Sibling Rivalry Pushes Moore To Prominence
ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Matt Moore didn't feel he was the recipient of much brotherly love while growing up, but he realizes now the tough love he garnered from his older brother has played no small part in his emergence as one of the game's top pitching prospects.
Born in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., the younger Moore moved with his family to Okinawa at age six when the Air Force transferred his dad, Marty. When Matt was 10, they moved to Moriarty, N.M., about 20 miles east of Albuquerque. The Land of Enchantment is where older brother Bobby Moore set a New Mexico high school state record with 17 strikeouts in a seven-inning game, which came in the semifinals of the state championship.
"My brother was always better than me," Moore said. "If we were playing football, he was knocking me on my butt. If we were playing basketball, he was stuffing my shot. In baseball, he was teeing off on my pitches in Whiffle ball or hurting my hand by throwing too hard. I'd get mad, but he'd always say, 'How are you going to improve if you're not playing somebody better?'
"Now when I look back, he definitely helped me. Back then, I wanted to compete against him and make it hard for him even though I really didn't know how to beat him."
Four years older than Matt, Bobby went on to play at the University of New Mexico, though his career was interrupted by Tommy John surgery. He concluded his baseball career this past spring by going 4-2 with a 4.38 ERA as a fifth-year senior and is working with an engineering firm to begin the next phase of his career.
Matt had the opportunity to join his brother at UNM but opted to pursue the game at the highest level.
Seizing An Opportunity
Drafted by the Rays in the eighth round in 2007, Moore has graduated from the school of hard knocks to becoming the most dominant hurler in the low Class A South Atlantic League. Through 22 starts, he led the circuit with 150 strikeouts and ranked second with a 2.64 ERA while posting an 8-4 record.
"Opponents are hitting .189 against him," Bowling Green manager Matt Quatraro said. "What's impressive is that even good hitters aren't hitting him."
Moore played every sport while growing up, but baseball always seemed to rise to the top.
He admired his brother's accomplishments in high school and then watched fellow Moriarty product Kyle Blanks, the Padres' top prospect, get drafted in 2004. That planted a seed in Moore's mind that playing pro ball might be a possibility.
As the 245th player taken, Moore signed for $115,000. The dollar figure notwithstanding, Quatraro is among those who still have a hard believing he lasted that long.
"I don't know what he signed for, but the eighth round?" Quatraro said. "Our guys did a great job. He's 19 years old, lefthanded, and the way he can throw the ball . . . you're talking about a multi-million dollar arm."
The hardest Moore recalls throwing in high school was 93 mph, yet admits most of those sailed over the heads of anyone close to home plate. He touched 96 a few times last year in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. This season, he has dialed his pitches back on purpose, sitting in the 88-91 range and touching 93.
"I'm not thinking numbers as long as the ball's not getting hit," Moore said. "It's hard for me to tell, but I think I'm getting more movement on my fastball because a lot of batters are hitting the ball off the end of the barrel. I know I have more control with it on both sides of the plate."
The southpaw spent 2007 and 2008 in Princeton, pacing all short-season hurlers the second season by averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings and falling one-third of an inning shy of winning the Appy League ERA title with a 1.66 mark. Control was a minor problem, which continued to be the case early in 2009. Moore walked six batters in a game twice in his first seven starts with the Hot Rods.
"The first six weeks of the season I was struggling to find the strike zone consistently," Moore said. "I wasn't missing by a lot, but I ended up going too deep in the count to too many hitters. The last few months I've learned how to pitch more efficiently by getting ahead early."
Finding The Zone
Moore's control improved as the calendar changed. He walked only nine batters in 28 innings in June before issuing 13 walks in 33 frames in July. That improvement coincided with his dominating performances.
On June 6 at Asheville, Moore tossed seven no-hit innings with only two walks and 12 strikeouts. Eleven days later he allowed Lexington just one hit and two walks while fanning 10 over 6 2/3 innings. More recently, he returned to Asheville on Aug. 6 and limited the Tourists to one hit and one run with nine whiffs in five frames.
"Last year, I didn't know how to pitch to contact," Moore said. "I didn't have a clue about how to get guys to hit a ground ball or to get them leaning. I've learned how to set guys up early in the count while still getting ahead. I know where to throw the ball if I want them to hit it on the ground. I've also learned to trust my infielders."
Moore piles up strikeouts with a sharp-breaking curveball and an elevated fastball. His changeup is improving, and when he misses with it, the pitch is almost always down. His coaches rave about his ability to paint the corners and the strides he has made in pitching inside.
Moore admits he tends to worry about what happened to the previous batter instead of accepting what took place and moving forward. Maybe that dates to his days growing up with his brother, who Matt concedes might still hold the upper hand in basketball and golf, but nothing else.
Whatever the cause, the lessons learned long ago should continue to help.
"All I need to think about is what I can control," Moore said. "I just got to keep getting guys out and missing barrels."