VIERA, Fla. — During the offseason, the Washington Nationals played the same game of roster roulette as every other team. As the wheel spun, Tyler Moore’s name came up often.
Will the Nats re-sign Adam LaRoche? If not, Moore can play first base. Unless Michael Morse moves there. Then Moore can play left field. Will they trade Morse? If they re-sign LaRoche and don’t trade Morse, does Moore fit in anywhere?
Moore did the only thing he could think of while the talks continued to swirl.
He went hunting. With some success.
“I shot a good 8[-point buck] and a bunch of does,” Moore, a Mississippi native, said in his distinctive drawl. “It’s a fun time, a way to get away from it.”
Things ended up turning out the way most people expected. It was hard to imagine the 2013 Nationals without Moore in some capacity. LaRoche did re-sign, for two years. The team ended up trading for Denard Span, pushing incumbent center fielder and 2012 National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper to left. The Nats also traded Morse.
So when the spinning was done, Moore, 26, ended up with the same job he had as a rookie in 2012. He’ll be a backup at the corner outfield spots and also play some first base. Though Moore does not see that as automatic.
“Yeah, it may open up an opportunity to play kind of the role I did last year,” Moore said. “I want to come in and compete. You never know what’s going to happen in this game. I want to stay positive and look forward.”
Let’s look back a little first.
The Nationals have really liked Moore for a long time. So much so they drafted him three times.
They took him in the 41st round in 2005. He didn’t sign. They took him in the 33rd round in 2006. He didn’t sign. They took him in the 16th round in 2008. He signed.
Moore didn’t show a ton of pop his first two seasons, hitting a combined 15 home runs at the Rookie and Single-A levels. The next year, he really started showing why the Nats called his name three times. He hit 31 home runs and drove in 111 at Single-A Potomac. In 2010, he hit 31 more home runs with 90 RBI at Double-A Hagerstown.
Moore’s 2012 season began in Triple-A Syracuse. When his power surge continued, he found himself in the big leagues. He was called up for the first time April 29, sent back down a month later and recalled for good June 7.
“I struggled early, didn’t have many at-bats,” Moore said. “I talked to a lot of guys, started getting comfortable and I really felt like I grew into a role on this team.”
That’s putting it mildly. Though he only collected 156 at-bats, Moore drilled 10 home runs and posted a .263 batting average. He had a memorable pinch-hit home run late in the season to beat the New York Mets and eventual Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
He got just one at-bat against St. Louis in the playoffs. With it, he delivered a two-run single that won the game.
“I think I did OK,” Moore said of his rookie year. “There’s definitely room for improvement is what I’m saying.”
A first baseman by trade, Moore also proved competent in the outfield. He no longer identifies himself as one or the other.
“I’m both,” he said.
And if he stays both for the Nationals for a while, he’s fine with that.
Eventually, there may be a bigger role for Moore. General manager Mike Rizzo said he sees Moore “the same way as I’ve always seen him. He’s an everyday, middle-of-the-lineup guy on a lot of teams and he’s going to have a fine career.”
What Moore won’t worry about is where. He’d like it to be in Washington. It may not be.
“I’m really just trying to control what I can control,” he said. “I know they’re going to make the right decisions for this team and that’s all that really matters.”