By Chris Luttig
Every year, Major League Baseball has a couple blowouts, where managers decided to use one of their bench players or an everyday player who begs to pitch in a big-league game. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment, a story for friends and family after their careers are over. Wednesday, May 7, as the Rangers were down 12-1 to the Colorado Rockies, Ron Washington looked to his position players to mop up for a bullpen that is overused and currently one of the worst in baseball. That is when Mitch Moreland took the mound and we saw what could end up being career changing.
Moreland featured a fastball that ranged from 90 to 94 mph from the left side. Not only did the ball show life and movement, Moreland also sawed off a bat with a nasty 94 mph cutter to finish the inning.
Moreland has long been a first baseman and outfielder in the Rangers system. At one point during his career, Moreland was the player who beat out last year’s home run champ, Orioles first basemen Chris Davis, blocking Davis from the everyday big-league roster.
Jump ahead to the 2014 season, and the Rangers have reloaded in the outfield with a speed/defense approach and traded away disgruntled former All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler for perennial All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder. That off-season trade put Moreland in a precarious position, as he has struggled to crack the everyday lineup. He only had 74 at bats as a DH so far this season.
Don’t let Moreland fool you. He is no stranger to the pitching rubber. His resume includes being named a 2004 Louisville Slugger High School All-American at Amory High School in Amory, Miss. His fall/summer Legion coach was former New York Mets 1993 first-round pick, Kirk Presley. Yes, that is Elvis’s nephew. Moreland put together a 25-2 overall record and struck out an impressive 112 batters in just 55 innings his senior year, going 7-1 with a sub-1.00 era.
From there, Moreland entered college-powerhouse Mississippi State University, which had just lost star pitchers Paul Malholm and Jonathan Papelbon in the 2003 MLB Draft. Moreland was a three-year, dual-position athlete at MSU. He played both ways at MSU, finishing his junior year with a .343/10/62 clip at the plate, and 3-0 with two saves and 28 Ks in 19 innings as the Bulldogs closer.
The Texas Rangers selected Moreland in the 17th round of the 2007 draft as a 1B/OF. The Rangers saw a promising future for the left-handed hitter, but Moreland took the mound in a similar instance in 2008 for the Class A Clinton, Iowa LumberKings of the Midwest League. The Rangers organization took notice of his performance, and after the season Moreland was sent to the Instructional League to work on pitching. This was the last time Moreland saw the mound until last night.
One might wonder about making such a switch in baseball, but switching from hitting to the mound is a lot more common than switching from the mound to a position player, as Rick Ankiel (pitcher-turned-slugger) did with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Some of baseball’s best closers are position players who have made the switch from the field to the mound. Trevor Hoffman was a former Reds shortstop before becoming the Marlins/Padres closer. Former All-Stars, Troy Percival of the Angels, and Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers, were catchers before becoming dominant closers.
Other current position players to make the switch to the mound are Carlos Marmol, Jason Motte, Sean Doolittle, Kenley Jansen and Joe Nathan, to name a few. Will we be seeing more of Mitch Moreland on the mound? Only time will tell, but organizations covet left-handed pitching, especially lefties who can bring it faster than 90 mph with movement and life like Moreland displayed last night.
Side Note: While Chris Davis has emerged from Moreland’s shadow as one of the top power-hitting first baseman in baseball, he, just like Moreland, has taken to the mound in a major-league game. May 6, 2013, Chris Davis topped out at 92 mph in a two-inning performance that gave him his first big-league victory against the Boston Red Sox.
While Davis is the reigning MLB home-run champion and touts that pitching victory, at least Moreland can say he throws harder!!