Prospect Pitch: Braves' Moore, no less
Injuries history, first-year right-hander finds command of five
was in the New York Times at 16, the same age Bryce Harper was when he adorned Sports Illustrated. He was talented, not to the same degree as Harper, but talented all the same. This Tennessee-bred teen was on the national stage for a very different reason: He was injured.
"I was throwing pretty hard in high school for my age, and that's how I got hurt," said Moore, who was clocked at 96 mph before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow in March 2007. "I grew fairly quickly, and then out of nowhere, my body had to adjust to throwing that hard, on top of [using] mechanics that probably weren't the best."
Moore was remade as a Vanderbilt University freshman in 2009. "He wasn't really ready to pitch in the SEC," said the pitching coach there, Derek Johnson. So Johnson, who had seen Moore feature speed and lack command since he was 15, compacted his delivery, controlled his landing on the front of the mound and pitched him in as many games as possible.
"We felt like if he just got out there and got time," Johnson said, "he was going to be pretty good."
Still without a consistent slider (and beset by knee surgery as a sophomore), Moore didn't convince his coach he had the repertoire to be a weekend starter as a junior in 2011, but he did save 11 games in 28 relief appearances. By June, he became the Atlanta Braves' 14th-round pick and, another year gone by, is their 16th-ranked prospect.
"The hardest thing after [surgery] was getting my feel back," Moore said. "My arm strength was back, but it was just something about confidence and repetition to get back the feel for breaking pitches; I was trying to do too much with the breaking pitches."
So how is Moore (3-3, 3.90 ERA) now manipulating five different pitches, including two breaking balls, to success in 2012? Well, aside from the Johnson-installed mechanics and the sheer innings -- 62 1/3 spanning 13 games at Class A Rome -- advice from his manager there, Randy Ingle, has been helpful too: "You don't want to borrow a pitch. You want to own it."
MiLB.com asked Moore to describe and grade each of the five offerings he owns. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Moore, in his own words.
Pitch one: Two-seam fastball
Origin: Growing up, I mainly threw two-seams because I was hard-headed and I thought that I thought I could throw a two-seamer harder, I guess, psychologically. It was just me playing around. The pitch would move, it would cut, it would sink, but it wasn't something I could consistently control. I was just like, 'If I can throw a pitch that moves, and I can throw it pretty hard, I might as well as throw it.' It was more of a confidence thing. I was confident in that pitch at a young age.
Purpose: For strikes, groundouts.
Grip: I play with different grips, but mainly I'll do cross-seam, so it's like a tic-tac-toe with those two seams.
Speed: Just a tick down from my four-seam, if not the same, so 88-91.
Pitch two: Four-seam fastball
Origin: When I got to high school and started to learn pitching and started to hear that you can go faster with a four-seam -- gripping four seams is like gripping the air -- I started throwing more four seams. My high school coach, a guy named Brad Myers at Battle Ground Academy -- he's still there -- told me it's always going to be a straighter pitch than the two-seam and easier to control, so that's when I flipped around and started throwing more four-seams. I feel like it's easier to go from two-seam to four-seams if you have to go one way or the other.
Purpose: It's my most comfortable pitch. If I am in a count where I need to make a pitch, maybe 3-2 or 2-1, that's my go-to pitch. I feel like I can control it in and out when I need to, so it's probably the pitch I have the most confidence in.
Grip: I grip it obviously on the horseshoe, but the open-end of the horseshoe would be on the right side of my fingers.
Speed: Anywhere from 88 to 91, 92.
Speed in college: We'd throw him in there for an inning and let him go, and he was 93, 94 and up guy. He is one of those guys that is so incredibly strong that he probably has more in his tank. He just wasn't able to access it quite yet. It wouldn't surprise me if he ends up pitching -- in a starting role -- at 92, 93 before it's all said and done.
Grade: 60. I don't want to grade myself too hard.
Pitch three: Changeup
Origin: When I first started working on it, I was playing summer ball under Mike Roberts in 2009. It was up in Cotuit in the Cape Cod League, and he really liked all of his pitchers to have a good changeup. Early on there, I basically went an outing and all I could throw was changeups. That's really where I started to learn my changeup and went back into my sophomore season at Vanderbilt as my offspeed pitch because I struggled with the slider and curveball while there; it was really my secondary pitch. It improved through a lot of repetition and forcing myself to throw it more. And coach Derek Johnson kept developing me and that pitch at Vanderbilt the next couple years.
Purpose: I throw a four-seam change, so I'm not worried about sinking it or fading it off the plate. I want to look exactly like my fastball and have a good speed difference.
Grip: The same grip as my four-seam fastball but instead of gripping it with my pointer and middle fingers as my primary fingers, I am basically using my ring finger and middle finger on top of the ball.
Speed: When it's where it needs to be, 80-82. Eight or nine miles an hour off my fastball.
Pitch four: Slider
Origin: I picked up the slider at Vanderbilt. I came in only knowing how to throw a curveball, and then I had Tommy John surgery, so I lost the feel of my curveball and didn't throw the curveball at Vandy at all -- was mainly fastball, slider and change.
Purpose: I like to use it if I got a guy 1-2, and I want to put him away early and not waste time. If I've gone through the order a couple of times and I want to mix it up, I'll use that as my out-pitch, for a ground ball or a strikeout.
Grip: If you're holding the baseball in front of you and the open end of the horseshoe is pointing up, I grip it on the bottom-right quadrant of the horseshoe.
Speed: Anywhere from 82 to 84 on the good days.
Grade: It's a work-in-progress, so I'll say 50.
Pitch five: Curveball
Origin: My dad and I had worked on it. I didn't start throwing it at a young age just 'cause people usually worry about elbow injuries at a young age throwing breaking balls, but I remember working on it with him. And then in high school, working on it there too.
Purpose: I try to throw a loopy curve, but I still want it to be a hard pitch. I want the break to be more down where a slider is more across a diagonal plane. I want my curveball to be on a downward, vertical plane.
Grip: If you're holding the baseball in front of you and the open end of the horseshoe is pointing up, I grip it along the whole right seam of the horseshoe.
Grade: 45, because my curveball is a little behind a slider.