CLEVELAND -- "The Big Chill" has settled in the American League West and the Rangers are in a battle for first place.The Rangers probably didn't expect outfielder Nomar Mazara to be in the big leagues this soon, and they certainly didn't expect him to be so good so soon. But
CLEVELAND -- "The Big Chill" has settled in the American League West and the Rangers are in a battle for first place.
The Rangers probably didn't expect outfielder Nomar Mazara to be in the big leagues this soon, and they certainly didn't expect him to be so good so soon. But Mazara is here, he is producing numbers worthy of All-Star consideration and he has had an immediate impact on the division.
"This is a guy we saw for the first time in Spring Training, and the next thing you know, he comes around and he's hitting third for a good offensive club," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "So you know they think very highly of him. It was limited in what we saw, but if they think that highly of him to put him in the No. 3 hole, he must be a pretty good player."
Mazara turned 21 on April 28, but he is playing with maturity and composure that manager Jeff Banister said is "off the charts." Mazara enters Texas' homestand on Friday night hitting .299 with nine home runs, 24 RBIs and a .471 slugging percentage.
Mazara has established himself as the early favorite to be the first Rangers position player to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award since Mike Hargrove in 1974. Mazara won the AL Rookie of the Month Award in both April and May.
"We've seen him in between stages," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We saw him in the spring, and you saw all the ability. You saw his talent. We saw him early in the season, when he was called up, and you saw him applying some of that. Last series, it looked like he took another leap forward. I think he's understanding the strike zone. He's going to be a tough act."
Scioscia was present in Anaheim on April 10, when Mazara made his Major League debut by going 3-for-4 with a home run off Jered Weaver. Scioscia also witnessed the home run Mazara hit a week ago off of Angels pitcher Hector Santiago, which was projected by Statcast™ to go 491 feet.
Mazara has made an impression with more than his sheer power. He has also shown plate discipline with the ability to work deep in the count, not chase bad pitches and hit the opposite way.
"He's a difficult out," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's very threatening. There are holes you can go to with all young hitters, but he seems to close them up pretty quickly and make adjustments and handle different styles of pitching. He stays in at-bats pretty long, deep in the count. It's not a comfortable at-bat when he comes up, because there are some electrifying skills he brings to the plate."
Mazara has also been better than expected defensively, showing good range and instincts, with a powerful above-average throwing arm.
"He made a couple catches against us at Safeco that I didn't think he could make," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "And even [former Rangers Minor League coach] Casey Candaele, who has seen him a lot in the Minor Leagues, said he'd never seen him make catches like that."
But what stands out most about Mazara is his quiet, reserved personality and demeanor. He is called "The Big Chill" for a reason. He is 21, but he doesn't seem to act like a nervous rookie in awe of his surroundings.
"Nothing yet has seemed to faze him," Banister said. "I can tell you this. I see them in the dugout and on the field. You can't anxiety hide on the field. There has been none of that."
Third baseman Adrian Beltre said Mazara has had no trouble finding and understanding his place on the club.
"He comes in every day ready and works hard," Beltre said. "He has an unbelievable understanding of the game. He's got great talent, but he listens and learns quickly and doesn't make trouble. We know he has talent, but he is consistent and trying to get better every day. He is everything you could ask for as a rookie."
It would be a mistake, though, to think that Mazara is just taking all this in stride.
"It has been awesome," Mazara said. "It's been what I have been dreaming of since I was a little kid playing in Little League."
Awesome is a little different than being overwhelmed by it all.
"I haven't ... not really," Mazara said. "Part of it is being in Spring Training. That gave me a little experience of what this like. But I've struggled in the Minor Leagues, and I've learned to stay confident. It's a game of failure. If you don't get a hit in your first at-bat, there are three more. That's the way I approach. When you get your opportunity, you have to be ready."
The Rangers always knew Mazara had talent. That's why they gave him a record-breaking $4.95 million signing bonus as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011. Mazara was only 16 at the time, and Jayce Tingler, who was Texas' Minor League field coordinator at the time, remembers him at his first tryout.
"I remember thinking he has a ton of ability, but I thought he had a ton of adjustments to make," Tingler said. "I remember a huge leg kick. I remember a lot of power. I remember thinking it's going to be hard for him to get to 90-plus mph pitches. The thing is, we knew he was mature and was not going to be fazed by the big stage. But to think he was going to put everything together so quickly -- I don't think anybody saw that coming."
Mazara may be facing his first big challenge. He was 1-for-5 on Wednesday night and is 2-for-20 in his past five games. Mazara's batting average has dropped 26 points. But Banister said this shouldn't be a big concern for "The Big Chill."
"Nothing has twisted him yet, and I don't expect it will," Banister said.
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.