Spring training preview: Left field


Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.

Today's position: Left field

It was only a year ago that David Murphy, after years as the club's fourth outfielder, was handed the left field job on an every day basis. But 2013 was a struggle for Murphy. He hit just .220 and had a .282 on-base percentage, both figures the worst of his career by far.

But it wasn't just the lack of runs that led the Rangers to essentially replace Murphy with Shin-Soo Choo. It was also a move made earlier in the offseason. To get the big, left-handed power bat the Rangers needed in Prince Fielder, they had to give up All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler, which meant losing the club's primary leadoff hitter the last few seasons.

Leonys Martin became the leading candidate since manager Ron Washington has said repeatedly that he likes having Elvis Andrus bat second because of his ability to put down bunts, get runners over and become a nuisance to opponents once he gets on base. But Martin struggled in winter ball and doesn't have a ton of leadoff experience. That's why Shin-Soo Choo made so much sense.

For a while, it appeared the Rangers weren't going to sign Choo for a seven-year deal. But perhaps the need for a true leadoff hitter who can get on base consistently combined with a willingness on Choo's part to take fewer dollars early in the deal so that the bulk is paid once the Rangers' new TV contract kicks in, made it happen.

We've talked a lot about Choo, the club's new left fielder and leadoff hitter. But in signing Choo, Texas gets a hitter who was one of the top leadoff batters in the big leagues last season. The stat that sticks out is his on-base percentage, a whopping .423 thanks to his walk rate and ability to stay patient. Choo knows his mission is to get on base so that others, like Fielder and Adrian Beltre, can get chances to drive him in.

Choo has a .288 career batting average and .389 on-base percentage, so he has a track record that appealed to the Rangers. He struggled against left-handed pitching last season, hitting just .215. But he still managed to get on base and his career numbers are better against lefties than what he put up in 2013.

OUTLOOK: It cost the Rangers a first-round draft pick to sign Choo, but in return they get a long-term solution in the corner outfield and a true leadoff batter.

This offense struggled to score runs consistently and didn't score runs early enough in games enough, either, to allow the pitching staff to work with a lead. Choo should be able to get on base and make things happen. And he'll provide a great arm in left field, too.

Left field was an unknown last season just in terms of how Murphy was going to react. But Choo is a known quantity at the position this year. (BTW, we'll get to Michael Choice and his possible impact when we talk about the bench later on in this series.)