Lazy Comps: Mitch Moreland
Lazy Comps are comparisons, and they are lazy because it’s not really in-depth scouting.
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Mitch Moreland’s surge at the plate has gotten the attention of all Rangers fans. Moreland has always been a point of contention here at SDI. There was the “Mitch Moreland and Meaningless Homeruns” and “Chris Davis vs. Mitch Moreland” by James Holland. “The Curious Case of Mitchell Moreland” by Jeff Johnson on New Year’s Day this year. Back in March, Jeff also correctly asserted that Moreland would be a difference maker.
Just a few days ago, Peter Ellwood said “Let’s Talk About Mitch Moreland’s Hot Streak”. And then Moreland’s grit won over the SDI villain, Eddie Middlebrook. Eddie now claims to have “99 Problems But Mitch Ain’t One”.
When I started the Lazy Comps series, one of the first requests was Mitch Moreland. I have never been enthralled with Moreland, and I was neither very enthused about spilling a few hundred words on what Moreland could be.
In fact, whenever I tried to think about a ceiling for Moreland all I could conjure up would be that Moreland has already exceeded his ceiling projection. Moreland was a 17th round draft pick. Ian Kinsler (also a 17th round pick) and Derek Holland (25th round pick, a draft and follow before it was done away with) are the only Rangers of recent memory that have made it, after being picked beyond the tenth round or so.
Moreland making it to the majors in itself was an accomplishment. That’s why I feel Moreland has already passed his ceiling, he’s exceeded expectations, so to expect him to continue to improve is somewhat unrealistic. But, 2013 is quickly becoming the ‘Year of Mitch’.
Moreland was drafted after his junior season at Mississippi State. Moreland garnered interest out of college as a left-handed pitcher who could hit 93 on the gun. Despite being drafted and having success as a first baseman, he worked as a pitcher during fall instructional league in 2008.
I always figured Moreland would flame out and go the way of Matt West (converted third baseman, who strikes out a lot guys and routinely gets injured). “It’s a lot of fun, toeing it up,” Moreland said. “You get to compete and the game is in your hands when you’re on the mound. You get to control everything. I don’t know if you ever get it out of your system.”
Shortly after he was drafted, Jon Daniels drew up a plan to see what Moreland could do on the mound. “We started to script what that might look like, but we didn’t force it on him,” Daniels said. “He just said, ‘Listen, guys, I believe in myself. Give me one year, and if I don’t hit, I’m open-minded.’ And he went out and hit .330 or .340, and he was the minor league player of the year. We just said, ‘All right.’ ”
Moreland landed in the perfect situation with the Rangers, whose fans are ever-forgiving and overlooking deficiencies. A strained hamstring last June interrupted a similar hot streak that Moreland is enjoying now. There’s the ‘he’s never truly had a shot’ and also the ‘he never get to play everyday’ narratives.
Moreland is nearly at 1200 plate appearances. Chris Davis got 953 before being shipped out. Justin Smoak got 275 plate appearances as a Ranger before centerpiecing the Cliff Lee deal, and now after 1562 career plate appearances Smoak is still scuffling. Jarrod Saltalamacchia also factored into the first base carousel during the ‘Moreland Era’, and he only received 725 plate appearances before being traded for about 1/3 of what the Rangers paid for him.
In other words, Moreland is the last man standing, he has outlasted several other similar players who have gone one to do more (Davis) and also to do much less (Smoak). Also, the Rangers don’t have much coming soon in the mold of first base prospects to possibly supplant Moreland.
Mike Olt isn’t getting work at first base. The Rangers have routinely chosen Moreland over other options, and given his growth streak at the plate it appears that he will continue to man first base for the near future. He is under contract through 2016.
Those numbers for Shelton are actually respectable, but they were mainly accumulated in three solid seasons in Detroit. After those three glorious years, Shelton missed the entire 2007 campaign, then hooked on with your Texas Rangers for 117 plate appearances for the 2008 Rangers.
Shelton’s .663 OPS didn’t earn him much of a look in Texas. In 2009, Shelton played in 9 games for the Mariners, and that was it for the MLB level. Then he played one year of AAA ball with Houston before hanging it up.
Basically, the floor for Mitch is that he just stops hitting and fades away. I know that seems unthinkable given his current hot streak, but I’m sure Tiger fans thought they had something in their 25 year old first baseman who sported a 132 OPS+ in his first full season.
LaRoche sports a similar slash line to Shelton’s. But LaRoche’s career has lasted about three times longer than Shelton’s. When LaRoche was at the point where Moreland is at now, he was raking. In his third year with the Braves, he hit 32 home-runs (a career high until last year) and posted a .915 OPS.
LaRoche was available in the free agent market for most of last winter before re-signing with Washington. He was available due to the cost of a draft pick being associated with his possible signing. If Texas didn’t have to give up a pick, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they would have offered him a deal.
However I remember that most people in the Twitterverse did not see the reasoning to blow a pick and a free agent deal on a player that was only marginally better than Moreland. And that’s where I’ll leave this, Moreland’s ceiling is only a small margin higher than where he is now. But of course, if Moreland wants to prove me wrong, I’ll be more than happy to continue my steady diet of ‘Mitch Moreland Crow’.