HOUSTON -- Growing up in Havana, Cuba, Andy Ibáñez always looked up to Miguel Cabrera, who was one of the most prominent Cuban Major Leaguers.
The two met during the Rangers' trip to Detroit last week, when Ibáñez got the opportunity to talk to Cabrera for the very first time.
Ibáñez, who made his MLB debut with the Rangers on May 4, said through an interpreter on Saturday afternoon that he’s trying to work hard enough to stay with the Rangers' big league club.
“I feel really good at the plate right now,” Ibáñez said. “It just feels like I’m a lot more confident, and I’m seeing [pitches a lot better]. I think that holding a positive mental state is helping me kind of get to that situation. A lot of the coaches and a lot of players have helped me out a lot while I’ve been here. I’ve gotten to see a lot more pitches and a lot more quality at-bats. That’s been helping me out.”
He emphasized that he feels like the coaching staff believes in and has confidence in what he can do, even if he didn't get off to the hottest start. Ibáñez only had three hits over his first nine games during his first stint with the big league club back in May. He’s since raised his batting average to .226.
Through his last seven games, heading into the second game of the Rangers’ three-game series against the Astros, he’s slashing .368/.400/.526 and has excelled since returning from the All-Star break.
“Baseball is baseball, and any any kind of hit we get right now is positive,” Ibáñez said. “Regardless of if it was a blooper [or a line drive], I’m doing anything to help the team progress into scoring runs. It’s the main objective. Hitting the ball hard always feels a lot better. But anyway, you can get on base to help the team win.”
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Ibáñez isn’t doing anything particularly different at the plate, but he’s getting more comfortable and confident as he logs more at-bats.
“I actually think there's a much higher version, much better version of Andy that we're seeing,” Woodward said. “I've watched this guy have really, really good at-bats against really tough pitching. When he gets comfortable, you're going to start seeing a guy that hits line drives from line to line. And we’re starting to get to that point. Hopefully, that continues and we can truly see the guy that we all know can handle any type of pitching.”
With the recent decision to option starting second baseman Nick Solak to Triple-A Round Rock, Ibáñez has also been getting the majority of the reps at the position, alongside utilityman Eli White.
Woodward said he wouldn’t call Ibáñez the “everyday” second baseman, but he will get a ton of reps at that position and other parts of the infield. White will also continue to get reps at second base, but Woodward has referred to him as the best outfielder in the organization, despite his versatility. The skipper said that one of them will have to earn the position, but it would be a good problem to have if they both perform to the standard he wants.
Ibáñez has also played two games at first base and seven games at third for the Rangers, which Woodward said will continue throughout the season.
“As long as I’m in the lineup, I do not care where I play,” Ibáñez said. “First, second, third, fourth, fifth or whatever it takes. I just want to play baseball."