At 21, Blue Jays prospect is beyond his years

May 19th, 2021

Back in 2016, a 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop named was approached by a Blue Jays scout at a workout. They asked if he’d step behind home plate and make a few throws down to second, as a catcher.

This wasn’t what Moreno expected when he showed up that day, but he was eager to play along and did just that. He finished the workout with some hitting and fielding drills, and soon after, was offered a contract by the Blue Jays. Moreno consulted with his agent and his father, who both supported the idea, but still, this was a position he’d never played.

“No, never in my life before that. I’d never even worn the gear, nothing,” Moreno said through a team translator. “But what I showed in that moment when I threw to second base, I felt very comfortable making those throws. I guess it all worked out.”

Yes, it did. Moreno, 21, is now the Blue Jays’ No. 7 prospect and you should get used to hearing his name. Despite being one of the younger players in Double-A, Moreno is off to one of the best starts in the Northeast League, ranking third in average (.415) and fourth in OPS (1.124). He has a hit in all 10 games this season, and on Tuesday, launched a three-run home run to the opposite field.

The Blue Jays aren’t lacking catching depth, with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in the big leagues, Alejandro Kirk on the IL and No. 18 prospect Riley Adams in Triple-A. It’s Moreno’s name, though, that is brought up unprompted in conversation after conversation with members of the Blue Jays’ front office and player development staff. Evaluators from other organizations are well aware of Moreno's talent, too.

“He really is complete as a well-rounded player with growth [ahead], of course, because of his youth, but he has all of the attributes to be an everyday Major League catcher,” said general manager Ross Atkins prior to the season. “He has the intellect, the discipline, the toughness and then a really well-rounded offensive approach that has made him one of the better prospects in baseball.”

It’s easy to be optimistic if you’re the Blue Jays. Moreno is still taking clear strides in his development, and as the organization keeps setting goals in front of him, he continues to knock them down.

A recent priority for Moreno was improving his plate discipline. This started at the alternate site in 2020, an experience that was “anxious” at first for Moreno, going up against more established players, but he settled in quickly and opened the eyes of not just coaches, but fellow players as well. Then, Moreno played in 18 games in the Venezuelan Winter League with his hometown team, Cardenales de Lara in Barquisimeto. There, Moreno hit .373, but more importantly, he walked 11 times compared to just six strikeouts.

The next step in Moreno’s development, like any 21-year-old catcher, is defense.

“I love and admire Salvador Perez, Willson Contreras and Robinson Chirinos. When I started catching, I used to watch them a lot," Moreno said. "I liked the way all three guys set up. I was working on that and learning the position, so I used to watch a lot of games when they were playing, or their videos.”

With Toronto’s current catching setup through Triple-A and the Majors, the club can be as patient as they like with Moreno. He’ll continue to see everyday reps in a lineup that’s stacked with prospect talent, including No. 2 Austin Martin and No. 3 Jordan Groshans. There are some similarities to Toronto’s 2018 Double-A squad, which featured Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio and went on to win the league championship.

The “catcher of the future” tag has bounced around so much in Toronto that it’s been unofficially retired, but Moreno represents another high-end option for this Blue Jays organization moving forward. Not bad for a converted shortstop who signed for one of the smaller bonuses ($25,000) in the 2016 class.