DeShields enters camp with eyes on CF job

Woodward: 'I want Delino to be the center fielder'

February 18th, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have signed veteran outfielder to a Minor League contract, have gotten back for his second season and manager Chris Woodward is on record as saying is capable of playing center field.

That begs the question of just how comfortable should be in camp this spring.

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"Pretty comfortable," Woodward said. "I've stressed, and I'm not shy about saying this: I want Delino to be the center fielder. That's my goal. He is a dynamic player."

DeShields has the same goal, but knows nothing is certain, especially with the competition in camp and the season he had in 2018.

"I think it is mine to lose," DeShields said. "In my head, it is mine. I don't want anybody else to have it. I'm selfish when it comes to that. I've always viewed myself as the center fielder of the Texas Rangers and the leadoff hitter. I take a lot of pride in that, and I am going to treat this camp like that."

DeShields was the Opening Day center fielder last season but started just 93 games. He missed significant time because of a broken hamate bone in his left hand in April and both a concussion and a fractured tip in his right middle finger in August.

He still played excellent defense. Statcast™ had him with 14 catchers of four or five stars, tied for the fourth most in the league. He was tied for 17th among outfielders with 18 Defensive Runs Saved.

Offense was the struggle as DeShields dropped from a .269/.347/.367 slash line in 2017 to .216/.310/.281 last season. The injuries didn't help, but Woodward wants DeShields to change his approach at the plate.

In the past, the Rangers wanted DeShields to emphasize on-base percentage, putting the ball in play and using his speed to get on base. Woodward doesn't see that as the right approach, and last year's results bear that out.

The data shows DeShields made some of the weakest contact in the game last year. Among hitters with at least 200 batted balls, he had the second-lowest average exit velocity (79.6 mph), third-lowest hard-hit rate (14.4 percent), 10th-lowest average launch angle (3.7 degrees), and 17th-highest ground-ball rate (53.8%).

"I want him to be a hitter," Woodward said. "I want him to learn how to hit. If you hit the ball on the ground today, you are going to be out. You are not going to make a living hitting the ball on the ground. If he gets a pitch in the strike zone, especially before two strikes, I want him to think about hammering balls and making outfielders run after it."

Woodward is not ready to commit to DeShields as his leadoff hitter, primarily because still has that ability due to his propensity to get on base. But, for the past three years, the Rangers have often envisioned DeShields as the catalyst for their offense; Woodward has that vision, too.

"Everybody said the past couple of years, 'Just be yourself,' and it has taken awhile for me to be comfortable in that," DeShields said. "Me feeling this is my spot is going to give me that confidence they are allowing to go out and be myself, without having all the pressures of fighting for a job. It's my job to lose, and if I lose it, it's on me. I'm pretty confident that I am going to own it."