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01/18/11 9:15 AM EST
Moreland working to stay at first for Rangers
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
FRISCO, TEXAS -- They held Mitch Moreland Day on Dec. 6 in his hometown of Amory, Miss.
"We were all going to go," pitcher Tommy Hunter joked. "But we couldn't get hotel rooms."
There were still plenty who turned out. Moreland signed about 3,000 autographs that day in a town of about 7,000 people in northeast Mississippi, site of the annual Railroad Festival and where Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley once performed on the same stage in a historic 1955 concert. That was only about 56 years ago. Now Moreland is the biggest thing in the planned town built by the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad.
"It was a really nice day," Moreland said. "They had a really nice setup. I never thought they would have a day like that and it was for me. It was fun. It was really nice."
Moreland is from Amory and they were celebrating his meteoric rise to the Rangers as well as his terrific performance in postseason play. Moreland, called up from Triple-A on July 29, hit .255 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games as the Rangers first baseman. He was even better in the postseason, hitting .348 (16-for-46) with one home run and seven RBIs. He was 6-for-13 in the World Series while the rest of the lineup struggled against Giants pitching.
"It was definitely big," said Moreland on Saturday at a Winter Caravan stop in Frisco. "It was a big confidence builder. It set the mood for my offseason. I knew what I needed to do to come back and be ready to go. I went home, took a little bit of a break and got started and tried to get ready and now I'm counting down the days."
They love him in Amory but, as the offseason winds down and Spring Training approaches, Moreland will find out just exactly what the Rangers think of him. He entered the offseason as the Rangers first baseman and is still considered just that, but there is still plenty of time left for the club to make more moves.
They made one big one earlier this month when they signed free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. That has forced Michael Young off third base and into what is perceived to be the designated hitter role.
Young will also play some first base. That part is clear. How much is not. He probably would have played there quite a bit if the Rangers had signed free-agent designated hitter Jim Thome.
Instead Thome ended up going back to the Twins. The Rangers still have a month to go before pitchers and catchers report, and there are still intriguing names lingering on the free-agent market. Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero and Troy Glaus are among those who are unsigned.
"I really haven't kept up with it a whole lot, to tell you the truth," Moreland said. "I've just been trying to take care of my business and be ready to go when Spring Training gets here and helping the team out. Whatever it takes. I think this team has one goal in mind and we had that same goal last year.
"We fell a few games short, but we know what it takes to get there now. As a leader you see what Michael Young has done moving positions again and it just shows the mentality and the way this team is. I just want to be out there and help them any way I can. If it is with Mike playing first and me rooting him on or whatever I got to do, I'll be able to do it."
There is no doubt the Rangers have a high regard for Moreland. A 17th-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2007, Moreland, a left-handed hitter, was the Rangers Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 and then thrust into the first base job at the end of July last season after hitting .289 with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs in 95 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
There was some still some uneasiness about his ability to hit left-handers and his ability to play defense. The Rangers brought up Moreland to play first base but they also traded for right-handed hitting first baseman Jorge Cantu at the July 31 Trade Deadline. Then, at the end of the season, they considered adding Chris Davis to the playoff roster because of his superior defensive skills.
Instead they stayed with Moreland and he upheld their faith in postseason play. But there is no doubt the Rangers want to see Moreland get better defensively at first base.
"We'll take care of that when he comes to Spring Training," manager Ron Washington said this winter. "I think all of us have areas that we can improve upon. He certainly does. I think we know that he's a grinder up there at the plate. But the game is a little deeper than just hitting. We have to tighten up some stuff defensively, tighten up some stuff decision-making-wise. And those type of things that we'll take care of as the spring begins and move forward from there."
Moreland figures to have a number of extra workouts with his defensive-minded manager on the back fields of Surprise Ariz. when Spring Training gets under way in a month. He switched back and forth between first base and right field during his time in the Minor Leagues.
"I feel like I've handled it pretty good, but there are definitely some improvements I could do over there," Moreland said. "You can always be better at what you're doing. I've been working hard on agility and stuff and hopefully it will pay off. I know I'll be spending some early work days out on the Spring Training fields and I'm looking forward to that too."
Young will also get extensive work at first base. So too will Davis. He has been the Rangers Opening Day first baseman in each of the past two seasons and hasn't gone away. He lost his job because he struggled at the plate over the past two seasons but he'll be back in Spring Training with the Rangers and providing competition for Moreland.
Davis is tangible proof that those who seem to hold down jobs jobs during the dead of winter still have to fight to keep them once Spring Training and the regular season begin. That could be especially true if the Rangers aren't through adjusting their roster this winter.
"I just feel like I'm going to work hard enough and do what I have to do to be a part of this team," Young said. "I'm controlling what I can control. I've been working hard and trying to put myself in the best position possible coming into Spring Training. I want to go out and show them what I can do. If they choose to go another way, I'll be there when they need me."