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It’s time for another edition of “The Interview Vault”, the blog segment that relives past interviews with former LumberKings’ players and coaches and other notable figures. This week, I’m turning the page back to July of 2008 when I visited with LumberKings’ first-baseman Mitch Moreland.
In case you missed Game 3 of the ALCS last night, Moreland drove in a pair with a line single to right in the midst of a six-run ninth inning, helping his Texas Rangers defeat the Yankees, 8-0 at Yankee Stadium. He’s now 4-for-8 with two runs scored and three RBI in the series, heads and tails more productive than his Yankee counterpart (and former Rangers super-prospect), Mark Teixeira. Teixeira is 0-for-11 thus far.
Watch Moreland’s big hit: http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=12856707&c_id=tex
Moreland’s path from little-known 18th round pick out of Mississippi State to MLB playoff heroics is one of relative obscurity until only recently. While guys like Teixeira and later Justin Smoak would arrive in the Rangers system as “heir apparents” to the first base position, Moreland was looked at more as an “experienced colllege hitter from a competitive program”, one of many drafted by the Rangers every season. In other words, no major fanfare, no immediate spotlight and no clear-cut path to the Major Leagues.
So, Moreland made the path himself. He’d arrive on the scene in Clinton two weeks late as a result of a neck injury and would find himself in the shadow of first-baseman Ian Gac’s monster start. Gac, a third-year veteran of the LumberKings had already blasted four home runs in seven games before Moreland joined the club. Thankfully, his ability to play right field would get him into the lineup immediately, and his bat would help him stay there.
Moreland doubled twice and drove in five runs over his first two games wearing the black and green, only a sign of things to come. He’d hit .357 in April, .315 with five homers and 18 RBI in May, .313 with 20 RBI in June, .269 with seven homers and 26 RBI in July and would finish with a .380, five-homer, 23 RBI month of August. On the final day of the regular-season in Cedar Rapids, he ripped his 18th home run and drove in three to finish with a Midwest League-best 99 RBI, the third-highest single-season RBI total in Clinton baseball history. Moreland would be voted by the league’s managers as the top first baseman and would narrowly miss out on league MVP honors to Beloit speedster Ben Revere.
When I caught up with Mitch in this 2008 interview, he had just enjoyed his first multi-homer game (a 4-for-6, 5-RBI performance on July 5 at Burlington), an effort that raised his average to .327. We talk about the power outburst, picking up the slack after the then-recent promotions of Gac and fellow All-Star Renny Osuna, hitting in the midst of a talented Clinton lineup, getting more experience at first base and more.
Mitch Moreland (2008).mp3
From here, we know where the rest of the story goes. Moreland would go on to hit a combined .331 with 16 home runs and 85 RBI between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco in 2009, then would bat .289 with 12 blasts and 65 RBI in triple-A Oklahoma City in 2010 before getting his promotion to Texas. With the Rangers during the regular season, he hit .255 with nine homers and 25 RBI, unseating incumbent Chris Davis to make the postseason roster.
From near-MVP in Clinton to fast-rising prospect to playoff performer, it’s clear that Moreland is fast on the rise to star status with the Rangers. We’ll see if he comes up big again tonight in Game 4 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, first pitch scheduled for 7 PM central time.
Oh yeah, Cliff Lee was pretty good last night also. In the next edition of The Interview Vault, we’ll revisit an interview with one of the players acquired by the Seattle Mariners in the deal that sent Lee to Texas. Stay tuned for that next week, unless another former LumberKing has a huge game for the Rangers.