Texas Rangers: Mitch Moreland
Nick Tepesch made sure that pitch count got him an extra inning in Monday's 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians. The right-hander, one of those vying for a rotation spot, needed 34 pitches to get through three innings. He allowed two hits and nothing else.
The other thing Tepesch did: throw his changeup. It’s a pitch that he talked about this offseason as a key one if he wanted to claim a spot in the rotation. He said he threw it “six or seven times” and got some swings and misses and a ground ball out of it.
"I thought it was good," Tepesch said. "I buried one and kind of got lazy on one, but other than that it was a good pitch. I was in the zone with it and being in the zone with it is a big part of it -- just being able to command it in the zone. It’s not going to be effective if it’s not in the zone."
When he was done, Tepesch was congratulated by his teammates. On Monday, that included Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
"When I was done he came up and said good job just like the rest of my teammates," Tepesch said. "It was a cool thing to have him in camp. The biggest thing with him is he’s a winner and when you have people around like that and have a chance to talk to him and see how they do their thing, it’s always a good thing.”
Mixed results: Michael Choice's solid spring continued on Monday with a pinch-hit triple. Choice came in as a defensive substitute in the top of the sixth inning and then tripled in the bottom half. ... But while that was a good at-bat, his next one wasn't. Choice struckout on three pitches, unable to advance any runners. Choice is 4-for-10 in Cactus League games and, for the most part, has hit the ball hard, even on outs.
Web gem: Brent Lillibridge continues to make sure he's noticed early in spring training. While he didn't do much with the bat on Monday, he made a dazzling play on a ground ball hit by David Adams. Lillibridge, playing shortstop, ranged into the hole and made a long throw to first to get Adams by a step. It was an impressive play by the utility player, who continues to turn some heads.
Situational hitting: It may not have been the prettiest of hits, but Rangers' DH Mitch Moreland did his job in the second. With a runner at third and one out, Moreland hit a chopper out in front of the plate to score a hard-charging Alex Rios. It's those kinds of plays that hitting coach Dave Magadan is focused on improving this spring. Moreland got another chance in the fourth, with runners at the corners and one out. He hit a grounder to the right side and the Indians could not turn a double play, allowing Beltre to score.
Patient at-bat: Shin-Soo Choo is still looking for his first hit of spring training, but the leadoff hitter got on base for the first time in a Cactus League game on Monday, drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch in the third.
Briefly: Former Ranger Jeff Francoeur had two hits and two RBIs against his old team. ... Alex Rios was 2-for-2 and is now 3-for-8 in Cactus League games. ... Jurickson Profar beat out a throw to first in the eighth to drive in a run.
LF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
SS Brent Lillibridge
1B Prince Fielder (L)
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Alex Rios
DH Mitch Moreland (L)
C J.P. Arencibia
2B Rougned Odor (L)
CF Leonys Martin (L)
RHP Colby Lewis
RHP Nick Tepesch
LHP Jimmy Reyes*
RHP Randy Henry*
RHP Doug Mathis*
LHP Aaron Poreda
RHP Matt West
LHP Pedro Figueroa
CF Nyjer Morgan (L)
2B Mike Aviles
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
RF Ryan Raburn
DH Jason Giambi (L)
LF Jeff Francoeur
1B David Adams
SS Elliot Johnson (S)
C Luke Carlin (S)
RHP Corey Kluber
RHP Carlos Carrasco
RHP Vinnie Pestano
RHP David Aardsma
LHP Josh Outman
RHP Blake Wood
RHP CC Lee
LF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
SS Elvis Andrus
1B Prince Fielder (L)
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Alex Rios
RF Mitch Moreland (L)
C J.P. Arencibia
CF Michael Choice
2B Kensuke Tanaka (L)
RHP Alexi Ogando
RHP Jose Contreras
RHP Matt West
RHP Cory Burns
RHP Nate Adcock
LHP Pedro Figueroa
RHP Armando Rodriguez
RF Norichika Aoki (L)
2B Jason Donald
1B Eric Hosmer (L)
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon (L)
C Salvador Perez
3B Mike Moustakas (L)
CF Lorenzo Cain
SS Christian Colon
RHP James Shields
LHP Chris Dwyer
RHP Jason Adam
RHP Sugar Ray Marimon
LHP Everett Teaford
RHP Michael Mariot
LHP Tim Collins
In other words: That's Mitch Moreland's best chance for more consistent at-bats against right-handed pitchers. With Prince Fielder at first base, Moreland is a player without a regular position. But he's also a left-handed bat that showed some power last year. That leaves him in the DH role, along with playing first base when Fielder needs a break or even the corner outfield spots.
