Moya looking to show he belongs with Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Steven Moya wants whatever is best for the Tigers and what's best is starting the season with a healthy Victor Martinez batting behind Miguel Cabrera.

But he'd heard some things. Friends, teammates, media people were telling him that if Martinez had to start the season on the disabled list, J.D. Martinez would be the designated hitter and Moya might be the starting right fielder on Opening Day.

It's not anything he wanted to hear.

"I don't really focus on any of those things," he said Wednesday during a break in his morning training session at the Tigertown complex. "I really felt sorry for Victor that he got hurt and I like for him to get better soon. My focus is just to do the best I can during camp and whatever God has for me, just take it."

Moya is hungry to play in the big leagues, and the sooner the better. But not like that, not as an injury fill-in. He will get there on his own merits, thank you. He was thrilled that Martinez's surgery went well on Tuesday and that he could be ready to play come Opening Day.

"Honestly, I don't think about where I'm going to be," he said. "My focus, I want to be in the big leagues. I want to start there, want to break camp with those guys. I am going to do my best in spring training. After that, I have no control over anything.

"If I stay in the big leagues or go to Triple A, I just do my job."

The organization's consensus is that Moya needs another year of seasoning.

"We don't have to rush him," president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "When he's ready, he's going to play. This guy has a chance to be a superstar."

The Tigers essentially bought another year of development for Moya when they acquired veteran outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes will be a free agent after the 2015 season and thus far the Tigers have made no move to commence negotiating an extension.

"The way our team is set up right now, this is the best thing for Moya and the right decision for us," assistant general manager Al Avila said. "Moya can play in Triple A and we have Cespedes. Now you've got a superstar in left field and you've got a superstar waiting in the wings."

It would be counterproductive, Avila said, for Moya to make the team as the fifth outfielder.

"With a guy like Moya, you don't want to bring him in and have him on the bench playing every once in a while," he said. "This is a guy you want to be playing every single day. He will continue to work to get those strikeouts down and when he's ready, believe me, he will come up and be an everyday player at that point."

Ah, those dreaded strikeouts. They remain the red flag on Moya's otherwise stellar resume. He had a phenomenal season at Double A Erie last year, an MVP season. He hit 35 home runs and 33 doubles, knocked in 105 runs, and posted a .555 slugging percentage and an .861 OPS.

Invariably, though, baseball scouts and analysts put an asterisk on those numbers because he struck out 161 times and walked only 23 in 549 plate appearances.

"When I hear them complaining about me striking out, I just say, 'You know what, sometimes critiques are good,' " Moya said. "I just take them and try to get better. I know it is something I want to get better at.

"I want to see if I can get more walks. I know it will help my batting average and make me a better hitter."

To that end, Moya made the best of his September call-up last season. He stayed close to Victor Martinez, picking his brain and, more importantly, studying his at-bats. There may not be a more disciplined and determined hitter in the game than Martinez.

"Victor helped me out a lot last year," Moya said. "I definitely learned some things from him. Watching him hit, the patience he has at the plate. It was really good. I know for sure I will do a lot better this year."

It is unusual for Moya to be working out in Lakeland this early (position players are to report Feb. 21). Fact is, he's been here all winter. After a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League (.289 with six doubles, five homers, 19 RBIs and 29 strikeouts in 90 plate appearances) he decided not to go home to the Dominican Republic, as he normally does.

"I am doing everything that has to do with baseball," he said. "I am getting my arm ready, my legs, my outfield stuff and my hitting. I didn't go back home, I stayed here to work out. Thanks to God I feel really good."

The Tigers may think it's best for Moya to spend another season in the minors, but please allow him to respectfully disagree. At least give him this spring to make another argument on his own behalf.

"I am just going to go out there, have fun and play," he said. "I am going to show I can help them do some damage up there."