Dunedin, Fla. – So, let’s get straight to the point – that’s GAB-ree-elle, not GABE-ree-ill.
Like Gabriel Moreno, the 22-year-old Toronto Blue Jays are top prospects – one of the game’s top prospects, duration. A 2016 international signing club was discovered in Barquisimeto, Venezuela and signed for a $ 25,000 bonus at age 16. A name you will probably hear a lot this season. And a lot for the coming season.
An athletic shortstop-turned-catcher with a plus arm and sub-two second pop bar whose innate hand-eye coordination and fast, compact swing allow him to post an OPS of 1.060 at three minor-league levels in 2021, communicating and mixing the two. Strength in an advanced, all-field offensive manner. An absolute firecracker who has made rapid progress year after year since becoming a professional, was forced to move to Triple-A before his 22nd birthday, breaking up the Arizona Fall League last November, and setting himself up for an MLB debut this summer.
An unusual genius who, if asked by those who know him best, could possibly hold his own at the highest level of the game today.
“He’s ready for the big leagues,” said Max Castillo, Moreno’s teammate last season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in doubles. “He is a big-league hitter. She’s incredible. “
Well, sure, there’s nothing wrong with a brief statement like that. But what makes Moreno better?
“Everything, everything. He’s very, very good,” Castillo continued. “He’s just a very good hitter. He’s a Big-League hitter, you know? You look at him and you say, ‘This is a Big-League hitter.’
All right, all right – big-league hitters. But there must be something more specific, something that you saw in Moreno during the game or during batting practice that is different.
“It’s fun to watch him practice batting every day,” Castillo said, shaking his head. “A lot of homers. Lots of homers. I don’t think he’s trying to hit the Homers. I think he just wants to hit the ball in the opposite direction. But they are Homer. She is very good. As I said, he’s a big-league hitter. That’s it. “
And maybe that’s all it needs to be said. A colleague knows Venezuela Castillo Moreno better than many. They were roommates in New Hampshire last season and shared hotel rooms across the street. Moreno was behind seven plates in Castillo’s first nine outings before a pitch broke the young catcher’s left thumb and kept him aside for six weeks. They have played winterball together for the last two off-seasons for Cardinalles de Lara back home in Barquisimeto.
Baseball, they wake up late after talking about life. They laughed at the attention that Moreno received as one of the game’s top prospects; How her social media DMs are filled with messages from fans for autographs; The way he started getting acquainted with malls and restaurants wherever he went.
These Cardinalless teams were filled with Venezuelan veteran big-leagues such as Alberto Calaspo, Jose Tabata, Gorkis Hernandez and Ildemaro Vargas. Castillo sees Moreno, one of the league’s youngest players, hanging out with all of them. Two years ago, at 20, Moreno dropped .373 / .471 / .509 over 18 games. This past winter, rusting after spending his summer on the injury list, he posted a .758 OPS and walked every time he hit.
“There are a lot of experienced people on that team and he fits right in,” Castillo said. “It’s like here (at Blue Jess Spring Training) a lot of Big-League boys, a lot of experience. And he looks exactly the same. He is calm, normal. Like a big-league guy. “
Chavez Young agrees. The 24-year-old Blue Jess Outfield prospect recognized Moreno during training this spring and finally played in the same team with him in New Hampshire last year. He saw the shy, mild-mannered teenager a few years ago turn out to be the outgoing, fun-loving teammate to catch his outfield assist in 2021.
“We all know he’s talented – we already know he’s going to be a great baseball player. But I don’t think people understand that he is a wonderful person, “said Young. “It’s just awesome to be around. He’s a good clubhouse guy, great teammate, respectful. And he’s always smiling. For a great player like him, he has great makeup. And you just want him to be great because he’s some kind of person.”
As a possibility, Young’s calling card is a huge outfield arm, which ranks Baseball America as the best in the Toronto system. Over the years he has had to work to rein in that force, keep the ball down and give his infielders a secondary option to throw off cuts and try to catch a lagging runner trying to advance the extra base if not out on the home plate. . There
But Youngs has also learned that having an athlete like Moreno behind the plate gives him a little more chance to let go.
