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Nine Innings to Opening Day: Mitch Moreland

T-9: Mitch Moreland

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We're getting close to Opening Day and that means it is time to focus in on nine of the stories worth following this Rangers season. We'll run them down one a day between now and April 6th, with Mitch Moreland up for discussion in the first inning.

The Rangers never really made it clear that they were interested in Prince Fielder this offseason.

There was a little bit of a passive aggressive feeling in the air as their name would get linked to the free agent first baseman before there would be a leak from the team to walk it back before anyone got too carried away. That little dance continued right up until the day Fielder landed in Detroit, leaving you with the feeling that Jon Daniels and company would have been perfectly fine if Fielder wound up in their lap when the music stopped.

He didn't, of course, and the fact that the Rangers never went whole hog after Fielder meant that they could keep a straight face while saying that they were fine with Mitch Moreland being their first baseman all along. It doesn't really matter whether its true or not, but the optics of the whole thing certainly work in the Rangers' favor.

It would work even more in their favor if Moreland's play backs up their faith, real or imagined, in his abilities. Moreland's first full season in the big leagues got off to a decent enough start, but he cratered in the second half of the season. His line after the break -- .241 batting average, .300 on-base percentage, .367 slugging percentage -- was awful and there were times when his bat seemed to exist only to kill rallies. Things got even worse in the playoffs, to the point where Moreland was even benched against right-handed pitchers.

There are three explanations for why things went downhill so quickly for Moreland. One is that the league figured out a hole in his swing after almost a full season in the major leagues and that Moreland was unable to come up with an answer. The second is that a wrist issue hurt his swing and limited his ability to hit. Third, and most damning, is that Moreland just isn't that good.

We'll find out soon enough which of those things was to blame. If it was either of the first two, the offseason should have provided Moreland with enough time to iron out the problems. If it is the third, the failure to upgrade at first base could prove to be the difference between a third consecutive trip to the World Series and a season that falls short of the playoffs.

This spring has provided evidence that Moreland isn't simply overmatched at the big league level. He's hitting well, he looks healthy and he seems prepared to be something closer to the player he was during the first half of the season. That's a welcome development because adding one more bat to this lineup got a lot more important when the Angels made their move this offseason.

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