Entering the 2007 season, Steve Murphy had never experienced anything but success at the plate professionally. The Rangers' 14th round pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, Murphy began his career by being named the Northwest League's Most Valuable Player after posting a .306 average with 23 doubles and nine home runs for short-season Spokane in '05.
Murphy jumped to High-A Bakersfield in 2006 and batted .283 with 38 doubles, five triples, and 19 home runs in 470 at-bats.
It is often said that the jump from High-A to Double-A is the biggest in minor league baseball. Murphy learned that the hard way last season. The Kansas City native struggled to stay consistent all year, leading to career-lows in average (.277), on-base percentage (.319) and slugging percentage (.424).
Although many players see their careers fizzle out after a rough season in Double-A, some flourish after learning from their mistakes and making the necessary adjustments.
Third baseman Travis Metcalf, another Kansas native, played extremely well with Double-A Frisco before appearing in 57 games for the Rangers last summer. Metcalf had batted .221 with eight homers in Frisco the season before.
With just over one month of the 2008 season gone, Murphy appears to compare favorably to Metcalf. The 24-year-old has been one of Frisco's most consistent hitters, batting .317 with 12 doubles and four home runs in 35 games.
Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with the outfielder about what has made him so successful in the early going this season.
Jason Cole: You're off to a pretty strong start to your Double-A season this year. How do you feel about it so far?
Steve Murphy: Not bad. I started off kind of strong and I'm trying to work on some things from last year. I struggled with getting runners in from scoring position, with average, and stuff like that. This year I have really focused on gap-to-gap and working hard on situational baseball. I think I have done a good job so far, but it's a long season, so we'll see.
Cole: You mentioned your struggles with runners in scoring position. Was there any adjustment in particular that you made to improve in that area?
Murphy: Last year was tough. I had a couple of different swings and I was working on a lot of stuff with my legs. This year I think I have been able to stay consistent in my swing pattern. That's what I've been working on with Cooly [hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh]. I think just keeping a consistent swing and not trying to change when there are runners in scoring position has really helped me this year.
Cole: The swing that you seem to have stuck with now. Is that one of the swings you were working on at some point last season?
Murphy: Yeah, it's one I was working on last year. It is something I am trying to perfect. You are always working on your swing no matter what, but last year when I was going into a slump, I would always try to change my mechanics. This year, I have tried to keep my mechanics the same and just work on the mental side.
Cole: You have mentioned wanting to see more pitches at the plate and get yourself into better hitter's counts more often. Is it ever tough for you to not revert back into old habits by swinging early in the count?
Murphy: It is. It's always tough, but I think it is kind of a double-edged sword. If you swing at the first pitch and get a hit, everybody's happy. If you swing at the first pitch and pop out or ground out, you need to see more pitches. I think keeping contact the way I've been doing – first pitch, being able to get the ball on the ground or hit a line drive – I think that has worked for me. But basically trying to stay consistent has been the biggest thing this year.
Cole: With this being your second year in Frisco, have you noticed pitchers working you differently, especially as you have begun having success?
Murphy: So far I have seen a lot of fastballs early and then late in the count they're going with offspeed away and stuff like that. It has been fairly consistent. It is easy to get a read on hitters in this league since there are only so many teams. I think that goes in with seeing more pitches and not going, or fishing, for offspeed in the dirt or things like that.
Cole: Looking at the numbers, you really struggled against left-handed pitchers in Bakersfield two years ago, but you hit them just as well as righties last season. This year, you are off to a 9-for-22 start against them. How have you been able to improve so much?
Murphy: That goes back to the swing pattern. That goes back to whether there are runners in scoring position or if there is a lefty up. No matter what the last couple of years, I found it difficult and I always tried to change my swing. I tried to open up more or sit down on my legs more. This year, keeping a consistent swing has been has allowed me to only work on the mental game, like whether pitches are in or out and things like that. Not having to worry about my mechanics and changing that for each pitcher has been a lot better for me against lefties.
Cole: At this point, do you even notice a big difference between lefties and righties when you're at the plate?
Murphy: No. The last couple of years have been tough, having to change my game plan for a different pitcher on the mound. This year, depending on who I face, has pretty much been a consistent game plan. It has been gap-to-gap and trying to take lefties the other way instead of opening up and trying to pull everything. It has helped me, facing lefty or righty, keep the same kind of mental gameplan no matter who is on the mound.
Cole: It seems like suddenly the Rangers have a logjam of outfielders from Frisco up to the majors. Have they told you anything about your chances of moving up during the year?
Murphy: No. There are a lot of great players up ahead of me. I try to keep out of the office-type stuff and focus on what I can do down here. I think I have done a great job so far, but whatever happens, happens. I hope for the best.
Cole: Have you set any goals for yourself this season?
Murphy: Stay consistent. That is what I'm really trying to do. I'm not trying to have a great month and then get down and have a bad month. I'm trying to stay fairly consistent so when it comes to August or September, you're not going to hit the panic button.
Murphy sticks to the plan
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