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Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Spring cleaning: Center field

By Richard Durrett

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With the Texas Rangers getting a rare spring training day off, let's take some time to look at some things to watch in the final couple of weeks before the season begins. That includes several position battles. We'll start with one of those.

Spring cleaning: Center field

Julio Borbon
Julio Borbon has put together a solid spring while challenging for the starting spot in center field.
When the spring started, this was a battle between Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin -- in that order. Nothing, it appears, has changed in that order.

But Gentry's latest wrist sprain, which kept him out of a handful of games, isn't helping his candidacy. He hasn't been able to get into a rhythm because of injuries, which have plagued him at various times the past few seasons. But his play in 2011 and the fact that he played in meaningful games still gives him an edge. He was in right field and then switched to center on Tuesday and beat out two infield hits and attempted a stolen base. Gentry was thrown out, but the fact that he tried to steal was important. It was something the Rangers wanted to see from Gentry at this point. He'll play the entire game Thursday.

Martin has shown flashes of what the Rangers saw in him when they made the investment last year. He's got great speed, good instincts and can hit the ball some, too. But he's raw and needs a little more seasoning.

To me, though, the most interesting candidate is Borbon. This is his fifth spring and he isn't here as the de facto center fielder. In the past, this has been his job to lose. And he's lost it, thanks to inconsistent play and injuries.

Before yesterday's game, when he dropped a ball in center field that was in his glove and wasn't able to cut off a ball hit hard to center, Borbon was putting together a solid spring. That's worth nothing. It's unfair to let one game alter the entire picture. But in a sense, that's been the story of Borbon. He's had difficulty with consistency.

But overall, this spring has been a good one for Borbon. He's hit the ball well, hasn't been afraid to use his speed and has felt better defensively -- even with some hiccups Tuesday.

"He's more confident and more aware of what he's doing out there," outfield coach Gary Pettis said Tuesday morning. "I think last year, maybe he just didn't bear down as much as he could have. This year he's come back to prove that he belongs here, and so far, he's done that. He knows he can go get a ball, he's confident in his throwing. If he makes a poor throw or a poor play, he can make the adjustment. He has to continue that when the mistakes happen."

Borbon said he feels more relaxed this year, in part because he hasn't been handed anything. He performed well in the playoffs in winter ball and has some confidence from that.

"I'm really not thinking about any kind of position battle," Borbon said. "My focus is improving my game. I know what's going on and what's at stake, but I can't worry about that. I learned a lot last year and I want to keep doing that."

Prediction: If Gentry stays healthy, I still think this is his job. Josh Hamilton will still play his fair share of center field, but the Rangers want to protect him in left field and need to trust that Gentry can do the job well enough. I think he can and that he'll get himself ready in the next few weeks.