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Left-field job up for grabs at Rangers camp

Robinson starts ST opener; Calhoun, Rua, Tocci, Hood also in mix
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

MESA, Ariz. -- Drew Robinson started in left field for the Rangers in their Cactus League opener against the Cubs on Saturday. Willie Calhoun made the trip to the other side of Phoenix, too, but as a late-game replacement for Robinson.

The arrangement is a reminder that the Rangers' left-field job is still unsettled. Calhoun may be the favorite, but he still has to come to Arizona and win the job.

MESA, Ariz. -- Drew Robinson started in left field for the Rangers in their Cactus League opener against the Cubs on Saturday. Willie Calhoun made the trip to the other side of Phoenix, too, but as a late-game replacement for Robinson.

The arrangement is a reminder that the Rangers' left-field job is still unsettled. Calhoun may be the favorite, but he still has to come to Arizona and win the job.

"Willie Calhoun needs to come out and play, show that he can continue to improve defensively and show us where he is offensively," manager Jeff Banister said. "We like what we saw in Willie last year. He is an extremely interesting player."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Robinson is part of the competition that also includes Ryan Rua, Rule 5 Draft pick Carlos Tocci and Destin Hood, who is in camp on a Minor League contract.

The battle for left field has become almost an annual rite of spring for the Rangers.

Rangers Spring Training info

"Everybody's goal is to be on the 25-man roster," Rua said. "There are a few guys penciled in already and guys fighting for the last spots. We all enjoy the competition. We're friends on and off the field, but we're all looking to push each other."

If Calhoun wins the job, he will be the Rangers' sixth Opening Day left fielder in the past six years. They haven't had the same player start in left field on Opening Day since David Murphy in 2012-13. Rusty Greer started six straight in 1996-2001. Since then, the Rangers have had 12 left fielders on Opening Day.

Video: Mayo discusses Calhoun's offensive potential

Calhoun, acquired from the Dodgers on July 31, has a reputation for swinging the bat. He hit .300 with 31 home runs, 93 RBIs and a .572 slugging percentage in 128 games at Triple-A. But he has played just 36 games in left field after switching from second base last season and is still learning the position.

Calhoun ranked No. 2 Rangers prospect for 2018

Think he hasn't heard the questions about his defense?

"It's in front of my face every day," Calhoun said. "I want to put an end to it. They can't say anything offensively."

Robinson is another converted infielder with offensive weapons who must show he can handle the defensive requirements. He has more experience in the outfield than Calhoun, but Banister said Robinson is better in center than left.

Video: HOU@TEX: Robinson skies a solo homer to upper deck

The Rangers left fielder -- whoever it is -- won't win the job on defense alone.

"It falls on our coaching staff to improve our defense all over the place," Banister said. "To be a championship team, we have to improve our defense."

Robinson is also taking early ground balls in the infield, so it's possible he could make the team as a utility infielder. He just doesn't want to be labeled a utility player for the rest of his career.

"Eventually there will be a time when I need to shed that," Robinson said. "I'm still trying to fight my way into an everyday role. Right now, I guess though, it's something I need to hold on to."

Rua is used to fighting for left field. This will be the fourth straight year he has come into camp as a candidate to be the Opening Day left fielder. He won it in 2015 but lost out to Ian Desmond in '16 and Jurickson Profar last year.

Video: NYY@TEX: Rua plates Chirinos with a double to left

"I don't think it's any different," Rua said. "The reps are the main thing, getting into baseball shape and taking care of your body. Then you just go out and try to push yourself. Consider it big league competition, it's what drives all of us."

Rua can play multiple positions in the infield and outfield. He also wields a right-handed bat, which the Rangers need on a team loaded with left-handed hitters.

"We need some right-handed options," Banister said.

Tocci is here because he is considered a standout defensive player. He is mostly considered depth in center. Hood was a second-round pick by the Nationals in 2008 and played in 13 games for the Marlins in 2016. He has played 791 games in the outfield in his career, which laps the rest of the field as far as playing experience.

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

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