Texas Rangers' Delino DeShields practices running the bases during spring training baseball practice Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel
March 02, 2016

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) Rougned Odor was struggling so much that the Texas Rangers sent the young second baseman back to the minor leagues five weeks into last season.

At the same time, converted second baseman Delino DeShields was just getting his chance to be an everyday player before eventually becoming the leadoff-hitting center fielder.

Who knew that they would end up doing something last done in the American League by the 1926 New York Yankees team that included established stars Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

By the end of last season, when the Rangers were AL West champions, Odor and DeShields had both started more than 100 games. Texas was only the eighth playoff team in major league history with two players who began that season 22 years old or younger and then started 100 games.

The last such AL duo: middle infielders Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koening for that Yankees team 90 years ago that lost 3-2 in Game 7 of the World Series after Ruth was caught stealing to end the game. The Atlanta Braves had Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward in 2012.

Now both a year older, and with that division-winning experience, DeShields and Odor are determined to keep getting better.

''Coming in, I had a chip on my shoulder, I didn't know anybody, so it was kind of a clean slate, fresh start, and I wanted to make an impression here,'' said DeShields, whose namesake father played for five teams over 13 major league seasons. ''At the beginning of the season, I knew I wasn't going to play every day. I just told myself if I got an opportunity to play that I was going to take advantage.''

The Rangers obtained DeShields during the winter-meetings draft of unprotected players in December 2014. He he had to either remain on the big league roster all season or be offered back to the Houston Astros for $25,000.

Odor was the youngest player in the majors when he made his debut in 2014 at age 20, playing 114 games for Texas after his promotion from Double-A.

After hitting .144 in 90 at-bats to start last season, Odor was sent back to the minors. He hit .292 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in his 91 games after getting called back up in mid-June, on the same day DeShields went on the disabled list for three weeks after hurting his left hamstring when he slipped on the warning track chasing a fly ball.

''That never happened to me before,'' Odor said of the early struggles last season. ''Now I know how to handle it.''

Rangers manager Jeff Banister wants both youngsters to come out of spring training healthy, in great baseball shape and with a clear mind and focus to start the season.

''You look back at Odor last year, in spring training, and then you kind of judge his spring training based on the first part of the season, probably his approach was he didn't have as much urgency in spring training, or intensity in himself,'' Banister said.

The manager also wants both players to put an emphasis on improving defensively. He knows getting players to work on hitting isn't a problem.

''That's the fun part,'' Banister said. ''Don't just use defense as a means to get to the plate. ... These guys, they've got terrific skill sets to be plus-defenders.''

Both hit .261 last season, when Odor had 16 home runs. But he also had 17 errors, matching the most by a major league second baseman.

DeShields stole 25 bases, and had six errors in the outfield after being exclusively a second baseman from 2011-13 in the Astros organization. The speedster is working on throws and playing in closer this spring.

''Last year was only my second year playing (the outfield), so I kind of wanted to be more safe than sorry without trying to do something that I was uncomfortable with during the season and have it kind of blow up on me and the team,'' he said. ''When we hit BP and stuff, I kind of scoot in a little bit.''

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