Prospect Retrospective: Brandon Moss
Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2012 season. Can he repeat what he did last year? Per reader request, he is the topic for today's Prospect Retrospective.
Moss was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the eighth round in 2002, from high school in Monroe, Georgia. He was considered something of a tweener physically, playing second base at first but with some scouts thinking that he'd have to move to the outfield. However, the Red Sox liked his swing and his feel for hitting. He did not do much at the outset, hitting just .204/.295/.292 in 42 games in the Gulf Coast League in 2002. He wasn't on the prospect radar at this point, for anybody but the Red Sox themselves and fanatic team followers. I don't remember even being aware of him at that stage beyond his name on a draft list and he would definitely have been a Grade C type.
Moved up to Lowell in the New York-Penn League for 2003, Moss hit .237/.290/.430. He boosted his power production and hit seven homers, but his plate discipline was shaky (15 walks, 53 strikeouts) and he moved to the outfield, increasing pressure on his bat. Again, he'd be a Grade C at that stage, although the increase in power was nice to see.
2004 was the breakthrough: he hit .339/.402/.515 with 13 homers, 19 steals, 46 walks, and 75 strikeouts in 433 at-bats for Low-A Augusta in the Sally League. Promoted to High-A Sarasota for August, he remained blistering hot with a .422/.462/.542 line in 23 games. He also drew good reviews for his work ethic and his defense in right field. The offensive improvement was traced to a combination of physical maturity/increased strength, plus a sharpening of his plate discipline. I bought into the improvement, gave him a Grade B+, and projected him as a solid major league regular.
Moved up to Double-A Portland for 2005, Moss hit .268/.337/.441 with 16 homers, 53 walks, and 129 strikeouts in 503 at-bats. This wasn't terrible, but he wasn't nearly as dominant as he'd been in '04. Scouting reports said that Moss looked confused at times, trying too hard to pull everything for power rather than stick with the all-field approach that worked so well for him in '04. I lowered his rating to a Grade B-, writing that I expected he would stabilize "somewhere between his '04 and '05 numbers" and produce a ".290/.350/.450 line" in a return to Double-A.
Indeed, the Red Sox sent Moss back to Double-A for '06, and he stabilized about where projected, hitting .285/.357/.439. He didn't swing for the fences as much, hitting just 12 homers, with his OPS going from +7 percent to +13. Again, not terrible, but not enough to boost you into a regular job as a corner outfielder with the Boston Red Sox.
I was pretty down on him at this point, lowering him to a Grade C, although perhaps C+ would have been better. My take was that Moss "will hang around the margins of Triple-A and the majors for the next ten years, picking up at-bats here and there in a reserve role, but never getting to start in the Show for any length of time."
Moss moved up to Triple-A for 2007 and hit .282/.363/.471 for Pawtucket, with 16 homers, 61 walks, but 148 strikeouts in 493 at-bats. Scouting reports indicated he was selling out his swing for power, which seemed to go along with the whiff rate. He got a shot in Boston and hit .280/.379/.440 in 25 at-bats, not bad. I was more sanguine and gave him a Grade C+ entering 2008, writing that "I think he can hit .260-.270 in the majors, with enough power and on-base percentage to be valuable. . .a good solid player."
Moss split the spring of 2008 between Pawtucket (.282/.346/.528 in 43 games) and Boston (.295/.337/.462 in 78 at-bats), then was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July. He took a regular outfield job for the Pirates the rest of the way but struggled, hitting .222/.288/.424 in 45 games, then saw semi-regular action as a platoon outfielder in 2009, hitting just .236/.304/.364 in 385 at-bats over 133 games.
As you know, he spent almost all of 2010 and 2011 back in Triple-A, producing solid power in the International League but failing to earn his way into playing time for the Pirates and Phillies. That changed in 2012: he hit .286/.371/.582 with 15 homers in 51 games for Triple-A Sacramento, followed by a .291/.358/.596 line in 84 games for the Athletics, with 21 homers in 265 at-bats.
Overall, he's hit .251/.317/.442 in 943 major league at-bats. In 162-game notation, that comes out to 27 doubles, 18 homers, 42 walks, and 126 strikeouts in 508 plate appearances.
Moss was age 28 last year, the classic age for a breakout season.
I wouldn't expect him to repeat this fully; I would not anticipate another .291/.358/.596, 160 wRC+ line by any means. But he's also not as bad as he looked a couple of years ago with the Pirates either. His Bill James Sim Scores through age 28 are Gates Brown, Jim King, Carmelo Castillo, Glenallen Hill, Matt Mieske, Kevin Reimer, and Chris Richard.
My guess is that Moss settles in as, well, a .260-.270ish hitter with an adequate OBP and enough power to be a valuable role player; in other words, what he looked like he would be four years ago. Sometimes it just takes some time to get there.