Long shots, and longshots.
Last night being what it was, Wednesday’s Rangers highlight came not at 1000 Ballpark Way but instead at 951 Ballpark Way, 1100 miles east, in front of a Winston-Salem Dash crowd of 5,682 that included Jon Daniels. The Rangers GM was on hand for Myrtle Beach 5, Winston-Salem 4 in 11 innings, a game marked by Joey Gallo’s 11th home run of the season, which traveled an estimated 450 feet, and his 12th, an opposite-field job in a left-on-left matchup in the eighth inning.
The 20-year-old now leads minor league baseball in home runs, after doing the same thing in 2013. His dozen bombs matches White Sox slugger Jose Abreu’s total, though Gallo has racked up his in four fewer games.
FanGraphs writer Nathaniel Stoltz, also among the 5,682 in the building, issued comment on the two Gallo shots on Twitter: “First might be the longest [home run] I’ve ever seen live; [on the] second, he got jammed. Frightful, insane power.”
Baseball America writer/editor J.J. Cooper, like Daniels and Stoltz in attendance for the Gallo display, answered a Twitter question asking if there’s another hitting prospect as feared right now as Gallo by saying, in no way hyperbolically: “No. Best power in minors since [Giancarlo] Stanton.”
In the throes of an extended case of bat anemia at the big league level, one that has lowered the Rangers’ slug (.377) to 10th of 15 in the American League, it’s fun to think about the path of destruction that Gallo is on (an almost-Tulowitzki-esque .327/.431/.745), but if you’re looking for a shakeup of some sort in Arlington (and I have email evidence that a bunch of you are), forget about Gallo. Chances are good that he’ll be asked to leave Myrtle Beach at some point this summer for Frisco, but to even conceive of a scenario in which he progresses any further in 2014 than that would have to involve Round Rock getting deeper into September than Frisco does, and maybe Gallo gets rewarded with some extra playoff ball at the AAA level in that case.
He’s not a consideration for the big leagues this year. And probably not in 2015, either.
If there’s going to be a real shakeup — and I’m not talking about clearing spots on the 40 and the 25 for Scott Baker — then you’re probably looking at a different player who, like Gallo, is 20 years old, or yet another one who, like Gallo, was drafted as a hitter but very well could have been as a pitcher.
Both are tremendous longshots, but I needed to write this morning to stop thinking about the last three Rangers-Rockies games, so it’s Longshots Ahoy.
Both had big Tuesday nights, before getting Wednesday off.
Rougned Odor got the day off with the rest of his Frisco teammates.
Mitch Moreland got the day off because Texas faced a lefthander — and because the Rangers weren’t going to pitch him on consecutive nights.
Odor tripled in the first inning of Frisco’s 12-7 win over Midland on Tuesday. He homered in the second inning. He doubled in the eighth.
The diminutive second baseman, who plays with Dustin Pedroia’s size and with a Dustin Pedroia chip on his shoulder, struck out in his other two at-bats Tuesday, finishing a single short of the cycle. Since April 19, Odor is a .325/.350/.481 hitter in 80 trips to the plate, and while he’s probably not ready for the big leagues, seeing Josh Wilson forced into the two-hole Tuesday night made me wonder if there’s all that much to lose — especially with the club in desperate need of a spark — by giving Odor a little burn until Jurickson Profar is ready in a month or so.
Then, last night, Donnie Murphy takes a spill trying to leg out an infield grounder and suffers a neck strain. If he’s down for a couple days, you’re not going to clear a spot on the 40 for Odor to get a start or two (if that). But if Murphy needs a disabled list stay?
The downside is not so much service time or the arbitration clock as it is the danger of rushing the kid. Giving Edinson Volquez a start at the back end of an August 2005 doubleheader seemed like a cool and exciting idea, but unless you don’t believe in correlation, you probably concede that the three starts and three relief appearances the 22-year-old was given back then set him back a couple years.
I’d be a little concerned about rushing Odor.
But probably less so than I would be about just about any other player in the entire Rangers system.
I don’t think there’s a stage too big for Odor. There’s a real strong chance he would struggle to produce, but also a real strong chance it wouldn’t faze him one bit going forward. And the flip side is his game is the type that, conceivably, could give this lethargic offense a bit of a spark.
The same night that Odor put his show on in Frisco, leading a 17-hit, 12-run RoughRiders attack, Moreland was called on to mop up a 21-hit, 12-run hammering that Colorado put on the Rangers to avoid further strain on a bullpen that has been overtaxed lately.
You don’t want to make too much of situations like that, where nothing’s really on the line, but it looked pretty darn good. Moreland worked at 90-94, mixing in a cutter and a change (keeping his slider on ice), threw 10 of his 15 pitches for strikes, and shredded Charlie Blackmon’s .361-hitting bat on his final pitch, 94 up and in.
You probably know Moreland’s story. Like Todd Helton and Mark Kotsay, he was a college star as both a hitter and a closer, striking out 45 hitters in 32.2 Mississippi State innings, but like those two and like Gallo, he was drafted for his bat, when the Rangers used their 17th-round pick on him in 2007.
