Botts still doesn't have a spot in lineup

Botts still doesn't have a spot in the lineup

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington was sitting in the visitors' dugout at Tucson Electric Park when outfielder Jason Botts walked by.

"Hey, Bottsy," the manager said. "How many trips to Tucson is this for you? Three?"

Botts nodded and smiled.

"Please, sir, can I have another one?" Botts joked.

Washington roared with laughter and started naming others who had made all three of the 2 1/2-hour trips to Tucson: Marlon Byrd, Matt Kata, Miguel Ojeda, Chris Stewart ...

"They're my crew," Washington said. "I can't get along without them."

Botts would love that if it were truly the case. In his situation though, the Rangers probably will be without him once the regular season starts.

All indications are that the outfielder who has made the long and hard journey from 46th-round draft pick to being on the verge of the Major Leagues will likely see his third straight Opening Day at Oklahoma.

"It has been a long journey," Botts said. "But it's not over yet. Everybody has their own path."

There were some who thought that Botts might battle Sammy Sosa for a spot as the Rangers' designated hitter. But Sosa won that battle with a first-round knockout. The only other possibility was that Botts might stick as a bat off the bench and as a reserve outfielder. But it appears that the Rangers prefer the versatility that Jerry Hairston and Kata provide over Botts' bat.

Hairston and Kata can play multiple positions. Botts is a designated hitter who is still learning to play the outfield. He played the field eight times but hasn't been out there since March 18. That playing time is now being given to guys who will be on the Opening Day roster or still have a chance to win a job.

Still, Washington said Botts did well as an outfielder this spring.

"He has worked his tail off defensively," Washington said. "He's a quality guy. One of the bright spots about this camp has been how hard he has worked every morning in the outfield. In the end, that will pay off. It's a matter of quality work and trusting it. With all that work, he can't help but get better."

Hitting is still his thing, and Botts has left no doubt that he can hit Triple-A pitching. He hit .286 with 25 home runs and 102 RBIs in 133 games and 510 at-bats for Oklahoma in 2005. He followed that up with a .309 average, 13 home runs and 39 RBIs in 63 games and 220 at-bats in 2006, a season that was interrupted by a 40-day stay in the Majors and a broken hamate bone in his hand suffered at the beginning of August.

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The strikeout totals are high. He struck out 213 times in 730 at-bats over the past two seasons at Triple-A. But he still has an idea at the plate. He had a .375 on-base percentage in 2005 and .398 in 2006.

He was 2-for-5 on Sunday and is hitting .324 for the spring.

"Sometimes my size can work against me," said Botts, who stands 6-foot-6. "If I have a bad at-bat, I can look pretty bad. Those long limbs make you look really out of whack. But if I have a month, the numbers are going to be there. I'm just waiting for the opportunity to make it happen."

The idea was to give him that opportunity last year. He was called up on May 23 and was expected to get at-bats at designated hitter when Phil Nevin was struggling. But that plan went off-track because second baseman Ian Kinsler was activated off the disabled list and the Rangers needed to find at-bats for Mark DeRosa, who was off to a great start.

Botts had just 50 at-bats in 20 games over his 40-day period, hitting .220 with one home run and nine RBIs. He was just 1-for-14 from June 15 to when they finally sent back to Oklahoma on July 11.

"My role wasn't exactly what I thought it would be," Botts said. "It was frustrating because I wasn't playing as often, and when I was playing in the end it was against some pretty good guys.

"It was tough, but I learned how to get comfortable in the big leagues and it was good to see what it was like."

He would like to see it again, but Sosa blocks the way. Don't forget, too, that Frank Catalanotto signed a three-year contract in the offseason. Like Botts, his best position is probably designated hitter.

It's not an ideal situation for Botts right now, and there might be better opportunities in other organizations.

"You might think that, but in my heart Texas is where I want to be," Botts said. "I'm really not trying to stress out about it. There are a lot of options, but it's pretty much out of my control whether I go to the big leagues or go to Oklahoma City. I've been very patient to this point. If something doesn't happen at this point, I'm going to keep going about my business and the opportunity will eventually come."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.