This Blue Jay will be valuable to playoff run

September 10th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

In June, got his first taste of Major League Baseball.

It was a lesson for both you and Moreno. The Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect, ranked No. 7 in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, learned the big leagues are a different monster. Blue Jays fans learned that prospect development isn’t always linear, and not all prospects stick in the Major Leagues the moment they land like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

Moreno is back now, added recently for the September run, and those 18 games in June and July will only help him down the stretch.

“He gives us a lot of options with the catching spot,” said interim manager John Schneider. “He gives us a bat that’s available to pinch-hit. If he’s needed, we’re obviously comfortable with him after his first go-around here. This just gives a lot more flexibility.”

This is far different than the first time, though.

Back in June, Danny Jansen was down with a fractured bone in his hand, leaving the door open for the 22-year-old to get his feet wet alongside Alejandro Kirk. Moreno hit for some contact, batting .276 over 60 plate appearances, but posted just a .593 OPS with zero home runs. That mirrored how he’d started at Triple-A Buffalo this season, with his contact well ahead of his power.

Remember, Moreno’s start to Spring Training was put on pause as he worked out visa issues, so he was playing catchup for a stretch earlier in the season.

Since returning to Triple-A, though, Moreno has hit .304 with an .834 OPS over 26 games. There have been just two homers, but the young star has been making loud contact far more consistently. Four weeks ago, Moreno yanked a ball to left field, and it actually burst through the wall, lodging itself in the padding.

Now, the stakes are higher. Development and age no longer matter. Moreno is here to help the Blue Jays win right here, right now.

It’s possible Moreno sees the odd game behind the plate with Kirk as DH. Jansen was off to an incredible start this season, but since returning from the IL on July 12, he has hit just .209 with a .651 OPS. Jansen has had his moments and still makes for a very good offensive option in the right matchups, but he’s still looking to rediscover that early-season form.

As Schneider alluded to, Moreno should also give the Blue Jays a bat on the bench, which they’ll need. He’s not the classic slugger or platoon bat you see on most contenders’ benches, but Moreno has the ability to make contact at a very high rate and put the ball in play. That has been a weakness at times for certain hitters in the lineup, so there will be spots where Moreno lines up well.

This is particularly true after the injury to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who went on the IL on Friday with a strained left hamstring. Gurriel was attempting to beat a throw at first, but stepped awkwardly on the base and went down hard.

If Gurriel misses significant time, that will thrust Raimel Tapia into more opportunities along with Whit Merrifield and Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley Zimmer is also on the roster, but he’s expected to remain in his late-game defensive role or be used as a pinch-runner. This trickles down to thin the bench, which is where Moreno comes in.

When the Blue Jays report to Dunedin, Fla., for camp next February, this catching position will once again be one of the biggest stories. How does the team handle their catcher of the future, Moreno, alongside the 2022 All-Star starter, Kirk? It’s a great problem to have.

Until then, though, Moreno will be expected to contribute to a postseason run, which should be his first of many with Toronto.