Moreland hit for average and power in his first full pro season, putting together a .324/.400/.536 slash line for Low A Clinton in 2008, but a few things happened that summer that led to a potential shift in thinking among player development officials about Moreland’s future. First, Chris Davis had reached the big leagues and turned in a tremendous rookie run over nearly 300 at-bats (.285/.331/.549 — production he wouldn’t match until last year’s MVP-level season in Baltimore). Second, Texas had drafted Justin Smoak in June, adding a younger player expected to be on a fast track to Arlington. Primarily a first baseman to that point, the thought in 2008 that Moreland would ever be needed in that role in Texas was a difficult one for anyone to wrap his head around.
Third, not unrelated to the other two developments: On July 20 that summer, one day after the LumberKings had been stretched to 15 innings, Clinton found itself down 10 runs in the ninth inning. The ball was given to Moreland, an obvious choice for a position player who could mop things up, just over a year after he’d closed College World Series games for the Bulldogs.
Two weeks later, Moreland was once again called on in the final frame, this time in a game that Clinton was losing to Cedar Rapids, 15-2. He allowed a single and a walk in a one-run inning.
A little more than a month later, even though he’d led the Midwest League in total bases, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and RBI, the Rangers were intrigued enough with Moreland’s stuff on the mound that they gave him a serious look as a pitcher in Fall Instructional League. For the entire month he worked almost exclusively with the pitchers, after which the organization gave the 23-year-old — old for the Low A competition he’d played against and facing stacked odds as a hitter with Texas (first baseman-outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was still around as well, for another few weeks) — a choice to make: Pitch or hit?
Moreland pointed to the Rangers’ evaluation a year and a half earlier that his potential was greatest at the plate. He opted to give hitting one more chance, at least.
Despite the gaudy 2008 numbers, Baseball America ranked Moreland as only the Rangers’ number 31 prospect going into the 2009 season. (I had him at number 21.) I’d gotten a chance to see some of his work at Instructs in Surprise, and talked to some folks out there, and when I did a Q&A on the website just before spring training in 2009, a reader asked whether I thought Moreland was more likely to stick at the big league level as a hitter or as a pitcher. My response: “He’s more accomplished as a hitter but the answer to your question, in my opinion, is pitcher.”
I was wrong.
Moreland hit .331/.391/.527 in 2009 between High A Bakersfield and AA Frisco, playing more outfield than first base, and was named the organization’s Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year. A year later, Smoak was traded and Davis couldn’t hold a job, and Moreland established himself as the club’s starting first baseman and outhit all his teammates in the World Series.
But like with Davis’s summer debut, Moreland hasn’t been able to replicate it offensively since, and particularly now that his role at age 28 has gone from starting first baseman to platoon DH — and supreme pinch-hitter — that 90-94 he was firing Tuesday night has to resonate as more than just a gimmick, right? That wasn’t David Murphy coming in to hit bats and get back to the hotel. That was a former college pitcher, a player whom the Rangers strongly considered converting to the mound as a minor leaguer, a veteran whose role has been diminished — on a club that is rolling with two left-handed relievers, Neal Cotts (not nearly as effective to date as he was last year) and reclamation project Aaron Poreda (so far, so good), at least as long as Robbie Ross remains in the rotation.
Will the club be able to resist thinking of Moreland as an occasional power reliever, in the way that Milwaukee used Brooks Kieschnick for a couple years towards the end of his career?
Yeah, probably, because even on nights when Moreland’s not in the lineup Wash won’t want to use up his best pinch-hitting option.
But Wash did tell MLB Network Radio yesterday that if he were able to add one piece by the trade deadline, he’d like another arm to rely on in the bullpen.
Could that end up being Ross, if he returns to relief? (Nick Tepesch has been dealing in Round Rock and is on the same pitching schedule as Ross.) Maybe. Tanner Scheppers, once healthy again?
Texas wanted to see if Neftali Feliz could be a starter, following in the successful paths that Scott Feldman and C.J. Wilson took, but it didn’t work for him and he got hurt and hasn’t been able to regain his form as a reliever.
Something close to the same can probably be said about Alexi Ogando.
Here’s hoping that Ross and Scheppers, if they are in fact headed back to the bullpen, are as effective as they were last year.
If they aren’t, I doubt we’ll see Mitch Moreland follow the Sean Doolittle path and put the bats away.
But there’s no denying that his little turn on the mound Tuesday night was about as close to a “spark” as anyone has given the Rangers in these last three against the Rockies. I wouldn’t expect Moreland’s next baseball card to say 1B-OF-LHP on it, and I wouldn’t expect Rougned Odor to be playing against Colorado or Boston this week, rather than Corpus Christi.
Still, stranger things have happened, and if you were to ask me to put odds on Odor playing big league baseball on this homestand, or Moreland getting semi-regular work on the mound at some point this year, or Joey Gallo doing majestic damage in 2014 for someone other than the Pelicans or RoughRiders, I know which two longshots I’d feel safest betting on.