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Choice makes nice first impression on Rangers

Outfielder acquired in trade with Oakland goes 2-for-2 in spring opener

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Michael Choice came to bat with J.P. Arencibia on first and nobody out in the second inning. With the count 1-and-1, Arencibia broke on the pitch and Choice smashed a shot up the middle for a single off of veteran pitcher Bruce Chen.

Arencibia went to third on the play and eventually scored on a single by Adam Rosales. Choice came up again in the third inning and reached on an infield hit with a hard line drive that third baseman Mike Moustakas couldn't handle.

That's how the Cactus League began for Choice on Thursday afternoon at Surprise Stadium. Playing right field in place of Alex Rios, Choice went 2-for-2 before calling it a day with the rest of the starting lineup in the Rangers' 11-7 victory over the Royals.

Choice is only getting started in the desert. He is expected to get as much playing time as possible during the Cactus League so the Rangers can assess exactly what they received in a four-player trade with the Athletics on Dec. 3.

"That's good," Choice said. "It gives me a better chance to show what I can do."

This is not about whether Choice can win a job as the fourth outfielder over left-handed hitters Jim Adduci and Engel Beltre, or if he can be the right-handed bat to complement Mitch Moreland at designated hitter. This is also not about whether Choice can play well enough in center field to light a fire under Leonys Martin.

The Rangers already know Choice's right-handed bat could play a vital role on a team with a starting lineup that includes left-handed bats Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Martin and Moreland. Fielder is the only one of those four with a lifetime batting average higher than .243 against left-handed pitchers, a right-handed hitting outfielder who can punish lefties is a must for the Rangers' bench.

This spring is really about whether Choice can begin to show he can be a future everyday outfielder and significant run producer in the middle of the order. The Rangers are looking for more than just a role player from a guy who was acquired from the Athletics along with infielder Chris Bostick for outfielder Craig Gentry and pitcher Josh Lindblom on Dec. 3.

"He's a guy who can handle the bat," manager Ron Washington said. "Right now I just want him to do the things I ask him to do. If I want to put the hit-and-run on, I think he can handle it. He does have power but he can also do a lot of things with the bat."

The trade caught many by surprise, especially in Oakland where Choice appeared on the verge of breaking into the Athletics' starting lineup. Choice, 24, spent last season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .302 with 90 runs scored, 14 home runs, 89 RBI and a .445 slugging percentage. He struck out 115 times, which suggests he still has some holes in his swing. But he also had 69 walks, a .390 on-base percentage and showed the ability to hit with power to the opposite field.

He has average speed and arm but has shown he can play all three outfield positions. That includes center field if the Rangers don't see what they want from Martin this spring or when the regular season starts.

"Obviously the goal is to be on the 25-man roster and help the team in whatever my role is," Choice said. "The time is now. As far as the future, you don't know what's going to happen. When I look back at the trade, I don't think about it much. I'm here now trying to add something to the team."

Choice was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of UT-Arlington. The only player in Rangers camp who was drafted higher is Fielder, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft by the Brewers.

"He knows how to play the game, which is big for a young guy," Fielder said. "He plays hard and knows what he's doing. There is no advice to give him. The main thing is he works hard. Any time a young guy has that, it's all you need."

Choice also needs a chance to play. Right now the Rangers have a set outfield with Choo in left, Martin in center and Rios in right, plus Moreland at designated hitter. There appears to be no room for Choice in Washington's lineup.

The Rangers don't expect that to be the case in the future. This spring will tell much and a 2-for-2 day in the first game is a good start.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.