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DeShields set for breakout year with Rangers

Center fielder also slated to be club's leadoff hitter in '18 @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has already spoken to Delino DeShields this spring.

"I don't want to put the pressure on him, but as he goes, we go as a team," Andrus said.

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has already spoken to Delino DeShields this spring.

"I don't want to put the pressure on him, but as he goes, we go as a team," Andrus said.

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Adrian Beltre sees the same thing.

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"We're hoping he could be that engine," Beltre said. "He's the guy that gets on base, can run, steal bases. We really don't have anybody else like him."

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DeShields understands that. He understands what his teammates expect of him. He also understands something else.

DeShields knows and believes this could be the year he is finally rewarded for all his work and for enduring all that he has been through the past three years. He is being put into position for a breakout season.

"That's a fair assessment," DeShields said. "There have been a lot of ups and downs. ... Mentally it was kind of exhausting, but I was always determined to be the best player I could be. I didn't want to make excuses. Whenever I saw my name in the lineup, I was ready to go. I didn't want to let my team down."

DeShields is a former No. 1 Draft pick by the Astros who had fallen to the point where they left him unprotected in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft. The Rangers took him and he fought his way both onto the team and eventually the starting lineup. He lost that job in 2016, when he was sent to the Minors for two months after a slow start and was pushed aside late in the year by Carlos Gomez.

DeShields made the team last year out of Spring Training only as the fifth outfielder, but he was able to fight his way back into the starting lineup. There was some ambiguity in the offseason if the Rangers would keep DeShields in center field, but that has dissipated in Spring Training.

"Delino, as we move forward, he stays healthy, he'll be our center fielder," manager Jeff Banister said. "Our plan is [also] to use Delino as our leadoff hitter."

Video: Banister on DeShields' ability to overcome adversity

That's all that DeShields needs to hear. He can focus on his game -- offensively and defensively -- and not worry about having to win a job. The Rangers were 53-46 in the 97 games DeShields started in the outfield last year. They were 35-16 in games in which he scored one run.

"Sometimes you have to go through ups and downs, how you rebound from that is a testament to your character and your desire and drive to be the best player," DeShields said. "So while all that stuff is going on, I didn't get discouraged. I used it as fuel and it allowed me to focus on the things I'm good at, the things I need to improve. Using all my resources and trusting myself and my abilities and go out and play ball."

The Rangers have had a hard time through the years finding a dynamic leadoff hitter. Ian Kinsler was the closest they have come as he scored over 100 runs in 2008 and 2012-13. The only other leadoff hitter in franchise history to score 100 runs in a season was Gary Matthews Jr. in 2006.

DeShields gets excited thinking what he could accomplish at the top of a lineup that includes Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Beltre, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor.

"My goal is to score 100 runs," DeShields said "That's always my goal. That's literally my only one ... and improving my two-strike average. That's the only two goals I have, everything else will take care of itself. I feel over 100 runs will be easy…not easy but with the way our lineup constructed, it's a nice lineup."

Banister said another goal should be two stolen bases a week. Over a 26-week season, that adds up to 52 stolen bases and would tie the club record held by Bump Wills in 1978. That is the oldest major offensive record in franchise history.

"My drive and my desire is to be the impact bat at the top of the lineup," DeShields said. "Have them recognize it and be like, we believe in you, here you go, it's a good feeling and I don't take it lightly. I want to prove everybody wrong and prove myself right. It's my chip on my shoulder. My mind is clear, I'm determined. All I see is the end goal and that is to win the World Series."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Delino DeShields