Colin Moran didn’t need an exit meeting with the Pittsburgh Pirates last fall to be told what he should work on in the offseason if he wanted to remain their starting third baseman.
It was that obvious.
“I was pretty honest evaluation-wise,” Moran said Friday at Pirate City. “I think I’m pretty good at looking at myself in the mirror and knowing what I’m not good at and what I am good at.”
What his rookie season showed Moran is that he needed to improve his mobility, unless he wanted to retain a reputation as a left-handed bat whose offensive output doesn’t offset his limited range.
“I think he said it best: It’s the first time he’d really gotten measured defensively,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We had made some observations throughout the year that he listened to, and he tried making some adaptations. It’s his first year. We’re trying to hit. We’re trying to play defense. We’re trying to do a lot of things.”
Moran’s .962 fielding percentage and minus-8 defensive runs scored were sub-par for his position, and his limited range became an issue for the Pirates. They talked at length about improving his agility and ability to get to more balls, along with running the bases more efficiently, and used analytical data to take a deeper dive into his defensive deficiencies.
It had to be a humbling wakeup call for Moran, a former first-round pick of the Miami Marlins who has twice been traded in his career and was one of the key returns when the Pirates sent Gerrit Cole to Houston. Despite a good glove (10 errors in 107 starts) and a strong arm, Moran’s mobility was a major issue.
“There’s new opportunity this spring,” Hurdle said. “His awareness is in a very good place.”
Moran also is aware the Pirates won’t have much patience. Where he had a sense of security last season, when David Freese served as a backup and a mentor, there is now a sense of urgency. The Pirates re-signed Jung Ho Kang to compete for the starting job, hoping he can recapture his 2016 form after a two-year layoff, and top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes will be waiting in the wings in Triple-A Indianapolis.
It’s important to remember Moran was just a rookie, playing his first full season with a new team in a different league. That’s not an excuse. But Moran is much more comfortable this year.
The Pirates can’t afford another season where their starting corner infielders are below-average defensively and combine for only 23 home runs and 120 RBIs, as Moran and first baseman Josh Bell did last year.
Moran got off to a hot start by hitting a grand slam in the home opener against the Minnesota Twins but flashed that power only occasionally in slashing .277/.340/.407 with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs. To his credit, Moran adjusted his approach at the plate and slashed .308/.354/.453 over the final 47 games in August and September.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Moran spent as much time this offseason training to improve his athleticism and explosiveness as he did working on his skill sets, a change from his approach in previous years.
“I put so much emphasis on offense — obviously, that’s a big thing that’s important — but I paid attention to what would make me a better defender,” Moran said. “When I’m ready to react to the ball, the right muscles are firing so I’m maybe not as slow on the first step. I feel like I could’ve taken 1,000 grounders, but if my body is not allowing me to do some of the things I’m not going to do that. …
“I definitely tried to search and find ways to get quicker.”
And the quicker he can do it defensively, the better.