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Matt Moore Must Step Up In Rays Rotation

By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports

CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.

Matt Moore, Starting Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays

2012 season: 31 GS, 177.1 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 175 K, 81 BB

Coming into the 2012 season, Matt Moore was likely the most-hyped pitching prospect in baseball – not without good reason. In 2010, he became the first minor league pitcher in five years to eclipse the 200-strikeout mark. In 2011, he did it again while compiling a 1.91 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. Then he performed more than admirably in his short taste of the big leagues, fanning 15 in 9.1 regular season innings and recording the Rays’ only win in the American League Division Series.

Moore’s 2012 season was by no means poor, but some might still label it disappointing considering the excitement surrounding him when he first came up. Part of the problem was a high walk rate; Moore tied for ninth in the Majors with 81 free passes, averaging 4.11 per nine innings. As many expected him to, Moore collected a lot of strikeouts, but nowhere near how many his whiffed in the minors. He fanned 14.46 per nine innings at Triple-A in 2012, but that number dropped to 8.88 in the bigs last year.

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In terms of stuff, Moore has a lot to show off. He can run his fastball up to the high-90s, with the pitch averaging 94.4 mph last year (third among Major League starters and one spot above Justin Verlander). The 23-year-old left-hander also possesses a swing-and-miss curve to go along with an above-average changeup. Moore ranked sixth in the Majors by generating swinging strikes 11.8% percent of the time last year, again ranking higher than Verlander and other notable hurlers like CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez.

Overall, there’s very little to criticize in Moore’s game. For the most part, he was likely just a young player going through some growing pains last year. One would like to see those walks go down and to see some more ground balls – his 37.4 ground ball percentage ranked 79th among starters – but those are things that will likely come with time.

In the future, Moore still projects as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher capable of dominating even the tough A.L. East competition. This year, he might just take that step forward as he continues to grow and make adjustments – the Rays will be banking on it after they traded James Shields in the offseason. David Price will remain the best pitcher on the staff, but don’t be surprised if Moore gives him a run for his money sooner rather than later.

Next up on March 6: Chicago White Sox

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