The story with the most national intrigue in Rangers’ camp is the continued journey of Josh Hamilton. Here are five questions that need to be answered about his potential next step:
Is he even physically capable of making this team? Unfortunately, Josh Hamilton’s career has been derailed by a series of injuries. Thankfully, teams have the ability to manipulate usage during Spring Training and I expect the Rangers to take full advantage of that license to prepare Josh Hamilton for the season.
How long can he last? Unlike Spring Training, teams don’t have the same luxury to baby guys along with a limited 25-man roster during the regular season. Hamilton likely won’t possess an every day role, but he needs to be able to fulfill whatever role fits best for the team. There’s no harm in using whatever you can out of him before he breaks, but just because he makes the team out of Surprise, doesn’t mean he’s a full-year solution.
Can he even still play? We’d all like to believe a healthy Roy Hobbs will still be able to hit, but there’s no guarantee. As a body breaks down, it also begins to slow down. This doesn’t have to be “all-or-nothing.” People like to make this out to be, ‘either Josh still has studliness in him or he’s got nothing left,’ but the reality is that it’s somewhere in between. Thus, it is important to separate the production from the name. Because of his age and his physical condition there is no long-term upside with Josh Hamilton. In order for him to deserve playing time, he needs to be the clear-cut best option right now. If he’s not, then not only is he potentially hurting the lineup, but he’s also taking at-bats away from guys who might benefit long term from having these experiences.
Where does he fit? The answer seems pretty obvious to me. If Josh Hamilton is getting playing time, he’s getting playing time as the designated hitter. While I do think it’s worth giving Josh Hamilton a chance to learn first base, I’m not sure it’s necessary to press the issue. Even though first base is a lower activity position, there is still added activity involved and that seems like a recipe for injury. Heck, Josh walking from the on deck circle to the batters box poses an injury risk, so I’m not sure it’s worth using him as a first basemen. And, by the way, I think a healthy Josh Hamilton could be a pretty darn good first baseman.
Is he committed to change? Even at his best, Josh Hamilton was a notoriously stubborn hitter. He swung early and he swung often. I have a tough time believing he can still find success that way. Josh isn’t going to overhaul his approach–nor should he–but is he willing to make slight changes? If not, I’m not sure that a healthy Hamilton will even end up being the best option.
Jared Sandler is the Pre and Postgame host/play-by-play alternate for the Texas Rangers on 105.3 The Fan.