Moya demoted, laments self-inflicted pressure

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Outfield prospect Steven Moya has recovered from a bout of plantar fasciitis and is hitting .289 in his last 10 games at Triple A Toledo.

Lakeland, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain was walking briskly toward the exit of the Joker Marchant Stadium clubhouse Sunday afternoon when he stopped suddenly.

Staring him right in the face was the brightest pink shirt you'll ever see, worn by Steven Moya.

"Wow! What a shirt," Chamberlain said. "I can see you coming."

Ironically, you could also see Moya going.

The Tigers slugging prospect was sent to Triple-A Toledo camp in a move that wasn't all that surprising, but Moya still is the biggest name to be cut to date.

The Tigers had said all spring Moya was likely ticketed to the minor leagues, for a couple reasons. They still think he needs more at-bats at Triple A, plus they don't have room in an outfield that features two everyday guys, two platoon guys and potentially even Tyler Collins.

Of course, all that didn't really make Sunday's news sting any less.

"If I say I feel good," said Moya, "it's not true."

Moya, 23, the Puerto Rico native, is widely considered the best offensive prospect in the Tigers' system, even if he strikes out too much.

Last spring, he was a low-key prospect, with nothing expected of him. He opened some eyes by hitting .333 in Grapefruit League games last March.

This spring, there were more interested observers, and Moya finished with a .125 average, one home run, two RBIs and 12 strikeouts in 34 at-bats. He was 0-for-2 Sunday, with two more strikeouts.

"I don't think it's about pressure," Moya said. "I wasn't pressured. No one put pressure on me, like, 'You have to do this, you have to do that.'"

But, maybe, did you put pressure on yourself?

"Maybe I did it," Moya said. "Maybe I put pressure on myself and tried to do too much. Trying to do too much, I did nothing."

At least Moya could laugh about that last quip.

Brad Ausmus on Steven Moya: "The one thing he does well that 99 percent of people on this planet can't do is he can hit a ball 500 feet."

Tigers brass still has high hopes for Moya. Manager Brad Ausmus made that clear during a postgame meeting with reporters, just moments after Ausmus had broken the news to Moya, even while acknowledging Moya had his issues at the plate this spring.

Moya tried to make adjustments in his swing, at least one, he said.

Moya, who hit 35 home runs at Double-A Erie last season, said he wishes he hadn't. Not that it would've made much difference in Ausmus' decision.

"This is only roughly a month worth of Steven Moya's resume," Ausmus said. "He's gonna be a good player. He wasn't sent out just because he was struggling, trust me; we have other outfielders that are kind of locked in. But he's a good kid and he's as hard a worker as I've come across, and he will get through this.

"He'll be fine. He just needs to play more. The more he plays, the better he's gonna get. He does a lot of things well, and the one thing he does well that 99 percent of people on this planet can't do is he can hit a ball 500 feet. He can actually do it the other way, which even fewer people can do."

For now, at least, Moya's moon-shot homers will be in Toledo, or other International League stops.

That was always going to be the case early this year, barring a surprising injury. Moya's had several injury-shortened seasons of minor-league ball, so he doesn't quite have the game experience of others his age.

That's why the Tigers believe he's better off playing every day in Toledo than playing every seventh day in Detroit.

That's not to say he won't be in Detroit at some point this year, and potentially sooner than later. He did get a callup last September, and looked plenty comfortable.

"I'm just gonna go there and maybe not try, so things happen," Moya said, still able to let out a hearty laugh. "You will see me soon."