By JAY LeBLANC
Matt Moore used his low- to mid-90s fastball and sharp, late-breaking curve to earn Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year honors as a senior at Moriarty High School but still managed to slide all the way to the eighth round of the 2007 draft. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound southpaw posted a 2.66 ERA and fanned 29 in 20 innings for the Rookie-level Princeton Rays in his pro debut that summer but somehow failed to crack Baseball America‘s list of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ top 30 prospects. A dominant 2008 season ended Moore’s days of flying under the radar, however, and a great first couple months in 2009 has solidified his top prospect status.
Moore took a giant leap forward while repeating the Rookie-level Appalachian League last season, posting a remarkable 1.66 ERA in 12 starts. He held opponents to a .154 batting average, averaged 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings and didn’t allow a single home run. He also showed much better command than he had in his pro debut, allowing 19 walks in 54 innings after issuing 16 free passes in 20 frames in 2007. He ranked as the circuit’s top pitching prospect and its third-best overall, and jumped all the way up to No. 6 on Baseball America‘s Rays prospect rankings.
Promoted to the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods for the 2009 season, Moore is making it clear that his outstanding 2008 campaign was no fluke. The 20-year-old has a 6-3 record through 18 starts and ranks second in the South Atlantic League in strikeouts (123) and 10th in ERA (2.77). Opponents are hitting just .190 against him, and he has allowed just three home runs all season. Moore started slow, posting ERAs above 4.00 in April and May while struggling with his command, but has gotten hot along with the weather. He is 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA in his last 10 appearances, and has posted a 77-to-19 K-to-walk ratio in 55 2/3 innings during that stretch.
I had the chance to speak with Moore on Monday night while he and his Hot Rods teammates were in Salisbury, Md., to take on the Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Delmarva Shorebirds.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Rays? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: Yeah, I did. I had been to a few pre-draft workouts and I kind of had an idea that the Rays were looking at me. I had talked to the area scout and to the cross-checker. I kind of knew I was going to get drafted; I didn’t know who I was going to get drafted by. But it was definitely one of those things where it was an honor for it to happen.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: Right now I work with a fastball, a curveball and a changeup. I throw a circle-change, and right now my out pitches are my fastball and curveball.
Q: You have significantly more strikeouts than innings pitched as a pro. Why do you think hitters have such a hard time making contact against you?
A: (Laughs) I don’t know. My fastball, I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming right now. Last year I was throwing a bit harder at this time - right now I’m sitting about 89, 90, 91, touching 93, maybe 94, whereas last year I was touching 95, 96 every time out. I’ve been mixing in a changeup and a curveball real well, so maybe it keeps my fastball looking a little more live than it actually is.
Q: Are you pleased with the progress you’ve made this season?
A: Yeah, definitely. This year started off kind of slow. I was struggling a little bit. I was walking a few too many guys. I wasn’t giving up a lot of hits; I was just struggling to find the zone consistently. But the last three months … it was basically the first month of the year when that happened, and ever since then I’ve kind of figured it out. I’m still figuring a lot of stuff out, though.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: I grew up watching John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Mark Wohlers, Tom Glavine - those guys for the Braves back in the ‘90s. They just had great mound presence and demeanor, and seemed to always win 20 games a year. Those are guys I used to look up to.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Rays?
A: I don’t know. I really can’t put a timetable on it.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 - Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates; Robbie Grossman, Pirates; Brandon Waring, Orioles; Casey Kelly, Red Sox; Michael Taylor, Phillies; Brandon Snyder, Orioles; Kyle Drabek, Phillies; Drew Storen, Nationals; Nick Hagadone, Red Sox.
2008 - Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.