Versatility key as position players report

Playing at multiple spots valuable asset for those hoping to stick with Rangers

Versatility key as position players report

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers position players officially reported to Spring Training on Tuesday. Some of them showed up with a bagful of different gloves ready to play multiple positions.

It's a good way to make the team, and, for some, it may be the only way in an organization that places a high value on versatility.

"It's very valuable to have a guy with versatility," general manager Jon Daniels said. "It gives the manager a lot of different options and allows you not to have to make a roster move if a starter has to miss a day or two. It gives you a ton of roster flexibility."

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Ben Zobrist is the gold standard in positional flexibility. He is a two-time All-Star who has put together a nice 10-year career with significant time at multiple positions. He has started 763 games at one of the four infield positions and another 349 in one of the three outfield spots. The Cubs signed him to a four-year, $56 million contract as a free agent this offseason.

"Some guys have that ability and some guys don't," Daniels said. "Zobrist has maintained his athleticism. He was a shortstop coming up, and he is still loose and athletic. Guys who bulk up lose their ability to play certain spots."

Hanser Alberto showed his versatility last year after third baseman Adrian Beltre left Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays with a strained lower back. Alberto, primarily a middle infielder, finished that game and started the next two at third while Beltre was out. He even had the game-winning hit in the 14th inning in Game 2.

Alberto replaces Beltre at third

Versatility is huge because expanding pitching staffs on a 25-man roster limits the number of players a team can keep on the bench. The Rangers use five starters and seven relievers, leaving room for 13 position players. With nine in the lineup, that leaves four on the bench to cover eight defensive positions. So if all you can do is back up at third base, you're going to spend a lot of time collecting splinters behind Beltre.

"The only way for me to keep a guy fresh and engaged is by being able to play multiple positions," manager Jeff Banister said.

The Rangers reinforced the value of versatility by inviting Drew Robinson and Ryan Cordell into camp. They are not as highly-touted as outfielder prospects Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara, but they are attracting attention in the Rangers system by being able to play multiple positions.

Top Prospects: Robinson, TEX

Robinson, a fourth-round pick out of Silverado High School in Las Vegas in 2010, has been in professional baseball for six years. He has started 458 games at all four infield positions and another 82 in the outfield corners. Although he has logged more time in the infield, he was ranked as having the best outfield arm in the Texas League in 2014. He also hits left-handed, and he led the Texas League with 21 home runs in 2015.

Cordell, an 11th-round pick out of Liberty University in 2013, is primarily an outfielder but has been used at first, short and third. Last year, splitting time between Class A Advanced High Desert and Double-A Frisco, he also showed a nice combination of 18 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 124 games.

Robinson and Cordell both understand the value of their role and what the Rangers expect from them.

"My goal is just to do exactly what they tell me to do and let them make the decisions," Cordell said.

"It's definitely something I take pride in being able to play every position," Robinson said.

Ciriaco flashes the leather

Veteran Pedro Ciriaco is in camp on a non-roster invite. He isn't Zobrist, but he has been in the big leagues for at least parts of the past six seasons because he can play multiple positions. He is primarily an infielder, but 10 of his 272 Major League games have come as an outfielder.

Rookie Patrick Kivlehan was acquired from the Mariners this winter because he can swing the bat from the right side and because of his versatility. A former defensive back at Rutgers University, Kivlehan has played first, third and all three outfield spots.

Justin Ruggiano has been an outfielder his entire professional career, and he was signed as a free agent by the Rangers this offseason to be a right-handed option in left field. But the Rangers will work him out at first base this spring.

Ryan Rua's versatility was an asset for him coming through the Rangers' system. But after missing so much time in 2015 with a fractured right heel, the Rangers want him to focus on left field this spring. The same goes with Jurickson Profar at shortstop because of his injury-induced two-year layoff. They also want Joey Gallo to concentrate on third base right now, even though he can play the outfield and first base.

Those players' versatility is being put aside for right now. For others, it's something they need to demonstrate this spring as the search for the next Ben Zobrist continues all across baseball.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.