Outfielder Leody Taveras made the Opening Day roster as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The plan now is for him to be the Rangers’ primary leadoff hitter in September.
Shin-Soo Choo has filled that spot for most of the season. But Rangers manager Chris Woodward said he has spoken to Choo about it, and they agreed it is time to see if Taveras can handle the position. Choo is a pending free agent, and the Rangers will need to address the leadoff spot if he doesn’t return.
Taveras is 21 and has just 65 games of experience at Double-A Frisco last season. But Woodward sees Taveras as the Rangers’ best option because of his speed, ability to see pitches and control the strike zone.
“Some of our guys control the strike zone, but they don't have the speed,” Woodward said. “He’s a switch-hitter, so it doesn't really matter what side they're throwing from. He can bunt; he can do a lot of different things to just get on base. And then when he does get on base, he causes havoc, as you see. So I don't know if anybody kind of fits the typical leadoff mold like he does. He's probably our best one."
Taveras, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's No. 3 prospect, was with the Rangers for just four days at the start of the season before being sent to the alternate training site. He was recalled on Aug. 24 and, going into Wednesday, was 6-for-23 (.261) with four walks, 10 strikeouts and one stolen base.
That is a small sample but there are a few things to measure and improve upon. Taveras sees 3.85 pitches per at-bat, and the Major League average is 3.95. Choo is at 4.09 and Joey Gallo at 4.30 pitches per at-bat.
Through eight games, Taveras is swinging at 68.8 percent of pitches in the strike zone, slightly above the Major League average of 66 percent. However, he is swinging at 32.1 percent of pitches out of the zone, which is above the Major League average of 26.8 percent.
Taveras, after being promoted from Class A Advanced Down East in 2019, batted leadoff in 55 games at Frisco last season and hit .270 in that spot with a .329 on-base percentage and a .389 slugging percentage. He scored 30 runs and had six stolen bases. Taveras was used at the No. 2 and 3 spots at Down East before being promoted.
“I don’t see it as a difficult task,” Taveras said. “Whatever the team wants me to do, whether it’s lead off or bat ninth, I am going to take the same approach as any spot in the lineup.”
Woodward said Choo came to him with the idea that Taveras should get a chance to bat leadoff.
“Taveras has kind of reached out to him about how to lead off and what he does and his mind set,” Woodward said. “I told Leody, ‘You picked the right guy to learn from.’ Because he is one of the best in baseball in how he prepares -- the professionalism he has in every at-bat to lead off the game, understanding the value of swinging at strikes, how to narrow down the strike zone and be aggressive.”
Choo is among 31 active players with at least 250 games at the leadoff spot. He ranks second in that group with a .378 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter. He is 10th with an .823 OPS.
• Scott Heineman is a right-handed-hitting outfielder but is still taking ground balls and working out at first base. He could be an option there against left-handed pitching.
• The Rangers and the Astros are still playing for the Silver Boot Trophy, given to the team with the best head-to-head record. The Astros have won it the last three seasons after the Rangers won it 12 times in the first 16 years after the Silver Boot was inaugurated in 2001.
“It's definitely a rivalry,” Rangers third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “We're battling for the state. Just to claim that Silver Boot, it means a lot for whoever gets to take it home. That's the motive right now. We want to bring it back.”