Once-hot Tigers prospect Moya running out of time

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
In 46 games with the Toledo Mud Hens, Steven Moya batted .166 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs.

Toledo — If things had worked out the way he wanted, Steven Moya would be the Tigers’ heir apparent in right field.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned.

It’s like a power hitter waiting on a fastball — and getting a biting curveball. Moya’s been getting a lot of that lately.

And that’s part of the problem for the 6-foot-7 outfielder, who was once one of the top prospects in the Tigers’ minor-league system: He’s just not seeing the ball well — and he’s not well regarded for his defense, leaving the Tigers with limited choices.

Now, the clock looks to be ticking toward midnight on Moya to have a career renaissance, at the age of 25 — a critical time for a prospect. After exhausting his minor-league options, Moya was put on waivers after spring training.

He cleared waivers and was sent to Triple-A Toledo to work on his swing — and hopefully jump-start his offense and resuscitate his career. So far, there are very few blips to suggest he’s responding: in 46 games with the Mud Hens, he batted .166 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. On Monday, he was sent down to Double-A Erie.

“He’s struggling right now and they felt like removing him from that environment he’s in might help him reset,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters.

Change of focus

It’s a precipitous fall for Moya, who looked to be a promising power-hitting prospect in 2015, when he was on the fast track, posting 20 home runs, 74 RBIs and 30 doubles with the Mud Hens.

He was seeing the ball well then.

Now, not so much.

“My problem is that I’ve changed my mechanics — not my swing — many times for the last three years,” Moya told The Detroit News recently. “I did good in 2014 with the way I was hitting and that’s what I’m doing now and I’m feeling better and starting to improve a little more. I want to feel like myself again.

“I’ve been through several different (mechanical changes). That messed me up badly.”

The Mud Hens tried to take pressure off Steven Moya by limiting him to designated hitter duties. It didn’t help.

The Mud Hens looked to make things easier on Moya, playing him mostly as a designated hitter, removing the added burden of playing defense. The thought was that it would help him focus on his hitting and not on the full game.

The reduced role gets many players focused too much on their offense, which makes the task a bit trickier. That’s what seemed to happen in Moya’s case. In his mind, there was no additional pressure, he was just working his way out of a slump.

“I was already exposed to waivers. I didn’t have any pressure; I just wanted to play. I knew God had control of everything and if I was going to make it, I was going to make it no matter what,” Moya said. “I was just there trying to play good. Going through waivers and coming (to Toledo), I have to try to go back to where I know I can be and play well.”

Look at the video

Throughout his struggles, Moya has tried to maintain a positive attitude and take things in stride. In the opener with the Mud Hens, he went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, but he’s only had three multi-hit games since then. Though his numbers have continued to dip, he’s still confident that things can turn around — but time is running short.

He’s worked on his approach at the plate and how he prepares beforehand, breaking down video of his swing and noticing some differences from 2015.

“The difference is that now I can have power but be simple. I don’t have to worry about my mechanics because I’m going back to natural Steven Moya, a mechanical Steven Moya,” he said. “I don’t have to think too much when the pitch is coming, a guy who can be relaxed at the plate and just seeing the ball and trusting that I just have to see it and hit it.

“That way, I can have more discipline and more good at-bats at home plate and not worrying where my hands and feet are. I work on all that in the cage, but when I’m going in the game, I have to forget about that, see the ball and hit.”

From all indications, he’s going to have to turn that work into production quickly. He likely won’t have a lot of time to regain his confidence with the Seawolves before the organization makes a decision on where his career is going.

And tomorrow isn’t promised.

“There’s more baseball and I have to keep playing good. If I do start playing well at the end of the year, I might be called up — you never know,” Moya said. “You just have to go out there and play. It hasn’t been working out for me the last three months, but there’s three months left and I can do it — I’ve done it before.”