March 8, 2011 10:05:00 AM
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mitch Moreland took a fast track from the minors to his major league debut and then the World Series after the Texas Rangers acquired Cliff Lee in the middle of last season.
The ace left-handed pitcher is gone, but the rookie first baseman who was the Rangers'' best hitter in their first World Series is still starting.
Though this spring things have finally slowed down and Moreland is finally getting a chance to really adjust after his whirlwind on-the-job training.
"He''s getting better, he''s starting to understand a lot more," manager Ron Washington said. "We didn''t have a whole lot of time with him last year, we had to do a lot with him on the job. We did as much as we could during the season. Now we''ve got an opportunity to improve him and he''s improving."
When the Rangers acquired Lee and reliever Mark Lowe in a six-player deal July 9 that sent first baseman Justin Smoak to Seattle, Moreland was an everyday outfielder at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"When that happened, it definitely made an impact for me," Moreland said. "As soon as Justin got traded, I started playing first (again). I knew I needed to be ready over there, just had to get back into that first base mindset. I think I played 11 games before I got called up."
Smoak, another of the Rangers'' top prospects, had already played 70 games in the majors last season. Three weeks after the trade, Moreland made his major league debut for the AL champions. He started 41 of the last 61 regular season games (37 at first base, four in right field).
Moreland played more games in the outfield than at first base in his four minor league seasons.
Washington said Moreland has good reactions, and that numerous drills at first base this spring are helping "get him light on his feet, get in rhythm." Another goal is to shorten up throws for a "guy coming from the outfield with a long arm action."
During the playoffs last season, Moreland started 13 games at first base and played in 15 of the Rangers'' 16 games. He hit a team-high .348, including .556 with runners in scoring position.
"It was a confidence builder," Moreland said.
Said Washington, "He should be very confident. He hit some pretty good major league pitching. If you can hang in there on that major league pitching and you''re not confident, something''s wrong."
In the World Series against San Francisco, Moreland hit .462 (6-for-13) and was the only Texas player with a hit in all five games. In Game 3, he became the first left-handed hitter in major league history to hit a home run in the World Series off a left-handed pitcher after never before homering off a lefty in a regular-season or postseason game.
"Since I could walk, I wanted to be a professional baseball player," Moreland said. "Going to the postseason, being able to do all that in your first year, it was a great experience. I just try not to take it for granted."
Entering Monday night''s spring training rematch of last year''s World Series against the Giants, Moreland was hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two homers and six RBIs in seven spring games.
Washington has made it clear that he expects Moreland to remain a regular in the lineup, even with plans for primary designated hitter Michael Young to play first base some and the acquisition of Mike Napoli, a catcher-first baseman-DH.
"Talk to the guys around him in the system every day, they talk about him having among the best makeups of anybody in the system," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Just a guy that kind of puts his head down, works hard, wants it bad, prepares, wants to improve."
The Rangers drafted Moreland in the 17th round out of Mississippi State in the 2007 draft. He was at Double-A two years later, playing only a half-season there before beginning last season in Triple-A.
After being on baseball''s biggest stage last fall, Moreland spent some time this offseason at home in Amory, the small town where his No. 16 high school jersey was retired.
"It was a lot of fun, just to go back and see the support you have from your hometown," Moreland said. "Everywhere I went, everybody was telling me how awesome it was to see me on TV, how good it was to see me back and that they were proud of me. ... It really puts everything in perspective."
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