Prince's health on top of Rangers skipper Banister's mind
SAN DIEGO -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister has spent the past two months meeting and talking to as many players as he can. He has yet to meet with first baseman Prince Fielder.
It is high on his priority list.
"Well, I'd like to get some face time with Prince," Banister said Monday during his media session at the Winter Meetings. "I'd really like to do that so he and I can sit down. We've met before on the field in different uniforms. I'd love to do that."
Fielder is currently working out at his home in Florida. According to the Rangers, Fielder is fully recovered after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck and going through his normal offseason workouts.
The Rangers are hoping the surgery will allow Fielder to return to the level that made him one of the top hitters in the game.
"You know, I didn't watch him play last year," Banister said. "I've seen some video. I know that the man was injured. I know what I've seen him do in the past. Go back and look at the numbers against the Pittsburgh Pirates of what Prince Fielder did. My view of him is pretty good. Didn't like it at the time, because he was doing it against us, but…"
Fielder, who was acquired a year ago for second baseman Ian Kinsler, played in just 42 games for the Rangers this past season. He ended up hitting .247 with three home runs, 16 RBIs and a .360 slugging percentage.
That's not what the Rangers were expecting from a player who had 283 home runs and 877 RBIs over an eight-season period from 2006-13 while with the Brewers and Tigers. Both were the fourth most among all Major League players.
In a season when the Rangers were clobbered by injuries, the loss of Fielder might have been the most significant. His return to health may be the single most significant factor for the Rangers going into next season.
"Well, they're all significant," Banister said. "Every last one of them. You can't play without a complete [25-man roster]. So you don't want to overplay any one guy. But he's an impact player. He's a power threat. He's an RBI threat.
"He changes the dynamic of how other teams play against you, how they use your bullpen. Every time you look up, you put a guy in your lineup that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, drive in runs, you pay attention to them."
The health of his players is Banister's biggest concern in his new job.
"It's the same concern every other team has," Banister said. "When you have injured players, you never know until you lay your eyes on them and you get them out on the field. You see how they react, how their body reacts, and how the injury is actually healed up."
Two other significant players the Rangers need back to full strength are pitcher Yu Darvish and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Banister was able to speak to both last week in Arlington.
Darvish is working out in Texas this month. He missed the final seven weeks of the season with inflammation in his right elbow.
"I had a great conversation with Darvish this past week," Banister said. "I watched him work out. He's not throwing yet, but he's doing all physical activities, running, weight routines. Looks good, looks physical, looks happy. He was really getting after the workout hard.
"I had a nice conversation with him. He's excited and looks like he's refreshed. Looks like he's having fun with his teammates, also. He interacted with his teammates and they were getting after him pretty good. Pushed him, and he was pushing them as well, as far as how they were going out after their workout for the day."
Choo is recovering from surgery on both his ankle and left elbow. He also is working out regularly in Arlington. The Rangers signed Choo to a seven-year contract, but he hit just .242 with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs, a .340 on-base percentage and a .374 slugging percentage in 123 games in his first season with the club.
"I watched Choo work out also," Banister said. "I've had a number of conversations with Choo. He's right on target. Looks good, looks healthy, body looks strong. He's one of the players that's been working out pretty regularly at the stadium. So looks like he's in pretty good shape.
"He was not satisfied with what last year was for him. We've had that conversation. We had a conversation about his style of play, what I saw from him being with the Pirates when he was with the Reds. So one of my wishes for him is to go back to being that type of player, that aggressive player on the basepaths, a guy that can draw a walk, but also hit the ball in the gap and be an on-base machine."