Rangers considering moving Hamilton to right

February, 3, 2009
First Michael Young, and next Josh Hamilton? As Jim Reeves writes, Hamilton just might switch positions this spring:

    The Texas Rangers might not be through moving All-Star players to new positions.

    Josh Hamilton, come on down.

    "Hamilton has got to go to right [field]," club president Nolan Ryan said last week. "He's too big to be a center fielder. It's too demanding on him.

    "We put him in right to help save him. Then we put [Nelson] Cruz or [Marlon] Byrd in center."

    Ryan said he and manager Ron Washington haven't talked about a timetable for the move, but it probably will come sometime this spring.

    Hamilton isn't likely to demand a trade or refuse to change positions, like Michael Young initially did when asked to switch from shortstop to third base, but we're talking apples and oranges here. Still, Hamilton is quite happy in center.

    In town last week for the Rangers' annual winter Sluggers of the West banquet and Fan Fest, Hamilton said his weight has edged up to 240 pounds (a chiseled 240), but that he feels faster than ever.

    Still, anything that keeps Hamilton from wearing down, risking injury and in the lineup daily is a smart move.

    That said, whether the move weakens the Rangers defensively depends on who's playing center. Byrd can hold his own. I'm not certain that Cruz, a big man himself, is an everyday center fielder.

    One more thing to consider: The Rangers could be thinking ahead a bit here and opening up center for fast-approaching rookie Julio Borbon.

When Nolan Ryan moved into the front office, there were concerns (at least among my ilk) that Ryan would ignore analytics, order young starting pitchers to throw 120 pitches per start, etc. And maybe those things will happen. But getting Hamilton out of center field is a pretty good idea.

In 2007, with the Reds, Hamilton's Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games was -7.4; in 2008 it was -12.6. Those numbers aren't likely to improve as Hamilton gets older and bigger.

Jim Reeves is right: At 230 pounds, Nelson Cruz isn't exactly your prototypical center fielder. For that matter, neither is Byrd, listed at six feet and 245 pounds. So that's three outfielders, none of them perfectly suited for center field … and we've not even mentioned David Murphy, who certainly played well enough last year to earn regular playing time this year, but isn't anyone's idea of a center fielder, either.

But I don't believe Byrd is good enough to play every day, and Murphy is marginal. Cruz is potentially a devastating hitter, and should play every day. In the short term? Hamilton remains the Rangers' best option in center field, with Byrd and Murphy platooning in one of the corners and Cruz playing regularly in the other.

As for Julio Borbon, he's not approaching that fast. With only 60 games above Class A, Borbon figures to spend at least another half-season in the minors, and that's assuming he doesn't have any problems in Triple-A (no sure thing for a 23-year-old). Hamilton's probably not long for center field. But the Rangers will enter this spring believing they have a chance to make some noise in the American League West, and I believe Hamilton, right now, is the center fielder who gives them their best chance.



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