Manager Ron Washington said Moreland will work with outfield coach Gary Pettis at both left and right field this spring. Moreland has played more right than left, but says he'll be out there getting used to it.
"I'm going to go out and try to play my game and get better today and try to make my team better," said Moreland, who added that he wasn't concerned that the club might trade him if they signed Cruz. "I want to get some time out there (in left and right) and get some reads. It's been a year or two since I've been out there regularly, so I think it will be a good time during spring to get a little more comfortable at both spots."
Moreland isn't likely to play against too many left-handed starters. He had a .241 batting average last year against them and hit just three of his 23 homers off lefties in 155 plate appearances. That may be a time when Washington rotates the spot, getting some half-days off for his regulars.
Washington said he plans on using that spot for Alex Rios, Adrian Beltre, Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to get some time off their feet. He may use it for other players as needed, but those four in particular are the regulars he's going to keep an eye on when they need a quick break.
"It gets them off their legs," Washington said. "They don't have to stand out on defense. It means a lot to the body. You hit and run and then you stand out there and moving. All they have to do is hit and chill until the next at-bat. Some guys can do it well, and some guys can't."
But it's one more way for the manager to try to keep his key guys fresh for the stretch run.
"I saw Colby get on his back side," Maddux said. "I've never seen Colby get on his back side. That was enlightening."
By "back side," Maddux means that Lewis is driving down the mound rather than pushing down it. As Maddux described it: "coming down the hill with force."
"If you're going to push a car that's out of gas, Colby was more like pushing a shopping cart," Maddux said. "That's how he pitched. He couldn't really get down. It was good to see him get down and drive off his back side. He hadn't been able to do it."
One day after his first live batting practice session, Lewis was pleased with the results. He said his hip felt good and that there wasn't any odd soreness. He's slated to pitch again Wednesday and will continue with the same schedule as everyone else. The one difference is he won't do much PFP (pitcher's fielding practice) just to be sure he's not putting any extra stress on that hip.
* Manager Ron Washington worked with Jurickson Profar before workouts Tuesday and said he did everything around second base but throw. Washington isn't worried about Profar's shoulder tendinitis at this point and said he's working on his footwork.
"As long as he can do all that other stuff, we’ll wait on his throwing," Washington said. "It’s only his second day in spring."
* Among the hitters already in camp ahead of Thursday's full squad workout are DH Mitch Moreland and LF Shin-Soo Choo. Both have lockers beside each other.
Most of the answer to this question is fairly obvious: Mitch Moreland was the team's first baseman last year, is still on the roster and is no longer the primary first baseman. He needs a place to play and designated hitter makes the most sense.
Moreland did provide some power in 2013, banging out a career-high 23 home runs and 60 RBIs. Having some of that power in the lineup could help. But Moreland hit just .232 last year, dropping off after starting the year strongly in April and May. Hamstring issues didn't help. Moreland himself wondered earlier this offseason if he'd still be a Ranger when spring training began.
But unless the club signs someone off the free-agent market, and that doesn't appear likely (though Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales are still out there), it could be a rotating spot.
Moreland could bat there against right-handed pitchers and some select lefties and then manager Ron Washington could utilize the spot to get some of his regulars a half-day off.
The bigger question is how many games the Rangers want Prince Fielder starting at first base. Moreland is the better defensive first baseman, so in certain matchups and situations, they could keep Fielder's bat in the lineup and also get Moreland's defense. But one plus to having the ability to mix and match at DH is that Adrian Beltre could hit there and get off his feet a bit. So could Elvis Andrus, if needed. Should Washington want to get some action for his outfield bench, he could use that position to do it.
While on paper, this may not look like a strong option, it does give the manager some flexibility. That's not a bad thing.
Holland had microfracture surgery earlier this offseason and is recovering after tripping on his boxer, Wrigley, on the stairs of his home and injuring his left knee.
Other notes from general manager Jon Daniels, who spoke to beat writers on Wednesday afternoon:
* The Rangers are still negotiating with Mitch Moreland on a contract for the 2014 season. Moreland, who is arbitration-eligible, and the club have a hearing scheduled for Feb. 19. When the two sides exchanged figures, Moreland was looking for $3.25 million and the Rangers offered $2.025 million. We'll see if the two sides can find enough common ground to avoid a hearing. The Rangers haven't had a hearing since 2000.
