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The Rangers Center Field Situation

This season, center field innings in Texas were primarily split between Craig Gentry and Josh Hamilton. But, Hamilton is now gone and the team has not signed a free agent to replace him in the field. They still seem to be in the market for an outfielder, but it’s conceivable they head to spring training with Gentry and Leonys Martin atop the depth chart. Assuming they find their everyday center fielder from an interal option, would either of these two be attractive fantasy targets?

Gentry is a 29-year old who has accumulated just 476 plate appearances spread over four seasons with the Rangers. He has no power, has sported a poor walk rate over his short career and should be making better contact given that aforementioned lack of power. For fantasy owners though, he is not completely without hope.

First, he steals bases. If we prorate his career stolen base total to 600 plate appearances, we get to 40 swipes over a full season. That’s pretty darn good and a hitter would have to really stink in the other categories to entirely negate the value created by those steals. Luckily, Gentry isn’t that bad.

The second thing going for him is a history of strong BABIP marks. He owns a small sample career BABIP mark of .342, while he has typically posted marks well above .300 throughout the minors. Though he does strike out more than we’d like to see given his power profile, he still makes contact at an above average rate. So the high BABIP combined with the solid contact rate has actually led to a respectable batting average, and one that generates some slight positive value.

Also in his favor in this potential positional battle is his defense. In a limited sample, he has been extraordinary in center field, as he boasts a career UZR/150 of nearly 30.0 at the position. The sample doesn’t even amount to a full season, but it’s large enough to be confident that he is an excellent defender.

Martin is the more prospecty option as he heads into his age 25 season. He bats left-handed and has been weaker against southpaws in the minors, however he has still performed well. So, it doesn’t appear that he would be an obvious candidate to sit against them.

During his time at Triple-A this year, he tore up opposing pitchers, batting .359 with a .251 ISO. Amazingly, he hit 12 homers in 231 at-bats after hitting 0 at the same level over the prior year (in about 50 fewer at-bats). He also made impressive contact for a power hitter and chipped in 10 steals (though that came along with 9 caught stealings).

Of course, this all happened in the Pacific Coast League, which is notorious for inflating offensive numbers. Martin’s home ballpark in Round Rock did not actually boost offense though. Although it did increase home run production, overall run production was neutral for left-handed batters. So we shouldn’t necessarily take his numbers with a grain of salt like we often have to do with other PCL sluggers. I have no idea how Martin is defensively, though I would guess he isn’t as good as Gentry given how fantastic he has played in center field.

Comparing the two for fantasy purposes, I would suggest that Gentry is the safer play given his skill set and contributons in the stolen base category. However, Martin has the much more exciting upside and would make for a better cheap gamble in 12-team mixed leagues next year. That said, I would bet that unless Martin has a huge spring training, Gentry will open the season with the job. He batted .304 for the team while playing spectacular defense, and Martin hasn’t had a whole lot of minor league experience. If Gentry does open the season with the job as predicted, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Martin get his chance at some point during the season, especially if an unlucky BABIP exposes Gentry as just an empty batting average.