By: Jonah Dayton
It was never a question of if one of them would be moved, but rather who would end up the odd man out. In a league strapped for quality catchers, Toronto had three. Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno went through a winter of speculation as the Blue Jays looked to re-tool their roster following a disappointing Wild Card sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.
After signing with the Blue Jays in 2016, Moreno mashed his way through the system which led to his being named the top prospect in the sport. After spending most of 2022 playing for Triple-A Buffalo, Moreno ended up being dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in exchange for outfielder Daulton Varsho.
“I was always aware of the situation,” Moreno said, through team interpreter Alex Arpiza. “I knew being that there were three catchers, one of us would have to be moved. I was surprised that it was me, but Arizona was the one that gave me the opportunity. I know that this is a business and that’s just how it works out sometimes.”
Moreno, who slugged .651 across 32 Double-A games in 2021, experienced a bit of a power outage last year, combining for just 21 extra-base hits across 340 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors.
Moreno in the Sahlen Field bullpen last summer. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
A 25-game stint in the big leagues saw him hit .319, though a .377 slug hampered his effectiveness at the plate. The contact has never been an issue – he’s a career .310 minor league hitter across nearly 1,000 plate appearances – but the lack of power in recent months certainly removed some of that ‘untouchable-prospect-sheen’ that he once carried. Moreno says regaining the power stroke has been a priority this winter.
“Definitely been working on the physical side this offseason,” he said. “It’s going to progress [over] time, but definitely been working on the physical side so we’ll see how it translates to the offensive side.”
Though always touted as a bat-first catching prospect, Moreno’s duties behind the plate requires familiarizing himself with an entirely new pitching staff, one of the reasons he arrived at the D-Backs complex three weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Moreno says he feels more prepared as a backstop while crediting both Jansen and Kirk for helping him adjust to the responsibilities of the position.
“They both helped me out a lot,” Moreno said. “Pretty much [my] day to day preparation, being able to have preparation with the pitchers, getting to know the pitchers, they both helped me out a ton. I’ve caught several pens here, caught a couple pitchers that will most likely be on the big league staff, so just getting to know these guys and getting to know their repertoires so far.”
His new teammates have already started to take notice. Nick Ahmed, the longest-tenured Diamondback who has been in the organization since 2013 and is widely regarded as one of the team’s most important voices, has been impressed by the young catcher in the early goings.
“Just seeing him hit in the cage a little bit, obviously he’s got highly-touted hitting abilities as a prospect, so he’s definitely going to help our offence to some degree and hopefully be as a good of a catcher as he is a hitter,” Ahmed said. “He’s a good kid, from what I’ve seen so far, he’s fitting right in, he’s asking the right questions and he’s working hard every day.”
Moreno (middle-left) with the D-Backs during an early round of batting practice. Photo Credit: Jonah Dayton