Several Rangers in roster limbo
Catalanotto, Metcalf, Arias among those without clear roles
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Some come to Spring Training with jobs locked up. Others try to hold on to what they have, others have dreams of taking it away.
Then there is Rangers outfielder Frank Catalanotto. His role would be ...
"Your guess is as good as mine," Catalanotto said.
Right now, it would be fifth outfielder and third-string first baseman and designated hitter. There's not much demand for that in the American League. The Rangers would trade him, but he's making $4 million this season with a $2 million buyout versus a $5 million club option for next year.
Catalanotto would fit well as a role player on a National League team, but not under the current economic conditions. His two-year numbers with the Rangers are actually solid. He has 579 at-bats and is hitting .266 with 80 runs scored, 43 doubles, 13 home runs and 65 RBIs. But he doesn't have a defensive position.
He is basically in Spring Training limbo.
"Until they tell me what my role is, all I can do is prepare and be ready to be in there," Catalanotto said.
He is not the only one facing uncertainty. The Rangers have several players who have or were projected to play vital roles in the past, but now are in danger of being forgotten or left behind.
Travis Metcalf -- The right-handed-hitting third baseman tore his left hamstring in Spring Training last year and it was terrible timing. The Rangers needed a third baseman in April when Hank Blalock did the same thing and Metcalf missed a chance to finally prove he could play regularly.
Then, this winter, he was all but taken out of the picture completely when the Rangers decided to move Michael Young to third base.
"It's not something you want to see," Metcalf admitted. "We're talking about getting an outfield glove and a first baseman's glove and see if that opens up a spot. It's tough but I'm not going to get down or hang my head. It's just another obstacle to overcome."
Joaquin Arias -- Once the Rangers' shortstop of the future, he has been lapped by Elvis Andrus. Arias injured his shoulder in Spring Training two years ago, had surgery and is still trying to come all the way back. The journey has been arduous and the Rangers still aren't sure if he can make the required throws from shortstop or third base to be a utility player. Omar Vizquel or German Duran have a better shot at that role than Arias.
"I'm quite sure that if he hadn't got hurt, there's no telling where he would be," manager Ron Washington said.
Brandon Boggs -- He filled in ably as a fourth outfielder last year when the Rangers were dealing at various times with injuries to Marlon Byrd, Milton Bradley and David Murphy. He hit .226 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 283 at-bats. Now everybody is back, Blalock has taken over the DH role and Andruw Jones is in camp. Boggs may be as low as No. 6 or 7 on the depth chart, right down there with Catalanotto.
"It's definitely not hard to think about it," Boggs said. "You come into Spring Training knowing what the situation is but you know what you have to do and you have to put it out of your mind."
Boggs has some inflammation in his right shoulder. An MRI showed nothing more serious, but Boggs did get an injection and will be limited for at least a few days.
Dustin Nippert -- Right now he is the Rangers' sixth starter behind a set rotation of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman and Brandon McCarthy. He was 2-3 with a 5.63 ERA as a starter last year. He is one of the hardest throwers in camp but he has also walked 5.24 batters per nine innings in his career as a starter. That's been his biggest problem. He gives the Rangers depth, but they have a large group of young starting pitchers in the Minors -- Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz and Omar Poveda are in camp -- that are close to roaring past him.
"I don't make those decisions," Nippert said. "I'm just ready to compete. Last year my mechanics got out of whack. I need to keep my mechanics strong and throw strikes."
Luis Mendoza -- He was the Rangers' fifth starter at the beginning of last season. Then he went 3-8 with an 8.67 ERA and had shoulder problems. At this point he is the Rangers' No. 7 starter. He might fit into the bullpen. Like Nippert, he might also be in danger of getting passed by the young kids.
"Right now we're working him as a starter and get him stretched out," Washington said. "We'll see where it goes when we start competing."
For players like these, Spring Training can be a tough time while dealing with the unknown. Catalanotto at least gets a break. He's leaving the Rangers soon to go play for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
"I figured that's where I might get some at-bats this spring," Catalanotto said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.