3/24/2013 7:45 P.M. ET
Gentry starting to show he belongs in lineup
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Center-field candidate Leonys Martin has had a terrific spring, but he has not been able to shake Craig Gentry.
Manager Ron Washington said Gentry has been the biggest surprise of Spring Training for him, mainly because he's shown more power at the plate and aggressiveness on the basepaths. The Rangers appear headed for a platoon situation in center field and more outfield options beyond this season.
"He's figured out how good he can be and he's letting it go," Washington said. "He has been showing me a total game."
Gentry, after going 2-for-3 on Sunday against the Reds, is hitting .333 with a .627 slugging percentage. After 21 games, he is 15-for-42 with 14 runs scored, three doubles, three triples, two home runs and six stolen bases.
Gentry has always been considered an excellent defensive player with great speed. He also hit .304 last season with a .367 on-base percentage. But he also had a meager .392 slugging percentage and that, combined with the high batting average, put him in some rare company.
It's only the fourth time in club history that a player with at least 200 at-bats had a batting average above .300 and a slugging percentage below .400. That put him in a club that includes Mickey Rivers, Lenny Randle and Wayne Tolleson.
There were also only three players in the Majors last year who had a batting average above .300 and a slugging percentage below .400 in a minimum of 200 at-bats. In that exclusive club, Gentry joined Juan Pierre and Willie Bloomquist.
But he has been working to put more power in his bat and he had a first-inning triple off the left-center-field wall against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo on Sunday. Lance Berkman brought him home with a sacrifice fly.
"I have been working hard and I spent a lot of time getting stronger in the offseason and working on my swing," Gentry said. "I'm happy it's paying off."
The five stolen bases this spring are also significant. Gentry had never had more than one stolen base in the Cactus League. The Rangers don't want tepid baserunners, especially in Spring Training when the games don't count. Washington has been prodding Gentry to be more aggressive on the basepaths and the message is finally getting through.
"That's what we've been trying to get out of him and it's coming," Washington said. "He's got another year of baseball under his belt and he understand what his game is. Whether the results are good or bad, he's constantly pushing the envelope."
Gentry had a single in his second at-bat on Sunday. Two pitches later he was standing on second base with his sixth stolen base, the most by a Rangers player in the past eight years.
"The main thing is confidence and having an aggressive mentality," Gentry said.
A big season from both of their center fielders could come at a fortuitous time for the Rangers. Their two corner outfielders are eligible for free agency after the season and there have been no indications that's going to change. The possibility exists the Rangers will have to replace both David Murphy and Nelson Cruz next season.
The Rangers talked to both about long-term contract extensions in the offseason, but were too far apart for anything to get serious. The Rangers have not re-engaged Cruz during the spring, partly because he is under investigation by Major League Baseball for allegedly being a client of a Miami wellness clinic that sold performance-enhancing drugs. The Rangers want more information on that before proceeding with Cruz.
The Rangers indicated before Spring Training they might continue discussions with Murphy while in Arizona, but nothing serious has materialized.
"That's something we're always contemplating," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Just because nothing has materialized to this point doesn't mean it won't."
Daniels admitted the corner outfield situation is something the Rangers will have to address at some point and it is not a strong point at the upper levels of their farm system. It's one reason why the Rangers have third baseman Mike Olt playing right field this spring. It was also a reason why the Rangers made a run at trading for Justin Upton this offseason.
"We don't have a clear-cut replacement coming," Daniels said. "Could Leonys produce enough to play a corner? Maybe. Can Mike Olt produce enough to play right field? Maybe."
Maybe Gentry could have a big year for the Rangers. Instead of being part of a platoon with Martin, they could be playing side-by-side in the Rangers' outfield of the future. Maybe this spring is a sign that Gentry is ready to shed his "part-time player" label. He appears to be convincing his manager.
"He's good," Washington said. "He has improved a heckuva lot. He's got a lot of confidence and he's playing good baseball."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.