COLIN MORAN, FIRST BASEMAN
|Born: October 1, 1992
Drafted: 1st Round, 6th Overall, 2013 (Marlins)
How Acquired: Trade (with Astros for Gerrit Cole)
College: University of North Carolina
Agents: Excel Sports Management
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|The Marlins drafted Moran in the first round as a player who projected to be average defensively at third, with an above-average bat and plate discipline, average defense and, they hoped, above-average power. He profiled as similar to what the Pirates thought they were getting with Will Craig, which hasn’t worked out terribly well so far. Miami traded Moran after just a year to Houston. He showed only modest power in his first four seasons and had a rough year in AAA in 2016, but he had a much stronger season in 2017, with good power, so it’s possible that the Astros succeeded in changing his approach at the plate. He’s had large platoon splits at times in the minors, specifically in 2015 and 2017. Moran has good hands and an accurate arm, but below average range in the field, possibly far below average. He’s a very slow runner and turns off some scouts with what appears to be low-energy play. The Pirates acquired Moran in the trade for Gerrit Cole.
The Marlins sent Moran to low A, where he hit well, although not with a great deal of power. Baseball America rated him the second best prospect in a weak Miami system after the season, as well as #61 in baseball.
Miami moved Moran up to high A, where he didn’t show much power. Being in the Florida State League probably didn’t help. At the trade deadline, the Marlins sent Moran to Houston, which moved him up to AA. He hit about the same there. BA rated him Houston’s seventh best prospect after the season.
Moran spent the season in AA, although he missed a month with a broken jaw when he was hit by a throw. He hit better than the previous year, although still not for a lot of power. BA ranked him ninth in the Astros’ system after the season.
Except for brief callups in May and September, Moran spent the season in AAA. He didn’t have a good year, not only hitting poorly in the hitter-centric Pacific Coast League, but seeing a sharp increase in his K rate. BA dropped him to 30th in Houston’s system.
The Astros returned Moran to AAA and he had a much better year, apparently buying into the Astros’ notion of going for loft. He hit for much more power than he had previously and also lowered his K rate sharply. Houston called him up in July when Carlos Correa got hurt, but he went out with fractures after fouling a pitch off his face. He missed about five weeks, returning to play briefly in September. BA moved him up to ninth in the Astros’ system.
Moran spent the season essentially as a platoon third baseman, getting only 69 plate appearances, and only five starts, against LHPs. He had a disappointing season. At the plate, he didn’t show the power he’d shown in AAA in 2017. He had long periods where he rarely hit anything hard, with most of his hits being singles either bounced through or looped over the infield. From July 10 through August 9, he didn’t have a single extra-base hit. He had an ISO of just .016 in July and .048 in August. He finally started to hit with some authority in September, with a 296/375/537 line. The lack of power wasn’t even the biggest problem, though, as Moran showed remarkably poor range at third. The defensive metrics all rated him at or near the bottom among all third basemen. He was also extraordinarily slow on the bases.
Moran had almost the same season as in 2018, although with the MLB-wide increase in power, his OPS+ actually declined from 105 to 97. In OPS, he ranked 29th among 36 MLB third basemen with 400 or more plate appearances. He was more consistent, posting an OPS between .759 and .807 every month until September, when he slumped to .529. He got only 78 plate appearances against LHPs, but had a modest platoon split of .764 against RHPs and .685 against LHPs. Moran continued to be a major liability on defense, ranking at the bottom among NL third basemen in measures like UZR and DRS, as well as ranking last in the league in fielding percentage. Between his weak hitting for his position, his defense and his extreme lack of speed, he was a replacement level player, managing just 0.1 fWAR.
Moran had his best season at the plate with the Pirates so far, mainly in the form of increased power. His strikeouts increased and his average dropped, but he increased his walk total. The improvement was probably greater than it seems for two reasons. For one, hitting was down by 18 OPS points MLB-wide. For another, Moran played more against LHPs, getting 28% of his plate appearances against them, compared to 15% the previous two years. He batted only 231/286/365 against LHPs, but 254/340/516 against RHPs. Moran started the season alternating among first base, third base and DH, but he ended up starting only four games total at third. Once Ke’Bryan Hayes came up, Moran didn’t play third any more.
The salary dump trade of Josh Bell left Moran as the Pirates’ first baseman. He got off to a good start, batting 297/352/468 through May 8, then went on the injured list with a groin injury. He returned after a month, but slumped, batting 239/327/283 in June. Near the end of June he got hit in the hand with a pitch and suffered a small wrist fracture, keeping him out another month. Moran missed another five weeks, then came back to put up a .784 OPS in August before slumping to .618 in September. He continued to hit badly against LHPs, with just a .553 OPS, but Derek Shelton played him more frequently against them than he’d done in the past, accounting to over a quarter of his plate appearances. Shelton also played Moran more against LHPs in 2020 than he’d played in the past, as Shelton seems to follow a veteran privilege style of management. Moran’s hitting as a first baseman and cleanup hitter was woefully inadequate. Of 38 first basemen with 300 plate appearances, Moran was 31st in wRC+, 35th in fWAR and 31st in OPS, and most of the players ranked below him weren’t regular first basemen. The injuries probably impacted Moran some, but his hitting wasn’ significantly different from what it’d been in his first three years. Defensively, Moran was below average and, of course, he was a major liability on the bases.
Moran isn’t terrible as a first baseman, but “not terrible” is far too low to set the bar. His presence there is a major reason why the Pirates are easily the most power-deficient team in baseball. They can’t even return to mediocrity until they address that shortcoming. Whether the front office is willing to settle for Moran at first will be a significant indicator of whether they’re serious about trying to improve.
UPDATE: With Moran set to get somewhere around $4M in arbitration, and with Yoshi Tsutsugo signed for 2021, the Pirates cut Moran loose, designating him for assignment to clear space for Tsutsugo. Moran has the right to refuse assignment to the minors and become a free agent, which he’ll certainly do. With that move, all the players received for Gerrit Cole are gone, three of them with no return.
2020: Major league minimum
|Signing Bonus: $3,516,500
MiLB Debut: 2013
MLB Debut: 5/18/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2024
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: April 5, 2009
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2016, 2017)
MLB Service Time: 4.107
|June 6, 2013: Drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 1st round, 6th overall pick; signed on July 11.
July 31, 2014: Traded by the Miami Marlins with Jake Marisnick, Frances Martes and competitive balance draft pick to the Houston Astros for Jarred Cosart, Kike Hernandez and Austin Wates.
May 17, 2016: Contract purchased by the Houston Astros.
January 13, 2018: Traded by the Houston Astros with Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gerrit Cole.
November 29, 2021: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.