“I just have to put it around – somewhere near the plate and he’s going to do the rest for me,” Young said. “There was one against the Red Sox. I was in the right field, and a guy tried to tag me. And I thought, ‘This is Moreno – throw it anywhere.’ The ball ends in dirt. But, of course, Moreno made a nice pick and tagged the guy for me. “
It must have taken time for Moreno to grow as a defender, and that’s the primary reason he’s stuck in the big-league today. Catcher is the toughest position where the majors can be transferred and, having grown up at Infield, Moreno has limited experience playing it, with less than 1,200 innings behind the plate since becoming a professional at the age of 17.
For the sake of context – Danny Janssen, who will start on the opening day as a catcher for the Blue Jays, caught 2,700 short-league innings before making his Big-League debut at the age of 23. Even Castillo, who could succeed in the Atal Moreno majors today, is allowed to work on strategies, game-calling and on-the-fly adjustments.
“She is OK. But I think he needs to learn more, “said Castillo. “She is OK. He is a very good catcher behind the plate. She helped me a lot when she caught me. He just needs to talk more with the Big-League catchers and get a better idea of when they’re going to call certain pitches and everything. That’s what he needs. “
Nevertheless, Moreno’s continued growth through the Toronto system has been a rapid, annual improvement. The Blue Jays wouldn’t have pushed him to the Triple at the end of the 2021 season, where he would have had to catch up with the Big-League veterans if they didn’t think he was ready for it.
Casey Lawrence was one of those veterans. He has heard a lot about the promotions of Moreno and the potential around him – he is also a baseball fan – but he never met the young catcher until he joined the Buffalo Bison last late September. That’s when Lawrence learned that Moreno would make the final start of his season.
This was not an easy assignment. Lawrence doesn’t exactly heat up, but he throws a kitchen sink on the pitch, sinks, cuts, and runs his fastball, flips a variety of breaking balls, and fades a change. And he has a very clear idea of how many of his offers want to close each other.
“It’s hard when you’re throwing someone for the first time,” says Lawrence. “But for me, throwing six, seven pitches, it’s a little hard.”
Still, Lawrence was impressed by the simplicity of Moreno’s method of preparation. Lawrence, then 21, wanted to know how he liked to sequence; He likes to use different positions against leftists versus rightists; In that alley he wanted to set his catcher behind the plate. And Moreno, whose English have improved considerably in recent years, continued the conversation throughout the innings as the outing continued, seeking to change and adjust based on the feedback received in the game.
“It was smooth,” Lawrence said. “The man was very ready. The way the player develops now is a lot better than it was years ago. Some of these young players like him, when they go through the small leagues, they go much further than before. ”
Lawrence went five innings that day – allowing three runs on four hits and three walks on four strikes – and his seventh win of the season. Of course, it was just an outing. Lawrence Moreno’s game is not prophesying to know inside and out. But after facing 21 batsmen together, Lawrence was impressed with how mature and innate Moreno was behind the dish – especially in game calling.
“He did an excellent job of reading the swing there,” Lawrence said. “Usually, when you don’t have a relationship with someone where they have caught you too much, there is a lot of shaking that has to go on the right pitch. For me, it’s always fastball-changeup sequencing. But seeing him read the swing, where maybe a guy a little ahead of the fastball, and then go right to change to the next pitch, was big. I didn’t have to shake it to get it. “
Playing for the first time in three months, facing the highest-powered pitching, Moreno didn’t flash too much of his attacking potential during that short, three-game triple. He has only reached the base twice – a single and hit by the pitch – the presence of more than 10 plates. But he still leaves an impression on Lawrence the way he prepared before each game.
“The thing I missed the most was his mature batting practice,” Lawrence said. “A lot of times when you get a young guy going through that level, the first thing they want to do is get in there and show you how much they can hit it. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “
There is no shortage of players who have shared the clubhouse with Moreno who will say a lot about him. There is no shortage of scouts and evaluators throughout the game, who have seen him progress through his young career and believe that his ultimate destination is as an influential MLB regular. And maybe even better.
It is clear that Moreno is unusually talented. If he plays in a more straightforward defensive position, it would be great to keep his bat out of the majors today. Even still, it probably won’t be long. And when he gets there, just remember – it’s Gabby, not Gabby.
“Yeah, Gabby. We all call her Gabby,” Young says. “And then she calls me ‘Chavy.’ Xavi, what? She has this fun ritual. He’s just a great teammate. We know he’s a great ball player. It’s expected. But when you see him walking around the clubhouse, even in public outside, he is really polite. He even keeled. He never stays up and he never stays down. He always has that big smile on his face. And it’s a pleasure to watch. “