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Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Surprise position outlook: DH

By Richard Durrett

Editor's Note: Our spring training preview series continues as we move from the infield and outfield to the DH spot, bench and the pitching staff.

Today's position: Designated hitter

Once Josh Hamilton signed his five-year, $125 million deal, the Texas Rangers knew they needed to find some more power. Combine Hamilton's exit with Mike Napoli's departure and the lineup had a power decrease.

Lance Berkman
Lance Berkman will take over as the Rangers' primary DH and could also see some time at first base.
Trading Michael Young opened up the DH spot, which was initially planned to be a spot that manager Ron Washington could rotate when players needed rest. That was until Lance Berkman entered the picture.

After striking out on some early offseason targets, the Rangers decided that Berkman was a logical choice to help fill the void in the lineup. They signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal ($1 million buyout on option year makes it $11 million guaranteed) with a club option for a second year. That option vests if Berkman reaches 550 plate appearances. He surpassed that mark easily in 2011, when he had 31 homers and 94 RBIs and helped the Cardinals beat the Rangers in the World Series.

Berkman went through a complete physical and the club is satisfied that the two knee surgeries last year have him ready to go for 2013. Berkman says the key now is strengthening the area around the knee, but that he feels good. He'll be the primary DH in 2013, though he could see some time at first base if needed.

Last week, manager Ron Washington announced that he was penciling in Berkman as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup, a spot he's held many times in his career. Berkman has more at-bats in the 3-hole than anywhere else in the lineup (though only 67 more at-bats than at cleanup). He has a career .286 average batting third.

"It’s an interesting spot in the lineup because it’s the spot that makes the world go around in the lineup," Berkman said Saturday. "You need contributions up and down the lineup, I’m just saying that of all the lineup spots it’s the most critical. You’ve got to have someone hitting third that can get on base, drive guys in."

The Rangers hope that the 2011 Berkman is the one they see in 2013, not the guy that played just 32 games last season and couldn't stay healthy.

"If he’s in the lineup he’s going to produce for you," general manager Jon Daniels said.

With Young and Napoli getting most of the DH at-bats last season, the Rangers hit .265 (sixth in the AL) and had a .754 OPS (ninth).