Why the Blue Jays should (or shouldn’t) call up Gabriel Moreno

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With the Toronto Blue Jays depth being tested, it might be time to call up top prospect Gabriel Moreno for his first big-league reps. (Getty Images)
With the Toronto Blue Jays catcher depth being tested, it might be time to call up top prospect Gabriel Moreno for his first big-league reps. (Getty Images)

The Blue Jays have had a complicated season at the catching position.

First, Alejandro Kirk wasn’t hitting (.245 average in April). Now he’s one of the hottest hitters in baseball (.365 average in May and June). Danny Jansen was off to a great start in April, but he strained his oblique and missed a chunk of time. When Jansen returned, he was hot again (his seven home runs speak to that). Now he’s on the injured list again, this time with a fifth metacarpal fracture, and Zack Collins has been re-called from Triple-A.

With Jansen on the shelf for an extended period of time —several weeks, at least— Toronto’s major-league catching depth is a little sketchy. But there could be some long-awaited reinforcements coming up soon.

Catcher Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays’ top prospect and No. 5 prospect overall, per Baseball America, has done everything he can in Triple-A to earn a shot with the major-league club. He’s slashing .323/.377/.406 with nine extra-base hits in 35 games. On defence, he’s thrown out a ridiculous 54% of would-be base-stealers.

The talent is there, but the timing for Moreno’s call-up might not be — and it’s a challenging decision for the Blue Jays front office to make.

Here are the arguments for why the Blue Jays should or shouldn’t call up Moreno.

The case for a Moreno call-up

Kirk’s emergence as a workhorse catcher makes a difference here. A bat-first prospect whose defence was once an afterthought, Kirk has proven he is more capable than everyone predicted. His hitting has been phenomenal, and Kirk has made notable improvements behind the dish, particularly around throwing and blocking.

Because Kirk is establishing himself as a reliable catcher, one that pitchers can trust, it makes room for a developing catcher to wiggle onto the roster. If Moreno were to join the Blue Jays this Friday in Detroit, he’d get semi-regular playing time in Jansen’s absence, which would be ideal.

Moreno would be able to work as a part-time catcher on Kirk’s designated hitter days, and Moreno could even DH against left-handed pitchers (.837 OPS vs LHPs in 2022) to get his bat in the lineup. Collins figures to steal some time as the DH against righties, but this three-catcher/DH-rotation sets a nice pace for Moreno.

With the roster currently set up as it is, Moreno can contribute on offence, where his bat is major-league ready, and he can take a slower track on defence, learning his craft as a catcher when he gets into games.

“Gabriel has been awesome,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told reporters, including MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson, on Tuesday. “He’s continued to improve. He’s in a really good spot and he’s very much in the mix for us.”

Moreno is good enough to help the Blue Jays win right now. Perhaps the decision will hinge on something as simple as that.

The case against a Moreno call-up

There’s always a fear of rushing prospects, and when your top prospect is a catcher, there’s going to be a little extra hesitation to shoot him right onto a competing major-league team.

Moreno’s cannon of arm and elite athleticism and IQ behind the plate are big factors, but there’s still more work he can do to polish his defence.

“There's still opportunity for him to continue to grow as a leader and as a game-caller,” Atkins said earlier this season.

Atkins mentioned the challenging “nuances” of the catching position — and he’s right about how intimidating the position can be for young players. If Moreno were to get the call to the bigs this weekend, he’d be immediately thrust into the battery of one of baseball’s best pitching staffs.

And it takes a ton of work to get acclimated to new pitchers, meaning other parts of his game might suffer. It happened to Jansen in his first full season with the Blue Jays.

“We asked a lot of [Jansen] when he came up in 2018 and ‘19 with different pitchers and running a pitching staff and doing all that stuff,” Blue Jays bench coach John Schneider said recently. “Hitting was always in the back seat.”

The last thing Toronto would want to do is rush Moreno into a position where he’s so concentrated on defence that his bat suffers because of it.

Moreno also hasn’t played more than 82 games in a season at any single minor-league level. The 2020 minor-league season cancellation played into that, but in 2021 Moreno played just 35 games due to a fractured thumb.

As a catcher, rhythm and repetition are critical, and there’s a solid argument that those intangible skills are better learned at the Triple-A level. With that in mind, a little more minor-league seasoning could be in order for Moreno.

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