Bird, Guzmán continue to vie for first base job

March 10th, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers open the season in two weeks and first base remains unclaimed.

and are competing for the job and neither player has distinguished himself at the plate. The Rangers will spend the next two weeks evaluating the situation and consider external options that may come up as clubs shape their final rosters.

Manager Chris Woodward said this is a “big week” for both players as the Rangers weigh their options at the position.

“It’s a pretty heated battle,” Woodward said. “Obviously we are nowhere near making a decision. Still got to see these guys. They’ve had a couple of weeks now. This week is going to be pretty important for both of them.”

The Rangers are also having Todd Frazier take ground balls at first base. He was signed to be the Rangers' third baseman but can play first if needed. That’s a growing possibility. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been the Rangers’ hottest hitter in camp, even after beginning with an 0-for-11 skid. Since then, he is 13-for-31 with four home runs going into Tuesday’s game against the White Sox.

“If Kiner is on the team and keeps on hitting, I don’t want to put him on the bench and say you’re are a bench player,” Woodward said. “Moving Todd over to first and putting Kiner at third is a pretty good option right now. We’ll see, there are a lot of ways this could play out. That’s one.”

Woodward said Guzmán and Bird are having a “heated battle” but it is more like a cold war. Going into Tuesday, Guzmán is 6-for-30 at the plate and Bird is 3-for-24.

“It’s a different thing when you are competing for a spot and it’s only a short amount of time,” Woodward said. “I just want to make sure we are giving each guy the best opportunity. It’s impossible to tell both those guys to relax. They are fighting for a job. We’re just trying to see the best quality we have at the position.”

Guzmán may make the team based on perceived potential and defensive ability but may need a platoon partner. He hit .249/.335/.455 against right-handers last season, but just .134/.238/.299 against left-handers.

That’s why the Rangers traded for right-handed hitter Sam Travis from the Red Sox. He is .250/.320/.401 against left-handers over parts of the past three seasons in the big leagues. In the Minor Leagues, he has a slash line of .348/.375/.580 against lefties.

Guzmán worked hard this offseason to change his approach. Instead of having so many moving parts, he has tried to shorten his swing and be quicker to the ball. He said he is concentrating on sticking to that plan and not get caught up in results.

“I know it is going to come,” Guzmán said. “I believe in the work I am doing. The results aren’t there yet but if I stay consistent in what I’m doing and believe and trust the process, I’m not worried.”

Bird may just need more time in the Minor Leagues. He was the Yankees' Opening Day first baseman last season, but played in just 10 games before going on the injured list with a plantar fascia tear. He did not play the rest of the season.

“It’s tough when you don’t play for most of the season,” Woodward said. “Timing-wise … hitting is really hard anyways. He wouldn’t want to use it as an excuse, but it definitely affects you for sure.”

Outside options offer marginal help.

The Reds may have an extra guy as veterans Matt Davidson, a right-handed hitter, and Derek Dietrich, a lefty swinger, are competing for a spot on the bench. The Rangers had Davidson at Triple-A Nashville last season and never called him up despite 33 home runs and 101 RBIs there.

The Mets have left-handed hitters Dominic Smith and Matt Adams competing to be the backup at first base, the Pirates have right-handed hitter José Osuna who might be available and the Tigers have extra corner guys in Jeimer Candelario, Dawel Lugo and Frank Schwindel.

That’s the level of quality that might be available at the end of Spring Training. The Rangers would rather see Guzmán or Bird seize the job.