Tigers prospect Steven Moya is tearing up Double-A pitching
DETROIT — The future is up for grabs in the outfield for the Detroit Tigers. They don’t have an outfielder signed beyond the 2015 season, and it’s anyone’s guess how the position group will shake out in the years to come.
But there’s one thing you can count on: Steven Moya will be part of it.
Moya’s play in spring training forced the Tigers to consider him for a roster spot because of his five-tool abilities and performance. They resisted, however, because making the jump from Class A to the majors would’ve been a huge risk. But now Moya, selected to the Futures Game for top prospects earlier this month, is one step away from Detroit.
He’s shown that he can dominate at the Double-A level by leading the Eastern League in home runs (24), RBI (80) and slugging percentage (.541) for the Erie SeaWolves. The big right fielder also ranks second in the league with 27 doubles. All that remains for Moya is a stint with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Lance Parrish, the former Tigers All-Star catcher, has managed Moya, 22, this season in Erie.
"He’s a young guy with tremendous talent," Parrish said in a phone interview. "It’s just a matter of him playing every day and working on his swing, learning the strike zone better.
"But his potential is off the charts. He has as much power as anyone, and runs well with those big strides. He’s legit. I can very easily see him being an impact player in Detroit."
Detroit manager Brad Ausmus watched Moya in Grapefruit League games and knows what he could deliver in a year or two. "He has a very good swing and extreme power," Ausmus said.
Moya never gets cheated when he takes a cut.
"You can’t be afraid to swing," he explained.
As a result, he strikes out way too much — 110 in 375 at-bats. But teams will look the other way on that with thumpers capable of 30-40 homers who knock in runs at a high rate.
And there’s one big plus about his hitting to consider. The left-handed swinger is batting .256 versus lefties and .264 against righties. So, he doesn’t appear to be someone who’ll require platooning to begin with.
Moya’s progress had been slowed by injuries. He’d never played more than 93 games in one season before playing in 97 this year with 41 games remaining on the schedule. Elbow, hamstring and shoulder injuries have kept him from putting together a full season.
But all’s been well this season, and Moya’s gaining attention with both his power and arm. He started a triple play recently against Altoona by fielding a line drive, getting momentum on the throw with a crow hop, and firing a strike to the mitt of the first baseman, who threw to second base for the third out.
Moya is listed at 6-foot-6 and 229 pounds, but when I finished an interview with him in Lakeland, Fla., Moya waved me back to clarify something important to him.
"I am 6-foot-7 and weigh 245 pounds," Moya said with a smile.
He has rare size for a baseball player, being similar in frame to Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield (6-6, 220 pounds) and former Tigers first baseman Tony Clark (6-8, 205), who is now the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
However, Moya doesn’t lumber like most big sluggers. He has stolen 13 bases and flies from first to third base with his long strides.
I can very easily see him being an impact player in Detroit.
"He makes the field look small," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said during spring training.
Moya played shortstop as a teenager, but said that Tigers director of Dominican Republic operations, Ramon Perez, switched him to outfield because it was obvious he would out-grow a middle-infield position.
Moya was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, but raised in the Dominican. Despite growing up in a baseball-crazy island nation, he focused on karate and basketball. He loved playing stick ball and tried Little League baseball as a youngster, but didn’t have much success until an Arizona Diamondbacks scout discovered him as a 14-year-old.
A chance meeting with Tomas Berroa of the D-Backs changed Moya’s life.
"(Berroa) lived close to me and came over to ask my mom a question about the neighborhood," Moya said. "I came down to talk to my mom and he saw me. He said, ‘Who’s that guy?’ I was already 6-4. He said, ‘Does he play something?’
"My mom had no idea what Major League Baseball was or that you could get paid to play baseball. He said, ‘Look, you are wasting a lot of money with this kid. I’ll take him to a place where he can train for baseball.’ "
However, it was Perez and two Tigers scouts, Miguel Rodriguez and Miguel Garcia, who signed Moya shortly after he turned 17. Five years later, he’s on the verge of something big.
"Say, ‘Play ball!’ " said Moya, who paused to click his fingers. "And I am ready."