2023 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Player Spotlight: Gabriel Moreno is a Breakout Candidate
Colby Conway breaks down Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno and his fantasy baseball expectations for the 2023 MLB season.
The path to playing time for catching prospect Gabriel Moreno in Toronto was going to be tricky, but that pathway cleared when the Blue Jays traded Moreno to Arizona for Daulton Varsho, another top ranked catcher in many fantasy baseball preseason rankings. Moreno finds himself falling somewhere between a fantasy baseball sleeper and a fantasy baseball breakout candidate for the 2023 MLB season, and without burying the lead, all of the talent and tools are there. In our Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft 1.0, he was the 17th catcher off the board, which falls closely in line with his average draft position (ADP) overall. A hot start to spring training has the fantasy baseball community buzzing about Moreno’s potential in 2023, but do we need to pump the brakes a bit and be careful of pushing him too high up fantasy baseball catcher rankings and draft boards alike? The short answer is no, and the long answer is if you find yourself asking who should I draft at catcher in fantasy baseball, and you’re outside the top 12 or so at the position in the middle rounds, it’s time to start taking a long look at Moreno.
UPDATE (3/21): Carson Kelly is going to miss some time with a fractured forearm. Move Moreno up those boards! He can be drafted as early as the 11th or 12th catcher off the board.
Gabriel Moreno, Arizona Diamondbacks
To summarize his minor league career, while he didn’t quite showcase the pop we wanted to see in terms of home run total, he hit for a respectable average behind the dish and kept the strikeouts in check. He’s heralded for his overall athleticism, and even if he isn’t behind the dish, Arizona can play him at other positions and be fine. While he’s primarily caught or served as the DH in the minors, he has made a rogue appearance at second base, third base, and left field. Moreno was only up for a cup of coffee with the team last year, and they moved him all over trying to get his bat in the lineup. His athleticism will play, and Arizona would be wise to do the same.
At the dish, in 25 games with Toronto last season, he slashed .319/.356/.377 with one home run, 10 runs scored, and seven RBI. He only had two extra-base hits, which was less than ideal, but let me remind you that he was a 22-year-old playing at the game’s highest level for the first time. He didn’t run last year at the MLB level, but I expect him to actually be quite useful in the stolen base department on an Arizona team that is much more inclined to run than his former squad. In terms of stolen base attempts, Arizona was tied for the seventh-most stolen base attempts per game, whereas Toronto ranked 20th.
His overall hit tool grades out better than his power tool, but Moreno is a guy that should provide at least adequate power from behind the dish as he develops. He regularly makes contact, and learning to lift it with more regularity will help unleash the power portion of his game. He’s a smooth, easy swinger, and his raw power isn’t in question, but more so if he can tap into it. Here in spring training, the early returns have been promising, as he’s homered twice, and doubled once.
Like I said, smooth, easy swinger, and Arizona just needs to unlock the power that he possesses. Once again, early returns are promising, especially when looking at some Statcast data. He’s played four games this spring where Statcast metrics were logged, and here are some key numbers:
- Five batted balls at 98 mph or higher
- Four balls hit at a launch angle of 20 degrees or higher
This is exactly what we wanted and needed to see from Moreno! His power floor may be a bit lower than other fantasy backstops, but all of the tools are there, it just needs to come together, but remember, he’s still incredibly young. Moreno may never contend for the most home runs at the position, but the more his power develops, the better for his overall fantasy value. In his first taste of the big leagues, he posted a contact rate near 82 percent with a 9.1 percent swinging strike rate, which was pretty close to Los Angeles’ Will Smith (83.2%, 7.2%). Moreno is elite in terms of getting the bat to the ball, and if he can pair average to above average power numbers to that, he’ll be a fantasy superstar, considering that he’s athletic enough to give us a handful of stolen bases as well. Additionally, he’s punishing the ball here in spring, and that’s exactly what he needed to do to help alleviate the biggest concern with Moreno in 2023.
Carson Kelly seems locked in as the everyday backstop and with a plethora of outfielders in Arizona, can Moreno carve out a regular role? Well, he’s doing everything he can in spring, but will it be enough? He’ll likely catch two days a week, and then it’s a matter of will Arizona DH him against lefties instead of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Jr.? Or, do the Diamondbacks let the aging Evan Longoria play third base against lefties, and let Moreno DH? Moreno has too much talent to be sitting on the bench regularly, but I’m not confident that Arizona will make that decision from the onset of the 2023 MLB season. It may take a bit of time unfortunately, which could make it tough for Moreno to flash the top-12 upside he has.
No one is questioning his ability to put the bat on the ball. No one is questioning the overall talent. No one is questioning his athleticism. The two biggest questions and concerns that directly impact Moreno’s fantasy value in 2023 are playing time and the development of his power tool. Thus far in spring, the power numbers look very, very encouraging, and his swing looks like he wants to loft the ball a bit more. I do believe the team opts to use Carson Kelly as the primary catcher to begin the season, but Kelly, a .231 hitter with a .310 wOBA and 92 wRC+ over the last four seasons shouldn’t be given a long leash.
The upside is there and Moreno is worth drafting, and honestly, pushing up the board a couple of spots. Kelly hasn’t done enough to have a firm grasp on the job, and it’s an infusion of youthful talent to this Arizona lineup in 2023, and Moreno needs to be a big part of that. His power will continue to develop, and even if he only hits 8-12 home runs this season, a .265+ batting average and a handful of steals will help push up his fantasy value considerably. Moreno is too good to be left on the bench, so he will force his way into the lineup sooner rather than later. If you are in a one-catcher league, you may want to get a second catcher as some insurance for Moreno’s potential sporadic playing time in the opening weeks of the season. You don’t need to invest heavily at the position, but if you draft Moreno, take a guy like Eric Haase late, so that you know you will always have someone playing behind the dish on any given day.
A fantasy breakout occurs when talent and production meet opportunity, and it won’t be long until Moreno gets that opportunity. Once the opportunity comes, I’m betting on the talent to translate to future production.
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