You almost felt bad for the kid, having to deal with the inevitable wordplays on his name, the puns in headlines, the declarations that he’s gonna make it after all. But it became clear that after watching Tyler Moore‘s rookie season with the Washington Nationals, nothing was going to derail him from becoming a key cog for the National League East champions, albeit one whose future in the nation’s capital is a little more cloudy.
2012 Projection (ZiPS): .220/.263./.394, 139 games, 540 AB, 19 HR, 79 RBIs
2012 Actual: .263/.327/.513, 75 games, 156, AB, 10 HR, 29 RBIs
After back-to-back 31-home run seasons in the minor leagues, it appeared that the Nationals had a burgeoning, if late-blooming, star on their hands in Moore, who failed to impress at low-A Hagerstown the year before winning Carolina League MVP honors in 2010. A natural first baseman, Moore found himself blocked at the big league level by Adam LaRoche, so the Nationals decided to get his feet wet in the outfield to make him more valuable in case a call-up was necessary — which it was at the end of April, when Mark DeRosa went on the disabled list and Moore was summoned from Syracuse.
Making his big league debut one day after teammate Bryce Harper, Moore picked up his first major league hit off the Dodgers Chris Capuano. It was a fleeting moment of success for Moore, who struggled not only with big league pitching, but having to adjust to bouncing in and out of the lineup, more often than not at a very new position. By the end of May, Moore was hitting only .158 and became expendable when the Nationals needed to call up Jhonatan Solano from AAA to hop on the spring catcher’s carousel.
And speaking of that carousel, it was another catcher’s injury — this time Carlos Maldonado — that opened the door for Moore to return to DC, and this time he made it stick. Playing more than semi-regularly in left field while the Nationals toured through the the American League and a recovering Michael Morse stayed at designated hitter, Moore made a splash his second time around. His first major league home run came off Toronto’s Kyle Drabek on June 13, and he belted another just a couple of innings later. Moore hit .425 for the month of June and secured his spot on the Washington bench once Morse was fully healed.
It’s not easy for a rookie to transition into a part-time player, even if it’s only temporary. But Moore handled it well through the summer, coming up with a pair of pinch-hit homers and continuing to play well in the field when needed, giving veterans Morse and LaRoche breaks when necessary.
By the time the post-season rolled around, Moore was firmly entrenched as the Nationals top right-handed bat off the bench. With the St. Louis Cardinals only carrying one left-hander in their bullpen however, opportunities for Moore were going to be few and far between in the Division Series. As it stands, Moore got only one at-bat, but it was as huge as it could get.
With the Nationals trailing 2-1 in the top of the eighth inning of Game 1, the Cardinals went to that solitary left-hander, Marc Rzepczynski, to pitch to Chad Tracy. Davey Johnson summoned Moore and he delivered, flaring a two-run single to right field that gave the Nationals the lead and eventually the win. But since Rzepczynski didn’t pitch again in the series, Moore made no more appearances either.
Moore’s 2013 is as clouded as any Nationals player on the roster. At only 26 on Opening Day, and with a successful rookie season behind him, it’s clear Moore has the bat to play regularly in the major leagues. The issue is on the defensive side. Moore handled himself as well as could be expected for a rookie dealing with a position switch, but still was below average out there. It is certainly reasonable to expect that Moore, if given regular time in left field, could very easily make himself into a solid major league defender. He’s already there at first base, although not quite at the level of National League Gold Glove finalist Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche is discussing a contract extension with the Nationals and could find himself locked in to first base for the foreseeable future in Washington. Should LaRoche and the Nationals not come to an agreement however, it appears that the Nationals would feel better about Moore taking over at first base than Morse, who played there primarily in 2011 when LaRoche was injured but had only one appearance at first in 2012.
Both Moore and Morse have been mentioned in trade rumors as well, as the apparent logjam in the Nationals lineup could be rectified to secure another starting pitcher.
Season highlight: In the regular season, Moore’s first two big league homers against Toronto highlighted a day that also included a ground rule double and five RBIs in Washington’s 6-2 win. The game-winning hit in the playoffs however, has to be the overall winner.
Chien Ming Wang