Fall League a satisfying conclusion for Lemon

Marcus Lemon left the 2009 regular season feeling disappointed about his performance throughout the second half. But he left the '09 Fall League feeling more confident than ever about his offensive game. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 21-year-old, who was one of the top hitters in the Arizona Fall League.

No other player in the Rangers' system enjoyed the outstanding start Marcus Lemon had to the 2009 season.

After eight games at Double-A Frisco, Lemon was 17-for-29 [.586] with four doubles and a triple. He was the clear pick for the season's first Texas League Player of the Week award.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to sustain that success throughout the season.

On the heels of a breakout 2008 offensively–in which he batted .295 with 30 doubles and eight homers fro High-A Bakersfield–Lemon struggled for much of the season in Frisco. The 21-year-old seemed to lose steam as the season progressed, and he batted just .209 in 187 second half at-bats.

For the season, Lemon ended up hitting .262 with 19 doubles, five triples, one home run, and a .659 OPS.

The 2009 campaign wasn't all negative for Lemon, as he made significant strides as a defensive player. Because the young Elvis Andrus appears to have the Rangers' shortstop position locked down, Lemon saw significant action at second base this past season.

Although Lemon's range and arm strength both seemed to improve by a slight tick in '09, he is still likely better suited for second base down the line. The Florida native has the ability to play multiple positions [and he even experimented with center in the Arizona Fall League], but he is largely a middle infielder.

The Rangers sent Lemon to the Arizona Fall League a few weeks after his season with Frisco came to a conclusion. Lemon began the campaign with the Rafters playing somewhat sparingly, but he gradually earned more playing time with his dominant offensive performance.

In 18 games with Surprise, Lemon went 23-for-67 [.343] with three doubles, two triples, and four home runs. He belted all four homers in his last eight games, including three in the final four.

Over the past three seasons, Lemon has shown the ability to turn on an inside pitch and take it over the fence, but his home runs have been relatively few and far between. The 5-foot-11, 173-pound left-handed hitter is known for his solid all-fields approach and above-average plate discipline–not for his pop.

Lemon finished the 2009 season with 12 round-trippers in 396 career professional games. Then, playing against the best competition of his career, he popped four in eight games.

The power surge may not be all that significant down the road. Lemon is extremely unlikely to develop into a 20 home run hitter in the Major Leagues. However, the Fall League stint certainly proved that he has the ability to hit against elite competition.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with the infielder after he returned home from Arizona.

Jason Cole: I know you played a lot of centerfield out there in the Fall League–nine of your 18 games to be exact. Where was that coming from?

Marcus Lemon: To be quite honest, I know we had a couple of guys go down–a couple of outfielders. Two outfielders went down on injuries and weren't able to return. They actually went home because of those injuries, and we were short on outfielders. We had plenty of middle infielders who were healthy and able to go out there every day.

In my case, the organization approved that I was athletic enough to play centerfield. It gave me an opportunity to get some more at-bats and be able to play more, so I wasn't going to decline it if I could get into the game. I want to play under any circumstances if I can get in there. It gave me the opportunity to play and I said that I'd go out there.

Cole: Had you ever really played in the outfield before this, at any level of baseball?

Lemon: No, I had never played centerfield. Actually, I've never played any position besides shortstop until this year. The first time I had ever played second base was this year as well. I've never really played anywhere else.

Cole: How long did it take you to get accustomed to playing in centerfield, and what were some of your biggest challenges out there?

Lemon: I wouldn't say I'm comfortable with playing center, but I just did as I was told. I attempted to do the best I could since I've never practiced there–I've never taken any fly balls besides when you're in BP.

I gave it my best effort. I ran with the ball and always tried to get the best jump I could off the bat and just tried to catch it. Other than that, I couldn't tell you if I did a good job or not, but I did the best I could.

Cole: How was it to read line drives right at you and things like that? The stuff you're not really used to doing.

Lemon: I won't say it's easy. I definitely won't say that. I've got a new respect for it. It's a lot different, too, taking a ball off the bat in BP and then taking one live in the game. It's very different. I have a new respect for the outfielders. I'm not just going to say, ‘Ah, that's easy. All you've gotta do is run and catch a ball in the air. You've got an easy job.'

