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Gentry taking swipe at bigger role

By Matt Jones

This article was published March 5, 2013 at 3:22 a.m.

texas-rangers-outfielder-craig-gentry-watches-a-spring-training-game-from-the-dugout-on-thursday-feb-28-2013-in-surprise-ariz

Texas Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry watches a spring training game from the dugout on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 in Surprise, Ariz.

CRAIG GENTRY AT A GLANCE

TEAM: Texas Rangers (fifth season)

POSITION: Outfielder

AGE: 29

HOMETOWN: Van Buren

HIGH SCHOOL: Fort Smith Christian

COLLEGE: Arkansas, Arkansas-Fort Smith

NOTEWORTHY: Taken in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers with the 298th overall pick. …Led Arkansas in hitting (.326), steals (16) and triples (3) in 2006. … Holds the Arkansas record for most consecutive at-bats with a base hit (10). … Helped lead Fort Smith Christian to a state title in 2002.

— The Texas Rangers will have to replace a lot of production in 2013 after an eventful off-season that resulted in an exodus of several superstars.

Outfielder Josh Hamilton (Los Angeles Angels), catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli (Boston Red Sox) and longtime infielder/designated hitter Michael Young (Philadelphia Phillies) are gone from the league’s highest-scoring offense a year ago. Those three accounted for 75 home runs, 235 runs scored and 251 RBI.

That’s a lot to make up, but it also creates opportunities.

Hamilton’s departure opens the door for former Arkansas Razorback Craig Gentry to take over as the team’s regular center fielder. Gentry doesn’t possess the bat of the All-Star Hamilton, but he has solidified himself as a defensive specialist thanks to his speed.

“With the performances he had last year, he has every reason to get an opportunity,” Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. “Whether he’s in a starting role or a similar role he was in last year, he’s going to make the most out of every opportunity. It’s always fun to watch him play. He’s a spark plug and has that electrifying speed you really enjoy watching out on the baseball field.

“Just the strides he’s taken offensively has been very impressive. I feel like he has learned himself as a hitter and he’s been able to do a great job of making adjustments on the fly, and that definitely showed last year.”

Gentry, a Van Buren native, started 66 games and played in 122 last season - the most since his arrival in the big leagues in 2009 after spending close to three years in the minor leagues. He won’t speculate on how much playing time he might see this season, saying he is just appreciative of having an opportunity to play professionally.

“It’s something you dream about,” Gentry said. “Words can’t describe it. It’s just an incredible feeling seeing all that hard work pay off. It’s awesome. Last year I got to play in a lot of games. Hopefully I can get that kind of opportunity again this year.”

His hitting has improved each year, going from .118 in 11 games as a rookie to .304 last season. He had 26 RBI a year ago and is one of the league’s top base runners, stealing 32 in 39 attempts. After sitting out Texas’ run to the 2010 World Series, Gentry made the Rangers’ postseason roster the next two years, playing in six games of the seven-game classic against the Cardinals in the 2011 World Series.

“I think he’s become more of an aggressive player,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “Honestly, I think he might have been a little bit scared when he first came up, too scared to fail.I think his confidence level has gone way up, and I think last year really helped that. Offensively, he’s gotten a lot better.

“He brings a lot of different things to our team, but especially speed. It’s one of those things that is really hard to find. It’s an important part of the game teams look for and he definitely brings that.”

Gentry is part of what is still a strong nucleus of position players alongside Kinsler, Murphy, infielders Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland, and outfielder Nelson Cruz. All were key pieces in the Rangers winning their first American League Championship Series in 2010 and repeating the following year.

“Experience is huge,” Murphy said. “Regardless of how our team has changed, we still have a pretty good amount of our core back. Carrying that experience forward kind of helps you realize no situation is too big or carries too much pressure, because we’ve been through the battles and in all those situations.”

Gentry is one of seven former University of Arkansas baseball players on active MLB rosters during spring training. He credits Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn for the opportunity to play there after spending his first two years at Arkansas-Fort Smith, and said his experience in Fayetteville is one of the reasons behind his ascent through the minor leagues after being selected by the Rangers with the 298th pick in the 2006 draft.

“It’s a great school, and a lot of good players come through there,” Gentry said. “It was a great thing for me getting to go in and play against that kind of competition day in and day out.

“Getting to experience something like that really prepared me for professional baseball.”

Sports, Pages 22 on 03/05/2013

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