By Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal
MEMPHIS – Mitch Moreland got off to an early slow start in his first Triple A baseball season.
Monday night at Autozone Park against the Memphis Redbirds, Moreland showed why that start will likely soon be forgotten.
The Oklahoma City Redhawks’ outfielder, of Amory and Mississippi State fame, drove in all three of his team’s runs in a 4-3 loss in a 3-1 series win in Memphis.
That’s the production the Texas Rangers organization know they will get from Moreland, so don’t expect anyone to be overly concerned about a slow start.
“It was a fun night definitely. I needed kind of a pick-me-up game like that,” Moreland said. “It helps to help your team out. I’ve been struggling, looking for answers here and there and doing some different stuff. Hopefully I’ve found something that will work. The hitting coach and players have really tried to help me out and support me. We’ve been winning, so that’s the important thing. This will come around. It’s still early.”
Struggling isn’t something Moreland has done a lot of. He has quickly made a name for himself in the organization.
A 17th round pick in the 2007 draft, Moreland has quickly climbed the ladder and is on the doorstep of the Majors.
Named the Rangers’ 2009 minor leaguer of the year, he split the 2009 season between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. Between the two, he led the Rangers minor league system with a .331 batting average, had 16 home runs and 85 RBIs. Invited to the Arizona Fall League’s Surpirse Rafters, he hit .300 with three home runs and 21 RBIs against some of the minors’ best young pitchers.
That earned him an invite to his first big-league Spring Training. Back in Surprise for 14 games during the Spring, he hit .333 this time around.
His climb began as quickly as it has progressed. He made his professional debut with Short Season Single-A Spokane and spent 2008 in Low-A Clinton and was the Midwest League’s top hitter. His .324 clip was good for the circuit’s batting champion honor. He also had 18 home runs, drove in 99 runs and was a MWL All-Star.
Moreland, who hit .332 in three seasons at Mississippi State, went into Monday night batting .208 with a homer and four RBIs, in a minimal 24 at-bats though. Not only did he drive in three runs on a sac fly and a double, he hit another ball to the track and showcased a Major League arm gunning down John Jay at third base all the way from his right field spot to end an inning with a double play.
“He has struggled. He started slow, but he’s been working on some things with (hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh) in the cage, so hopefully he got it figured out tonight,” said Oklahoma City manager Bobby Jones. “He had a good night. Some balls inside, he’s got a tendency to push them and we’re trying to get him to turn on them a little more. The kid has got a great future.”
And back to that winning thing…the Redhawks (8-3) are doing that. They took 3 of 4 from Memphis, had won six straight and were beginning a series in Nashville on Tuesday.
It’s a team loaded with prospects, including Moreland, a Top 10 prospect in the organization.
It’s the older guys in Triple A ball who make it that much tougher than Double or Single-A baseball. He said pitchers get smarter the higher up you go.
“There are a lot of guys that are older and are veterans. They’ve been up and down and have learned the system. It’s been a learning curve,” Moreland said. “I’ve struggled with some offspeed stuff and even fastballs. I just kind of get to guessing and put a lot of pressure on myself. If I can just go back to my same old ways, hopefully I can get back going.”
Moreland is a proven commodity as a Texas farmhand. One injury in the Rangers outfield and he’d likely be the first name called up. He has also played first base, but teammate Justin Smoak, another Top 10 prospect, would likely get the call there if an opening arose. As for now, trying not to over-think things is one key to producing at this level, or at any level, Moreland said.
“I tell myself just to go out there and play ball and try to make good solid contact every time,” he said. “I feel like I’ve heard that a thousand times, since I was a little boy with my dad in the living room. But that’s really the way it is, just put all else aside, mechanics and everything and try to compete.”
Taking it all in
At age 24, Moreland took advantage of the chance to spend time at big-league camp, taking in all the advice he could from guys like Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton.
Learning from the older guys is about sorting through their advice and hanging on to what works for you too, he said, as well as remembering what doesn’t work.
“I picked their brain a lot,” Moreland said. “Some stuff works for them and not for you. You take in what you can, and remember the other stuff, because it doesn’t work. It’s been a lot of fun.
“Some of those names out there, Hamilton and what he’s been through, Vladdy, guys you’ve looked up to since you were a kid. It’s pretty neat to see those guys and get to interact with them. It’s been a lot of fun watching them and learning from them.”