Regardless of who the Astros select with the first pick in Thursday's draft, many will remember 2013 as the 'Year of Colin Moran'. It's not quite 2011, when multiple sources reported the Astros had agreed to a pre-draft deal with Standford pitcher, Chris Reed, who was considered a slight overdraft at the time, but the Moran rumors will definitely leave their mark.
First, news broke that Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane has attended one of Colin Moran's games in person. Then, there was Kiley McDaniel citing "real momentum" that Moran could be the Astros number one overall pick. And finally, there was the well-respected Keith Law mocking Colin Moran to the Astros, citing "industry buzz" that Houston was leaning toward Moran, with their sights set on a $4-millon singing bonus.
The general consensus among experts and fans – myself included – is that Colin Moran, the player, isn't worthy of the number one pick. While his hit tool is legitimately plus, he doesn't have the true superstar upside associated with the number one pick.
Moran's redeeming qualities include: his ability to make solid contact, his bat speed, his plate discipline and his arm. The areas in need of improvement are: his defense and his power.
While his hit tool has been plus in college and projects to be at least above-average at the next level, his swing seems susceptible to problems down the road. There's a lot of movement in his lower half, and there's a decent amount of hand movement in his backswing as well. His combination of above-average bat speed, feel for hitting and plate discipline have masked any potential swing problems thus far, but I'll be interested to see if it holds up against advanced pitching. His swing just isn't as smooth as I'd like to see from someone whose success is firmly tied to his ability to hit.
On defense, many believe he'll end up at first base, because he doesn't have the range to stick at third. However; I think he stays at third, providing average defense. He definitely has the arm to play third, and he's not a terrible fielder – you can work with potentially below-average range.
Whether or not he sticks at third base, and whether or not he has enough power potential will ultimately determine Moran's value. He finished the college regular season with a trip slash of .357/.485/.579, striking out only 20 times.
As I discussed a little on Twitter, I don't think Moran, the player, is worthy of the number one pick. However; if Law's $4-million signing bonus estimate is even remotely accurate, I think you have to consider taking a relatively safe pick in Moran at number one. Based on the slot-money, signing Moran for roughly $4-millon would be the equivalent of trading picks # 1, 40, 74 for #5, 10, 16 – that's assuming you use all of the Moran savings on the next two picks. Of course, there may not be top 15 talent available at the next two picks, and the Astros would be taking a huge gamble that a couple of "their guys" would fall to them, allowing them to overspend wisely. But in a year with a lot of question marks at the top of the draft, it's a strategy worth considering.
Major League Floor
Moran's Major League is something close to James Loney – a solid-hitting first baseman with very little power.
Major League Ceiling
An average third baseman who puts together a couple seasons of .300/.400/.500 during his time – somewhere along the lines of Kevin Youkilis.
Projected Draft Round
Moran is projected to go anywhere from number one overall to somewhere around pick number 10.
Will He Sign?
North Carolina had a string of first rounders -- Dustin Ackley and Alex White in 2009, Matt Harvey in 2010 and Levi Michael in 2011 -- broken in 2012, but Moran looks like a good bet to get the Tar Heels back in the top 30 picks.
A big, strong left-handed-hitting third baseman, Moran has good projection to his frame, meaning he's likely to grow into more power as he matures. He's a polished hitter, one who stood out on the Cape this past summer, and he should be able to stay at the hot corner defensively.
In his second straight summer in the Cape, Moran led the summer circuit in RBIs with 42 and played in his second consecutive Cape Cod League All-Star Game, where he went 1-for-5.
He may not go as high as his uncle, former No. 1 overall pick B.J. Surhoff, but he should be one of the earlier college bats to come off the board.