Posted on February 17, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
On Thursday, the Texas Rangers made the signing of Mike Napoli official. Napoli is returning to Arlington for his third stint with the Rangers. He figures to be the team’s primary first baseman and a big part of the lineup offensively after the Rangers lost Carlos Beltran, Mitch Moreland, and Ian Desmond over the offseason, not to mention the early retirement of Prince Fielder. Perhaps most importantly, the signing of Napoli appears to have had a domino effect on the rest of the roster, as the Rangers appear to be reshuffling several pieces to accommodate their new/old first baseman.
Before Napoli signed, first base was a huge question mark for the Rangers. The plan was to split time there among several players, including Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, Ryan Rua, and possibly Josh Hamilton as well. Of course, with Napoli now at first base, most likely on a full-time basis, all of those players have to find playing time at other positions.
Profar and Rua are now expected to move to left field, where they will join Nomar Mazara and Delino Deshields Jr., who were the prime candidates to see time in left field before Napoli signed. Rua is a natural left fielder, and so he should welcome the move. He figures to get most of his chances against left-handed pitchers. Meanwhile, Profar has started just 12 games in left field, including eight last season. It’s far from his natural position, and while there may be a learning curve, the Rangers have no place else to put him with their middle infield already spoken for by Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor.
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With Profar and Rua now in line for most of the time in left field, Deshields figures to be relegated to a bench role. Mazara, meanwhile, appears to be moving to right field, where he started 97 games last year, rather than competing with Profar and Rua for playing time in left field. This will allow the Rangers to shift Shin-Soo Choo to the DH spot.
“Choo is going to DH some,” manager Jeff Banister said Thursday. “The number of times is yet to be determined. We haven’t played a game yet. We’ll see how it lines up in left field.”
Choo may not be excited to make a full-time move to DH; however, he was limited to just 48 games last season because of four separate stints on the DL due to injuries to four separate body parts (right calf, left hamstring, lower back, and left forearm). If the Rangers are able to get consistent production from the collection of players they have in left field, it will allow Choo to spend more time in the DH spot, which appears to be what the team would prefer.
Finally, the player who may be the most put out by the signing of Napoli is Gallo, who prepared the entire offseason to play first base in 2017, but now finds himself without a home.
“There’s really no spot for me anymore, so I’m going to have to battle for wherever there is an opening,” Gallo said. “I’m not really worried about anything. I’m just going to go out and get my work in and hopefully at some point I’ll be able to get some at-bats throughout the season up there.”
Gallo’s natural position is third base, although there’s little opportunity there behind Adrian Beltre. He has some experience in left field, but there doesn’t appear to be much time available there unless Profar, Rua, and Deshields all struggle. His raw power makes him ideal for a DH role, but not if the Rangers are intent on playing Choo there as often as possible. He now faces the possibility of returning to triple-A, where he hit 25 home runs in 102 games last season and has little left to prove.
To some extent, the signing of Napoli has created a bit of chaos on the Rangers’ roster. With him at first base, several players are on the move to new and in some cases unfamiliar positions. Nevertheless, it has created competition for the Rangers at several positions and increased their flexibility. In the long run, the signing of Napoli and the domino effect of position changes should make Texas a stronger team in 2017.