Scouting Rangers Prospect #34: A.J. Murray

A.J. Murray reached the major leagues last year after missing the entire 2004 and 2006 seasons due to shoulder troubles. Lone Star Dugout takes an in-depth look at the prospect, who could be a factor in the Rangers' starting rotation this season.

Vital Statistics:
Name: A.J. Murray
Position: Pitcher
DOB: March 17, 1982
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220
Bats: Both
Throws: Left

Thanks in part to recent medical advancements and today's technology, sports injuries are often overlooked by the common fan. A torn ACL or Tommy John surgery has become merely a bump in the road for many athletes. Many pitchers even benefit from Tommy John surgery, as they add velocity and often develop improved mechanics.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for shoulder injuries. It seems that few pitchers are able to return to full-strength after undergoing the medical procedure. Wade Miller and Mark Mulder can attest to that fact, as both have undergone labrum surgery, but their careers appear to be on life support.

But don't tell that to A.J. Murray. The 25-year-old hurler has returned from labrum surgery not once, but twice. Murray, who missed the entire 2004 and 2006 seasons, returned from his second labrum surgery last summer to reach the major leagues.

Murray initially reached the Double-A level in 2003, at age 21, going 10-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 27 appearances. Though injuries forced the lefty's big league arrival back a few years, it wasn't all uneventful. Murray tossed six innings of a combined perfect game with Double-A Frisco in 2005.

Coming off his second surgery in three years, Murray entered 2007 spring training as an afterthought. However, the Utah native was extremely impressive in five spring training games, tossing 4.2 innings of three-hit, shutout ball. Murray became one of the last players to be cut before opening day, even making trips to the Rangers' preseason exhibition games in Texas.

Murray was eventually assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma, where he pitched out of the bullpen. The Rangers wanted to make sure Murray could stay healthy for an entire season before putting the workload of a starting pitcher on him.

"We're trying to protect this guy from a health standpoint and he's fought injuries his entire career," Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Rick Adair said in June. "We're trying to keep the workload of a starting pitcher off of him just to see if he can get through a year healthy."

The relief role may have been unfamiliar to Murray, but it didn't show in the results. Murray appeared in 41 games – 52.2 innings – with the RedHawks, posting a 3.08 ERA. He surrendered just 42 hits, walked 25, and struck out 51.

Murray's strong early-season performance earned him a stint in the big leagues. The pitcher was thrust into an odd position, as he joined the Rangers in Orlando for a regular season series at Disney's Wide World of Sports – a minor league complex. Murray's stint was short, and he enjoyed the experience, but he admits it was an odd situation.

"It was only two days," said Murray, "and although I wish I would have gotten longer, it was fun and I'm glad I got the chance. It was weird being with the team in a minor league complex, but it was a great opportunity for me and I'm hoping to get back there."

Typically known for his outstanding control, Murray struggled in his one appearance against the Devil Rays. The 25-year-old threw 42 pitches in relief with just 22 going for strikes. He walked three batters, leading to two runs, in 1.1 innings.

"Up there I was overthrowing a lot I guess because I was antsy and had the adrenaline going," he recalled. "I just have to stay within myself and throw strikes."

Murray would do just that in his second trip to the majors, which lasted a little longer than the first. He made 13 appearances over the season's final two months, putting up a 4.05 ERA. Murray was able to start two games in late-September, prompting talk that he may become a full-time starting pitcher again in 2008.

With spring training recently opening, the Rangers have announced that Murray is a candidate for a rotation spot. It is more likely that he will begin the season with the RedHawks, but if last year's spring was any indication, it's far too early to count Murray out of anything.

Repertoire: Fastball, Changeup, Curveball.

Murray's upper-80s fastball doesn't have outstanding velocity, but he does command it extremely well. Although Murray allowed six round-trippers in his short big league stint last season, he gave up just two in 52.2 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma. Murray also coaxed an impressive 2.4 groundouts per flyout. The left-hander's best pitch is a plus changeup, which helped him hold right-handed hitters to a .215 average with the Rangers last season. That stat appeared to be no fluke, as Triple-A righties were held to a .200 average in his 41 minor league games in 2007. Murray also throws a curveball, which has improved over the last year, giving him three legitimate big league pitches.

Projection: Where Murray winds up will depend on his ability to stay healthy. The Rangers – especially pitching coach Mark Connor –believe he has the ability to be a big league starting pitcher. However, Murray was forced to the bullpen last season because the Rangers wanted to see if he could get through a whole season unharmed. With a strong three-pitch mix and above-average command, Murray has the makings of a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

2008 Outlook: Murray has an outside shot at making the big league club out of spring training, but if the Rangers want him to be a starting pitcher, he will probably begin the year with Triple-A Oklahoma. The southpaw has started just two games – going a combined 11 innings – since the 2005 season. The club may want to stretch him out a bit in the minors before recalling him.

ETA: 2008.

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2001 GCL Rangers (RK) 3-3 53.1 48 10 45 1.86
2002 Savannah (A) 5-3 62.2 63 14 51 2.87
Charlotte (A+) 3-3 83.1 77 20 68 3.02
2003 Frisco (AA) 10-4 144.0 134 63 90 3.63
2005 Bakersfield (A+) 2-5 60.0 75 13 64 5.25
Frisco (AA) 4-4 58.0 62 15 49 3.26
Oklahoma (AAA) 1-0 10.0 11 2 11 6.30
2007 Oklahoma (AAA) 3-3 52.2 42 25 51 3.08
Texas (MLB) 1-2 28.0 25 15 18 4.50

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