Diamondbacks’ Gabriel Moreno continues improving at throwing runners out

May 4, 2024, 12:33 PM | Updated: 6:49 pm

Catcher Gabriel Moreno...

Catcher Gabriel Moreno #14 of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the MLB game at Chase Field on April 01, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Yankees defeated the Diamondbacks 5-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Gabriel Moreno exploded out his stance and unleashed a perfect strike down the second base. Then he did it again and again and again.

On the back fields at spring training, watching Moreno go to work throwing down to second compared to every other catcher in line was a marvel. The league’s top run stopper, Moreno won a Gold Glove in his first full MLB season last year, the first Diamondbacks catcher to do so.

As the D-backs commemorate his achievement Saturday with a bobblehead, the 24-year-old continues to show the strides he is making to throw out anyone with the gall to try running on him.

“He times a lot quicker, the efficiency of getting that right foot in the ground and the ball out, the glove up and out, that has changed,” bench coach Jeff Banister, who works closely with the catchers, told Arizona Sports.

“I think just the overall confidence, not just throwing people out but the whole aspect of being behind the dish and that’s what I want to continue to do to get everybody out,” Moreno said via Spanish interpreter Alex Arpiza.

Manager Torey Lovullo said Moreno might have the fastest pop time in baseball. Public Statcast data has him at 1.85 seconds, second in MLB behind Korey Lee of the White Sox.

Moreno had a 1.90 pop time last season when he led the league in throwing out would-be base stealers at 39% (league-high 48% at second base).

This year, teams are not even trying it. Arizona has relented seven stolen bases on 13 attempts, both of which are fewest in MLB. To compare, the Mets have allowed 43 stolen bases, six times as many with comparable plate appearances! Moreno has thrown out five of nine attempts.

“It’s hard to believe he could possibly be better in certain areas,” Lovullo said. “I know he wants to decrease his pop time … He’s on a constant quest to improve his receiving. He has a great routine that he goes through.”

Moreno was not always a catcher.

He was a shortstop growing up in Venezuela, and Toronto Blue Jays scouting coordinator Francisco Plasencia noticed him at a camp when he was 16 years old, according to SportsNet.

The Blue Jays signed him and converted him to a catcher, and he took to it.

“I saw his trial videos a shortstop about six months ago,” Lovullo said. “You can see it’s the same exchange, shape, same arm slot and for sure he knows how to work the ball in and out of his glove because of that infield practice.”

“If you’re a person who’s been around baseball quite a bit, the way your feet work, how the hands work and the quickness you get the ball out of the glove, you could disseminate that pretty quickly,” Banister said of Moreno having infielder traits. “I mean, that’s not to say there aren’t other catchers out there who have that, it’s definitely a benefit to have been able to be an upright infielder, be able to transition and still take that skill set.”

Moreno is not a finished product either, as Banister said receiving will be a work in progress for a former infielder who learned to catch later. Blocking was a focus when he first arrived.

That and continuing to grow as a leader behind the plate, learning his pitchers as well as the league.

“I think the leadership part of it, for me, is communication and the ability to lead your pitching staff and not just your pitching staff but be a guy — traditionally catchers have some form of leadership within their ranks as a team — I think his ability to grow in that area is going to go a long ways with his development as a long-term major leaguer,” Banister said.

Moreno has had glowing reviews from Arizona pitchers for his pitch calling and game planning since last season. His offense has started slowly (.646 OPS), but the D-backs are counting on him being a weapon in the lineup as he was for extended stretches in 2023.

A year ago, he was learning a new organization after getting thrown to the deep end of the pool as a starting catcher following Carson Kelly’s spring training injury. The trust from the organization, Moreno said, and bond with teammates has helped him develop in a supportive environment.

Moreno said the recognition for winning a Gold Glove and the festivities this weekend mean a lot to him and his family, and while he doesn’t have a number in mind, he wants to win more.

“I know if I’m healthy, I’m always a candidate to be able to win,” Moreno said.

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