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Nomar Mazara’s stellar debut is bright spot for Rangers amid injuries

Rangers rookie Nomar Mazara didn’t take long to make a strong impression in his MLB debut on Sunday.

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Nomar Mazara didn’t take long to make a strong impression. Summoned to the majors due to Shin-soo Choo’s calf strain, the 20-year-old prospect was thrust into the lineup immediately, and collected three hits including a homer in his big league debut against the Angels Sunday, accounting for the Rangers’ lone run in a 3–1 loss.

The three hits came in Mazara’s first three plate appearances against Jered Weaver, who allowed just three other hits to the rest of the Rangers’ lineup while working six innings in his 2016 debut. Mazara poked a single to centerfield in the first, roped another to right-center in the third, and then punished a 79 mph meatball in the fifth, with StatCast estimating the shot shot at 443 feet. Here’s a supercut of the three hits:

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Facing reliever Joe Smith, Mazara grounded out in his fourth plate appearance. Weaver had kind words to say about the rookie after the game. Via MLB’s T.R. Sullivan

"I knew nothing, really. Not much about him. He kind of had a long swing, and he had a good approach. It took me more than three at-bats to figure him out. He dumped a couple in, did a good job of keeping his hands back, and the heater in—if we’re still calling it fastballs—the pitch in to him was not a bad pitch."

Said Rangers manager Jeff Banister, “Three hits and a home run ... that’s a special day. Great poise, he walked up there in the first inning and didn’t get caught up. He stayed with his approach.”

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It appears that Banister will have plenty of opportunities to call Mazara’s number. Choo suffered a Grade 2 strain of his right calf while warming up on Saturday, an injury that will sideline him for four to six weeks, making this the second year out of three in which he will wind up missing a significant portion of the Rangers’ season; he played in just 123 games in 2014 while missing time due to elbow and ankle injuries. While the team could have recalled the more experienced Joey Gallo, a 22-year-old slugger with more high-level experience (36 games in the majors plus 56 at Triple A) than Mazara (23 games at Triple A), the latter’s primary position is rightfield, the same as Choo’s, whereas Gallo, a third baseman who scrambled to learn leftfield on the fly last year, has played rightfield just once professionally. The Rangers apparently want Gallo to focus on third base and on taming his long swing, via which he struck out 196 times in 497 PA at three stops last year, including 50 strikeouts in 123 PA at the major league level while batting .204/.301/.417 with six homers.

The Dominican-born Mazara doesn’t turn 21 until April 26. He’s been on the prospect radar ever since setting a record with a controversial $4.95 million signing bonus as a 16-year-old in 2011, the year before international spending limits went into effect. The 6'4", 195-pound lefty swinger is viewed as a well-rounded hitter who manages the strike zone well, has an advanced approach at the plate, uses the whole field and has more raw power than his home run total suggests, albeit not Gallo’s light-tower power; he hit 14 homers split between Double A Frisco and Triple A Round Rock last year while batting a combined .296/.366/.443. Defensively, he has a plus arm and decent range in rightfield, but below-average speed.

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Mazara placed above Gallo on both the Baseball Prospectus and ESPN preseason prospect lists, ranking fifth and ninth, respectively; Gallo was ahead of him on the Baseball America and lists, ranking eighth on both the latter and on BP's list. The Baseball Prospectus 2016 annual gushed about Mazara: “The fluidity of his swing path—supplied by long arms and a physical frame—gives an effortless look to a left-handed stroke that elicits some Will Clark comparisons … the hitting tools [give] him legitimate middle-order, All-Star upside.”

Via researcher Ryan Spaeder, Mazara (who is 20 years and 350 days old) is the youngest player to collect three hits in his major league debut since June 8, 2010, when Mike (now Giancarlo) Stanton did so at 20 years, 212 days. Via the Play Index, Mazara is the fifth Ranger to collect there hits in his major league debut, after George Wright (April 10, 1982 against the Indians), Jeff Kunkel (July 23, 1984 against the Orioles), Rusty Greer (May 16, 1994 against the A’s) and Gallo (June 2, 2015 against the White Sox). Wright, Greer and Gallo all homered in their games as well, as did six six other Rangers, including Jurickson Profar (September 2, 2012 against the Indians) and Ruben Sierra (June 1, 1986 against the Royals).

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​Choo’s injury wasn’t the only one to befall the Rangers on Saturday. Starting catcher Robinson Chirinos sustained a fractured right forearm after being hit by a Garrett Richards pitch; adding insult to injury, he was ruled to have swung at the pitch, so he wasn’t awarded first base. He eventually flied out but was removed from the game once both he and the Rangers realized the severity of the injury. He’ll miss 10 to 12 weeks, which hurts additionally because backup catcher Chris Gimenez is already on the DL with an infection in his left ankle. Bryan Holaday, who was acquired from the Tigers last month, started on Sunday and figures to get the bulk of the playing time until Gimenez returns.

Choo’s injury also comes while the team is still without Josh Hamilton, who is out until at least mid-May as he recovers from off-season knee surgery. His slow recovery led the team to sign Ian Desmond to play leftfield, but Desmond is off to just a 4-for-27 start. All of which is to say that if Mazara holds his own during Choo’s injury, he could stick around once the team is closer to full strength.

The Rangers are off to a 3–4 start, but not all is lost. Beyond Mazara’s stellar debut, Sunday afternoon’s action produced this impromptu James Brown imitation from Adrian Beltre following the third baseman’s eighth-inning double:

It's always good to see Beltre stay on the scene.