Second is one of the hardest spots to write about for the Rangers right now. The major league level is pretty settled, for the next few years, and the minors have little coming through. Ian Kinsler had a good rookie season in 2006, and was entrenched at second as 2007 began. Pretty much the only Ranger to hit during April (1.042 OPS), his contributions weren’t enough to keep the team afloat by himself. By May he was back to hitting badly (.495 OPS), and his fielding was atrocious. Once he succumbed to injury in July, a parade of replacement level players went through second base, so when he got back he easily took the position back, and slowly increased his numbers for the rest of the year.
Ian Kinsler summary: Moved up and down the lineup, playing at least 10 games in the first, second, sixth, seventh and ninth lineup slots, but spending most of the time hitting first or second. The second slot was his most productive spot, and he should probably stay there. Hit 20 home runs, but 9 of them were in April. If you can accept a slightly above average hitter with decent range fielding, he’s your guy. He makes a lot of stupid errors, many of which appear to simply be lack of concentration. He needs to work on that (he lost one game when he dropped a popup with two out in the 9th), and on his fielding overall. But with a lack of challenging players coming up in the minors, he seems pretty settled in his Rangers uniform already, and will probably be there for a few years, improving a little each year until he hits his career peak in about 2009 or 2010.
Jerry Hairston summary: You know you’re in trouble when Jerry Hairston is the utility guy, playing all over the field. He may have the guts and the motivation, but they count for nothing when you can’t hit. If anyone thinks Hairston is part of a championship-caliber team, they’re fooling themselves. He has been well below average his entire career, and really he’s sucking playing time away from someone who could help the team more. Like a cardboard cutout.
Desi Relaford summary: Speaking of cardboard cutouts, when I heard Desi Relaford had been called up, I knew the season was over. There is no good coming out of a team when Desi Relaford is the next best option to fill in somewhere. With the 70 below-average fielding innings and the 26 wasted at-bats (go on, guess what his OPS+ was), they should have brought up pretty much anyone else. At worst, you assume the person is just there for a few weeks while Kinsler is on the DL, so you bring up some decent prospect and let them get a taste of the big leagues. Like they did with Travis Metcalf, and he actually stuck around for a while. The season was already dead (as evidenced by the fact they brought up Desi Relaford), what do you have to lose? So did you guess his OPS+, or did you look it up yet? Remember, 100 is league average. Laird, who struggled all year, had a 62. Hairston, who sucked his entire career, was a 39. Even Kevin Mahar, who only got a little look early on, was a 0. No, Relaford went lower: -21, to be precise. I didn’t even know you could go below zero. So remember this: if Relaford is with the Rangers next year, even in the minor leagues as an emergency alternate, you will know that management has given up on the team for 2008.
Others: Ramon Vazquez got a hundred innings at second, and Matt Kata got thirteen. Both will be covered elsewhere.
Minor Leagues: The problem with minor league stats is that fielding numbers are not easily available, so we can only go off hitting. Arguably second and short are the most important fielding positions, but also arguably the difference between the best and worst fielder at those positions is not nearly as big as the difference between a good and bad hitter. So this analysis is all based on hitting results, and we may find some guys getting promoted because of their fielding prowess. Anyway, on to the players. Tug Hulett was the man at AAA, racked up decent numbers, and at 24 should be on the verge of the big leagues. He’s likely to be blocked by Kinsler though. German Duran at AA was even better, and if I was the Rangers I’d be trading Hulett while he has prospect value and putting Duran in AAA next year. In Bakersfield Micah Furtado spent another year destroying his top prospect status, he’s now too old to be a prospect in A ball (25) and is slipping into suspect status. Of the other guys that played there, Thomas Berkery showed a decent bat, but played a lot of positions. Jose Vallejo did the job in Clinton, was a little below average with the bat but ran like the wind (47 SB, 3 CS), which will always keep a prospect moving upwards. In Spokane Matt Lawson and Renny Osuna split time, Lawson was 77 OPS points better and a year younger. In rookie ball, Matt West was a top draft pick and playing well, but got a steroid suspension, leaving a few non-prospects to do not much.
2008: Kinsler is entrenched now, and a 20 home run second baseman is not a bad thing to have. In 2008 we can expect his fielding to be a little better, since Washington has been working with him on it, and his bat should keep improving since he is still young (25). As long as the injury thing does not become problematic, he should be out there regularly.
2009 and beyond: Expect Kinsler to be the guy for three or four years, and that will be a good thing, having one infield position settled. There’s nothing in the minors to replace him, he’s a decent player right now and should get better as he hits his peak years, and the Rangers have a lot of other problems to deal with before they get to second. He probably won’t be an All-Star, but he should be solid.