PITTSBURGH -- Two years ago, Colin Moran lost his swing. His first stint with the Astros in May 2016 was a two-week struggle to hold his own against Major League pitching. Then he was back in the Minors, looking for answers.
"I got a punch in the face when I got up to the big leagues and struggled," Moran said.
Last season, Moran punched back.
Moran dramatically improved at the plate after revamping his swing last offseason. He cut his ground-ball rate and increased the number of balls he hit in the air. He slashed .308/.373/.543 in his second trip through Triple-A. Given another shot in the Majors, he was 4-for-11 with a homer and a triple for Houston before he fouled a ball off his face and sustained multiple fractures.
Moran will get a much longer look in the big leagues this year. The Pirates intend to start the 25-year-old at third base after acquiring him in the Gerrit Cole trade.
"He looked like a completely different hitter last year," said right-hander Joe Musgrove, who was dealt alongside Moran, reliever Michael Feliz and outfield prospect Jason Martin. "I'm really excited to see how he looks coming into camp."
Moran figured he was a trade candidate when he first heard rumors about a deal developing between the Pirates and Astros, so the call from Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow on Jan. 13 was not much of a surprise. As tough as it might be to leave the defending World Series champions, he recognizes there is a clearer path to play every day in Pittsburgh.
"There's only 30 big league starting third baseman jobs," Moran said. "To have a good opportunity to showcase myself in Spring Training and try to be the guy, it's really exciting."
Moran attributes his turnaround to the time he spent last winter with Jeff Albert, who is now the Astros' assistant hitting coach. He had never delved into the mechanics of his left-handed swing, but his struggles in 2016 convinced him it was time to do so.
"I knew from that point forward, I needed to learn my swing more and get more knowledgeable about the mechanical side," Moran said. "It doesn't look like much in the swing, but there were a few tweaks that helped me get shorter to the ball, more powerful, a lot of things."
Moran and Albert set out to adjust his setup and swing in a way that would improve not just his power, but also his contact rate. Their work paid off, as his Triple-A strikeout rate dipped from 24.3 percent in 2016 to 16.3 percent last year.
"I felt more comfortable, especially as the season went on," Moran said. "I got more familiar with everything and got into a good groove of knowing what I was doing. … That was the key, to kind of know what you're doing up there rather than rely totally off of talent or skill."
Those changes significantly altered Moran's batted-ball profile from 2016 to '17, too. As he put more balls in the air, his slugging percentage in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League jumped from .368 to .543 and he bashed eight more homers in 173 fewer plate appearances.
The Pirates believe Moran's newfound power will follow him to Pittsburgh.
"Colin is an intelligent, hardworking player who made an adjustment to his swing and approach last season," general manager Neal Huntington said. "His adjustments led to increased power production that should play very well at the Major League level, especially at PNC Park."