With the recent news regarding the forearm fracture to Carson Kelly, the next man up for the Arizona Diamondbacks will be Gabriel Moreno, a young catcher they acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays alongside Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Jr. in exchange for Daulton Varsho last December. Moreno was once considered one of the more elite prospects in the game and still carries a pedigree that boasts some long-term upside. With Kelly likely out two months, Moreno is thrust into the spotlight and the Diamondbacks are about to get a good look at their 23-year-old catcher.
In a small 25-game sample size with Toronto last season, Moreno slashed .319/.356/.377 with relatively impressive plate discipline as he touted an 11% strikeout rate during his time in the big leagues last year. Moreno found himself hitting toward the bottom of the order during his tenure with Toronto, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in Moreno’s return to the Spring training lineup on Sunday, he was slotted in the eighth spot for Arizona.
Moreno doesn’t profile as a player that will provide a ton of power. Even during his time in the minor leagues, he hit 12 home runs in A-ball in 2019 (82 games) and even in 65 minor league games at Triple-A in 2021 and 2022, he only hit three home runs. Sure enough he only had one bomb last year with Toronto. But there aren’t too many catchers across Major League Baseball that will offer significant power. What you can take solace in is the fact he is a player that will generate plenty of quality contact and he can put the ball in play.
Among qualified hitters with at least 70 plate appearances last season, Moreno ranked fourth with his .350 BABIP, but again, the .058 ISO from a year ago once again emphasizes there may not be much power here. Now he’s still young. He turned 23 back in February after all so there’s still some strength that he can build upon.
A big downgrade for Moreno might be the lineup for the Diamondbacks. The Blue Jays are projected to contend in the AL East and a Wild Card spot. Overall, they have an offense with plenty of fire power with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. Jr., George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Matt Chapman. No one really expects too much from the Diamondbacks in the NL West especially against the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Arizona is a young team that’s on the rebuild and they won’t put up as much offense as Toronto. Some may also point out the ballpark downgrade moving from Rogers Centre in Toronto to Chase Field in Phoenix. Truthfully, Rogers Centre might be more beneficial for home runs, which Moreno wasn’t going to produce much of anyway. Both parks still have plenty of space in the outfield to put the ball and since Chase Field installed a humidor to store baseballs, there hasn’t been as much pop in that park. Either way, the new ballpark shouldn’t impact him too much given his hitter profile.
But amidst the few negatives I may have found with Moreno, we’re still looking at a catcher with plenty of playing time to start the year with Kelly likely out two months. Keith Law of The Athletic sums up Moreno’s profile perfectly: “Moreno is a super-athletic catcher who offers plus defense and a high-contact approach that probably won’t produce much power but should lead to strong on-base percentage because he makes so much line-drive contact. He’s got an above-average arm, blocks and receives well, and has made huge strides in working with pitchers given his age. He’s very aggressive at the plate, rarely walking or striking out because his plate coverage is so good, although it’s possible he’ll have to make adjustments in that area against big-league pitching.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Moreno was going outside the top 15 catchers in fantasy baseball drafts and outside the top 200 picks. But given the news regarding Carson Kelly we should be considering Moreno as potentially a top ten option heading into the first week of the season based on the playing time made available to him. If you haven’t completed your fantasy baseball drafts yet, I’d consider giving him some consideration if you miss on players like J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, Sean Murphy, Salvador Perez, and a few others. Even ESPN is showing him as rostered in only 12.8% of leagues so he’s even available on the waiver wire if you aren’t feeling confident in your backstop. Do not sleep on Moreno heading into the season in the event that he turns into a player that can provide above average plate discipline and a good batting average.
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