Newly acquired third baseman Colin Moran may be the front runner to start at the hot corner for the Pittsburgh Pirates. What can the team really expect from the former first round draft pick?
Among the many question marks that surround the Pittsburgh Pirates is the third base position. What once was a spot thought to be handled by Jung Ho Kang for the foreseeable future has become a land of opportunity so to speak for other players to step in and fill the void.
While guys like Max Moroff, Josh Harrison and David Freese spent their fair share of time at the hot corner in 2017, it seems as if that true starting third baseman has yet to be found. Freese did take advantage of his opportunity to play 116 games at third, but he may be more suitable in a backup role at both third and first base in 2018.
With this open window of opportunity comes a chance for newly acquired third baseman Colin Moran to show what he can do. A former first round draft pick by the Miami Marlins, Moran was dealt from the Houston Astros as part of the deal that sent Gerrit Cole to the defending World Series champions.
While many disliked the package in return for the former all-star pitcher, Moran was certainly the centerpiece in the deal. But with his arrival and the early expectations that he will likely take over as the starting third baseman brings the question, what can the Pirates actually expect from the 25-year old with 37 career major league plate appearances?
Moran has always been a player who can hit for average. His .290 career average in the minors and even his .346 career average at the University of North Carolina is proof of that. But the former UNC product is capable of hitting the ball in to the stands as well, something teams like to see from a starter at the third base position.
Prior to last season, Moran didn’t show too much power, hitting 30 home runs in his first four minor league seasons. Last year was a different story, however, as Moran changed his swing and hit a career-high 18 home runs at AAA Fresno to go along with a .308 average and 63 RBIs in 79 games. Moran also only struck out 55 times, while walking on 31 occasions.
Moran got the opportunity to play for the big league club when he was called up on July 18 and hit his first career home run just three days later. However, his stint with the Astros was short lived as Moran suffered a facial fracture after fouling off a ball that hit him in the eye. Moran landed on the disabled list a day later and missed a significant amount of time after undergoing surgery a week after the incident.
If the Astros could have seen a little more from Moran, they might have witnessed his increased power translate to the major league level. With the changes he has made and the opened opportunity with the Pirates, Moran could have the chance he didn’t have last season.
It’s not unrealistic to think he could put up some stellar power numbers with his new approach to cement himself as the Pittsburgh Pirates top option at third base.
While the possibilities for Moran’s power to increase with his new approach and his overall prowess at the plate have to excite the organization and fans, it shouldn’t be expected that the young third baseman will serve as any sort of impact player right away.
It will take time and there will most certainly be growing pains that come along with Moran’s arrival to Pittsburgh. As I mentioned before, Moran only has 37 career plate appearances and has played in 16 career games at the major league level. He has played 11 of those games at third base and has made all eight of his MLB starts at the hot corner. He would have definitely received more playing time had he not been injured last season, but there is no doubting his lack of major league experience.
With that lack of experience comes the learning curve of how to succeed at the major league level on a consistent basis along with the adjustment to playing in Pittsburgh against National League opponents rather than in Houston against AL foes.
Realistically, Moran’s transition to his new club and to being an everyday player at the major league level will take some time. As much as Pirates fans may hate to hear this, patience may be needed when it comes to Moran’s progression with the team.
Might not only play third
Moran’s primary position is third base and that is more than likely where he will get a majority of his playing time. On the Pirates’ website, he is listed number one on the depth chart at the hot corner followed by Freese, Harrison, Sean Rodriguez and Moroff.
All four of those players can be shifted over to play at third base throughout the season and will serve as backup options at the position.
However, when one of those players takes over at third, Moran could be a possibility to also play over at first base, serving as another backup option for 2017 Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Bell. He would join Freese, Jose Osuna and Rodriguez as other potential backups if Manager Clint Hurdle would want to pursue that option.
Moran has appeared in 425 games at third base throughout his professional career, and has also made 21 appearances at first as well – at both the AAA and MLB levels – so he is no stranger to the position.
While it is unknown whether this option would be a possibility, it does give Hurdle and the Pirates some more flexibility and wouldn’t be an unrealistic possibility to take a look at.
Can Moran seize his opportunity?
Moran comes in to the 2018 season with a chance to prove himself. After being traded twice, enduring struggles in the minor leagues and having his opportunity with the Astros cut short last season, Moran could be the most hungry player in the Pirates clubhouse.
And that is a good thing.
Pirates fans shouldn’t realistically expect Moran to turn in to an all-star overnight. It will take time for him to become adjusted to his new role, but if his new approach can translate from the minors to the majors, fans could see Moran reap the benefits and become an established threat in the Pirates lineup.