Top prospect Moreno headed to Triple-A

Blue Jays' third base options; key to facing AL East foe Tampa Bay

September 21st, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays’ catching position is one of this lineup’s biggest variables down the home stretch of the American League Wild Card race, but down in the Minor Leagues, the future of the position just took the next step.

Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno has been promoted to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, the club announced Tuesday. With a Northeast Division Championship already locked down, the Bisons enter Tuesday with a 71-46 record, giving Moreno a step up in competition after he recently returned from a thumb fracture that cost him over two months.

Prior to that injury, Moreno was one of the biggest prospect breakouts in all of baseball. With Double-A New Hampshire, the 21-year-old was hitting .373 with eight home runs and a 1.092 OPS over 32 games. Moreno will turn 22 on Feb. 14, just ahead of the opening of Spring Training next season, and just like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Nate Pearson in past springs, the club’s top prospect will be one of the biggest stories when players roll into Dunedin, Fla.

Moreno was a shortstop when the Blue Jays first saw him at 16 years old, but an evaluator asked him to make some throws from behind home plate and he stuck there. The Blue Jays love Moreno's athleticism, even giving him a game at third base in Double-A prior to his injury, and that’s what gives the club optimism that his defense will continue to develop. That’s so crucial to the latter stages of a young catcher’s growth, as we’ve seen with Alejandro Kirk in the big leagues. Kirk, like Moreno, is a gifted hitter coming off a meteoric rise from “prospect you might have heard of,” to the next big thing. While Kirk’s bat is special, Moreno’s all-around game has earned him the billing as MLB Pipeline’s No. 33 overall prospect.

The big league picture is crowded, but that’s finally a good thing again for the Blue Jays. Danny Jansen has looked significantly better since returning from a second hamstring injury while Kirk’s bat remains valuable in the bottom third of the lineup. Reese McGuire has earned some reps, too, allowing manager Charlie Montoyo to use multiple catchers each game depending on the situation.

“We’ve got three good catchers, so it could be anyone on any day,” Montoyo said. “Of course, we have Jansen who catches Ryu, and Kirk who catches Ray, but other than that we can mix and match with whoever. They’re all good. They all deserve to play.”

A crowded table at third
The Blue Jays have options at third base, but just like their catchers and the bullpen, it’s all about having one player step up with a hot stretch in late September. Breyvic Valera continues to get looks there, and clearly has the trust of his manager.

“Valera has been an impressive surprise,” Montoyo said. “He’s played really well in all of the games that he has played.”

Jake Lamb is part of this discussion, too, especially when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound. Then there’s Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal, both of whom are with Buffalo working their way back from injuries. Espinal has shown the highest ceiling of the bunch and could step back into that role soon, but it will be about daily matchups until then. By the time the offseason rolls around, this could be a position where the Blue Jays see an opportunity to add talent.

How to play the Rays
The Rays have always been a challenge for the Blue Jays. That’s been particularly clear over the past couple of seasons, as the Blue Jays have worked through the latter stages of their rebuild. Toronto’s had the talent, but Tampa Bay has always had an ability to play clean, tight baseball while capitalizing on an opponent’s mistakes, something that can strain a young team.

“Any time you play an A-team, you’ve got to play your A-game,” Montoyo said. “They’re one of those teams that, if you make an error here and there, they’ll do damage.”

Now that the Blue Jays are surging towards the postseason, though, you’re starting to see more counterpunches against the Rays. These two could be on a collision course in the AL Division Series if the Blue Jays are able to qualify for the Wild Card Game and pull off a win.