Surprise positional outlook: Outfield depth

It would not be fair to leave the outfield area until we've discussed David Murphy, who heads into the 2010 season as the fourth outfielder on a club with some depth. The plan is to start Josh Hamilton in left, Julio Borbon in center and Nelson Cruz in right. And with Vladimir Guerrero (we'll talk about him tomorrow) as the DH, the number of chances to get Murphy at-bats decreases.

Murphy, to his credit, isn't worried about that. He's taking the approach that if he wants to get at-bats, he'll have to earn them. And if he does that, everything will take care of itself.

The reality is as steady as Murphy was last season, manager Ron Washington will do what he can to be sure Murphy's bat is in the lineup as often as he can. That won't be easy. But he knows it's a luxury to have someone like Murphy around.

Murphy, 28, began the 2009 season 0-for-23 with six strikeouts. It turns out he got his big slump out of the way early. He batted .097 for April. But hit. 290 or better in every month after that except August. Murphy was one of the few Rangers players that was hitting consistently in June and July, when the offense was really struggling.

Murphy came over to the Rangers as part of the Eric Gagne trade to Boston. The Baylor grad has played steady, solid baseball since he arrived. He hit .340 in 103 at-bats for the Rangers after the deal was completed and then had more than 400 at-bats the last two seasons, hitting .275 in 2008 and .269 last season. In that two-year span, Murphy has 32 homers and 131 RBIs.

The left-handed hitter batted just .235 in 102 at-bats against lefties last season. But that's not Murphy's usual career numbers against southpaws. In the last three seasons, he has a .262 average against lefties. He's hit .286 against right-handers.

Murphy was one of the Rangers' more patient hitters in 2009. He had 49 walks, tied for second-most on the team. He was 10th among all American League hitters with at least 425 plate appearances in pitches per plate appearance with 4.16, tops on the Rangers. Alok Pattani over at ESPN Stats & Information (with an assist from Baseball-Reference.com) note that Murphy was tied for first in fewest percent of swings at pitches (41 percent) and first in fewest percent of swings on the first pitch (17 percent).

Murphy may not have a "wow" factor in the outfield defensively, but he doesn't make many mistakes and he's where he's supposed to be. He's a smart player and an important guy to have in the clubhouse. He stays positive, works hard and doesn't complain and all his teammates talk about how much they enjoy being around him.

As history shows (especially with the Rangers), injuries happen. Murphy should be ready to step in and help this team when they occur.

A couple of other outfielders will make their case to get a fifth outfield spot as a bench player. Craig Gentry and Brandon Boggs are two outfielders to watch. Gentry, a 26-year-old right-handed hitter, spent most of 2009 in Double-A Frisco, but was called up in September and got a chance to make five starts. Gentry, taken in the 10th round of the 2006 draft, was 2-for-17 in the majors after hitting .303 with eight homers and 53 RBIs in 127 games for Frisco. Where Gentry is particularly valuable is his speed. He had 49 stolen bases in Frisco in 2009, leading the league. It's not difficult to see Gentry as a guy that Rangers would like to have to pinch run for Vlad Guerrero and others late in ballgames.

Boggs, 27, played in just nine games for the Rangers in 2009 after appearing in 101 as a rookie in 2008. He has the ability to play all three outfield positions, which makes him versatile.

What do you think is the best way to get at-bats for Murphy?

If anyone missed our previous outlooks, here they are: 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).