Editor's Note: We shift our spring training preview to the outfield as we continue to get you ready for pitchers and catchers reporting to Surprise, Ariz., next month.
Today's position: Left field
In previous years we talked about the importance of the club getting Josh Hamilton some time in left field to decrease the wear and tear on his body. And that meant questions about how much playing time David Murphy might get at that spot.
Things have clearly changed for 2013. Hamilton is in the Angels' outfield now and Murphy slides in as the starting left fielder heading into the season. It's the first time since he was traded to the Rangers (as part of the Eric Gagne deal in 2007) that he goes into the season as the unchallenged starter.
“I’d like to think I have a lock on the job and last year was obviously a good year, but I’m continuing wanting to build on what I’ve done,” Murphy said last week.
He's coming off a solid season in which he batted .304 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs with an .859 OPS in 147 games. Murphy had a career-high 457 at-bats.
The biggest step forward for Murphy was probably his improvement against left-handed pitching. Yes, it was a small sample size. But one year after hitting just .215 against lefties (in 107 at-bats), Murphy batted .347 against them (in 75 at-bats). Manager Ron Washington did a good job of picking and choosing when Murphy played against left-handers, but Murphy also put in the work to be a better hitter against them.
Murphy also wanted to improve his defense, and he did a good job of that, posting just one error and having the best zone rating of his career in left.
“I think the defensive side of it, I knew what I was capable of," Murphy said. "I had done it before, but struggled to do it at the major league level. I think I answered some questions last year. Performance against lefties, that’s something I need to buckle down on and prove I can be consistent and that last year was no fluke.”
Murphy has always had a good attitude and done what the club has asked. He probably would have started on a gaggle of other teams earlier in his career if he wasn't in Texas. But he's slated, barring any other moves, to get a shot in left field now. His mission: Prove he can handle that daily role, which means building on what he did last year defensively and offensively, especially against left-handed pitching.