- Associated Press - Saturday, February 24, 2018

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Colin Moran was considered one of the best players in college baseball in 2013 while starring at North Carolina.

“We loved him going into the draft that year,” Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “He was a player we had a lot of interest in.”

The Pirates finally got their man Jan. 13 when they acquired Moran and three other players from the Houston Astros in a trade for right-hander Gerrit Cole. Moran is penciled in as the starting third baseman, with veteran David Freese moving into a backup role.

The Pirates never got the chance to draft Moran four years ago. They had the ninth and 14th picks in the first round but the Miami Marlins chose him at No. 6.

Moran has yet to make the impact that many scouts expected. The Marlins traded him to the Astros in 2014 and he played in just 16 major league games with Houston, hitting a combined .206 with one home run in 2016 and 2017.

The Pirates, though, believe they are acquiring Moran at the right time after he batted .308 with 18 home runs in 79 games with Triple-A Fresno last season. A year earlier, Moran had just a .259 average and 10 homers for the Grizzlies in 117 games.

The Pacific Coast League has the reputation of inflating hitters’ statistics. However, Huntington believes Moran’s improvement at Fresno was not a product of the environment.

“He struggled at Fresno the previous year and it was the same league,” Huntington said. “Our scouts believe he made adjustments that caused him to have the kind of success he is going to be able to sustain.”

Moran made changes to his swing before last season while working with then-Astros minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Albert, who is now their major league assistant hitting coach.

While launch angle was all the rage among hitters last season, in which they consciously tried to hit more balls in the air, Moran said he and Albert worked on fundamentals.

“Just having sound hitting mechanics more than anything else,” Moran said at the Pirates’ spring training camp. “Finding ways to get the ball to the bat more quickly.”

The Astros called Moran up from Fresno last July 21 and he homered off the Baltimore Orioles’ Richard Bleier that night. However, Moran suffered facial fractures and a concussion the next day when he fouled a pitch off his face and was placed on the disabled list.

By the time Moran was activated Sept. 25, the Astros had clinched the American League West title and Alex Bregman had established himself as the everyday third baseman. Moran was not included on the postseason roster as Houston won its first World Series title.

“It was unfortunate and disappointing,” Moran said of the injury. “I was swinging the bat well and I felt like I could contribute.”

The Pirates hope Moran can be a big contributor as it appears they will be without third baseman Jung Ho Kang for a second straight season. Kang has been unable to obtain a work visa to enter the United States from South Korea since being arrested for DUI for a third time in December 2016.

Kang hit a combined 43 home runs in 2015 and 2016 for Pittsburgh.

Freese served as the Pirates’ primary third baseman last season, batting .263 with 10 homers in 130 games.

“It’s a great opportunity here for me and I’m excited about it,” Moran said. “It seems like a really good fit.”

NOTES: Left-handed relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist was signed to a minor league contract Saturday and invited to major league camp. The five-year veteran made a combined 46 appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies last season, posting a 1-1 record with one save and a 4.81 ERA. . Outfielder Corey Dickerson is expected to join the team Monday. He was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade Thursday, the same day his wife gave birth to a son in Mississippi.

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