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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Surprise position outlook: Right field

By Richard Durrett

Editor's Note: Our swing around the outfield continues today as we look ahead toward spring training with our Surprise position outlooks.

Today's position: Right field

There's no question about who will handle right field in 2013, barring any other alterations before spring training. Nelson Cruz has handled that spot the last four seasons. The biggest hurdle for Cruz during most of those seasons has been staying healthy. He was on the disabled list five times in 2010 and 2011 combined, four of those times because of hamstring strains. But in 2012, Cruz stayed healthy. He played 159 games -- 35 more than 2011 and 51 more than 2010.

Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz had 90 RBIs in 2012, but that was just three more than 2011 when he had 110 fewer at-bats.
Cruz may have played more, but he wasn't able to produce at the same level. He hit .260, his lowest average since 2009 (when he also hit .260). He had a home run once every 24 at-bats, the lowest ratio of his career. By comparison, Cruz had 29 homers in 475 at-bats in 2011 (one every 16 at-bats). He also added 90 RBIs in 2012, but that was just three more than 2011 when he had 110 fewer at-bats.

We've talked on the blog about players that badly need to bounce back. Last week, Ian Kinsler was the focus of that conversation. Cruz is another one that the club needs to return to form. He's capable of incredible streaks where he carries an offense, but that didn't really happen in 2012. He admits that he didn't feel completely comfortable at the plate for some reason. Perhaps new hitting coach Dave Magadan can have a real impact on Cruz.

Last year, Cruz didn't really have that one breakout month that stands out. His best month was May, when he hit .284 with five homers. He also hit .282 with four homers in July. But the guy that took over the 2011 ALCS never really showed up in 2012.

Cruz is 32 years old and in the final year before he becomes a free agent. He will make $11 million in 2013. It's going to be an interesting call for the Rangers about what to do with Cruz after this season. If he puts up great numbers, they're likely going to want to re-sign him, but he'll be 33 years old. If he struggles, they may elect to go another direction.

Add all of that up and it's a big year for Cruz. His story is pretty incredible in that it appeared he wouldn't get another shot at the big leagues after no team claimed him and he played most of 2008 in the minors. But after a great September that season, he's been in the big leagues ever since. He's the type of guy that will do all he can to work to improve, and he's got a great attitude. I'd expect him to have a solid 2013.

With Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli gone from this lineup -- even with the additions of A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman -- there's not quite as much power as there was in 2012. It's not simply up to Berkman and Pierzynski to do something about that. Cruz must help, as well.