Now that the AAA season is over, Steven Moya will likely be called up by the Tigers on Tuesday. He’s on the 40-man roster so there’s no harm in bringing him to Detroit, and the Tigers have reached a decision point with the impressively large outfielder.
Moya has just 8 major league plate appearances, but with a few weeks to go in the 2015 season and nothing to play for except a protected draft pick, the Tigers have reached an opportunity to find out if Steven Moya is a long term asset. There was a time not that long ago that Moya was one of the best prospects in the Tigers’ system. But a lack of forward movement in 2015 and an influx of new talent has pushed Moya down the list. If you’re a Moya devotee, he’s in the middle of your Tigers top 10 and if you’re not, he’s struggling to cling to the 10-15 range. Personally, rankings aren’t very useful in my opinion because it doesn’t matter who is the #4 prospect and who is #6. They aren’t in competition with each other. But leaving that aside, the Tigers are in a position to see what Moya can be.
Now let’s start with a couple of important points. The first point is that with 25 games left, you’re only going to be able to find 80-100 PA for Moya down the stretch and that alone isn’t enough to make a complete judgement of him as a player. The point isn’t that Moya in September will be Moya forever, the point is that the Tigers should take this opportunity to get an extended look at him as a player. That means letting him face all of the righties and most of the lefties. That means giving him left field on most nights. It’s time to see who Steven Moya can be.
As a player, his profile is pretty easy to define. He has tremendous power with a rough approach. He doesn’t walk much, he strikes out a ton, but when he connects he can really drive the ball. He hit 35 HR with a .280 ISO in AA in 2014 and hit 20 in 2015 with a .180 ISO in AAA. It was definitely a lesser year, but the question isn’t the ability to smack the ball, it’s making contact at all. He’s been a 30 K% guy his entire career and his 5.1 BB% in AAA this year was among his best marks as a pro.
He has the arm and the mobility to work well enough in the outfield, certainly to the point at which he could play out there without embarrassing himself. And there’s a decent chance that he’ll be better than that. It all comes down to the strike zone. Or more accurately, Moya’s ability to make contact and recognize pitches.
I’m not really telling you anything you don’t know if you’re a moderately interested watcher of the Tigers’ minor league system (which is a thing that exists now!). This is all prelude to the broader argument: Moya needs to start basically every day for the rest of the year.
The Tigers have JD Martinez holding down a spot in the outfield next year. As long as he is healthy, he’ll control one of the corners, and unless they pick up an elite right fielder (looks longingly at Jason Heyward), right field will belong to Martinez. That leaves LF and CF wide open for anyone to claim. Anthony Gose was given the starting CF job this year, but he’s been somewhere between “not very good” and “terrible” in 2015. He’s a potentially useful MLB player, but he’s not someone you build into your roster. He has not shown himself to be an MLB starter, for sure.
Rajai Davis isn’t under contract and Tyler Collins, while potentially useful, also hasn’t claimed a spot for himself in the starting lineup. He could have a role, but again, if you’re contending, you’re looking for two outfielders. And the Tigers need to use the rest of 2015 to figure out the odds of Moya being one of those guys.
Going into the exercise, I would bet against it. Moya isn’t the kind of player on whose behalf I typically advocate. He has raw tools and no strike zone discipline. But the kind of power than Moya has in his bat is unusual. You might call it “70 grade” if you like scouting scales. If you can make enough contact with his ability to not suck in the field, that power will put you in a starting lineup.
To give you an idea, you want a corner outfielder to be in the 120 wRC+ neighborhood or better. Moya doesn’t have to produce that right away, but that’s kind of what you’re trying to get to if you’re playing in a corner and want to start on a good team. So that’s about a .350 wOBA. I worked out a simple stat line assuming 650 PA (full season). If you figure a 5 BB% and 30 K%, add in an optimistic 30 HR, and then give him a .320 BABIP with 95 singles and 40 doubles, you get to about .340 wOBA. As a slash line, it’s .269/.307/.480. And this is optimistic all the way around.
You could imagine a .270/.310/.480 line from Moya. But in AAA this year it was .240/.280/.420. In AA in 2014, it was about .280/.310/.550. In other words, for Moya to work as a starter in the show, you need him to hit a lot like his AA line. And that’s the best we’ve seen from him and it was a year ago against weaker competition.
Now, Moya is more experienced and presumably better coached. He’ll have access to better scouting reports, better lights, better nutrition, and a better nights sleep. There are all kinds of reasons why he might flourish again in the show. But the odds are against him.
The Tigers are going to have to make some decisions this offseason regarding their outfield. They will have to find two quality starters and one of them probably needs to be pushing All-Star levels. The Tigers have seen plenty of Gose, but they have just 8 MLB PA of Moya. They have lots of minor league data and scouting reports, but when you have a free month to mess around, using that month to see how Moya looks against good pitching is going to be valuable. Bringing him up for get 15-25 PA doesn’t help his development or allow the Tigers to learn very much. But if you give him 100 PA, you might get a chance to learn something about his abilities.
Granted, the raw stat line won’t tell you much, but the stats and your observations in conjunction with what you already know about him will help you determine the odds he can help in 2015. And you need to make that call by November so you know exactly who you want to sign.
My prior expectations are the on the table. I doubt Moya will ever become an above average MLB player. Or maybe more accurately, I don’t think he will become one unless he makes dramatic adjustments to his game. Those are always possible. But I’m also a huge believer in letting players prove you wrong. Moya hasn’t excelled in AAA, but he’s 24, on the 40-man, and the team needs outfielders. It’s worth seeing what happens. If he’s way over-matched, you’ll see that in no time. If he shows you something, then you know.
Too often, teams get into the business of confirmation bias. They have an opinion about a player (often a correct one), but they don’t push that opinion to see if they can be proven wrong. Jordan Lennerton is a perfect example of this problem. He got to A-ball at 23, but he hit well at every level. He had a great eye and played well at 1B. Supposedly, the knock on him was a serious lack of bat speed. And he sat in the minors for six years until the Tigers cut him loose in July. He never got a single MLB plate appearance.
Now I’m not saying Lennerton would have been a good major leaguer. I’m saying the Tigers had him in their system and never found out. It’s one thing to look at a guy struggling in AA and giving up, but it’s another to graduate a guy through the system and wind up never getting a clean look at him in the show. Maybe he proves you right, but at least give him a chance to prove you wrong.
I don’t necessarily think Moya will have a strong MLB career, but the best time to find out what a player is capable of is when there is nothing to lose. If the Tigers were in a pennant chase, I wouldn’t advocate for a risky player. But with the season over, the Tigers have a chance to let Moya get some reps and they absolutely must do it.
They are clearly preparing to give him some playing time, with the recent shift to LF in AAA, but last year Moya came up and was used very sparingly. The same was true with James McCann. Maybe that was about the playoffs. But this can’t be a month of easing the kids in.
The Tigers need outfielders in 2016 and they have a chance to preview what Moya can do in the show. They should take it.