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.
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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