"I'm hopeful that we can (reach an agreement), but you get this close you have to be prepared," Daniels said. "I'm sure both sides have prepared their cases. I know we have, and hopefully we don’t have to go down that path. You have to be prepared for anything."
* Daniels said he's stayed in contact with Nelson Cruz's agent, Adam Katz, but expects the slugger to sign elsewhere.
"We check in periodically, but nothing’s changed there," Daniels said.
* Daniels indicated the Rangers aren't pursuing any right-handed bats on the free agent market at this time, opting to go internal at that spot. Those candidates include Alex Castellanos, Robinson Chirinos, and Michael Choice.
* The GM did not address anything about Tommy Hanson, though he said he hoped to add some pitching depth soon. It's likely that the club is waiting another day or two when they can place Holland on the 60-day disabled list, giving them room to put Hanson on the 40-man roster.
* Ben Rowen, the right-handed submarine pitcher, has some biceps tendinitis that will keep him from following the same schedule as the rest of the club's pitchers. But the club doesn't think he'll be too far behind.
Today's position: Bench
Perhaps Rangers fans understand more than most just how important a bench is to a contending team. It's easy for some to dismiss the bench as an afterthought. But the Rangers saw firsthand in 2010 and 2011 that a bench can make the difference in winning a championship.
Obviously, manager Ron Washington's bench includes a backup catcher. That's J.P. Arencibia, who gives Washington someone with power that he can use in the right situation. Arencibia is working on getting his average up, but if there's a time late in a game where Washington needs some punch, Arencibia could be an option.
Adam Rosales is the club's current utility man and somebody who can play a bunch of different positions. Last year with Oakland and Texas, Rosales played first base, second base, third base, shortstop and left field. He gives Washington the ability to make a late move and know that he's got somebody who can play a variety of different spots. That's extremely valuable.
Mitch Moreland also deserves a mention in this category. He could end up being the primary DH, but he's also the backup first baseman. It will be interesting to see how Washington handles Moreland, especially in games where he doesn't DH. He's such a good defender who could come in late to help the Rangers protect leads. He also has power, and that could come in handy if he's not in the lineup as a starter.
The final few outfield spots will be something to keep an eye on this spring. Michael Choice comes in as a highly-touted prospect, but he could benefit more from playing every day in the minors. Engel Beltre is an odds-on favorite to claim one of the outfield spots because the organization believes he has a bright future and he's out of options. Don't count out Jim Adduci, either. And we'll see some other candidates attempt to crack the bench as well.
OUTLOOK: Washington has some flexibility on the bench and some power. Beltre gives the skipper some speed, too. If it lacks anything, it's someone who is a known and confident pinch-hitter with a track record. But perhaps that person is still out there and someone the club looks to acquire before Opening Day. Or maybe some of the internal candidates really show that they're made of in spring and make the decision for the coaching staff.
Today's position: Designated hitter
At this point in the offseason, manager Ron Washington will have the ability to rotate his DH spot a bit in 2014. I say "at this point" because the offseason is not over and the Rangers could certainly end up adding a bat. But if they stick with the lineup they've got, Mitch Moreland becomes the leading candidate to get the most at-bats as the DH.
Moreland was the club's regular first baseman in 2013, but the trade for Prince Fielder changes all of that for 2014. The club has insisted that Fielder is the everyday first baseman, meaning Moreland would get more of his at-bats as DH and perhaps some in right field when he's not filling in every once in a while for Fielder.
It will be interesting to see how Washington utilizes the DH spot. He worked hard last season to get some time off for his regulars, and an argument could be made that it helped give them the energy needed to win seven straight to end the regular season and at least stay in the hunt for the postseason.
OUTLOOK: With the DH spot not defined, Fielder could get some at-bats there with Moreland, the better defensive player, at first. But Washington could rotate his infielders, including Adrian Beltre and his hamstrings, through that position as well. It's a way to give players half-days off without forcing them to sit for the whole game.
But it's also a spot that general manager Jon Daniels and his crew could attempt to address if there's a free agent bat that makes sense on a short-term deal. One name you'll hear is Kendrys Morales, who is still looking for a job in late January. But there are others, too. The Rangers still have time to survey the market and see what's out there. We'll see what happens.