I won't say that it's too difficult, but I know it was a lot more difficult than I thought. Especially with balls straight at you. To your left or your right is not too bad, but the ball straight at you is difficult to read whether it was hit off the bat well or whether it is in front of you. But I talked to some of the guys, and they told me that's just something that comes with getting a lot of reads and a lot of repetition.

Cole: Do you know if there's a chance that you'll spend some time in the outfield this next season? Have you talked to the Rangers about it?

Lemon: I don't know. They've talked about it, and we've discussed it. Of course, nothing is in stone yet. Of course I would feel more comfortable being in the middle infield because that's all I've known–playing in the infield. Other than that, I don't know for sure, as of right now, what they have planned. But I guess I'll see and we'll find out.

Cole: I think it's safe to say the big story of your Fall League season was your offensive performance. Overall, what were your thoughts on it?

Lemon: To be honest with you, I was going to work on things and swing the bat a little bit. I didn't have the conclusion, the end to the season, that I wanted to have this year. Especially after the way I started, I thought it would've been a lot better year than what the results were for me. I wouldn't say they were completely horrible, but not to my expectations.

So I thought it was a good opportunity for me to kind of get back to where I thought I should've been at the end of the year. I really didn't think too much–I actually didn't know what I hit until I came home yesterday. I asked my dad and he told me. I didn't follow up, I didn't keep up with that stuff. I prefer not to know my stats when I'm playing because you know when you're doing good, and you know when you're doing bad.

I felt like that was more of an opportunity for me to grow and develop as a hitter and really show my organization and whoever else was there that I can swing the bat. I hope, by the end, that I was able to show them that.

Cole: You said you're not much of a stat guy, but I looked the other day and saw you finished seventh in the league in slugging percentage. After you struggled with power in Frisco, where did that sudden power surge come from?

Lemon: I won't say I haven't had the power. I hit quite a few home runs in the Cal League. From my standpoint, maybe I just didn't have it this year when it came to home runs. I've always had it in there. Maybe not to hit like ten or fifteen bombs. I feel like I could at least put up three–I hit three in my first full season. I don't know.

I worked hard when I had the opportunity to come home. Like I said, I wasn't really excited or happy with my conclusion to my season. I expected more, so I knew the Fall League was going to be very important for me. I felt that there are no excuses, but I could be bigger, I could be stronger, I could be faster–whatever it took.

In order to get to the big leagues, I had to do it, so in those three weeks that I got the chance to come home, me and my dad talked about it and I worked as hard as I could. I didn't want any more time to slip away where I felt disappointed in my performance.

Cole: You said earlier that you went to the Fall League to work on some things offensively. What were those things that you were focusing on with Brant Brown up there?

Lemon: I talked to all of our instructors. I asked them how many times a week I would be playing, what kind of guy was I–a taxi guy, a priority guy. They informed me what I was going to be. As soon as they told me what it looked like for me when it came to playing, I knew that I had days where I could work and lift a little bit more and do some more running–stuff like that.

I wanted to work on being able to be a stronger hitter–to be more consistent. I wanted to find something that was comfortable that I could maintain not only in the Fall League, but also through the offseason and for a full season. Something that I could take and claim as my own. I don't want to feel like I'm doing something different every day trying to get comfortable in the batter's box or with my swing. It was more of a comfort thing. Our hitting instructor–Brownie–helped me a lot. He got me situated and took it from there. Eventually it evolved into the game.

Cole: Like you said, the end of your season in Frisco didn't go quite like you wanted. But now that you got the chance to finish it off with a great Fall League, how big is this going into next season momentum-wise?

Lemon: Every year is different. I guess I will take this as moving forward. It was good because I learned a lot. If anything, I learned a lot. I faced a lot of good pitching. A lot of good guys, a lot of good players, and a lot of good competition. Going into this next year, I have the confidence of knowing exactly what I want to do because now I feel like I actually learned a lot.

I know myself a lot better than I have in the past. But I've still got a lot to learn, so there's no guarantee that I'm going to do as well this next season as I did in the Fall League or like I started in Frisco this past year. I could start the way I finished. But I know from the standpoint of learning, it's a learning process and I learned a lot. I'm going to try and pick what I learned and take it into next season.

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