Matt Moore: Tampa Bay’s Best Ever Pitching Prospect

Going into the 2007 draft, all the buzz was about David Price. The left-hander from Vanderbilt was a veritable lock for the #1 pick in the draft, giving the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — fresh off a 101-loss season — a top arm to go along with 2006 top pick Evan Longoria. Price was a bona fide ace, an All-Star in the making that already had two plus pitches in his fastball and slider.  As was expected, he rose quickly through the minors and has already established himself as one of the top pitchers in the majors in only his second full season.

But this story isn’t about David Price. Instead, this story is about the best pitching prospect selected in the 2007 draft. It’s about the best pitching prospect the Rays have ever had. It’s about Matt Moore.

Selected by the Devil Rays in the 8th round, Matt Moore was the hidden gem of the ’07 draft. Coming from Moriarty High School — located just outside Albuquerque — Moore was considered the best high school prospect in New Mexico based largely on his fastball velocity, which sat around the 91-92 MPH range at the time. He was only 17 years old and had considerable upside for a left-handed pitcher, but his breaking pitches still needed work and he struggled with his command.

But since hitting the Rays’ minor league system in late 2007, Moore has continued on a straight upward climb. He only started three games for the Rays in that first season, walking 16 batters in 20 innings down in the Appalachian League (Rookie ball). His command continued to plague him over the next few seasons — he walked over 5 batters per nine in 2009 — but his dominant stuff and high strikeout rate allowed him to keep slowly rising through the lower levels of the minors. By 2010, the Rays decided to give Moore a shot starting with the Stone Crabs, their High-A club.

That’s when Moore took off. He continued his high strikeout ways, racking up a minor-league-leading 208 strikeouts in 144 innings pitched, but he managed to bring his walk rate down to a manageable 3.8 per nine. And after having a bone chip removed from his elbow in the offseason, Moore has improved his command even further this season, walking only 2.7 batters per nine at the Double- and Triple-A levels. He was ranked by Baseball America as the #3 prospect in baseball during their midseason rankings, falling behind only phenoms Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Now that Matt Moore has been promoted to the majors, what should we expect? I’ve spent large amounts of digital ink over the past few years telling Rays fans to expect rookies — especially rookie pitchers — to have some growing pains at the major league level. David Price posted a 4.42 ERA his first season in the majors, and Wade Davis has struggled to find consistent success after breaking into the majors. So should we expect Matt Moore to follow a similar route?

In all honesty, no.

In going through all the top pitching prospects that recently(-ish) reached the majors, Tim Lincecum and Tommy Hanson seem like the best comps to Moore. Not many starting pitchers strike out over 10 batters per nine in Triple-A, and the ones that do tend to transition quite well to the majors. If you have dominant stuff in Triple-A, you’re essentially already an above-average major league pitcher.

Fans freak out when top prospects are promoted to the majors, but some promotions justifiably deserve more fanfare than others. David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Desmond Jennings were all received in Tampa Bay with much excitement, but Matt Moore….this guy should be on a whole other level. He’s in an elite class of pitching prospects, and he has a chance to burst onto the scene like Lincecum, Hanson, Weaver, and Strasburg. He’s dynamite, I tell you, dynamite.

So get pumped. Get excited. Moore will be in the Rays’ bullpen for the remainder of this season, but there’s a good chance he’ll make his first major league start next Wednesday during the Rays-Yanks doubleheader. And next season, there’s absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t start the season in the Rays’ rotation. He has nothing left to work on in the minors, so the Rays will need to get busy on trading a starter this offseason.

From eighth round draft pick to the best pitching prospect in Tampa Bay history, it’s been quite a journey for Moore. But he’s finally, finally arrived.

*And yes, I realize I didn’t include Scott Kazmir in the above chart. He’s the Rays’ other contender for best pitching prospect, but he jumped to the majors from the Double-A level after striking out around 9 batters per nine and walking 3 per nine. He was also great, but not quite on the same level as Moore.

Piper was the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library.

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Barkey Walker
12 years ago

I noticed in a recent comparison of the prediction engines that Marcel is the best at predicting rookie performance, suggesting minor league comps are just noise for batters, are they better for pitchers?

Obviously Steve thinks so, but I wonder if there is good evidence for that.

12 years ago
Reply to  Barkey Walker

That’s a good question…. especially with some of the sample sizes

– The Price data is small sample (I think he had less than 50 innings in AAA spread over 2 years)

– Matt Moore has 52.2IP in AAA (and the K rate is a 2K/9 jump from his 100 innings at double A)

– Lincecum’s data is based off of all of 31 innings in AAA (5 starts)

– Strasburg had 33 innings (6 starts)

Obviously these guys spent so little time in AA because they were tremendous pitchers, but it makes the K rate, BB rate and obviously the ERA a little noisy. Perhaps also looking at the AA rates as well?

12 years ago
Reply to  Barkey Walker

Marcel is a monkey. It doesn’t look at any minor league data. If a player doesn’t have any MLB stats, it assumes league-average everything. If a player has very limited MLB time, it regresses heavily towards league-average everything.

Why do you say “obviously Steve thinks so” ? Marcel isn’t mentioned in the article.

Barkey Walker
12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

That is the point, if Marcel outperforms all the methods that do use minor league data, then those methods are worse than the monkey.

This tells me that, for batters, major league equivalents are not that useful. I’m asking if it is useful for pitchers.

I can conclude that Steve thinks that you can by reading the text of the article.

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

What Marcel shows is that almost all players move “toward the mean”.