Lakeland, Fla. – Sometimes you just have to trust your talent.
That, more than anything else, is what Tigers outfield prospect Steven Moya learned this offseason. For the past couple of years, well-intentioned coaches and hitting instructors have bombarded the 6-7, 260-pound left-handed slugger with advice about his stance, his swing and his approach at the plate.
Toward the end of last season he decided to clear his head and take himself back to a time when hitting a baseball hard seemed like a natural extension of his athleticism.
“I learned I have to hit the way I can hit,” Moya said Monday. “Not the way anybody tells me how. Just go out there and let it go. Just enjoy and hit.”
No disrespect to any coach, but once he freed his mind, his production accelerated. He finished his Triple-A season in Toledo with 20 home runs and 74 RBI, and then hit .297 with a .797 OPS, four home runs, 12 doubles and 31 RBI in 178 plate appearances in the Dominican Winter League.
“Everything I did down there was preparing myself for spring training and the new season,” Moya said. “With everything I learned down there, I think I can bring it here and do a lot better.”
Last September, after Moya was recalled to the Tigers, hitting coach Wally Joyner worked with him to open up his stance so that his body faced more toward to the pitcher. Moya worked diligently on the stance, but watching him take batting practice this spring, it appears he has closed it back up.
“It’s not that much about the stance,” Moya said. “The stance, it helps. But it’s more mental stuff, the pitcher, seeing strikes – that is pretty much what gives me the success in the Dominican. Recognizing more pitches.
“I faced a lot of lefties (in winter ball) and that gave me the opportunity to see the ball better. Then when I faced righties, I am more in control because if I can hit lefties, right-handers are kind of easier.”
The knock on Moya continues to be a high swing-and-miss rate. He struck out 162 times in 2014, 161 times last year and 44 times in 178 plate appearances in winter ball.
But he also walked 11 times this winter, which is progress.
“It comes with experience,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Steven Moya is going to strike out at times; most power hitters do. That’s not rare. But I think he’s improving. As he gets more experience, I would think he will get much more selective at what he’s swinging at, which will make him more effective, in theory.”
Moya acknowledges that his production was down in 2015, especially compared to his 35 home run / 105 RBI season in 2014. But he doesn’t believe he took a step back.
“You can’t have a super great year every year,” he said. “I don’t feel like I had a bad year last year. I just didn’t do what I did in 2014. I hit 15 homers less than in 2014. I don’t have to feel like I had a bad year last year. I just need to come this year and put together something kind of like what I did in 2014.”
Moya will most likely start the season in Triple-A. The Tigers, barring injury, are expected to carry five outfielders north – Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, Anthony Gose, Cameron Maybin and Mike Aviles.
But Moya is still very much in the club’s plans.
“He’s still a prospect,” Ausmus said. “He brings big power from the left side. Within the next year or so he’s probably going to get his opportunity to become a big leaguer – within the next year or year and a half.”
Moya has been through this enough to worry only about things he can control. When asked what he hopes to show the Tigers this spring, he said, “Nothing. I just want to play.”