Mazara, Guzman eye spots in Rangers' lineup

Longtime friends are eager to play together on Opening Day

January 24th, 2019

PLANO, Texas -- Rangers outfielders and were 14 years old when they first met at a tryout in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

They were both competing for a spot on the Dominican national team that was going to play in an international tournament in Jupiter, Fla. They both made the team, and at the tournament ...

"We raked," Guzman said.

"We won the championship," Mazara said.

So, who was the Most Valuable Player?

"Our pitcher," Guzman said. "He threw like six scoreless innings."

That was 10 years ago and the two have been linked together since, a couple of intimidating left-handed power hitters who signed at the same time on July 2, 2011, at the age of 16.

Mazara had the quicker path to the big leagues because Guzman needed knee surgery less than two years after signing with the Rangers. Mazara became the starting left fielder a week into the 2016 season while Guzman didn't arrive to the Majors until early this past season.

Now, they have a chance to be together for the first time in the Rangers' starting lineup on Opening Day with Mazara in right field and Guzman at first base. Guzman still has to defend his job in Spring Training, but the prospect of having the two long-time buddies together in the Major Leagues on Opening Day has them both excited.

"It's special," Guzman said. "Nomar is a guy I have known even before I knew what being professional was like. To be able to come up with him and now hopefully we'll be able to play Opening Day together, it's priceless."

Guzman and Mazara spent Wednesday night signing autographs at the Rangers' latest Winter Caravan stop. Most of their offseason has been spent working out with the rest of their teammates at the club's MLB Youth Academy in West Dallas.

For Guzman, it's all about convincing everybody he is here to stay.

"Last year, he was up there for a long time and got some experience," Mazara said. "But to be able to be there from Opening Day is something different. It's going to be a great opportunity for him. Everybody saw what he can do out there,. He is going to keep getting better and better. It has been a long ride for him and he is going to keep going."

Guzman ended up playing in 123 games as a rookie -- hitting .235 with 16 home runs, 58 RBIs, a .306 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. There were some special moments, including hitting a game-tying home run in the eighth inning and delivering the game-winning hit in the 10th against the Astros on April 14, 2018, his streak of four straight games with a home run on May 21-25 and the unforgettable three-homer game against the Yankees on Aug. 10 in New York.

"It was a dream, most of the time," Guzman said. "I really couldn't be sad at any time, even if I was doing bad. It was a great experience being able to play with those guys. I saw all those guys I had only watched on television, it was unbelievable to understand what it is like. You can watch MLB on TV, but you don't know what it is all about. But being there ... it is a totally different experience."

Guzman said he was never jealous of the fact that Mazara got to the Major Leagues two years before he did.

"I was very happy for him," Guzman said. "After a couple of seasons, we started working out together in the offseason so that was really good. It was good for me because I could ask him, 'Hey bro, what is it like to hit in Double A.' He would always share everything that he learned and help me get better. Now, he has been in the big leagues and I can still ask him anything."

Mazara has only one thing to prove -- that he is healthy. He was on his way to another strong season in 2018 before sustaining a sprained right thumb in the last game before the All-Star break. At the time, he was hitting .272 with 15 home runs, 58 RBIs, a .332 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging percentage.

But he started the second half on the disabled list and missed almost a month. Even when Mazara returned, he wasn't the same. Over his final 36 games, he hit .221 with five home runs, 19 RBIs, a .277 on-base percentage and a .397 slugging percentage.

"My first half was really, really good," Mazara said. "One of the best I have ever felt at the plate against lefties, righties. I was locked in. I was in a good place. That slowed me down. I should have taken a little more time. I don't want to say I was frustrated, but I was sad, that was my first time sitting that long.

"Whenever I got back, the adrenaline was there, and I was happy to get back in the field and do my thing but after a couple of weeks, my thumb started hurting really bad. When we went to Seattle, I couldn't take a swing it was so cold. But now I should be good to go."