If I were to ask you who will be the most important Rangers player in 2013, who would you pick? After consulting an updated roster in order to remember who’s still left on the team, you might pick Adrián Beltré, Ian Kinsler, Yu Darvish or the newly acquired Lance Berkman. Those would be good choices, but as odd as it sounds, sometimes the most important player isn’t necessarily your best player. Who do I think could play a crucial role in 2013?
Mitch Moreland. Yes, Mitch Moreland. His career has been hampered by a lingering wrist injury in mid 2011 and an inability to hit left-handed pitching which caused him to become a platoon-player for much of 2012. His struggles have made 2013 the most important season in his career; this is likely his last chance to prove his worth to the Rangers. Moreland seems well-aware of it – this offseason, a year removed from wrist surgery, he’s hired a left-handed practice pitcher. He still has the management’s faith – at least publicly, evidenced by Jon Daniels saying “We believe in Mitch Moreland” and scrapping plans to move Ian Kinsler to first base.
While the 2013 Rangers don’t have much money invested in Moreland (about $490,000), they have a lot of hope invested in him. If Mitch can become an everyday, league-average first baseman, it allows the team to do the following:
- Keep Kinsler at second base
Moreland’s steady presence at first base would keep Kinsler in his comfort zone in the best infield in MLB, and allow him to continue being an above average second baseman.
- Retain an extra year of team control over Olt and Profar
With Mitch at first base and Kinsler staying at second base, this keeps the team from needing to call up Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar. With these two top prospects starting in the minors, they might not gain enough time in the majors to reach a year of MLB service (172 days on the roster in a 182 day season), which would allow the team to control them longer. Olt would get more time to bash AAA pitching, which would raise his trade value (if Jon Daniels wants to allocate this asset in that manner). As ready as Ranger fans believe Profar is, he could benefit from additional refinement in AAA.
- Keep Berkman off the field
The Rangers are already planning on doing all they can to keep Lance Berkman from playing defense, but if Mitch doesn’t perform against left-handed pitching or gets injured, the temptation will be to put Berkman at first base. Berkman doesn’t fare particularly well against left-hand pitching either, but Ron Washington loves his veterans, and I suspect that if Mitch struggles Lance will be the next option. Berkman’s 37 year-old knees need to be rested for his swing to be effective. Berkman himself has said that much of his power is generated by his lower half. If he tires in the summer heat, he will lose that power and his value to the team.
Outwardly, it may seem that Mitch Moreland will be a minor cast member in 2013, an extra in a cast that contains much bigger names. However, if Moreland becomes a consistent contributor, he could play a key role in solidifying the team in 2013 and beyond.