Prospect of the Day: Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays Matt Moore enters 2012 as the consensus best pitching prospect in baseball. He made his first '12 start against the Tigers yesterday, allowing two runs on four hits in 6.2 innings with four strikeouts but five walks. He looked great last fall, but the hype for Moore has reached Strasburgian proportions. Does he have any chance to live up to expectations?
It wasn't always like this for Moore. He was an eighth-round pick in 2007, from high school in Edgewood, New Mexico. He wasn't a premium draft choice, and it took just $115,000 to sign him away from the University of New Mexico, hardly huge money. At the time he was a projectable 6-2, 195 pounder with a 90 MPH fastball, but his curveball and changeup were shaky and his command was weak.
That started to change in 2008. He began maturing physically, boosted his velocity up to 92-95 MPH, and dramatically improved both his curveball and changeup, resulting in a 1.66 ERA with a 77/19 K/BB in 54 innings in the Appalachian League. He followed that up with a 3.15 ERA and a 176/70 K/BB in 123 innings in the Midwest League in 2009. He improved his command somewhat in 2010, posting a 3.36 ERA with a 208/61 K/BB in 145 innings for High-A Charlotte. The Rays moved him cautiously through the system, giving him a year at each level.
The key for 2011: could Moore show better command? He did, in spades, posting a stunning 210/46 K/BB in 155 minor league innings between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Overall in his minor league career, Moore posted a 2.64 ERA with a 700/212 K/BB in 497 innings with just 338 hits allowed. His superb K/IP and H/IP ratios combined with his steadily-improving K/BB marks made him a spectacular statistical performer.
Scouts love him as much as the numbers do. Moore has a strong-and-athletic body at 6-2, 200. His mechanics are clean and consistent. His fastball is consistently in the 93-95 MPH range and he can reach back for more when he needs it. He relies heavily on locating the fastball, but his breaking ball is outstanding and his changeup highly-deceptive, giving him three plus pitches. His makeup is first-class, he has a strong feel for his craft, and has never had a serious injury.
Moore's command was wobbly in his first start this year, but given the progress he made in '11, I don't think this will be a significant problem for him. He is a leading Rookie of the Year candidate, and if he stays healthy he has the upside of a number one starter. The Rays showed their faith in him by giving him a five-year contract this past winter.