What's center-field plan with Leody's injury?

March 6th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- “Left side tightness” has been sweeping through the Rangers' clubhouse early in Spring Training, and on Sunday, it finally hit outfielder .

But unlike pitchers , and -- all of whom experienced what was described as mild discomfort -- Taveras’ injury is a little more serious. Texas general manager Chris Young said Taveras has a “low-grade oblique strain,” and the training staff is looking at a couple of weeks of recovery time.

​​Taveras left with a trainer during a batting practice session on Sunday, leading to his scratch from the lineup against the Angels. Young said on Monday that Taveras felt something in his side while playing catch and then felt it more so while swinging from the right side of the plate.

“We will know more in the next seven to 10 days, as to how fast the ramp up, the build up will be once he's feeling better,” Young said. “ But anyway, it’s a tough, tough break, but nonetheless, I think all things considered, two weeks is hopefully the worst of it and he'll be back shortly thereafter.”

It’s unfortunate timing in a big spring for Taveras, a former No. 1 prospect for Texas, who was hitting .400 with a .900 OPS through 12 plate appearances. After making his MLB debut in 2020, and experiencing some struggles at the big league level over the past two years, Taveras finally locked down the center field position heading into camp.

“The biggest concern is that we get him back 100%,” Young said. “He's looked great this spring, playing great defense and swinging from both sides of the plate. We just want to make sure that we get him back to a good spot where he's not feeling any restrictions, and can go out and be the player he has shown us he can be.”

While Young expected Taveras to be ready for Opening Day, here are the Rangers’ other options:

The most likely solution is to have Thompson seize control of the position, and simply plug the second-year outfielder into Taveras’ spot in the lineup. Before Taveras’ injury, Thompson was expected to either serve as the fourth outfielder on the big league squad, due to his speed and defensive capabilities, or get every day at-bats back with Triple-A Round Rock.

Now, he’s right in the thick of the competition.

“Bubba’s a really, really talented player, whose defense is probably slightly ahead of his offense,” Young said. “But we feel very confident in his ability to be a contributing member of our team. And while recognizing that he's young and does not have much time in the big leagues, and is still developing, we think he's ready for the challenge, whether it's the beginning of the season or at some point during the season.”

García, slated to be the starting right fielder, has played 137 career games in center field. All but one of those appearances have come during his time with Texas.

While García has solidified himself as a quality right fielder, he’s just as good in center. But the problem then becomes filling right field if he moves over. Robbie Grossman can play all three positions sufficiently, as can Thompson, but manager Bruce Bochy said he doesn’t want to move things around too much.

“Leody will be back from this,” Young said. “So we'll have to work through how much it makes sense to move Adolis over at all. But we haven’t had those discussions in full yet, so I can't commit to anything.”

Frazier only has one career game in center field, but if the Rangers move things around with García in center and Grossman in right, he could play left. Frazier was 6-for-19 through Sunday in Cactus League play and he could add some pop to the lineup if necessary. Jankowski, on the other hand, has played 218 career games in center field and he would be an easy transition to the lineup, but his bat isn’t quite as powerful or consistent as Fraizer’s.

The one caveat is that both would require the Rangers to create a spot on the 40-man roster.

And the least likely solution lies in MLB Pipeline’s No. 41 overall prospect. Carter has impressed this spring and still remains in big league camp, even as some of his peers headed off to the Minor League clubhouse this week.

But Carter is still just 20 years old and he hasn’t played above Double-A, where he appeared in just six games with the Frisco RoughRiders. The outfielder has a chance to make his MLB debut before his 21st birthday in August, but the Rangers aren’t betting on him being in Arlington on March 30.