When Clark Murphy was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB Draft, he was regarded as a promising but raw hitter with plenty of power potential.
Murphy certainly didn't show many signs of being raw in his debut summer. After signing with the Rangers, he reported to the rookie-level Arizona League and batted .358. He had seven doubles, three triples, one home run, and 12 walks in 95 official at-bats. Murphy followed it with a strong showing at Fall Instructional League in October '08.
The Southern California native's impressive performance led the Rangers to place him at Single-A Hickory out of Spring Training in 2009. Unfortunately, that's when the struggles began.
Murphy scuffled both offensively and defensively in 33 games with the Crawdads, hitting just .218 with six doubles in 110 at-bats. He was sent to Extended Spring Training after only 33 games and reported to Spokane when the short season began.
The first baseman didn't show much improvement in Spokane, as he posted a .228/.289/.325 slash line with 77 strikeouts in 56 contests.
As Murphy explains below, he began to alter both his mechanical and mental approach in Spring Training this year. He refined his game during Extended Spring Training before reporting to short-season Spokane for a second consecutive summer.
So far, the 20-year-old is showing improvement in all facets of the game.
Murphy is showing maturity as a hitter in his second tour of duty with the Indians. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefty has started his summer by going 34-for-98 [.347] with 23 walks against 16 strikeouts.
Though Murphy doesn't have quite enough plate appearances to qualify among the Northwest League leaders yet, his .476 on-base percentage would be tops in the circuit. His .347 batting average would rank second.
The Fallbrook High School product is also beginning to develop as a defender. While Murphy isn't the most athletic of first basemen, he has spent hours upon hours taking extra ground balls over the last year.
The extra work Murphy has put in defensively has made him a more fundamentally sound player at first base, and he has committed just one error thus far this summer.
Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with Murphy for a Q&A.
Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on the season so far?
Clark Murphy: I'm pumped for September and the playoffs. We have played well as a whole I think, and we want to come back with rings on our fingers.
Cole: You're off to a nice start personally. What are your thoughts on that level?
Murphy: I feel pretty good about my season so far. I'm seeing the ball well at the plate and I take a lot of pride in my defense now. A lot of the work is paying off.
Cole: I know last season definitely wasn't what you expected. Tell me about your mental state throughout your struggles last year, and how were you eventually able to put it past you?
Murphy: Last year was not a good year statistically at all for me. But I did learn a tremendous amount from it, not only about the game but also about myself. It helped me learn how to deal with failure, and this year it is much easier for me to bounce back from a bad day or even a bad week. Now I know what to expect and how to handle it.
Cole: I know you had some struggles on both sides of the ball for a lot of last season. Were your offensive problems sometimes carrying over into the field or vice versa?
Murphy: Early in the year last year I did. But my defense continued to improve through the season. While I was in Spokane, for the most part I was able to separate the two.
Cole: How far do you feel your defense has come since last year? What areas have you focused on the most?
Murphy: I tell my infielders that they can throw it in the dirt and I will pick it––but just don't throw it over my head because I can't jump! But I feel like I am a much better defender right now.
Cole: You went to the Dominican Republic just prior to Spring Training to spend some time focusing on your fielding. Tell me about that trip.
Murphy: I worked with Kenny Holmberg, Ryley Westman and Alexi Infante down there for the most part. It really helped me become a better ballplayer and I had a blast down there too. It's a great place to work on things because it's all baseball down there. There was a whole lot of young talent down there, too.
Cole: You had 28 walks over 89 total games last season. In your first 31 games in Spokane this summer, you've already got 21 free passes. What has been the key behind that?
Murphy: I have a much better plan at the plate and I'm not afraid of hitting with two strikes. I go up there and try to see the ball as best I can. As a result, I chase less pitches and put better swings on the ball more consistently.
Cole: Have you made any major mechanical adjustments or changes over the last year?
Murphy: I have made a few adjustments. I spread out to get in my legs more and settle my head. I've cut down as much hand movement as I could without losing my sense of rhythm and timing in the box. In doing so, I've created a much more direct path to the ball.
Cole: Did you do those things during the 2009 season, or did that come this year?
Murphy: I tried a few different things last year, but I didn't have much consistency. This year, I started making adjustments midway through Spring Training and continued to work with Josue Perez in Extended, where I found some comfort and consistency with it.
Cole: Coming out of high school, you were best known for your raw power. But so far in Spokane, you've been more of an on-base percentage guy and got your first home run tonight. Do you think about the power numbers even when you're going well at the plate like you are right now?
Murphy: I feel like and have been told that my power will come and that I need to become a hitter first. So I'm not concerned with hitting home runs right now. I concentrate more on hitting with authority and using the whole field.
Cole: What do you want to accomplish and improve upon personally before the 2010 season ends?
Murphy: I want to continue to improve on all aspects of my game. At the plate, I want to finish strong. With the glove, I want to be perfect. But most of all, I want to help this team come back with a ring on our finger.
Cole: One final sort of off-the-wall question––if you could take one player's tool on your team, out of any position player, what would you take?
Murphy: Speed like Jared Hoying so I could be a multi-position guy and swipe a few more bags. But there will be a whole lot of pigs flying before I ever steal 15 bags in a short season.
Murphy maturing as a hitter
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