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Thursday, January 16, 2014
Spring training preview: Center field

By Richard Durrett

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.

Leonys Martin
When last season ended, it was clear that Leonys Martin would be the Rangers' center fielder in 2014.

Today's position: Center field



It was May of 2011 that the Rangers signed Leonys Martin, a Cuban defector, to a five-year major league contract worth $15.5 million, which included a $5 million signing bonus. The money, another sign of the Rangers' increased emphasis on international scouting, meant the club believed Martin was their future center fielder.

It took a few years, but Martin showed he was capable in 2013. Spring training began with Craig Gentry and Martin vying for that spot and both got playing time as the season progressed. But Martin showed improved defense and an ability to get more consistent at the plate. Martin bounced around, compiling at least nine plate appearances at five different spots in the lineup. But his most common were ninth or leadoff. His speed became a real weapon for Texas as he stole 36 bases and could put pressure on the opponent with his feet.

He hit .260 with eight homers and 49 RBIs and earned playing time in 147 games with 457 at-bats. And when the season ended, it was clear that Martin was the club's center fielder in 2014. He got 109 starts in center, but also started five games in left and 11 in right. With the season on the line late, it was Martin who got most of the starts in center field.

The 25-year-old (he turns 26 in March) played winter ball to get some extra time in and hit just .170 in his short stint there.

OUTLOOK: The Rangers invested plenty of money, time and resources into not only scouting Martin, but developing him. He showed last year that he has potential and the ability to help the club in that critical spot in center field.

Martin, now, must take the next step and prove he can back up 2013 with a solid 2014, one in which he arrives at spring training as a starter. The acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo means that Martin doesn't have to take on the added pressure of leading off and can use his speed lower in the order.

It will be interesting to see how he responds in spring training.