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said because left field in Arlington is different than other parks -- and deeper -- he wants some consistency. So that's Shin-Soo Choo's spot and it's unlikely that Moreland, who doesn't have much experience in left field, would play there.
But Washington has made it clear that he wants Moreland to get experience at a variety of positions in spring training so that he's prepared to play first base, the corner outfield spots and get some at-bats at designated hitter.
"He'll get his at-bats," Washington said.
Moreland said he'll go to Arizona ready to do whatever is asked of him. He has played enough in right field that he doesn't expect it to be a tough adjustment. He'll work with outfield coach Gary Pettis and is expected to run some drills with the outfielders.
"I just need to get out there and get some reps in," Moreland said about playing outfield. "It's something I work on. We've got plenty of time in spring training to get out there and get some work done. I've always put myself in position where I'm going to make the most of my training."
Moreland was in right field for all or part of 34 games in 2011 and played the corner spots at times in the minors, too.
Pitchers Neal Cotts, Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando, along with first baseman Mitch Moreland, will file for arbitration Tuesday. If the player and club don't agree on a contract for next season, the two sides will exchange figures on a one-year deal Friday.
Typically, deals get done between the time figures are exchanged and a hearing date is set. If both sides can't negotiate a deal, an arbitrator hears each side's arguments and chooses between the club's figure or the player's figure. There is no in-between at that point. But trading offers usually results in both sides finding enough common ground to strike a deal and get a contract signed before any hearing is necessary.
The Rangers have quite a streak going of avoiding arbitration hearings. In fact, it's never happened in the Jon Daniels era. The last Ranger to go to a hearing was Lee Stevens in 2000.
Matt Vinnola, the club's director of baseball operations and the point person in most of the arbitration cases, has been in contact with the agents and will continue his discussion this week and the next few weeks in an attempt to reach an agreement. The closest the Rangers have come to a hearing was Mike Napoli prior to the 2012 season. Vinnola was ready to go argue the club's case, but shortly before the hearing was scheduled to commence, Napoli's agent, Brian Grieper, and Daniels reached an agreement.
For Moreland, Feliz and Ogando, this is their first year of arbitration eligibility. Cotts is in his final year and will be a free agent next season. Sometimes, the Rangers have used the arbitration period to get longer-term deals done with some players. That could include packaging all of the arbitration years together so as to avoid going through this after each season (they did that with the final two of Josh Hamilton's arbitration-eligible years, for instance), or attempting to get the player under contract for at least one of what would be his free agent years in addition to the arbitration years.
It's unclear if the Rangers will try that in these cases. Feliz missed most of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be the club's closer. Moreland's role has changed with the arrival of Prince Fielder and he could see time as a DH and back up Fielder at first and even play some corner outfield. Ogando heads into spring stretched out as a starter and is penciled in as a member of the rotation.
Well, according to one general manager, Moreland isn’t likely to go anywhere. Brewers GM Doug Melvin, according to the Journal-Sentinel this weekend, said: "Texas, at this point, is not willing to talk about (Mitch) Moreland.”
Moreland said he talked to assistant general manager Thad Levine and manager Ron Washington shortly after the trade and was told that his role would be changing. Moreland knows he could be inserted in the lineup at first base, outfield or designated hitter.
Today's position: First base
For the first time since 2007, the Rangers go into spring training with a first baseman who has put up some of the best numbers in the league at his position.
Not since Mark Teixeira was the club's first baseman going into that 2007 season -- he would later be traded, of course, in a deal that helped reshape the franchise -- has the team had a player that projects for big-time power and production from a spot in the field where you'd expect to have it.
That's not a shot at anyone in particular, just a fact that Texas has run through a gaggle of first baseman, but hasn't been able to find one who can produce consistently since Teixeira left. Enter Prince Fielder. He hit .279 with 25 homers and 106 RBIs and an .819 OPS. And those numbers were some of the worst of his career.
Texas as a team at first base in 2013: 25 homers, 65 RBIs and a .223 batting average. Fielder immediately makes that position a whole lot better. No team in the AL had a lower batting average at first base than Texas. The club was 10th in runs scored at first (the only playoff team worse than that was Tampa Bay) and second-to-last in OPS.
Now, the club comes into spring projecting as one of the better clubs at first base. Fielder should enjoy hitting at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington 81 regular season games a year and when he's not playing the position, the Rangers should still have power with Mitch Moreland in the lineup there.
