Hank Blalock hopes to return to form
Last year was a down one for Hank Blalock and a topsy-turvy adventure for Mark Teixeira. But the Rangers infield showed some might again in '06 with another All-Star season from Michael Young along with the debut of young Ian Kinsler at 2nd base. Rangers Insider takes a look at what's in store for 2007.
2006 - The Highs
Last year was no different than any other year Michael Young has spent in a Rangers uniform: He just continued to impress.
But admittedly, he felt like he could improve on his play in the field and did just that, dropping his error total from 18 to 14 for the year and helped the Rangers defense turn 18 more double plays. As a result, Young ended up finishing second among shortstops in the American League in fielding percentage and chances per nine innings while leading the league in double plays. Offensively, he topped the century mark in runs batted in for the first time in his career with 103 and set a Rangers record for doubles in a year with 52.
Meanwhile, his neighbor on the infield dirt had a breakout season in his own right. One of the only drawbacks of Ian Kinsler's rookie season was that a dislocated thumb on a slide into second base caused him to miss six weeks of action and put a serious dent into his hopes of winning the Rookie Of The Year in the American League. But you've got to believe that a .286 average, 14 homers, 55 runs batted in and 62 runs scored in just 120 games has to have the organization licking their chops at what could be possible for his future.
The season Mark Teixeira went through was a mystifying one. No baseball expert could have predicted that after participating in the first ever World Baseball Classic the previous spring, Teixeira would go into the All-Star Break with 49 runs batted in and only nine homeruns. For awhile, it seemed as though every ball that left his bat immediately turned on him and caused rockets that would normally be headed over the fence to simply ricochet off the wall for a double instead.
To his credit, all season long Teixeira's defensive play at first base never faltered. And following the break, he turned on the afterburners somewhat and finished with a respectable amount of homeruns and runs batted in. But even his second half surge couldn't save the hopes of obtaining a spot in the playoffs.
Another guy who would most certainly like to lock last season in a dark basement never to see the light of day again is Hank Blalock. Unlike his teammate from across the diamond, Blalock's numbers got drastically worse in the second half of the season. But, while Teixeira's batting average didn't change all that much from the first to the second half of the season, Blalock's simply fell off the table. Before the season was said and done for the Rangers, his .287 average through the first half of the season had plummeted a whopping fifty points. After scuffling through the remainder of the 2007 season with a bum shoulder and a .237 average, Blalock opted for surgery in the off-season. For the one time stud in the Rangers organization, 2006 was filled with distractions on the field and off of it. As a result, Blalock developed mechanical problems with his swing that caused his once threatening offensive capabilities to struggle severely.
2007 Camp - Who's Invited?
No baseball competitions getting in the way of spring training to worry about this year. Teixeira will look to return to being the monster offense producer the Rangers are used to seeing for a full season and not just half of one. Add into that the fact that next season is a contract year and this will be one of the most important for Teixeira and the Rangers.
One of the aspects of Kinsler's game that may get a jolt next season is his performance in the stolen base department. Even with a relatively low number of stolen bases last season, eleven swipes was all you needed to lead the team in thievery. But now, with the run, run, run offense of Ron Washington soon to be put into effect, you can expect guys with some speed like Kinsler to be running a lot more.
Young has one thing and one thing only in mind for the 2007 season: Winning. And what the Rangers do this year may go far in what he decides to do once his contract is up. Young has a $4 million option on the table for the 2008 season that almost assuredly will be picked up by the Rangers. After that is still anybody's guess.
I think it's a fair assumption to say that nobody has had more attention paid to their off-season then Hank Blalock. Upon his arrival to the team, Ron Washington made it known he aims to turn Blalock into a hitting, fielding, baseball-playing machine. Combine that with the tutelage of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and the buzz is there for the twenty-six year old third baseman to have a rebound season of mammoth proportions.
On The Bubble
After the possible signing of Mark Loretta fell through, Vasquez finds himself with as good a shot as any to land a backup job on the bench for the Rangers.
He has the ability to play multiple different positions around the horn and, with an impressive showing this spring, could be a very nice choice to give Blalock or Kinsler an occasional break or two from their respected positions.
With Arias in the process of learning the outfield, there's more of a chance of him earning some playing time out there then there is in the infield. But one of the benefits of the roster is the flexibility to play the infield or outfield positions with guys like Frank Catalanotto, Jerry Hairston Jr., and even Brad Wilkerson. Unless Arias really tears it up during spring training and the team is forced to deal with injuries to their middle infielders, Arias still has work to be done before he can really be considered for a spot anywhere on the 25 man roster. The good news is he's 22 and has plenty of time to turn into something truly valuable.
The Minor League Player Of The Year for the Rangers last season will get his chance to make the team like anybody else, but is blocked at first base by Teixeira. If the circumstances were right you could find him making the team as a designated hitter, but is blocked there as well by a long list of other possible candidates.