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Gabriel Moreno looks very comfortable in the big leagues.
Through his first three games, he’s already picked up four hits — including three in his first game at Rogers Centre Tuesday — and two RBIs. He's calm at the plate, and on defence, he's thrown out two runners already. Right now, the vibes are good, but that won’t last forever.
🔹 1 Runner thrown out
🔹 2 RBI
🔹 THREE Hits pic.twitter.com/iz1PaESPd9
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) June 15, 2022
Moreno possesses all the physical tools, but his mettle as a prospect will truly be put to the test once he experiences his first slump.
George Springer encountered his first slump right away. A top-20 prospect during his rookie season in 2014, Springer batted just .182 with a .481 OPS in his first 14 games with the Houston Astros.
“I started off okay, and then kind of just went on a little bit of a spiral,” Springer said. “But I think your first 100 at-bats in the big leagues are just a wash … I mean, very rarely do you see guys kind of line it up for a full year and not have to struggle.”
Springer sees Moreno as a polished hitter, which gives him faith in his rookie teammate. But the major leagues are a foreign environment. Struggling on the biggest stage isn’t the same as struggling anywhere else.
“It has to get explained to you,” Springer said. “I got told, ‘Just go play.’ Your first 100, 150 at-bats, it's a learning curve, it's a learning process. The game is going to speed up. [Moreno] is gonna be facing people he's never faced before and being in situations he's been in before, but a much different atmosphere.”
It’s not just the on-field stuff that can tank your momentum at the plate, Springer explained. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting out of bed one morning and feeling out of whack. Then the rampant self-doubt begins: Where’d my swing go? Why am I doing this? What happened?
“This game will drive you crazy,” the Jays centre fielder said. “It's a game where you're pretty much designed to fail.”
Success often comes when players let go of their failures, Springer said. "Monster" seasons happen when hitters aren’t outwardly mad at themselves or others. So far, the attitude part hasn’t been a problem for Moreno, though.
“He has, like, cold blood, or something like that,” said Francisco Plasencia, the Blue Jays scout who discovered Moreno as a teenager in Venezuela. “Because he looks like, all the time, [that] he's having fun.”
Moreno is a self-described “happy” person, and his beaming smile fits in well with an energetic Blue Jays team. But Toronto is in contention for a World Series this year, and the club is counting on Moreno to contribute right away on offence and defence.
As a young catcher, the most difficult mental hurdle is not letting your offensive troubles spill into your defensive duties, and vice versa. If you're having a bad day at the plate, there’s no time to worry about it, since the pitchers rely on you to get them through the game.
Danny Jansen, the most experienced Blue Jays catcher, prides himself on separating offence and defence.
“That's, I think, a huge part of catching,” Jansen said. “And I think it's something that you have to learn to do. But if you learn to do it at an early age, then it's gonna help you out, for sure. And when you go into those ruts with the bat and stuff, at least you know that you can help the team win behind the plate.”
Moreno hasn't struggled to produce at any level in a long time — you have to go back to the Rookie League in 2017 to find a whole season in which he had an OPS below .700. Luis Hurtado, one of two Blue Jays bullpen catchers and a long-time coach in the organization, met Moreno around that time.
Hurtado first managed Moreno in the Gulf Coast League in 2018. As the pair grew closer, Hurtado learned about what made Moreno’s approach to the game so special.
“I know failure is part of this game and then, for sure, it's gonna be part of his life at this level,” Hurtado said. “But I think the hunger to get better, the hunger to stay in this game longer, that's gonna push him to stay working and overcome the failure.”
Moreno is so gifted that he has, for the most part, avoided adversity throughout his short pro career. But, as anyone who knows Moreno can attest, when the going gets tough, he'll be up to the task.
“He's a guy [who is] humble. He's never going to stop working to get a fix,” Hurtado said.
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