

“We’re going to stick to the process with Joey and what we set out do with him -- and that’s to get him time at third base,” said Banister. “We’ll continue to have him focus on his defense and see where the approach with Joey takes us.”

Whatever approach the Rangers ultimately take to fill that left field spot, Banister said there’s still plenty of time to make decisions.

“We have 40 days until the end of [Spring Training],” said Rangers Manager Jeff Banister. “This is day one with the full squad. Let’s let them start taking batting practice off pitchers before we start saying who’s going to play where and why.”

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