Athleticism and an above-average bat have helped Gabriel Moreno climb the Toronto Blue Jays catching ranks.
A former shortstop turned backstop, he is the eighth-best prospect in the system according to MLB pipeline rankings.
The Venezuelan native has made apparent strides, and winter ball is a big reason for that.
“Anytime you are able to walk more (than) strike out I don’t care who you are playing against, that’s a step in the right direction, especially for a kid like him,” said Hunter Mence, the Jays’ minor league hitting coordinator, referring to Moreno’s stint in the Venezuelan Winter League this past off-season.
There the 20-year-old had 11 walks and six strikeouts. Not only did he put together better plate appearances, Moreno was able to post a .373/.471/.508 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in his 18 games with the Cardenales de Lara.
It was a massive improvement from his 2019 season in A-ball with the Lansing Lugnuts, where he walked 22 times and struck out 38, with a .280 average.
Building on that foundation this spring, the Jays emphasize improving Moreno’s two-strike approach at the dish.
“One of his biggest pieces of development that he has focused on more than anything is being better with two strikes,” said Mence. “A lot of his work has been focused and centred around him being better with two strikes and almost shrinking the strike zone with two strikes which has allowed him to go deeper into counts.”
Improving happens at a much faster rate when you have the resourses needed and can process the information and add it to your game seamlessly — something Moreno has shown the ability to do.
“He has a rare ability that when you put something in a conversation with him, whether it’s in a cage or just in passing, he has this rare ability to translate it really, really fast,” said Mence. “I think we will see that quite a bit with him just in his at-bats that he will get here.”
Moreno, who, according to MLB pipeline scouting grades, is already a major league average talent. Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 40 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50 (major league average is 50, each increment of 5 or 10 makes it either better or worse than average).
He was picked up for his unique athleticism when the Jays signed him for US$25,000 as an international amateur free agent in 2016. The catcher/shortstop has a unique ability to play the backstop and the infield, as seen on full display this past summer at the alternate training site in Rochester.
“I specifically remember a ball hit to him at third base. He fielded it, threw it, and I looked up and was like, ‘Who was that? That looked pretty good,’” said Mence. “Then I was like, ‘Oh wow, that was Moreno.’ I had no idea that he was over there. He looked as smooth as he could be.”
That might play into Moreno’s cards as he progresses through a stacked pool of Jay’s catchers.