Name: Steve Murphy
Position: Left Field
DOB: April 22, 1984
Outfielder Steve Murphy entered the 2007 campaign having experienced nothing but success in his first two professional seasons. In his debut, the former 14th round pick out of Kansas State was named the short-season Northwest League's Most Valuable Player. He followed that performance with a strong 2006 while playing with High-A Bakersfield.
Many believe the jump from High-A to Double-A is the biggest in all of minor league baseball. After a streaky season that ended with a .319 on-base percentage and just 11 home runs, Murphy will likely attest to that.
"I thought it was pretty good," said Murphy of his 2007 season. "It was my first time being at Double-A and I thought being able to get a spot as a starter was good for me and the program.
"I felt that I was going to hit a little more for power, I thought my power numbers were down a little bit. For average, .277 isn't too bad but I know I can do better."
Though it wouldn't quite be fair to classify Murphy as a "free-swinger", he has never been regarded as a patient hitter. Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger believes a bit of added patience should help Murphy succeed at the higher levels.
"Commanding the strike zone," said Boulanger, "if [Murphy] can do that, if he can just hit 2-0 and 3-1 more than the average guy – his swing is good enough. But he chases too many balls and gets himself in some poor hitting counts. If you do that night after night – you're hitting 1-2 and 2-2 – I don't care who you are, your odds of being real successful are not going to be very good."
The sentiment is one Murphy agrees with, as he believes his lack of patience was directly correlated to his drop in power.
"I've actually been a big free-swinging hitter and I think I'm starting to realize that being a free-swinger is not going to get you too far," added Murphy. "I think being exposed as in swinging at first pitches and swinging at balls in the dirt, I think that's why my power numbers went down a little bit."
After drawing just 28 walks in 488 official at-bats in 2007, the 23-year-old has already set lofty goals for the 2008 season.
"I'm working on getting deeper into counts and finding a zone I can work with," he said. "If I can get the walks to 70 instead of 20, I think my average goes up and my power goes up as well."
While Murphy looks to improve his plate discipline, Boulanger must help to ensure that the outfielder continues to stay aggressive.
"You don't want him to lose his aggressiveness," said the hitting coordinator. "You want him to still turn it loose and have a good bat path – and he can. You watch him on some nights and his swing is really pretty."
As for where Murphy will be putting his new adjustments to test next season, the outfielder expects to begin next season at the Double-A level.
"From what I've heard and from what I've seen," said Murphy, "I'm probably going to be starting off in Frisco again. But it all depends, nobody knows."
Batting and Power: Murphy's best tool is his bat and his best asset as a hitter is his power – which was missing for much of the 2007 season. But Murphy has a good looking swing with above-average power from the left side of the plate. His power may generally come in the form of doubles rather than home runs (he has 94 two-baggers in parts of three minor league seasons), but Murphy has the ability to hit 15-20 home runs per year. If Murphy is able to become more patient and increase his walks in 2008, his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage should all improve significantly.
Base Running and Speed: Murphy swiped 13 bases in 16 attempts during his pro debut with Spokane in 2005, but that is a number he is unlikely to match again. Murphy attempted just nine steals with Frisco in 2007 and was successful on five of them. The former K-State Wildcat's speed rates out as average.
Defense: Keeping consistent with the rest of his tools, Murphy's defense rates somewhere between average to solid-average. Although he isn't overly athletic and probably won't make many dazzling plays, the outfielder gets good reads and has solid range. Murphy has an accurate arm with average strength.
Projection: Despite a pedestrian 2007 season, Murphy still rates as a solid prospect in a rather loaded system because of past results and potential. If Murphy is able to right the ship, he has the ability to play in the big leagues. Even though he may not be a starter in the majors, Murphy could prove to be valuable as an outfielder with some left-handed pop off the bench.
2008 Outlook: As Murphy states, he should begin the 2008 season at Double-A Frisco. It would be beneficial for Murphy to get a second crack at the Texas League and work on his patience at a level he is accustomed to. If Murphy is able to perform at the level he is capable of, a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma would be the most likely scenario.