Angels Gamble And Win On Moore's Athleticism
SALT LAKE—Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson
likens Jeremy Moore
to a block of artist's granite. Slowly, as the 24-year-old with electric natural talent has risen through the Angels system, bits and pieces have been chiseled away.
"At this point, you can see the shape," the Bees manager said. "You can see the form. It's not quite finished yet, but you can definitely see there's a form in there.
"It will be interesting to see when the form is done."
Moore, a four-sport star from tiny Vivian, La., a bedroom community of Shreveport, has learned baseball on the run. At times, well, it's been struggle.
At others, though, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound outfielder's performance has been glorious. Playing mostly right field, while mixing in some center, Moore opened the season by batting .279/.305/.475 with two homers, six doubles and six triples (to rank second in the Pacific Coast League) through 122 at-bats.
Despite just modest output thus far, Moore's raw tools are readily apparent.
Two innings after making a poor throw from left field to the infield in an April 28 home game, Moore uncorked a frozen rope to first base that doubled off a runner who had strayed too far toward second.
Three days later, Fresno center fielder Tyler Graham
relaxed after catching a long fly ball off the bat of Paul McAnulty
. On second base with a double, Moore brought the crowd to its feet as he scored on the sacrifice fly.
The Angels selected Moore in the sixth round of the 2005 draft and signed him for $100,000 based solely on athletic ability. He has made improvements in each of his seven pro seasons, enjoying a back-loaded breakout at Double-A Arkansas in 2010.
The lefty-hitting Moore finished strong, batting .336/.382/.531 in 211 second-half at-bats for the Travelers. He then tore up the Arizona Fall League by striking eight extra-base hits and stealing eight bases in 17 games to earn a spot on the Angels' 40-man roster.
"Yeah, I got off to a slow start, but you've got to make adjustments," Moore said of his first 31 Triple-A games. "That's what this game is all about. Overall, I'll be all right as long as I keep making adjustments."
Moore understands that each level of the minors has its own trials, challenges and adjustments. "That's baseball in general," he said. "Things aren't going to go how you want them to go all the time."
Moore makes it a rule to observe and learn from the veterans. He spent the offseason in Dallas working out with Angels outfielder Torii Hunter
Moore said that he learned more hanging out with Hunter than he had in his career to that point. "I thank him for that," Moore said. "He just said do it for the next guy."
There isn't much to do in Vivian—pop. about 4,000—other than play sports. Much of the economy is driven by gaming. The crime rate is high, the economy down and the opportunities low.
"I don't think we have many professional athletes to come out of there," Moore said. "I was the first, so it was kind of big when I came out of there—people just don't stick with it. There aren't a lot of people who motivate guys. A lot of guys don't make it out."
Moore never saw his father much, while his mother lived in another town. His grandmother raised him and served as his lone positive influence.
In the fall at North Caddo High, Moore played football. He then played basketball in the winter before splitting time each spring between track and baseball.
"I used to go leave the baseball field and go run in track," said Moore, who then spent summers preparing for football.
Football was his favorite sport and he seriously considered playing at the collegiate level. A two-way star playing safety and running back, Moore gained 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons and scored 22 touchdowns his senior year. Programs from the Southeastern Conference, including Louisiana State, showed interest in recruiting him.
"I found out later that if (I had) just played baseball it would have been an advantage (to my pro development)," Moore said. "But playing four sports was something I enjoyed."
Football highlight video provided Angels scout Chad MacDonald
with his first glimpse of Moore, who played shortstop in high school.
"It starts with athletic ability," said MacDonald, now scouting director for the Mets. "He was a football player and, oh by the way, he was all state." The same was true in basketball.
According to MacDonald, Moore earned top grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for his athleticism. "If he had grown up in a big city, he would have been the most talked about guy in town," he said. "If he played ping-pong, it would have come easy to him, too."
Despite his far-ranging athletic interests, Moore jumped at the chance to sign with the Angels.
"I'm here now and I wouldn't trade it for anything," he said. "No one ever came from (Vivian). I wanted to be the one to put my talent on the map. Stuff like that kept me motivated. Just play baseball. That (stuff) would keep anybody motivated."
The Angels understood the challenge of what lay ahead with their raw, 18-year-old draft pick. Moore took only about 50 at-bats per baseball season, so he had a lot of catching up to do.
MacDonald acknowledges that Moore represented a risk in the sixth round, but his inexperience meant also that he was a blank slate.
"I didn't know anything when I got here," said Moore, who took his first plane ride that summer to play in the Rookie-level Arizona League. "The Angels and the coaching staff stuck with me. They saw something in me when I didn't see something in myself. They stuck with me when it looked like I wouldn't turn out to be anything."
Moore batted just .227 in 2005 with strikeouts in about 42 percent of at-bats. He's whittled his whiff rate down to about 27 percent in 2010-11, which, while elevated, still counts as progress.
"He just has to find that consistency in his game," Johnson said. "That's the one thing about having so much raw talent, it takes you a while to hone your game. He's really close."
The Angels value versatility as well as talent.
"I didn't play outfield until I got here," he said. "I'm still learning. I've come so far, and I still have a long ways to go. Once I figure those things out, I'll be a pretty good ballplayer."
Marty Renzhofer covers local sports
for the Salt Lake Tribune