Today on Jays Journal’s annual Top 30 prospect rankings, we take a closer look at Toronto Blue Jays receiver Gabriel Moreno, #9 on our list.
Name: Gabriel Moreno
Position: C Age: 19
Height: 5’11” Weight: 160lbs
Throws: Right Bats: Right
Acquired: Signed for $25,000 as an international amateur free agent in August 2016
2019 Level: A (Lansing) ETA: 2022
The Blue Jays signed Gabriel Moreno because they liked his athleticism (he was a SS who the Jays have converted to C). He tore up low-A last year with great bat-to-ball skills, plus he drives the ball in the air and looks good behind the plate with projectable catching tools.
After a nondescript pro debut with the Blue Jays affiliate in the 2017 Dominican Summer League, the Venezuela native moved to Rookie ball in 2018 and promptly crushed Gulf Coast League pitching to the tune of .413/.455/.652 for the GCL Blue Jays, earning a promotion to the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League after his first 23 games. He spent all of 2019 with the A-league Lansing Lugnuts against players on average 2.3 years older than him.
He’s now ranked as the #7 best Blue Jays prospect by Baseball America, and #8 on MLB Pipeline’s top Jays prospects.
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 40 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
He scores 55 for his hitting on the 20-80 scouting scale, with a power grade of 45. According to MLB Pipeline:
"Moreno’s knack for making hard contact is a product of his outstanding hand-eye coordination and his preternatural feel for getting the barrel to the ball. He’s cognizant of those strengths to a fault at times, as he’ll often attack pitches outside of the zone simply because he can reach them. At the same time, Moreno neither strikes out nor walks all that often. There’s enough juice in his bat to safely project double-digit home run totals, though his profile likely will be hit-over-power."
His arm scores 55 on the scouting scale, with 50-grade fielding. MLB Pipeline says that defensively,
"[he] impresses club officials with his athleticism and energy behind the plate… His arm strength is average but plays up because he has solid catch-and-throw skills which culminate with a quick release. Like any young catcher, he has a way to go with his blocking and receiving, but all the ingredients are there for Moreno to develop into a big league backup, perhaps even a regular."
MLB projects Moreno’s ETA in 2022. However, there is a serious logjam ahead of him at catcher, with the MLB platoon of RHH Danny Jansen and LHH Reese McGuire both under team control through the 2024 season.
Further, because he was signed in 2016 as an international free agent, he becomes Rule 5 eligible after the 2020 season and would need to be protected on the Blue Jays 40-man roster if they want to protect him from that draft. Former Jays SVP Ben Cherington is known to covet catching prospects in his new role as GM of the Pirates and would know Moreno well from his involvement in player development with the Jays, so that’s a genuine risk.
Also muddying the waters for Moreno is that his progression is behind other top Jays catching prospects like 21-year old Alejandro Kirk (ETA: 2021, #4 Blue Jays prospect according to Baseball America) and 23-year old Riley Adams (ETA: 2020).
Depending on how 2020 works out for Moreno and those ahead of him on the catching depth chart, and despite how much I dislike the term, he may become valuable “prospect capital” going forward as the Jays look to add pieces to make the team more talented once their competitive window opens in 2021. The Jays are certainly in a position to deal from strength at the catching position.
Best of luck to Gabriel both in 2020 and beyond!