Evaluating newly anointed major league starters is hard if all we have is their minor league track record. In this series Searching for Statistical Comps, we’re going to explore different methodologies to discover dynasty assets that may be worth more in six months than they are now.
Last week, we looked for the next Juan Soto.
This week, we’ll look at the recent injury to Diamondbacks catcher C Carson Kelly, what that means for prospect darling C Gabriel Moreno, and who he reminds some scouts of.
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How Gifted of a Hitter is Diamondbacks Catcher Gabriel Moreno?
It was reported at the start of Diamondbacks spring training to expect a 50/50 split between Carson Kelly and Gabriel Moreno. Moreno and OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were acquired in an offseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for OF/C Daulton Varsho.
The move has widely been called a win-win, at least initially, because it fills a hole in center field for the Blue Jays and gives the Diamondbacks their catcher of the future whose statistical peak should align with other potential stars like Corbin Carroll, Jordan Lawlar, and Druw Jones.
Moreno definitely showed “star” upside as a prospect, and was given elite grades by all prospect grading services.
Final Ranking of Gabriel Moreno in Overall Top 100 of All Position Players by Outlet
|MLB Pipeline||Fangraphs||Baseball America||The Athletic/Law||ESPN/McDaniel|
That’s right, Baseball America graded Moreno their No. 1 overall prospect in all of the minor leagues in July 2022 prior to his debut. They give him a 70 hit tool (out of 80), 45 power, 40 speed, 60 fielding, and 60 arm, and a 65 overall value, equivalent to a player flirting with All-Star nods on an annual basis.
And this isn’t a frothy hit grade either — Moreno earned that by hitting .373 across 145 Double-A plate appearances in 2021 and .315 in 267 plate appearances at Triple-A last year. Scouts see limited power due to his propensity for contact and ground ball rates hovering near 50% in the minors, but he does carry meaningful exit velocities when he barrels the ball.
Jays prospect Gabriel Moreno smoked this ball so hard it got stuck in the wall pic.twitter.com/vqtcW9XtHy
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) August 18, 2022
In a brief 25-game sample with the Blue Jays last fall, Moreno showed hints of this power, maxing out with a 109.2 mph exit velocity and averaging an 89.2 exit velocity – 2 mph above the MLB-wide average.
He finished that stint with a triple slash line of .319/.356/.377. (With just an 11% strikeout rate!)
Despite possessing only average raw power in the eyes of scouts, it seems possible if Moreno can lower his ground ball rate while maintaining his elite feel for contact, perennial 12-18 home run seasons are possible where he’s flirting with leading catchers in batting average each year.
At all levels including the MLB, Moreno (.334) leads the entire position in batting average since 2020 (a universe of 320 different catchers including Adley Rutschman).
How High Could Gabriel Moreno’s Dynasty Value Go?
2022 Top 10 Fantasy Baseball Catchers by Fantrax Score
That is a list of the top 10 dynasty baseball catchers by expanded roto 10 hitting category format (H, R, HR, RBI, BB, SO, SB, AVG, OPS, TB).
You can see that catchers who receive 500-plus at-bats have a greater chance of accumulating more counting stats and ranking higher — that makes sense. You can also see that catchers who demonstrate the rare speed threat rank higher and deliver a scarce statistic; it’s also evident that even runs and RBI totals in the 60s can contribute to a top-10 performance.
Gabriel Moreno Projections from Popular Forecasting Systems (550 At Bats)
|2023||THE BAT X||23||550||8||59||61||5||0.055||0.174||0.274||0.32||0.386|
Every single projection system shows that if Moreno gets at least 550 at-bats, he’ll likely produce a line somewhere near .273/.327/.387 and flirt with double-digit home runs, 5-10 steals, and counting stat production good enough to be a catcher ranked in the back half of the top 10 by the end of 2023.
And that could be a low-end scenario.
Before this week, that many at-bats in 2023 seemed impossible with Moreno set to split time with Carson Kelly. But news recently broke that Kelly has been diagnosed with a fractured forearm leaving him out indefinitely. According to most estimates, two months is the quickest an athlete can return from this type of injury, while the maximum is around 6 months. It’s unclear how severe the break is — it’s possible he could be out until after the All-Star break, leaving no barriers for Moreno to serve as the team’s full-time starting catcher.
I suspect Gabriel Moreno will get nice and comfortable in his absence. https://t.co/xC3EqQQNZv
— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) March 21, 2023
The analysts at Scout the Statline, who use research on statistical comps and aging curves to find historical players most similar to MLB prospects irrespective of position, suggest one possible hitting comp for Gabriel Moreno is former Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs shortstop Jeff Blauser.
At his peak, Blauser finished 16th in the 1993 NL MVP voting with a .305/.401/.436 triple slash line and 182 hits, 15 home runs, 73 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. If Blauser was placed in a time machine — and suddenly taught how to play the catcher position — that line would’ve competed with J.T. Realmuto and Will Smith for the title of most valuable dynasty catcher in 2022.
In the four years before that (1989-1992), Blauser averaged a less stellar but still solid .266/.342/.420 line hitting between 8 and 14 homers per year and single-digit steals. That’s more or less what the projection systems already expect for Moreno if he’s given a full season of at-bats.
But what if his ceiling is even higher?
Who Gabriel Moreno Reminds Scouts Of
“While he’s an aggressive hitter who sometimes takes fundamentally unsound swings, he has 70-grade bat control and tends to find a way to poke, spray, and slash contact all over the field,” Fangraphs’ Brendan Gawlowski and Eric Longenhagen wrote last year. They add, “He also has rare speed for the position and has an overall skill set like that of a less-toolsy Jason Kendall.”
Baseball America agrees, writing, “Always an elite hitter, Moreno continues to make contact at one of the highest rates of any prospect.”
Jason Kendall Early Career Statistics
*Excluding 1999 where he missed half of the season.
Pirates catcher Jason Kendall (2,195) had an extremely successful career, finishing fifth all-time in hits for a catcher, ahead of Yogi Berra (2,150), Mike Piazza (2,127) and Johnny Bench (2,048). He only slugged .500 in a season once, but provided then-fantasy managers with plenty of value in the form of abnormally high full-season hit totals for the catcher position, average, good plate discipline, and even stolen bases.
Kendall was regularly in the top five of catchers off the board in early 2000s fantasy drafts and if you wanted batting average at the position, a case could have been made for him over Mike Piazza depending on team build.
Nothing is guaranteed, but if Gabriel Moreno reaches his “upside comp” he could very well become a top five dynasty catcher himself by the end of the season.
Gabriel Moreno’s average projection system expected stat line: .273/.327/.387, 10 home runs, 61 RBI, 62 runs, 5 steals
Gabriel Moreno’s Jason Kendall “upside comp” possible stat line: .310/.365/.425, 12 home runs, 75 RBI, 70 runs, 12 steals
Stay tuned for more articles in our Searching for Statistical Comps series.
For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!