Surprise positional outlook: Right field

We shift to right field in our positional outlooks. Here are the first base (Chris Davis and Justin Smoak), second base (Ian Kinsler), third base (Michael Young), shortstop (Elvis Andrus), left field (Josh Hamilton) and center field (Julio Borbon) outlooks.

Nelson Cruz is the starting right fielder for the Rangers in 2010. The 29-year-old has had an interesting journey to the major leagues. He was traded to Texas along with Carlos Lee at the trade deadline in 2006 for Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero. Lee was basically a two-month rental for the Rangers. But at the time of the deal, general manager Jon Daniels said Cruz was the key.

Just a year later, it didn't look like that trade was going to work out. Cruz hit just .223 in 130 at-bats for the Rangers and then followed it up with a .235 average in 307 at-bats in 2007. In fact, the guy that bashed homers in the minors wasn't doing much of it in the majors. In those first 437 at-bats, he hit just 15 homers and had 56 RBIs. The Rangers had to put him through waivers to send him to the minors in 2008 and no one claimed him. That's when things turned around for Cruz. He hit .342 in Triple-A Oklahoma with 37 homers and 99 RBIs. And although his numbers had always been solid in the minors, those were too good to not give him another shot.

Cruz returned near the end of the 2008 season and blossomed. He hit .330 with seven homers and 26 RBIs and earned the chance to become the club's starting right fielder in 2009. Cruz started last season pretty well, but really found his stride in May. He hit .311 with eight homers and 19 RBIs and had seven stolen bases (in eight attempts). His OPS was an excellent .999.

But like most of the Rangers, Cruz hit a lull in the summer. He hit just .193 in June and couldn't seem to find his consistency. He regained it a bit in July, but was then on the disabled list with a left ankle sprain when he hit the outfield wall in Oakland on Aug. 3. Cruz returned and hit just .239 in September.

Overall, though, Cruz had a solid first full season in the majors. He had 462 at-bats, by far his highest total for one season in the majors. He ended up wtih 33 home runs and a .524 slugging percentage to lead the Rangers and had 20 stolen bases. Cruz became the fifth 30/20 player in club history and was one of only eight major league players to accomplish the feat in 2009. Cruz was named to the AL All-Star team.

Since Cruz didn't make his major league debut until 2005 (and that was just five at-bats with Milwaukee), he was still a pre-arbitration player this season despite his age.

Cruz comes into the 2010 season as an important power hitter for the Rangers. He bounced around the order at times in 2009, with more than 100 at-bats at the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 spots in the order. With the addition of Vladimir Guerrero, Cruz can move down to the seventh spot and give the bottom third of the order some power. He was certainly comfortable in that spot in 2009, hitting .289 with six homers and 19 RBIs in just 76 at-bats there.

As for his defense, Cruz continues to have a huge arm. Rarely will opposing teams test that arm. He had 11 outfield assists, second-most among right fielders in the AL in 2009. And while Cruz had three errors -- middle of the pack among AL right fielders, -- he did have a .990 fielding percentage, tied for second-best. Cruz had the top UZR rating among all right fielders (in either league) last season. He was second in UZR/150.

The big question for Cruz is whether he can put up more consistent numbers in terms of average. Reducing his strikeouts would help. Cruz had 118 in 2009, which puts him in the top-20 of the most strikeouts by any major leaguers last season (he drew 49 walks). You could argue, of course, that his power and speed make up for those numbers.

The Rangers are expecting a good year from Cruz, who learned a lot about what it takes to get through the rigors of an entire major league season.