Rangers believe that Moreland is the answer
The Texas Rangers love Mitch Moreland. Makeup. Work ethic. Toughness. Pretty much the whole package.
They also think he's got a chance to be a really good Major League hitter. With so much attention devoted to the Rangers' interest in Prince Fielder, Moreland has become something of a forgotten man this offseason.
All along, though, the Rangers kept reminding reporters that they still think highly of him. It's just that Fielder is, well, special.
"When you're talking about a guy like Prince, we had to at least consider it," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels wrote in an e-mail. "But it was more about adding a unique offensive producer than a lack of faith in Mitch. If he's healthy we like how he fits the club."
Moreland was one of Daniels' first Draft picks, one of the players in the group he gathered in the 2007 Instructional League and told them they were going to be part of something special.
At last count, two dozen of those players have gotten to the big leagues or been used in trades to acquire other big leaguers and help the Rangers win back-to-back American League championships.
Moreland did a very nice job after being summoned from the Minor Leagues in late July 2010. Remember his three-run home run in Game 3 of the World Series? He hit .348 in his first taste of postseason baseball.
If you look at his 2011 numbers, you might wonder why the Rangers like him so much. He had just 16 home runs in 464 at-bats and batted .094 in the playoffs.
But his season really was two different seasons. In mid-June, he was cruising along nicely, hitting .300 with eight home runs. And then he suffered a wrist injury, and his season fell apart.
He continued to play and didn't say much about an injury that would force him to have offseason surgery. He batted just .133 the final five weeks and hit a chilling .120 in the postseason. He struggled badly enough that he got just two starts in the World Series and was unable to get himself turned around.
Still, the Rangers like him. He's just 26 years old and has enough physical gifts, along with plenty of intangibles, that separate the guys who make it from those who don't.
Daniels points out that he had a .280 batting average and an .865 OPS in his first 400 big league plate appearances -- before the wrist injury.
"We're betting on him bouncing back," Daniels wrote. "He's got the ability to shrink the strike zone and put up consistently quality [at-bats]. His defense and his work against lefties are areas we want him to improve on, but he's got the type of work ethic that makes us think he will."
Moreland was drafted in the 17th round of the 2007 Draft and had tryouts in both the outfield and on the mound before getting to the big leagues.
A few weeks after his 25th birthday, he hit the kind of home run that every young kid dreams of hitting. His three-run dinger in the second inning of Game 3 of the 2010 World Series led the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over the Giants.
That night, he told reporters about his tiny hometown of Amory, Miss., and when someone asked about the hot spots, he mentioned it had a nice Walmart. However, the real gathering spot was a Wendy's parking lot.
"It's a nice place to live," he said.
He also said that talent will take a guy pretty far, but that luck and timing are important, too. If the Mariners hadn't insisted that Justin Smoak be included in the Cliff Lee deal, he's not sure when he would have gotten his chance.
"We think he fits our program really well," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "He goes about his business the right way. He's a hard worker and very respectful of others. He wants to get better. He fits the mold we look for in players. He's very coachable and processes information."
When organizations win a championship, the contributions they receive from unexpected sources are always surprising.
In 2010, Moreland was one of those surprises. He'll go to this Spring Training with some more pressure on him to bounce back. Otherwise, their decision to pass on Fielder will look different.
But even when the Rangers were discussing Fielder, they kept coming back to Moreland and reminding themselves how much they like him and how much they still believe he'll improve.
Sometimes organizations make the mistake of falling in love with their own players. The Rangers are absolutely convinced that Moreland will reward their faith in him.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.