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Pitching prospect Matt Moore content with Tampa Bay Rays' plan for steady rise

PHOENIX

T he key is to look beyond the numbers.

You know, ignore all the strikeouts. Disregard the 2.14 ERA.

Here, in the shadows behind the highlights, is where you discover the truth.

For instance, you may have heard by now that Rays minor-leaguer Matt Moore turned some heads last month with a no-hitter against Mobile in a Double-A game.

But what happened when he faced Mobile again two weeks later?

"Oh yeah, we got to him that time," Mobile first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said sarcastically. "We got about four hits in seven innings. We even scored a run.

"He's unbelievable. The best pitcher I've ever faced, and not just this year. High school, college, minor leagues, I've never seen anyone like him."

Okay, so maybe you've read that Baseball America recently rated Moore the No. 3 prospect in the game. But how about the opinion of a pro sitting in the other dugout?

"He's the best pitcher in Double A, at least in the Southern League," said 16-year big-league veteran and Tennessee Smokies manager Brian Harper. "He has a swing-and-miss fastball. It's a fastball with late life. Guys just miss it, or they pop it up or foul it off.

"He can be a No. 1 or 2 starter. That's what I'd put in my report."

Well, maybe you noticed that Moore was chosen for the All-Star Futures Game that was played here Sunday evening at Chase Field. What happened when he was asked to pitch an inning of relief against the best of the best?

Three up and three down, with one strikeout. Eleven pitches, nine for strikes and a fastball that sat between 94-98 mph on stadium radar guns.

"Every time I see that guy he's striking out people. In spring training, he faced our team and struck out 10 guys," said Rays Triple-A Durham manager Charlie Montoyo, who was a coach for the World team Sunday. "He's our future. I'm very excited about him."

In other words, there is no vantage point from which Moore does not shine. His past is impressive, his present is stellar and his future, well, that belongs to Tampa Bay.

An eighth-round draft pick in 2007, Moore may soon join James Shields (16th round in 2000) as the greatest later-round values in franchise history.

Moore will tell you he was not nearly polished as a pitcher when he was drafted, and there was skepticism about the competition he faced playing prep ball in Albuquerque.

Yet, in retrospect, he is everything you would want in a prospect. He's left-handed. He throws hard. He has a major-league-quality curveball, and his change­up has improved to the point that Moore now considers it his second pitch.

Even better, Moore has that indefinable quality that separates youthful talent and professional accomplishment. It's the work ethic. It's the confidence. It's the ability to ignore the extraneous and focus on the meaningful.

"He's never been the type to worry about accolades. He'll never call and say, 'Did you know I did this,' or 'I made this team.' I always find out secondhand," said Moore's father, Marty.

"If we weren't in the stands for the no-hitter, I probably would have had to read about it the next day."

The Rays, in keeping with their history, have been extraordinarily patient with Moore. He has never been promoted at midseason, instead taking year-by-year steps from rookie ball to Class A to high A to Double A this season.

If all goes according to plan, he will start next year at Triple-A Durham and likely won't show up at Tropicana Field until late 2012, at the earliest.

"He's pretty disciplined. He's not in any hurry," said his father. "His idea is not just to get to the big leagues fast, it's to have a long career when he gets there."

For comparison's sake, during parts of two seasons in the minors David Price had a 2.69 ERA with 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.181 WHIP (walks and hits per inning).

Moore's has a 2.79 ERA with 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.116 WHIP in his career. Granted, Moore has spent more time in the lower minors than Price ever did. On the other hand. Moore just turned 22. Price was already 22 when he debuted in Class A.

For his part, Moore is aware of the increasing buzz. And he knows his hour is fast approaching. Still, he says he's happy to continue learning his craft.

He has worked on being more aggressive early in the count, and his walks-per-nine-innings has decreased from 5.1 to 3.8 to 2.4 since 2009.

At least for now, the big leagues can wait.

"It's not like I google my name to see what people are saying about me. My buddies will give me a hard time about something, so I might look at it then. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm still in the minor leagues," Moore said. "If somebody writes something about me in a magazine, it doesn't mean anything.

"I still have to go out and prove it."

Pitching prospect Matt Moore content with Tampa Bay Rays' plan for steady rise 07/10/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:30pm]
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