By Cole Parkinson
Southern Alberta Newspapers
With four catchers on their 40-man roster, the Toronto Blue Jays front office is probably just biding their time until Gabriel Moreno forces their hand to bring him to the show.
Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Reese McGuire are all ahead of him on the depth chart as of now, but Moreno has continued to show he’s a special player and he’s ranked as the number one Jays prospect.
Throughout the regular season, he started in the Rookie league before being called up to Double-A where he destroyed the ball. In 32 games, he had 126 at-bats with 47 hits — eight of which were homers, nine doubles, and a triple. He drove in 45 RBI, collected 14 walks and only struck out 22 times. Looking at his slash line, he hit .373, had an on-base percentage of .441, and a slugging percentage of .651 which was good for an on-base plus slugging on 1.092. Pretty good for a 21-year-old in AA.
At the end of the year, he was called up to AAA Buffalo where he got into just three games and he went 1-9 in a small sample size. Another interesting development over the course of the regular minor league season was he got into a few games at third base. So while he’s likely going to be a catcher for the Jays, they may eventually move him to third to not wear him down. And with Jansen behind the dish right now and showing he’s a good defensive catcher, having Moreno comfortable at another position is probably the right call. I doubt they’d want to carry three catchers on the 26-man roster though, so you’d think he’d get the majority of his starts as a catcher or DH when called up.
And with the way his bat performed this fall in the Arizona Fall League, it certainly looks like that part of his game is more than ready for the big time.
In 22 games, he had 85 at-bats with 28 hits (11 doubles, one home run), 13 walks, and 18 RBI. His slash line was .329/.410/.494. with an OPS of .904.
Watching Arizona Fall League highlights, Moreno may not be the biggest guy, but that doesn’t mean much these days. He’s got some pop, but I think what’s most impressive has been his bat to ball skills which seem very advanced.
He makes lots of contact and he fights off tough pitches deep in counts.
His eye at the plate also looks incredibly good and he isn’t up there looking to hit every ball thrown to him. For a young hitter, that’s encouraging considering he’s going to see tons of nasty off-speed pitches in the Majors.
This fall, he caught 14 games and played at third for two. In two games at third, he had a 1.000 fielding percentage with 14 putouts. At catcher, he had a .979 fielding percentage with 127 putouts on 141 chances, 11 assists, and three errors. So, there’s still some work on the defensive side, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Young players almost always struggle with defence, but it’s the one thing that can be improved upon.
MLB.com lists his estimated time of arrival as 2022, which I think is a good guess. With the Jays needing starting pitching, they could dangle one of the catchers to try and acquire a good starter with some term. They also have a hole at third, though Santiago Espinal was good there last year, and they do have Jordan Groshans moving up the ladder. And of course, if they wanted to move Moreno full-time to third, that could be an option as well.
Either way, the Jays have plenty of options moving forward with Moreno. And with the Jays fully in contention mode, the future is bright and Moreno looks to be a part of that.
While teams have obviously been asking about inquiring him in any trade, it certainly sounds like he’s untouchable, which is probably the right call unless you’re getting one of the best players in the game back.
For now, the Jays should stay the course and keep developing Moreno until he’s ready. There’s no major rush at the moment so they can let him start in AAA to begin the 2022 season and if crushes pitchers there, I think he’ll be up in no time — similar to Vlad Guerrero Jr. in 2019.