Leody emerging as Rangers' leadoff threat

September 20th, 2020

Rangers outfielder may have offered a hint of future attractions on Saturday night at Angel Stadium.

Taveras’ first-inning leadoff home run was the first by a rookie in those situations in the Major Leagues this season. At 22 years and 11 days, he is the fourth-youngest player in franchise history to lead off a game with a home run. The youngest was Jurickson Profar at 20 years and 95 days in 2013.

Taveras -- ranked as Texas’ No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- has three home runs through 26 games, and the Rangers are seeing a player who can bring both power and speed to their leadoff spot.

“There's a lot to be excited about,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I'm going out on a limb saying he's going to hit 30 homers. I don't know when that's going to happen. He's got to get more consistent at-bats and more consistent time, but a couple years from now I wouldn't be surprised if he's a 30-35 homer guy."

Taveras was supposed to start this season at Double-A Frisco. But of all the players who have made their debut with the Rangers this season, Woodward said Taveras is the one he expected to reach Arlington at some point regardless.

“I would have definitely asked for him, just based on what I saw in camp,” Woodward said. “I had a feeling he was going to have a really good year, from an offensive standpoint. So if he was, and he was dominating in Double-A or Triple-A, I would have definitely wanted him here, just to get what he's getting right now, and to put them in that spot. His maturity level, and the way he's handled it every day, there hasn't been a moment where I've been like 'I'm concerned, I don't know if he can do this.'”

So does that mean the Rangers have found their leadoff hitter for next season?

“I don’t think we go into it with that kind of confidence,” Woodward said. “He still has to earn a spot. He is the front-runner in my opinion heading into camp, based on what I have seen this year. Everybody on this roster has to earn their spot. He is not excluded from that. I do feel more confident and more comfortable we have our leadoff hitter and center fielder for next year. But it is up to him to come into camp to prove that.”

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Utility player was given the day off Sunday. Woodward said it was a planned off-day, but Solak is 6-for-36 (.167) in his last 10 games. The six hits were all singles, and Solak has a .339 slugging percentage on the season.

That is the eighth lowest in the American League. He had a .491 slugging percentage in 33 games last year as a rookie.

“Obviously I feel like the at-bat quality, the fight, everything we love about Nick is there,” Woodward said. “I think at times -- I don't want to make excuses -- but he's been really unlucky against righties. Like absurdly unlucky. Like [Saturday] night you see the ball he hit to right-center, most places that's a home run, and it gets caught at the wall.”

Solak is hitting .333 against left-handers and .222 against right-handers. But his slugging percentage against lefties is .367. That is the ninth lowest for a right-handed hitter against a lefty in the AL.

“It's hard that second year to kind of sustain the success you had the year before,” Woodward said. “There's no more coming on the scene and surprising people. The one thing I do believe in with Nick is that he's going to do everything he can to possibly figure it out. That's the one thing about his character is his work ethic, his resiliency, his dedication to his craft. I mean, he does not quit.”

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Villines, a 10th-round Draft pick from the University of Kansas in 2017, made 28 appearances at Double-A Binghampton last year, going 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse and had a 6.75 ERA and a 1.94 WHIP in 13 games.

Over three Minor League seasons, he has struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings while allowing just 7.3 hits and 2.1 walks.

“He’s throws from a drop-down sidearm slot and creates a deceptive look for hitters with how his stuff plays,” Rangers assistant general manager Josh Boyd said. “He’s not going to overpower, but he has a track record of missing bats and limiting damage. All reports on his character and competitive makeup, dating back to our amateur reports from [scout] Dustin Smith, are off the charts.”