We now interrupt your regularly scheduled Michael Young Trade Watch programming to deliver this important bulletin: Mitch Moreland is seemingly bulletproof, at least as far as his near-term job security is concerned. It's been mentioned time and time again this off-season that Texas is "committed" -- or some variant of the term -- to Mitch Moreland as their starting first baseman in 2011, and it's also been reported that the Rangers' reluctance to deal Moreland helped kill a potential trade for Matt Garza, but neither of these apparent realities does much to quiet the smoldering debate over exactly what he is as a player, and what he can yet become. Is he a nice, cheap, above-average piece that we can expect to see locking down first base through at least 2013-14, or a stopgap measure that the Rangers overvalued and should have dealt for Garza?
Because statistical analysis can only take you so far when discussing a player who has amassed a grand total of 173 major league plate appearances, I decided the best way to attack this question was to enlist the aid of a powerful four-man panel -- Jason Parks (BBTiA, Baseball Prospectus), Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), Jason Cole (LoneStarDugout.com), and Mike Hindman (BBTiA) -- with far greater exposure to Moreland during his formative minor league years and far superior scouting knowledge to my own, and see how each assessed Moreland as a player both now and going forward:
Over-achiever on a collision course with reality, or legit option at first base going forward? Having seen Moreland over the years, I can safely say that, yes, Moreland has far exceeded my somewhat modest expectations. Of course, that doesn’t remove the scouting reports from the equation, and there are still questions about his ability to provide long-term value at the major league level. Looking at his offensive game, I don’t see a player that is going to hit in the middle of the order, but I do see a competent major league hitter.
First of all, his approach to hitting is extremely mature and accepting of adjustment. This is key. Adjustment equals success at the major league level. Moreland’s approach allows him to work himself into favorable situations, and his hit tool allows him to exploit these opportunities to the best of his natural ability. His hands might be his finest attribute, giving him a quick, controlled trigger that can put him into the hitting zone very quickly, and allow him to maneuver the barrel accordingly. This doesn’t make him a great hitter on its own, but it affords him the opportunity to make semi-regular contact and chip away bad pitches to extend the at-bat.
Despite having serious raw strength, Moreland’s swing isn’t overly conducive for in-game power; his bat plane lacks much loft and he doesn’t always fire through his second extension. He should be able to hit 10-15 bombs, with 20-25 doubles during a season, with, let’s say, a ~.275 average (at best) and a ~.360 OBP. When you factor in his average-at-best defense at first base, what does that give you? It gives you a solid major leaguer, but not a player with a ton of value at 1B/DH.
I think Moreland is legit, as in, I think he will produce at the major league level. But he’s not legit if you think he is the first baseman of the future, and he’s not legit if you think Moreland is the missing ingredient in the lineup. All of that said, Moreland has proved doubters wrong for years, including the Rangers (don’t forget, Moreland was seen by many as a relief pitcher rather than a position player). His tools give him a modest ceiling, but his baseball intelligence and ability to adjust to the level of competition will push the tools to the limit of their function.
I'm a big fan of Moreland, he's come against a ton of odds to get where he's gotten, but at the same time, I don't think there's much growth in him. He can really hit, but he doesn't do the other stuff expected for an everyday first baseman. It's average power at best, and he's not an on-base guy in a big way so when you add it all up, he's no more then a second-division starter for the position, and I don't think he'll get better than he is. I will say, I think the platoon issue has been over-stated, as his splits in the minors were rarely offensive. He's the kind of guy who basically holds down the position, and you're not upset with it, but you are looking for something better. As for the both sides of the ball thing, it's first base ... who really cares about the defense that much?
What has impressed me most about Moreland is his ability to make adjustments at the plate. It’s a large part of why he has developed from former 17th-round pick/potential lefty reliever to big league first baseman. He has a nice line-drive stroke to go with good pitch recognition and a feel for the strike zone. The hit tool and power are both decent –– perhaps a tick above average –– but they aren’t elite tools. While he didn’t play much against lefties (23 PA) in the majors last season, I’ve always felt he sees the ball well and takes good hacks against fellow southpaws. I think he could be adequate against left-handers if the Rangers choose to give him more at-bats against them next season.
I thought he did a good enough job at first base in Arlington, particularly since he’d mostly been a right fielder over the last two seasons. He showed strong instincts, but the tools don’t stand out. I’d say he’s about an average defender at first. His best defensive tool by far is his plus arm, and that obviously isn’t going to come into play very often at first base.
Overall, I think Moreland can solidify himself as a solid second-division regular. He’s not flashy, and the upside isn’t incredible, but he’s definitely a big-league caliber hitter. Whether he’s going to be the Rangers’ first baseman of the future –– I think that’s still up for plenty of debate.
I became a believer in Mitch Moreland about a month into his stint in Frisco back in 2009 when I saw him handle Double-A pitchers without issue and without any of the holes in his swing that I'd been hearing about. Over the years, I began to develop a rule that I don't pay much attention to what a college hitter does until he does it in Double-A, so up until that point, Moreland didn't really register with me.
In 2011, assuming he gets around 450 plate appearances, I think it's reasonable to expect Moreland to deliver a .280/.350 /.450 slash line with 12-15 homers. Given the chance to hang around and continue to get opportunities, I expect him to improve fairly significantly as the summer progresses. He was one of those guys who consistently improved his results with each passing month at each level as a minor leaguer, regularly turning in huge Augusts.
I think there's probably a 60 percent chance that Moreland turns out to be a squarely average first baseman, a 20 percent chance he blossoms into something more (because of his track record of making adjustments and improving at each level -- in a perfect world, he's a middle-class man's Will Clark), and a 20 percent chance he bombs. I do not think that he's going to be a platoon guy in the long run because his splits coming up were always pretty even. I am not a fan of his defense at this point, but he seems to be athletic enough to figure it out given more experience and instruction at the position.
But take my assessment of Moreland -- or any prospect for that matter -- with a giant grain of salt. I simply don't do the work that the Jasons or KG does in this arena anymore and I defer to their evaluations.
[Many thanks to Kevin, Mike, Jason, and the Professor for their gracious assistance and insight. For their troubles, each will receive a stunning Casio LCD watch worth upwards of $10, a gift certificate to Taco Bueno (redeemable only after 10 p.m.), and an autographed portrait of Tim Curry in drag from the set of the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show.']