The Pirates new third baseman is Colin Moran leaves Houston as one of the biggest success stories of the Astros' belief in the power of the fly ball.
A year ago, Moran seemed locked into a low-impact role: He was a slow-footed third baseman with an ability to hit for average but without the power needed from a corner infield spot. Moran's career high in home runs was 10. He'd never posted an isolated power of better than .153 in any of his four pro seasons.
But the player the Pirates are acquiring in the Gerrit Cole trade is coming off a year when he showed that he can hit for power. He hit a career-high 19 home runs (in just more than half a season), hitting .308/.373/.543 for Triple-A Fresno in just 71 games. He had just earned a spot in the big leagues when his season ended thanks to a freak injury when his own foul ball hit him in the face. Moran ranked ninth on the Astros Top 10 Prospects list before the trade.
Much like Justin Turner, Yonder Alonso and others before him, Moran retooled his swing, learned to love the fly ball and reaped the benefits. Such an extreme makeover may not work for everyone, but it was a perfect fit for Moran. He's big (6-foot-4, and likely more than his listed 204 pounds), strong and has always had excellent hand-eye coordination that led to plenty of contact.
But until 2017, Moran hit a lot of stinging ground balls, which didn't do a lot for him. If he hit it in a hole, the slow-footed Moran would have a single. If he hit it at any infielder, Moran was an easy out.
Before 2017, Moran completely retooled his setup. He once stood spread out in his stance, holding the bat straight up and beginning his swing with his hands set low. The result was a pretty level, line-drive/ground ball-oriented swing.
Now he begins with the bat laying back over his shoulder and his hands set much higher in his setup. That means his swing approaches the strike zone with a steeper entry path. It then comes on plane with the ball in the zone and he finishes with more of an uppercut than he did in the past.
The result? Before this year, Moran averaged two ground balls for every fly ball he hit. In 2017, he hit as many fly balls as ground balls.
Moran still makes a lot of contact (16.3 percent strikeout rate in Triple-A in 2017) but now when makes contact he's doing a lot more damage. Moran will have to work to stay at third base--Ke'Bryan Hayes’ superior glove may force him to move to a new position in a year or two--but the power surge he saw last year could be much more than a one-year bump.