Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 2/25/12
SURPRISE, Ariz. The Texas Rangers are a World Series-caliber team with one big hole on their starting lineup. Texas will begin full-squad workouts Sunday without a frontrunner for the starting centerfield job. "It's open," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "Somebody's got to take it." There are plenty of candidates who would like to fill that vacancy although none of them seem perfect for the job. Julio Borbon is coming off a 2011 season that included two injuries and time spent in Triple A. Craig Gentry showed flashes of what he could do in his 64 games with the Rangers but a lengthy injury history and a lack of big-league experience could hurt him. Leonys Martin has just 302 professional at-bats under his belt. Josh Hamilton may be the best candidate, but the Rangers are reluctant to put him in center every day because of the wear-and-tear the position puts on his body. It's a big question mark for sure, but one Washington believes will sort itself out. "We don't give away things in Texas anymore," he said. "You've got to earn it. We'll see what happens." Borbon was the Opening Day centerfielder last year but started slowly (7 for 39) and then strained his left hamstring just as he was starting to find his stride. He was optioned to Round Rock after his rehab stint ended and his season came to an end July 8 when he tore ligaments in his right ankle on a slide at second base. Now Borbon, who spent the entire offseason in winter ball, is trying to re-establish himself as the centerfielder of the future. That was a spot he seemed to have locked up after a 2010 season in which he hit .270 and scored 60 runs. "The mindset I have will probably help me out as far as not thinking the last couple of years I've been handed the job," said Borbon. "The last couple of years I earned it. Despite people maybe saying it was going to be mine because of what happened, I still kept the same mindset. I went out there to compete as if I didn't have it. Nothing's going to change." Borbon, who has the scars from the second surgery he's had on the ankle, feels like his stint in winter ball helped him. The timing he lost missing part of the 2011 season is back and Borbon has confidence the ankle is 100 percent. While some saw Borbon's 2011 season as a step, Washington didn't see it that way. Washington wants him to continue to develop his instincts and get better. He was also happy to see Borbon spend his entire winter playing in the Dominican Republic. Like Borbon, Gentry has had his share of injuries. He was slowed last spring by wrist and shoulder injuries and started the year in Triple A. When he did get to Arlington, he made a favorable impression with his speed and defense in center. He also showed he could hit too, batting .271 in 133 at-bats. Gentry, who has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Rangers, is hoping this is the year he sticks. "I feel like I finished up last year well and into the playoffs," said Gentry, who saw his playing time cut in the postseason as Hamilton was the team's primary centerfielder. "My confidence is high going into this year. It definitely helps me out." Gentry knows he's not going to win the job with his bat. That's not a requirement for the spot either. Washington said he wants someone in center who can make the plays defensively and be a leader in the field. He said hitting will not be a deciding factor. Washington believes Martin, a Cuban who signed a five-year deal with the Rangers last May, has the most offensive upside of the three young centerfield candidates. But Martin has just eight at-bats with the Rangers and in his first major-league camp. Martin believes being with the team last September and traveling for the postseason helped him with his adjustment. "I leaned about the high level of baseball in the big leagues, how good the players are and how good the pitchers are," Martin said. "I think I can play up here, I just need to adjust little by little. I feel I'm 100 percent ready. I feel I can make this team." Hamilton has played in centerfield since he was 9 or 10. He was the primary centerfielder for Texas in 2008 and 2009.But the Rangers have made an effort to try and get him out of center the last two years and he's started just 59 games in center since 2010. Hamilton, who is 15 pounds lighter this spring at 225, is open to playing in center again. He also understands if the club wants to keep him in left. "If they want me to play center I'll play center," he said. "The outfield's the outfield. You just run more in center. I've played it more in my life. It comes more natural." Last year the Rangers ended the regular season with the platoon of the left-handed hitting Endy Chavez and Gentry from the right side. Washington said he's not against using a platoon in center this season, but wants to see how things play out this spring before making that decision. "We'll see how it fits," Washington said. "If it takes two like we did last year it takes two. If one of them steps up and decides they want to man it by themselves, I'll let them man it. I'm not going to make that decision now. We're going to let it play out."
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