The Texas Rangers need a left-handed hitting power bat in the middle of their lineup. They've needed this key ingredient to a productive offense since Josh Hamilton exited for the Los Angeles Angels following the 2012 season.
It was the reason they acquired Prince Fielder this offseason, hoping he'd bring at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs to an offense that was desperately trying to find some consistency. Those plans went awry as Fielder, who struggled to start his Rangers career, has now undergone spinal fusion surgery that will likely end his season.
From the moment Fielder arrived, manager Ron Washington had him penciled into the lineup at the 3-hole with Adrian Beltre protecting him. So the manager figured he'd try the same formula, just with a different power left-handed bat.
Enter Mitch Moreland. Here's a guy that this offseason admitted he wasn't sure he'd be a Ranger when 2014 began. Almost as soon as the Rangers completed the trade for Fielder, the Moreland rumors began. Opposing teams figured he was expendable and perhaps they could take a chance on a player who hadn't quite fully blossomed despite his age (he's 28 years old). But the Rangers didn't find a full-time DH. They tried to secure Nelson Cruz as his market fell off, but the slugger decided to take the Orioles' offer, which included more time in the outfield than the Rangers wanted to commit to him. The price tag, which at the time included draft-pick compensation, was too high for Kendrys Morales.
So the club decided to stick with Moreland, traded for the young Michael Choice and let Washington utilize the DH spot as he saw fit. That's how Moreland got most of his early-season at-bats. But with Fielder out, first base is clearly Moreland's job. Sure, the club will look around at options. But they don't want to trade their prized prospects, which limits the trade landscape. At the same time, it creates a major opportunity for Moreland.
The first baseman, selected by the Rangers in the 17th round in 2007, has never hit in the 3-hole in his career. Washington, though, has to try everything these days. With so many injuries, players are going to be asked to do things they haven't before now. As the manager notes, you never know how a player is going to react to a new role on the team or a spot in the batting order unless you try it.
For most of Moreland's career, he's been a No. 6, 7 or 9 hitter. He's actually had at least one at-bat at every single spot in the order but leadoff. However, the vast majority of his at-bats have come at or near the bottom of the order. That's not the case anymore.
Moreland has played the last four games in the 3-hole, batting .250 with four RBIs. The four RBIs are already one-quarter of the total Fielder put together in the first 42 games of the season, most as the No. 3 hitter.
Moreland, a left-handed hitter, must show he can handle left-handed pitchers, something he has normally not had a consistent opportunity to do. He's just 3-for-18 so far this season, but that's a small sample size. Still, that's the key to Moreland's ability to fully seize the job. He's been a platoon player for most of his career because he can't consistently hit lefties. But at this point, the Rangers don't really have a viable backup at first base. Catchers Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos can both play the position, but it's risky to expose your catcher there unless really needed.
So it's Moreland's job for now. And like Rougned Odor, Choice, Gimenez and a host of others, including a large chunk of the pitching staff, Moreland gets an opportunity to show something thanks to all the injuries.
He's the No. 3 hitter and first baseman with Beltre protecting him. It was supposed to be Fielder's job. Can Moreland at least somewhat fill his shoes?