Moreno, already a pro at adapting, prepares for debut

June 11th, 2022

DETROIT -- One of the things you'll notice very quickly about Gabriel Moreno is his character. Along with the bat and the arm -- maybe even a little more so -- his approach to all things challenging is a big reason he is on the cusp of a big league debut at the tender age of 22.

As he sat in the visitor's dugout at Comerica Park on Friday during the first media scrum of his nearly official Major League career, Moreno was visibly excited, a little nervous and, most of all, determined to conduct the interview in English. He held court for nearly 20 minutes prior to Toronto's 10-1 series-opening win against the Tigers, occasionally conferring with team interpreter Hector Lebron but adamant to forge ahead and work at it until interviews in English come naturally.

No one told him he couldn't just speak Spanish and lean on Lebron; Moreno's just one of those guys who wants to get better at something -- anything -- every day. It's what he does with baseball, and what he did with the transition from infielder to catcher.

"The last couple of years, I've been getting better as a catcher, mentally and physically," said Moreno, the Blue Jays top prospect per MLB Pipeline. "Every year, I've been developing new skills overall. ... I think that's the key. I've been following the plan, my routine, every day, and I like where I'm at right now."

It's the type of approach Moreno -- who was recalled on Saturday for his MLB debut against the Tigers -- employed to rise from long-shot signing on the international market in 2016 to the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball. When the Blue Jays asked him to transition from infielder to catcher, he accepted the challenge wholeheartedly. He didn't stop at simple instruction though, putting on nearly 15 pounds of muscle during the 2017-18 offseason to physically evolve into the position as well.

"He was always a really strong competitor," said Andrew Tinnish, the Blue Jays' VP of international scouting. "He adapted to [catching] very quickly. ... He works really hard on just learning the finer points of the game."

As it has done lately, excitement continued to build around the Gabriel Moreno Show as it pulled into Comerica Park on Friday afternoon, dressed in Blue Jays blue and ready to impact the roster. One day after the Blue Jays pounded out 15 hits -- including three homers during a four-run second inning in Detroit -- they further bolster their lineup with the addition of Moreno.

And no one's more eager to join the fray than the young catcher.

"Being in Triple-A, that was what I had in front of me and I was making the most out of it and just getting prepared for whatever the goal was," Moreno said. "[It's a] dream come true."

Saturday marks the culmination of a lot of hard work in a lot of areas for Moreno, who signed as an amateur out of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, for $25,000. He hit .324 and had a .784 OPS in 36 games with Triple-A Buffalo this season, and showed marked improvement against the running game by throwing out 54 percent of would-be basestealers.

Moreno, who received news of his promotion from Bisons manager Casey Candaele on Wednesday night, said his skipper called him into the office and pulled the ol' switcheroo.

"The hitting coach [Corey Hart] was there, also," Moreno said. "He told me that we needed to keep working on some different things regarding my offense but that, unfortunately, I wasn't going to be able to do it in Buffalo -- that I was going to do it in the big leagues."

Moreno met the moment with a laugh. He admitted to being overwhelmed by the news at first but added that he would always rather have laughter than tears.

There's no telling what the future will bring for Moreno. Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo made it clear that to place any specific expectations on the youngster right now would be unfair. Montoyo couldn't help but compare the opportunity to that of catcher Alejandro Kirk, who's just 23 but has made quite the impression in his first shot as Toronto's everyday starter behind the plate.

"[Moreno's] going to get a chance, for sure," Montoyo said. "We've seen this other kid do it -- Alejandro Kirk -- so maybe [Moreno] can do something close to that. He's got the tools to do it for sure, so we'll see.

"Everybody loves him. That's the best compliment I can give him."