Could Jankowski be right fit for Texas in CF?

Rangers weighing options to upgrade outfield defense

Could Jankowski be right fit for Texas in CF?

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Rangers are looking for a premium defender to play center field and the Padres have one in Travis Jankowski.

He has just one full season in the big leagues and is still developing offensively, but he could be the answer for the Rangers if they don't re-sign Ian Desmond or Carlos Gomez, or land Billy Hamilton in a trade with the Reds.

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Jankowski is not as established as the others, but his defensive abilities are highly attractive. The Rangers have made it clear they are valuing defense above all else in center field.

"[The] reality is that the better that we get defensively, the better we're going to make our starting pitching and relief pitching core," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "The situation last year, [we were] a club that won 95 games; however, we still need to get better on defense."

Banister on offseason needs

Jankowski played center field in 87 games for the Padres, including 77 starts. According to Fangraphs, he had the fifth-best ultimate zone rating defensively for any Major League center fielder with at least 500 innings at the position. According to Stats Inc., he had the highest zone rating for any center fielder with at least 80 games.

Meanwhile, the Padres are looking for a defensive shortstop. The Rangers may not be willing to include Jurickson Profar in a trade unless they can get starting pitching, and the Padres have none to deal.

But the Rangers still have Hanser Alberto, who would be a significant upgrade for the Padres defensively. That's their priority, too.

Jankowski was the 44th overall pick by the Padres in the 2012 Draft out of SUNY Stony Brook. He was a late-season callup for the Padres in '15 and was with them all of '16, playing in 131 games overall and hitting .245 with a .332 on-base percentage and a .313 slugging percentage. He also had 30 stolen bases. A left-handed hitter, he batted .275 against right-handers and .155 against left-handers.

Delino DeShields, who right now is the only true center fielder on the Rangers' 40-man roster, is a career .259 hitter against left-handers and .238 against right-handers. He also has tremendous speed, but he's not yet polished defensively to be considered a premium center fielder.

Rangers look to upgrade outfield

"We like Delino," Banister said. "There is potential to be a solid defensive outfielder. He possesses the skill set to do that. I think he's got the first step. It's angles; it's the correct angles to the baseball. But also, just at the Major League level, it takes time. It takes reps. It takes game time to get better at this level, and so I think he continues to do that.

"Because playing center field, you've got to be correct. I think Delino has those abilities. He's just got to continue to become more consistent."

DeShields was the Rangers' Opening Day center fielder in '16 but lost the job after a slow start at the plate. He was optioned to Triple-A on May 13 and brought back on July 20 but never regained his role.

He finished the season hitting .209 with a .275 on-base percentage and a .313 slugging percentage. That was a significant dropoff from '15, when he hit .261 with a .344 on-base percentage and a .374 slugging percentage.

"We can fill in center field internally," Banister said. "We know that. Is there an option for us to be better? Is there a player that can be dynamic on both sides of the ball, that is proven and has been there and has the skins on the wall, if you will? So that part of it -- look, the other thing with that is it's not just center field. We need to have some left field options, also."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.