Before Spring Training began, the writers at MCB were asked in our weekly roundtable, What/who are you looking forward to watching come spring?
For me, this was easy. The young prospects catch my attention every spring and this year hasn’t been any different. Guys like Nick Castellanos and Ian Krol have faired well, but the big surprise comes from an unlikely 22-year old, who hasn’t even had one at-bat in Erie (AA) in his minor league career.
Steven Moya has been on a tear in Grapefruit League play thus far. In 11 games, he is 7-for-17 (.412) with five RBI and an OPS of 1.092. His previous ten spring games –from 2010-2013– Moya went 2-for-15 with eight strikeouts.
Moya hails from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico and began his minor league career in the Domincan Summer League in 2009 as one of two 17-year-old position players on the roster. The six-foot-six outfielder spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons at West Michigan (A) where he totaled 595 plated appearences. In 2012, Moya posted his best slash line of his minor league career, .288/.319/.481 including nine home runs in only 258 plate appearances.
In 2013, Moya moved up to Lakeland (A+), where he set career highs in games played (93) and RBI (55). He has taken spring training by storm with his crazy stat line so far.
The thing about Moya is that he is so raw which makes his ceiling so high. Injuries have hindered his progress, especially undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. He has a total of 1,382 plate appearances in five minor league seasons.; to say he is raw is quite the understatement.
This quote from an article about Moya by Tigers beat writer Jason Beck says it all:
Moya is a natural right-hander. He didn’t swing left-handed until somebody dared him.
“I never swing lefty before, but I knew that I could hit lefty,” Moya said. “So, I started hitting lefty and sending it out. Since that day, I started hitting from both sides, until the day I signed. The team told me they wanted me to focus on just one side, and don’t worry about left-handed pitchers, that I will learn.”
Basically, Moya just started focusing on hitting left-handed once he began pro ball which is incredible. I wrote an article earlier in the winter about the top 5 most intriguing Tigers prospects for 2014, and maybe, I should have included Moya.
It seems that Moya could be the hidden gem inside a rough farm system for the Tigers. The lack of games played and plate appearances have kept Moya in the shadows of other young guys who have thrived. He is no where near ready for the big leagues today, but his raw power has caught the Tigers eye this spring, despite not hitting a home run yet.
Once he accumulates more at-bats against better minor league pitching, he could see an increase in his numbers, especially against right-handers.
Speaking of strikeouts, that has been the biggest negative attached to Moya. In four minor league seasons, his K% is as follows: 44.4%, 37.7%, 22.9% and 27.3%. He is slowly improving, but 27.3% in 2013 would have put him among the top ten worst K% of qualified batters. Half of the outs he has made this spring have been via the strikeout.
If Moya wants to display his power at the major league level, he’s going to have to cut down on the strikeouts. Moya has struggled against low-level minor league pitching, so for some to say that power will translate right away to the bigs is a bit outlandish. Remember, he’s not facing teams’ best pitchers each at-bat in spring training, either.
Moya’s spring numbers are too small of a sample in exhibition games to forecast that he should be in the majors this season. The numbers should be seen as more of a prelude to his 2014 season which will most likely begin in Erie.
What should Tigers fans expect from Moya this season?
I see a mini-breakout year for Moya, if he can stay healthy. He has a former major league hitting coach to learn from and a drop in K% should be expected as Moya has seen a steady decline in his strikeouts since his first season in the DSL.
Moya is also healthy which is a major component to his development. If he can play the most of the games in Erie in 2014, a spike in power numbers could also be a possibility as his stroke improves from the left-side.
Moya’s major league future is so hard to predict because of his high ceiling. It’s difficult to see him as an everyday outfielder or first baseman because of the strikeout rate. It’s hard to have a guy like that in the lineup, who doesn’t walk much and accumulates plenty of strikeouts.
I see Moya similar to former Tiger Marcus Thames if he is able to crack the big leagues, only from the other side of the plate. Thames didn’t play in over 60 MLB games in a given season until he was 27, which is very possible for Moya as well. Thames rarely walked and his strikeout rate never dipped below 20%.
Similar to Thames, Moya isn’t the greatest defender which could push his bat into the designated hitter role. I’m not sure if Moya can hit over 25 homers in a season like Thames did on limited playing time, but the ability hit for extra bases is similar.
That is a safe comparison, even if Thames is a right-hander and Moya bats lefty. While Thames did enjoy a few decent seasons in the bigs, he never started regularly because of his poor defense and strikeouts, but his power was a huge asset to the 2006 American League champion team (26 HR and .549 SLG %).
Moya is having a tremendous spring, but it shouldn’t indicate that he is major league ready in 2014. He won’t even be ready in 2015, but the Tigers have shown their patience with Moya. His solid Grapefruit League season and extended stay in camp should kickstart that mini-breakout season mentioned before.