When Adley Rutschman headed to the Majors on May 21, the title of top catching prospect in Minor League Baseball was passed to Gabriel Moreno. He held that claim for less than three weeks … for the best of reasons.
The Blue Jays have called up MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect for his Major League debut. Moreno is joining Toronto for a three-game series in Detroit.
The 22-year-old, right-handed-hitting backstop heads to the Majors with one of the best hit tools in all of prospectdom. His .324 average through 36 games with Buffalo ranked ninth-best among Triple-A qualifiers and is a touch above his career average of .310 through five Minor League seasons. Since Moreno’s breakout 2021 season, there have been 162 catchers to receive at least 300 Minor League plate appearances. The Venezuela native leads them all with a .345 average and places third with a 151 wRC+, one spot above current Royals top prospect MJ Melendez (147) and two above Rutschman (146).
Moreno utilizes a quick and compact swing and solid hand-eye coordination to make a healthy amount of contact. He’s never struck out in more than 17.3 percent of his plate appearances in a given season. That said, his power has taken a step back to this point in 2022. Moreno has managed only one homer in 150 plate appearances, and his last extra-base hit of any kind came on May 21. His .404 slugging percentage represents a major drop from his .651 mark last season in a similar sample size at Double-A New Hampshire.
The 5-foot-11 slugger still makes solid enough contact to project for at least average power in the Majors, but it’s worth monitoring how quickly he can right that portion of the ship in his first taste of the bigs.
Beyond the hit tool, Moreno should be able to contribute immediately on the defensive side. He was an infielder when he first signed with the Jays for $25,000 in August 2016, and while Toronto officials quickly moved him from the dirt to behind the plate, he still possesses the athleticism to be a quality receiver and blocker at the dish. His arm is just as effective, if not more so. Moreno leads all Triple-A catchers in both raw caught-stealings (15) and caught-stealing rate (53.6 percent) at the time of his promotion. He is one of only two qualified catchers in all of Minor League Baseball to have thrown out more than 50 percent of attempted basestealers in 2022 (Orioles farmhand Cody Roberts being the other).
Figuring out how Moreno’s blend of offensive and defensive skills can mix into the Jays’ roster right away will be a difficult, if enviable, task for manager Charlie Montoyo. Danny Jansen’s fractured left hand made a dent in the Major League club’s catching depth, leading to Moreno’s promotion, but Alejandro Kirk has been playing like one of the best catchers in all of baseball of late. The 23-year-old entered Thursday with a .322/.401/.477 line, five homers and a 16/21 K/BB ratio through 48 games, and it’s not just on offense that he’s providing value. Kirk ranks in the 93rd percentile for pitch framing, according to Statcast. His 1.8 fWAR trails only Willson Contreras’ 2.2 among big league backstops to this point in the season.
But as good as Kirk has been in all aspects of the position, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have called up Moreno if they didn’t have plans to play him and expectations that he would perform. Moreno and Kirk could rotate through DH duties while the rookie also folds in time behind the plate in an attempt to learn Toronto’s Major League pitching staff.
The Jays had World Series aspirations heading into the season, and while they seem to be settling into a groove of late, they remain 7.5 games behind the Yankees in a loaded AL East. Adding a top-five overall prospect in the game -- one who could contribute offensively and defensively at a premium position -- could be a major June boost to those October/November dreams.