Editor's Note: With spring training rapidly approaching, let's take a look at 10 issues facing the club as it arrives in Surprise, Arizona.
Today's issue: It's time for Mitch Moreland to fully seize the first base job.
NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas -- The Texas Rangers have too many infielders and not enough spots for them. It's a problem most teams would love to have heading into spring training. As things sit now, the Rangers plan to have Moreland at first, Ian Kinsler at second, Adrian Beltre at third and Elvis Andrus at shortstop. That leaves, at least for now, highly-touted prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt on the outside and likely starting the season in Triple-A to get every day at-bats.
Of course, the news of the Miami New Times report that involved Nelson Cruz's name in a notebook of those that purchased "products" from a Miami clinic that deals in PEDs could change things. If Cruz is suspended, that could alter what the club does with Moreland in that maybe he's in a rotation in right field or something.
"I’ll do whatever I need to do to help the team win," Moreland said Tuesday night at a Rangers Winter Caravan stop in North Richland Hills.
But for the purposes of this blog entry, let's assume he's at first base. And as of right now, that's where he is anyway.
Moreland is getting another shot to seize the first base job and insist that it doesn't go to anyone else. It might be his last shot. Moreland is 27 years old. He had one of his better seasons as a professional last year, hitting .275 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs. But with Profar waiting for his chance to play every day and Olt getting chances to play some first base, Moreland needs to show something now. Just because Kinsler wasn't ready to move to first base to start the season doesn't mean it can't happen at some point.
"I feel like every day I go out and try to prove that," Moreland said. "I have since I’ve been here. It might have had different results than I wanted, but I go out every day and try to prove I can be the best player I can."
One of Moreland's main goal: Start hitting left-handed pitching better when given the chance. Lance Berkman, a switch-hitter, won't be ready to play first when the season begins as he continues to rehab his knee. That's why Moreland has spent time working with a left-handed batting practice pitcher this offseason. He knows he must get better against lefties. Olt continues to learn the position, but if the club wants him to play every day, a trip to the minors makes more sense. So Moreland should get some more chances against lefties, and it's an opportunity for him to show that he can take an even bigger step from last season.
In his career, Moreland is a .232 hitter against left-handed pitchers. In 2012, he hit .239 against lefties.
"I felt like since I hadn’t really seen them a whole lot the last couple of years, I needed to work on it and get to where I felt really comfortable in there with them," Moreland said.
Moreland's glove work has been solid enough that manager Ron Washington hasn't hesitated to insert him into games late. He had a .996 fielding percentage in 2012, the best mark of his career (and fourth-best in the AL among those that played at least 90 games at first). Overall, his WAR was just 0.2 (Wins Above Replacement), one of the lower marks for any regular first baseman.
At his age and with the other prospects in the system, now is the time for Moreland to force the Rangers to make other choices. If he plays well, perhaps they look at other options to get Profar in the lineup (or even delay getting him in the lineup). If he doesn't, they could look again at making changes at first base that could result in either Olt or Profar getting some more time or perhaps Moreland ending up in right field.
So we'll be keeping an eye on Moreland, who has shown flashes when healthy. If he can show power and hit better against lefties, he could become a critical contributor in the lineup. If he doesn't, the club isn't likely to be extremely patient.