The Rays sure know how to grow pitchers
At least one person had to be thinking that watching Matt Moore strikeout 11 Yankees over five innings last week.
Granted, the Yankees had just clinched the AL East, but still. Considering Moore had already had a phenomenal Minor League season that saw him strike out 200 for the second year in a row, he didn’t really have to do anything else to establish himself as arguably the best pitching prospect in the game. Yet there he was, in Yankee Stadium, helping the Rays continue their improbable Wild Card chase and giving Rays (and other) fans food for thought about what Tampa might do with their rotation in 2012.
The issue, of course, is how there’s currently no room in said rotation. The possibility of a Garza-like trade of James Shields has been mentioned and Moore’s readiness can at the very least allow the Rays to contemplate a move such as that.
But that’s not what this post is about. This is more about the scouting and player development work the Rays have done to get them to this point. The case of Moore shines a light on that even more. After all, David Price as the No. 1 overall pick is supposed to succeed (though we all know not every top pick has done so). Jeff Niemann was also a first-round pick (No. 4), so there is some level of expectation there as well. Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Hellickson was a fourth-round selection, though he got half a mil (read: above-slot) to sign. Wade Davis went in the third round of the 2004 Draft and it’s a testament to the patience of the player development department in Tampa on how he was allowed to come along at the pace that worked for him (ditto for Niemann, by the way).
Shields, somewhat ironically since Moore could be the guy replacing him, is a fantastic example of great scouting and very good development. Shields was a 16th-round pick back in 2000 and spent close to five seasons in the Minors before establishing himself (he missed the 2002 season). The irony comes from the fact that Moore is the next best example of simple, good scouting.
Coming out of high school in New Mexico in the 2007 Draft, Moore was a known guy, but it wasn’t widespread and not one of those prep arms people are buzzing about going in the first couple of rounds of the Draft. One team I spoke with said their area guy didn’t even have Moore on his list that June. Another former area scout liked Moore a little, but couldn’t get the higher-ups out to New Mexico to see him.
Moore was, according to this scout’s take, rough around the edges. He was throwing around 91 mph, occasionally a touch more, with below-average command. He had a hard slider, but it was sweeping. And he had no changeup at all. The arm worked well, but he wasn’t one of these, tall, thin a projectable types so there was the chance that he’d be what he was then. He was very low profile, a kid from a very small town east of Albuquerque. Moore wasn’t really on the radar at all until about April of his Draft year and scouts in the area didn’t know what to make of him.
Obviously, Rays scout Jack Powell did and he helped convince the Rays to take a shot on Moore in the eighth round of the 2007 Draft. And this wasn’t a signability drop kind of thing, a guy who needed first-round money to sign and slid as a result. The Rays got Moore for $115,000 and that’s looking like one of the biggest Draft bargains in recent memory.
In the end, this area scout had the best final assessment of what happened that year:
“Bottom line: Jack Powell can frickin scout, man.”
And the Rays future is brighter because of it.