Q&A: Mitch Moreland: Future Reliever?

A number of big-league position players were once pitchers. Blessed with strong arms, they excelled on the mound, as well as at the plate, against amateur competition. Only a few would be able to return to the hill with any chance of success against professional hitters. Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland is among them.

In high school, Moreland logged a record of 25-2 and in his senior year he had a 0.53 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 55 innings. Continuing as a two-way player at Mississippi State, he made 25 appearances out of the bullpen, logging a pair of saves and going 5-0, 3.31 with 45 strikeouts in 33 innings. One year after being taken in the 17th round of the 2007 draft, he had a brief flirtation with returning to the mound.

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David Laurila: What is your background as a pitcher?

Mitch Moreland: Pitching is kind of how I got my recognition as a player. It seems like everybody recruited me as a pitcher. I only had about three schools that wanted me to hit.

I didn’t have a whole lot of professional scouts looking at me coming out of high school. I went to college as a two-way guy, at Mississippi State, and I did pitch a little there. I ended up throwing about 40 innings. When draft time came, I thought I was going to get drafted as a pitcher, but I ended up getting drafted as a hitter, by Texas.

Texas actually brought me into instrux, in 2008, to pitch. That was after a couple of mop-up innings in low-A. They wanted me to pitch, but they also kind of left it up to me. I wanted to [be a position player] and they honored my decision to hit until I couldn’t hit anymore. It’s kind of been history since then. I’ve hit well enough to stay a position player.

DL; What made you a good pitcher?

MM: I don’t know. I didn’t throw real, real hard. I was left-handed and would go low 90s, but it wasn’t like I was going to light the gun up. I threw a lot of strikes; I pumped the zone. I don’t know what made me a good pitcher, I just kind of did it. I loved the competing part and really just let it go. It was “Here it is, try to hit it.”

DL: Were you more of a thrower than a pitcher?

MM: No, I had three pitches. I had a slider and a changeup that I could throw for strikes, as well. My location was pretty good and my fastball had some movement. It wasn’t straight; it had a little arm-side run to it. Some days it had a little more sink than arm-side run. Being able to mix and throw strikes is probably what helped make me successful.

DL: Do your teammates know you used to be a pitcher?

MM: Some of them do. The guys who came up through the organization with me and were there when I did the little pitching experiment remember it. They’re always like, “Why don’t you throw for us?”

DL: Can you say a little more on “the experiment”?

MM: I was in low-A and we were getting boat raced by a team. Rick Adair, our pitching coordinator at the time, was in town and asked if any one of us had pitched and could get an inning in. I raised my hand and said, “I threw in college. I’ll throw.” He said, “All right.” I went to the bullpen and then out on the mound. I think I struck out the side.

I probably hadn’t pitched in a year, but I’ve always been comfortable on the mound. I threw all three pitches [in that game]. After I did that, he was kind of gung ho on having me pitch. He was asking me where that came from. I told him that I had always pitched, I had simply been drafted as a hitter.

He asked if I wanted to come to instrux and throw. This was 2008. In 2007, I had gone there as a hitter and in 2008 I went as a pitcher. I didn’t touch a bat the whole time. I pitched throughout instrux and did really well. They asked if I wanted to go to winter ball to throw, but I kind of backed out of that, because I felt my arm wasn’t ready for that kind of work after a full season of playing a position. I hadn’t really had a chance to train as a pitcher and get my arm strength to where it needed to be to have the stamina to do it.

That was kind of the end of it. When I came to spring training, they asked if I had thrown any in the offseason and I told them, “Not really.” I had decided to hit. “They said, “OK.” I threw a couple more pens, but we kind of decided… I told them that I needed to do one or the other; I couldn’t do both. They agreed. They said, “If you want to hit, we’ll let you hit. We‘ll put pitching on the back burner.” That’s what we did and I haven‘t looked back. My last professional innings — and there were only two — were in 2008.

DL: What would it be like to go back on the mound now?

MM: It’s hard to say. I felt good then, but it had only been a year since I’d been on the mound. It might be a little tougher now, because it’s been awhile. It might take some getting used to if I stepped on the bump again. But I’d be all for it. If we need an inning, I’ll do it.

DL: If something happened and you couldn’t hit anymore, would you try to reinvent yourself as a pitcher?

MM: Shoot yeah. I’d love to. I’d give it an opportunity if I could no longer hit, for health reasons or something like that. But that would only be down the road and hopefully I can stay intact here with my everyday job.

DL: What would your role be?

MM: I’d definitely be a reliever. I’m kind of a max-effort guy, all over the place. I’ve been described a few times as a bull in the china shop when I’m on the mound. I’d be a one- or two-inning guy, maybe later in the game. I don’t know that I have quite the stuff to close out ballgames, which I kind of did in college. I’d probably be more seventh or eighth inning, or a match-up guy. I’d welcome it with open arms if I got the opportunity.




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA


10 Responses to “Q&A: Mitch Moreland: Future Reliever?”

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  1. tz says:

    It would be cool if the Rangers could use him as a middle reliever in interleague play. Bring him on to pinch-hit for the pitcher in the middle innings, then let him pitch through until his batting spot comes up again. Saves 2 AB by a regular “pitcher” or PH.

    Of course, he’d have to prove he could pitch at a major-league level….

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  2. termain says:

    As a tangent, Fangraphs readers really ought to experience a baseball game at Mississippi State, preferably from the Left Field Lounge which has been called “the country’s best tailgating experience”.

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  3. Jay says:

    First time I’ve heard the term “boat raced” used. Had to look that one up.

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    • guesswork says:

      For those, such as myself, who also had to look it up, this comes from Urban Dictionary:

      “To be beaten very badly at something, especially in such a fashion that you were behind from the start and never had a chance. Comes from the Boat Race, an annual rowing competition between Oxford and Cambridge, in which the first side to get ahead can move to the middle of the river (where the current is fastest) and is almost never overtaken thereafter.”

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  4. TKDC says:

    These player interviews are my favorite posts on Fangraphs. Normally, I find player interview to be boring as hell as the questions just beg the players to insert a tired cliche. Thanks and please keep these up (or do more!).

    +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Keith says:

      Well, David is just trying to his best out there. Gotta give a lot of credit to the other interviewers, they put up a good fight but he managed to come out on top this time.

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  5. John says:

    “Low 90s” would be generous.

    I’ve seen him on the bump more than a handful of times. Don’t think I ever saw 91.

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  6. Brad Bearden says:

    @John, generous…yep. But you’re on the wrong side of it. As someone with a professional relationship with Mitch-I can assure you he can throw around 97mph. He just can’t sustain it. His average through 35+ pitches would be around 91-92mph.

    Mitch is a humble, hard-working, man. He is just the type that will always under-promise and over-deliver.

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