After breaking the bank on Vladimir Guerrero Jr in 2015, the Blue Jays were limited in the IFA game the following year. The penalty they incurred for going over their bonus pool was a $300K bonus limit to any one player in 2016, which resulted in some bargain hunting. Francisco Plasencia, a Toronto scout based in Venezuela, saw Gabriel Moreno play for the first time in 2015. Moreno was a SS/2B at that time, but Plasencia saw a Catcher in the making, and when Toronto signed him the following year for $25K, a new backstop was born.
Moreno’s conversion took a few years, but with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire having graduated to the bigs, the athletic former soccer midfielder has made considerable progress over the past two seasons, and is arguably the best Catching prospect in the system.
When asked just a few weeks prior to the 2019 season which prospect(s) had caught his eye over the past off season, Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim didn’t hesitate to mention Moreno:
….He’s an athletic, quick-twitch Catcher you can hurt you on both sides of the ball. He’s got a quick swing, and makes a lot of contact, and he’s a solid defensive catcher.
Moreno had a short season breakout last year, posting a 1.108 OPS in 23 GCL games, before being promoted to Bluefield, where slashed .279/.303/.459. With Hagen Danner and Alejandro Kirk ahead of him on the depth charts prior to this season, Moreno began the year in Extended, but was moved to Lansing in May after Kirk was promoted to Dunedin. In 82 games, he hit .280/.337/.485, and popped a dozen HRs, while playing strong defence and working well with his pitching staff.
Moreno is very quick behind the plate, and even though his arm does not draw high grades on its strength, his pop times do – he threw out 38% of GCL runners last year, and 33% of would-be Midwest League base stealers this year. Coming into the season, his blocking skills were said to be in need of further development – not surprising, given his relative newness to the position – but he appears to have made significant progress this season in that regard.
At the plate, Moreno has excellent bat-to-ball skills – one report called that part of his game among the best in the system, but he needs to exercise better strike zone judgement as he moves up the ladder. Because Moreno can put a swing on pitches in just about any location, he tends to expand his strike zone and chase. His swing produces a fair amount of flyball contact, which resulted in 34 extra base hits in just over half a season at Low A.
At the very least, Moreno projects as a solid MLB back up. If his game continues to develop, there’s an excellent chance he becomes a major league regular.