Rangers First Base Outlook Improves

While we’re far from saying, “Prince who?”, Mitch Moreland’s spring got off to a good start yesterday. Moreland provided Texas’ only offense with a fifth inning home run against the Royals. According to T.R. Sullivan, Moreland hit the home run with his hands, and avoided the temptation to start his swing sooner and use more of his body to generate power.

Moreland had an okay first half of 2011 in which he hit 11 home runs in 78 games before the all-star break with a slash line of .272/.334/.449. Moreland’s decent production turned poor in the second half when he suffered a wrist injury, limiting him to 56 games, 5 homers and a line of .241/.300/.367.

Moreland had surgery in the offseason, and told the Ben & Skin radio show last week that his wrist previously, “Wasn’t feeling real good I mean I had some mornings where I couldn’t even hardly pull my socks up.” He also noted that the Prince Fielder talks served as inspiration. “That’s all it did was motivatate me. It makes me want to go out and really show what I can do and show what I’m capable of to help this team.”

Yesterday, he was upbeat about his health when talking to reporters. “The wrist is good,” Moreland said. “I’ve stayed on the same program all spring, haven’t done anything different and it’s been good.”

The Rangers are working on contingency plans if Moreland doesn’t improve. Top 5 prospect Mike Olt has begun working at first base in addition to his natural position of third. He made one error in four chances in his professional debut at first yesterday. First base probably isn’t an ideal position for Olt in the long run. He was originally a shortstop at the University of Connecticut, before converting into a plus defender at third. Olt’s promise is in the total package, and he would lose significant value as a first baseman.

External Candidates?

There could be other options should the Rangers fail to find a permanent solution internally.

As stunning as Josh Hamilton’s 2010 performance was, he wasn’t even considered the MVP front-runner until Justin Morneau suffered a season ending concussion on July 7th. At the time, Morneau had played in 81 games, and posted a dominating slash line of .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs. He hasn’t been the same since.

In 2011, Morneau played only 69 games. He struggled to get going, and endured a myriad of injuries including a herniated disc in his neck, wrist swelling, shoulder soreness, a bone spur in his foot, and a knee cyst. And, of course, he suffered his second season-ending concussion in 13 months on August 28th.

Things could be turning around for the Minnesota first baseman. Morneau appears to be healthy and has reported no issues so far this spring; a big change from the last 18 months. Like Moreland, he made a quick statement with his bat by crushing two fastballs from Francisco Liriano; one over the wall and one off of it. The real value in Morneau’s improvement could come from an increase in trade market value.

The Twins finished 2011 with the second worst record in baseball at 63-99, and Baseball America recently ranked the Twins farm system 19th in the Majors in terms of talent. Morneau is owed $28 million through 2013 and doesn’t appear to have much value to a team in need of a major rebuilding effort. The Rangers would be on the line for roughly $21 million should they maneuver a mid-season trade.