Moreno notches 1st MLB hit in final AB of debut

Top prospect shows off defensive skills in first start with Blue Jays

June 12th, 2022

DETROIT -- Canada is just a stone’s throw from Comerica Park, so it was understandable that the Blue Jays’ fan base was strong in the crowd on Saturday afternoon against the Tigers.

Of course, it might also have had a little to do with everyone wanting the first peek at MLB’s fourth-best prospect in his Major League debut.

To his credit, catcher Gabriel Moreno did not disappoint. The Blue Jays’ top prospect caught a runner stealing, had a mound visit, fielded a popup, threw down to first, blocked pitches and more during Toronto’s 3-1 loss to the Tigers.

Collecting his first hit was the cherry atop a banner day for the kid who has gone from a 16-year-old undrafted free agent from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to one of the game’s most promising young backstops in less than seven years.

Moreno soaked up every bit of it.

“It’s been very emotional,” he said via team translator Hector Lebron. “I will remember this moment the rest of my life.”

Manager Charlie Montoyo cautioned on Friday that the last thing he wanted was for his newest player to feel any pressure during his debut, so it was only fitting that Moreno came to the plate in the top of the ninth with two outs and his team trailing. Scouts and coaches alike have commented on Moreno’s ability to excel under those exact conditions, and Moreno gave them all a nod with a 105.2 mph liner up the middle for his first big league hit.

The single was a reward for a day full of hard work. Pregame was filled with jitters and smiles, and a prearranged batting practice meeting with Tigers slugger and fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, a future Hall of Famer who Moreno called “a legend” and the “biggest, best hitter that we have back in Venezuela.”

Like a kid on Christmas morning, Moreno beat batterymate Kevin Gausman and, well, everyone except home-plate umpire Nic Lentz out to the field in the bottom of the first inning.

The first play Moreno made as a Major Leaguer came three batters into the bottom of the first inning, and it worked right into one of the things he has done best in his career: throwing down. Gausman’s 2-2 splitter to Austin Meadows tailed wide, allowing Moreno to transfer and fire to second base in one fluid motion, and he unleashed a laser that led shortstop Bo Bichette right into baserunner Victor Reyes’ path.

Bichette caught the ball and tagged a diving Reyes when the latter was still a good five feet from the bag. The collision of Reyes and glove knocked the ball loose, though, and Reyes was initially credited with a stolen base. The ruling was later reversed, changed to a caught-stealing and an error on Bichette, while Moreno was credited with an assist.

“He’s really good,” said Gausman, who took the loss despite allowing just one earned run across six strong frames. “I mean, you see his arm when he throws to second -- it’s just … I can hear it when it goes by; that’s pretty cool.” 

For Moreno, who threw out 54% of runners who tested him at Triple-A Buffalo this season prior to his promotion, the rest of the game was business as usual with a few extra smiles sprinkled in. Cabrera, who hails from three hours east of Moreno’s hometown, hollered, “Good throw!” from the on-deck circle on the Reyes throwdown.

Tigers third baseman Harold Castro -- who is from Caracas, Venezuela, and who also took time to chat during batting practice -- used his bat to tap Moreno fondly on the back of his shin guards, a subtle “Welcome to The Show, kid,” greeting before Castro smacked a single up the middle to score Reyes with the game’s first run.

Moreno’s first hit as a Major Leaguer didn’t come until his fourth at-bat Saturday, but that didn’t slow him any, nor did it worry anyone: Moreno hit .324 with Buffalo this season and boasts a career .311 average in the Minors, and his makeup and baseball acumen suggest that those numbers will transfer with his promotion.

“It’s always great to see the first hit,” Montoyo said, “and then it’s more impressive when somebody throws 100 [mph] and he hits a line drive up the middle.”

Perhaps no one in attendance Saturday was prouder than Blue Jays scout Francisco Plasencia, who discovered Moreno as a 14-year-old that even then Plasencia felt “was a no-doubter as a hitter.”

“When I signed him, I knew that he was going to make it to the big leagues,” Plasencia added. “I didn’t know how long it was going to take to make it. It was quicker than I thought.”