Moreland, who has had the job the past few seasons, hit .232 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs. He was hitting the ball well before a hamstring injury, so you wonder what kind of season it might have been if not for that. The Rangers wonder too, which is why they aren't going to trade him for just anything. And at this point, Moreland's defense and power is a nice thing to have backing up Fielder at that spot. Moreland hit just .185 with runners in scoring position, so improving in the clutch is likely on his offseason improvement list.
OUTLOOK: How can you not think it looks bright? Fielder brings power and production in the form of a middle-of-the-lineup left-handed hitter. He's slated to bat third, though manager Ron Washington has all spring to tinker with that. Fielder is a feared hitter and with the right-field porch in Arlington, he should be able to increase that home run total.
Moreland gives the club another option -- perhaps allowing Fielder to DH some -- at first and has improved defensively. They need more from Moreland at the plate, but the pressure won't be on him as the primary first baseman anymore.
The position has become an offensive strength of the club with one trade. It cost them All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler (and some money too, in that Fielder doesn't come cheap). But it's a big boost to the lineup.
Today's resolution: More first base production
This has been a Ranger resolution for years now without much success. Ever since the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira, a trade that helped reshape the franchise and lead it to its best years ever, the club has been without a truly productive first baseman.
It's a long list of players that have attempted to fill that spot. Chris Davis got a few chances and didn't reach his potential until leaving for the Baltimore Orioles. Justin Smoak was the heir apparent, but was dealt as part of the Cliff Lee deal in early July 2010. And many others have attempted to give the club some production, only to struggle with consistency.
You can't help but wonder what Mitch Moreland's season would have been like had he not hurt his hamstring. He was hitting .288 in June when he strained the hamstring. He never found his rhythm after that and finished 2013 with a .177 average in September as the Rangers went 5-15 to start the month and ended up in a Game 163. Still, Moreland had 23 homers and 60 RBIs, both career highs. And that may be one big reason the club is insisting on getting full value if they deal him. At this point, they don't have to, either.
In order to address this major need, the Rangers traded All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder. The blockbuster gives Texas a proven player at first base who has a powerful and productive bat. But with Moreland, the Rangers have some options. They could shift Fielder to designated hitter at times and play Moreland, the better defensive player, at first. Still, the Rangers have said repeatedly that Fielder is their first baseman.
But the Fielder acquisition all of a sudden gives the club a chance to vastly improve on some disturbing first-base offensive numbers. Texas scored 69 runs from first base in 2013, which was 10th in the AL. Only the Tampa Bay Rays generated fewer runs from that position and still made the postseason. The Rangers first base batting average was .223, the worst in the AL.
Fielder brings a career .286 batting average and an average of 35 homers and 107 RBIs per 162 games to Arlington. That should certainly help the Rangers finally make good on a longstanding resolution.
The most likely scenario is Choo leading off for this team, taking the role of what was going to be Leonys Martin. The young outfielder has struggled in winter ball and in Choo, they would get a veteran bat to set the table. He's patient. He gets on base. And he sets a tone. Seems right to lead off the Rangers' lineup. So if Choo does, in fact, lead off, how might the lineup look? Here's one possibility:
LF/RF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
SS Elvis Andrus (R)
3B Adrian Beltre (R)
1B Prince Fielder (L)
LF/RF Alex Rios (R)
DH Mitch Moreland (L)
C Geovany Soto (R)
CF Leonys Martin (L)
2B Jurickson Profar (S)
Check out the balance in that lineup, which would make it difficult for opposing managers late in games. I put Profar at the bottom because he can get on base and help turn the lineup over, but if Martin starts hitting, he could go there too.
I didn't give Rios or Choo a set position because both have played the corner spots. It could be as simple as seeing where each is comfortable. Choo has played a lot more right field than left in his career (when not in center), but Rios is more comfortable in right. We'll see.
So what if Martin lights it up at spring training and appears ready to handle the leadoff spot? What about this option:
CF Leonys Martin
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Prince Fielder
LF/RF Shin-Soo Choo
LF/RF Alex Rios
C Geovany Soto
DH Mitch Moreland
2B Jurickson Profar
You could also put Choo third and Beltre fifth. Like I said, plenty of options.
I still think Choo as the leadoff hitter makes the most sense, but he brings the attributes the Rangers wanted on offense to help them go about producing more runs on a consistent basis. He can be a tone-setter, which wouldn't hurt Fielder and Beltre in the middle of that lineup.
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